Variety Buries the Lede About Disney’s Film Division

 

Walt Disney Studios had a much more magical earnings report than analysts had expected. The entertainment powerhouse behind Pixar, Marvel, and the world’s most trafficked theme parks logged earnings per share of $1.84, a 3% drop from $1.89 in the prior-year quarter. Disney also reported revenue of $15.3 billion, essentially flat with the year-ago period.…

The article is called No Star Wars, No Problem, and it’s true that Disney had a good quarter. But why?

The better-than-anticipated financial picture is attributable to higher broadcast revenues and the increased popularity of its parks, bright spots that off-set declines in Disney’s film division. The company faced difficult comparisons because it did not field any “Star Wars” sequel or spinoff during the holidays for the first time in four years. The lack of a “Star Wars” film also took a bite out of licensing profits.

Doesn’t that seem to suggest the opposite of the headline? The fact that other divisions of the company are covering for a loss does not mean that the loss is not there. How bad is the loss?

Disney’s film unit released the hits “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” during the final three months of 2018, as well as the box office bomb “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” Film revenues for the quarter decreased 27% to $1.8 billion and segment operating income decreased 63% to $309 million.

That seems bad. And note something here. Of the three films released, two were sequels to existing properties (one a sequel to a film fifty years old). Those were the hits. The bomb was a re-imagining of “The Nutcracker” that no one wanted and was critically panned.

You know what didn’t get released?

Anything new.

Now for a year of live-action remakes of earlier films, more sequels, and comic book movies?

The Renaissance is over.

Quick Review: Mary Queen of Scots

MV5BNDVmOGI4MTMtYmNmNC00MTliLTlkYjQtYmU2N2EyNDk2YTAwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjM4NTM5NDY@._V1_What is this movie about?

This was the question Wifey and I asked each other after viewing it. Ostensibly, it’s about a great many things, as a great many things were involved with the life of Mary Queen of Scots, the last Catholic monarch of Scotland (you might say, the last monarch of Scotland, period, if you consider her son to have been the first monarch of the United Kingdom, even though it wasn’t called that for another 100 years. You see the problem?), and this film tries to hit on all of them, to give us an insight on her and her tumultuous reign.

And it does a pretty decent job of it. Mary had one of the more colorful lives of 16th century monarchs, and that is saying something. Queen of Scots from the tender age of Six Days Old (Which was completely normal. The Stuarts were an incredibly unlucky dynasty, beset with early deaths and long regencies. Here’s a Reddit Post with the details), she was carted off to France as a child to marry the Dauphin (what that “Reign” show was all about). For about a year, when said Dauphin became Francis II of France, she was both Queen Regnant of Scotland and Queen Consort of France. Then Francis died of meningitis, and back to Scotland she went. This is where the movie picks up.

Finding herself the Catholic Queen of a country gone full Protestant in her absence, she attempted to hoe a tolerant row, and was rewarded with disrespect and conspiracy by the Reformers, especially John Knox, whom the movie finds very quotable for that Whore of Babylon rhetoric that 16th Century Calvinists were so keen on. But that’s just one wrinkle. Like many a Scottish Monarch, she had to deal with the bloody English. Not for the usual Overlording, mind you, but because of The Tudors fathomless inability to reproduce (the dynasty was three generations, and five monarchs, the last three of which were siblings who all died childless) made Mary the heir of her cousin Elizabeth through her grandmother, the daughter of Henry VII of England. At the opening of the film, Elizabeth is still young and could ostensibly still marry and produce children, so Mary’s rhetoric about being the Heir to England has very much an air of imperialist presumption about it. Which is why the film’s attempt to dress these two up as Sister Monarchs torn apart by Teh Patriarchy doesn’t quite work. Mary and Elizabeth were rivals for the same reason that Edward III of England and Phillip VI of France were: dynastic politics and claims to thrones. Their status as women was to a large degree incidental to their political problems.

Allow me to prove my brief. Let’s say that instead of being born a girl named Mary, the only surviving child of James V of Scotland had been born a boy named Robert (I’m saying Robert because to earlier Stuart monarchs had that name, and so as to avoid confusion with all the Jameses), and that from the age of six days old, he reigned as Robert IV of Scotland. What precisely would be different? Granted, he would not have been sent out of the country to marry a Princess of France, but Mary’s sojourn there doesn’t seem to have cast a blight on her legitimacy as a monarch. But he still would have been faced with a similar set of choices:

  1. To remain a Catholic, as his father had been, or to embrace the Reformed Church.
  2. To marry someone which would not cause antagonism with England (especially has both James IV and James V were undone by wars with their southern neighbor).
  3. To do all the other things expected of a Renaissance monarch: manage the nobility and burgeoning middle-class, govern the public fisc, keep order and justice, protect the realm from outside threats, etc.

Being a male monarch might have made this easier, but as the above link of the history of the Stuart dynasty will tell you, it by no means ensured success. Two of the Stuarts were assassinated by nobility (three if you count Robert III’s intended heir), one was killed in a civil war, two as a result of war with England, and one blown up by one of his own cannon. And all of that is before Mary.

But this is an argument for historians. Does the film work? I think so. It doesn’t not work. It’s well-shot; it’s well-acted. The ins and outs of the plot make sense. I just don’t know that it works as well as Outlaw King did. I don’t think it quite packs the emotional punch it wants to. The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is so distant and political that I have a hard time believing that they really mean anything to each other. Thus, while both Ronan and Robbie seem to absorb the camera when they’re on screen, ultimately I’m not sure why Robbie’s Elizabeth I really cares what happens to her cousin. Mary is nothing but trouble to Elizabeth from the beginning. Why would she be bothered by chopping her head off?

I mean, other than the fact that it completely demolishes her claim that she’s not her father, and perhaps strikes home the object lesson that a successful monarch is obliged to shed blood to keep the throne, as her father, grandfather, and almost any of her ancestors could have told her. Other than that, what does she care?

So while I get the dichotomy the film shows us: that unmarried, childless Elizabeth has a long peaceful reign, but the fertile, overthrown Mary ultimately wins by having a son who unites both realms, I think the film would have worked better if it had either given Mary and Elizabeth equal time, or made their relationship more honestly antagonistic.

But then, history doesn’t fit into narratives that way.

Bottom Line: If you dig on historical pieces, this one is honest and human.

 

Do the Oscars Really Need a Host?

So here’s how the Kevin Hart thing went down:

  1. The Academy (whoever they are) offers a comedian a job being meh funny for a few hours while pretty people in gowns walk across the stage to announce other pretty people in gowns and then give each other shiny statues.
  2. Activists on Twitter (whoever they are) digs back through his tweets and his standup routine from ten years ago and discovered stuff that was not all about the LGBT community.
  3. The Usual Call for Apology is issued.
  4. Comedian posts video stating that he’s Moved On from That Time, and everyone else should.
  5. This is Not Good Enough.
  6. Comedian posts another video declining to apologize on the grounds that he’s Addressed This Before.
  7. This is Super Not Good Enough.
  8. Comedian announces that he’s declined the gig, whereupon he apologizes.

Other than the apology coming after the point when it might have done any good (not really, though), this is obligatory. The only question is how soon we’ll get the Burned by Oscar Controversey, Comedian Mounts Comeback narrative. My guess is next year, depending on whether his next flick with The Rock performs above or below box office expectations.

The obvious question now is, who hosts now? The more interesting question is, why anyone? I’m completely serious. The perennial complaint of the Oscars is they go on too long. What better way to slice the Gordian knot of technical awards and laundry lists of people to thank than removing the superfluous element of what’s ostensibly an award show?

All the introductory elements of the show can be handled by one of those navel-gazing retrospectives. All the introducing can be done by some red-carpet casualty who’s not up for any awards (that’s 90% of what happens now anyway).

All hosting the Oscars gets for you is the harrumphing consensus that you should never do it again, partly because one of your weak one-liners Offended someone, and partly because you’re Not Billy Chrystal, who remains the only acceptable Oscar host (along with Zombie Jonnie Carson) in the eyes of people who care about such things. And there’s a low six-figure paycheck, which sounds nice from where I sit, but I don’t have to pay for Southern California real estate or Hollywood divorce lawyers.

Skip it, give the people their statues, and let’s get on with the mindless speculation about what’s gonna go up next year.

Ace Of Spades Does “The Other Side of The Wind”

ie9ybrhceuuozazbrohuAs part of a retrospective on Welles for its weekly movie post.

His opinion matches my own. It’s an odd little movie, ambitious and self-referential, with an element of satire, both of Hollywood culture in the 70’s and of the art-house trends of that decade. The film within the film, which has the same title, is colorful and stunning to look at but also incredibly basic, to the point of being plotless. That’s a pretty strong critique of what avant-garde cinema tends to do, which is to say, spin its wheels fast enough to dispense with such pedestrian things as narrative, and then to expect plaudits for it. Which it usually gets, because, as the main movie demonstrates, everone wants to act like they’re in, even when nothing they’re looking at makes any sense at all.

Is it as good as Citizen Kane? I don’t think so, but what is? Not that I accept the notion that Kane is the Greatest Movie Ever Made, (because what does that even mean?) but it is a good movie. Kane tells a man’s story, beginning to end, and in the process of doing that leaves open the notion that for everything we know about him, there was more, a core of him that he alone will take to the grave. It’s watchable and provocative.

This doesn’t rise to that height. It lacks the Everyman subject. Movies about Hollywood are inevitably more interesting to people who are in Hollywood than the rest of us, and while it’s certainly fun to see Welles pronounce a plague on all their houses (if in fact that’s what he’s doing, but I think that’s there), there’s a kind of been-there-done-that to such a message. The provincialism of the elite is a well-mined subject.

But that’s just my opinion. There’s a larger value to the work that makes it worth checking out:

This is like discovering that Emily Dickenson had a complete collection of poetry hidden under her mattress since her death, or da Vinci had created another masterpiece but no one had laid eyes on it since the 16th century. This is akin to finding a trove of Greek drama previously unknown to exist, or a lost Shakespeare play.

I’d advise looking at the accompanying documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, as well.

Someone Hold Dan Akroyd Down and Make Him Stop Babbling About Ghostbusters 3

Let. It. Go.

For over two decades there was talk of a third Ghostbusters movie, but that particular phantasm never materialized. Instead we got 2016’s Ghostbusters, a reboot of the property with an all-new cast that suffered all kinds of controversy and ultimately failed to be a hit at the box office. That seemingly killed another Ghostbusters in that continuity, but perhaps it opened the door for a true Ghostbusters 3. In fact, Ghostbusters 3 is currently in the works according to Dan Aykroyd, who said:

The same nonsense he always says, it’s being written, he’s hopeful, he thinks Bill Murray will want to, blah blah blah.

Don’t.

Just don’t.

Ghostbusters was a good movie. A classic, even. Ghostbusters 2 was… enh. The cartoon was a cartoon. The reboot bombed. We don’t need another Ghostbusters movie. We don’t need to “save” the “franchise”. It’s not a fucking fast food chain, it’s a movie. Just one movie that was entertaining in 1984. The rest of the dreck that’s been built around it is forgettable and unimportant. Another movie is unnecessary and would accomplish nothing but spark unending debates and wearisome attempts at drollery by idiots on social media. 

The time and money spent on whether determining whether another Ghostbusters movie could be better spent on creating a genuine and new piece of entertainment that could itself become memorable and rewatchable over and over again. 

One of the obstacles preventing Ghostbusters 3 from happening over the years has actually been Bill Murray, who never seemed particularly interested– feeling that there was no way to live up to the original.

If this is true, then the world owes Bill Murray a debt of thanks. I’ve seen some people – like the Red Letter Media guys – blame Bill Murray’s intransigence for the existence of the reboot. That’s nonsense on stilts. Ghostbusters, but With Girls was fated to happen the day some idiot at Sony figured out he could shill some Pepsi and Papa Johns Pizza that way. They ran with it because reboots generate their own press, and controversies generate more. Because existing IP’s are the golden ticket for getting movie audiences in the door, right?

Right?

Bill Murray is right. No more Ghostbusters. No more dumb sequels, unnecessary reboots, and nostalgia pieces. Make something that doesn’t suck. Make art, you monkeys.

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Quick Review: The Outlaw King

outlaw-king

What the wags have called Braveheart 2 came out this week on Netflix, and being a medievalist nerd, I was all about it.

It is a more accurate film that Braveheart in several respects. For one, it gives us the real struggle Robert the Bruce had in claiming the throne of Scotland. None of this sudden Hollywood climax decision with a full army at his back for the Bruce: he had to claw his way to power, bearing a crown no one respected, hiding in the heather from his own countrymen for a number of years. For another, it’s depiction of Edward I of England is probably truer than the cartoon villain Braveheart gave us. If you loved Patrick McGoohan’s moustache-pulling (and who doesn’t? “The trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots!” that’s A+ movie-villainry right there), you might not like the merely iron-fisted politician this film gives us. But Edward I of England wasn’t a cartoon, he was a real man, a puissant ruler and crusader, a man who struggled to restore royal authority after the turbulent reigns of his grandfather John and his father Henry III, and largely succeeded. Call out his excess in this if you like. Say that his cruelty to the Scots crosses the line into wickedness – I can’t refute it.  But he was a man, and not a devil, and this movie does him the courtesy of making that real. You may not recognize Stephen Dillane – Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones – in the part, but you will appreciate him.

However, when it comes to Edward II, I think the earlier film got it right:  the second of the Three Edwards (for a century, from 1277 to 1377, the King of England had the same name) seems to really have been a dilettante who had neither capacity nor wish to charge into battle at the head of an army. We see the younger Edward’s weakness in Braveheart, his terror of his father, and silent yearning to be utterly unlike him (a yearning that made him a poor ruler indeed). In this film, the younger Edward is just a bad chip off the old block.

The film doesn’t run the length of Braveheart, so it can’t spend the time building and enriching the emotional life of the characters. We don’t quite see Robert’s emotional motivation to rebel in the same way we saw William Wallace’s. Chris Pine holds more back than Gibson does, preferring to act with his eyes in something of a slow burn. How well he pulls that off is for the viewer to decide.

Bottom Line: it’s both less thrilling and less fanciful than Braveheart. It runs close to the truth, and is never boring. Worth a watch.

Rian Johnson Blames Critical Reception of The Last Jedi on Russian Trolls

Yep. That’s a thing that happened.

homer-facepalm

You know, I didn’t walk out of the theater disliking The Last Jedi. Quite the contrary. I enjoyed it. My whole family – all SW fans in general, none quite as obsessive as me – liked it, too. When the Vice Admiral Hole-Card jumped to light speed right into the First Order Fleet, I whispered under my breath “that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen” and my six-year-old said “Me, too.” That was a cool moment I got to have.

But this kind of idiocy is going to put me right into the camp of the haters. It’s just a gussied-up version of the wearisome defenses of The Phantom Menace that got slung around in the summer of ’99. Back then, “Bashers” were told that they needed to get in touch with their “inner child” and then they’d see that the new movie was really great and entertaining, not tedious and disjointed. Now, critics are told the reverse, that they’re hapless stooges of Rooskie Mind Control. Both of which are ways to Dismiss and Disqualify, which are pernicious, weedlike versions of the Argumentum ad Hominem.

On top of that, it reminds us that Lucasfilm has no intention of breaking its 20-year habit of treating Star Wars like a rented mule to carry money. They have no interest in finding out what the problem is. They have no interest in meeting fans halfway. Anyone not singing the Oceania anthem for every piece of product is a filthy miscreant who is guilty of all manner of thoughtcrime.

If Episode IX tanks, they will have richly deserved it.

Addendum: Want to watch something way more subversive than The Last Jedi? Here’s a 7-minute short by some Japanese-style animators that will have you rooting for the Empire. Subversive, and awesome.

 

You Done Poked the Hive: Larry Corriea, provoked by this paranoid buck-passing, de-lurks (as far as The Last Jedi goes) to poop all over it from a great height.

Characters it’s all about rooting for someone. When your characters do nothing but stupid shit, it’s hard to root for them. Your antagonists need to be menacing, not clowns, or worse, just thrown away! (hey, Snoke is interesting… and never mind…).  Or Phasma. Hey, wow, she must be super bad ass to have the silver armor and…. Garbage chute… Maybe some menace this time and…. Oh fuck it.

The Ewoks had more character than this. AND THEY COULDN’T BLINK.

It’s official. Disney has managed to make a SW move that the fans hate as much as The Phantom Menace. Heckuva job, guys.