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MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D And The Tyranny Of Expectations

Posted on 18 March 2014 by William Gatevackes

marvelsagentsofshieldMarvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D debuted just like you’d think a TV series that tied into the Marvel Cinematic Universe would, with a 4.7 rating, 14 share, and 12.12 million viewers. However, as the series progressed, it became a case of diminishing returns. The most recent episode, which feature Jamie Alexander’s Sif character from the Thor films, could only garner half the pilot’s ratings (2.1/7, 5.99 million). Yet, this was seen as a good sign as it was an improvement over the previous episode, which earned a series low 1.8/6 with 5.46 million viewers. Granted, the show has anywhere from 3 to 4 millions people who watch the show on the DVR then next day, but when there are two MCU films in the top five all-time highest grossing films worldwide, having a TV tie-in not be able to win its time slot is a disappointment. And a quick search of the Internet will show you that criticism of the show from fans and professional critics alike increased as ratings decreased.

In an effort to correct this freefall, ABC is airing a special tonight that will mix behind-the-scenes sneak peeks at Marvel’s upcoming film slate with a healthy dose of promotion of the TV show. I’m sure the network hopes that reaffirming the ties the show has with the Marvel Cinematic Universe will bring back those lost viewers. But it might just be that tie, and the expectations that it brought, is what caused viewers to leave in droves.

mayandcoulsonandlolaWhen AoS (as I will be calling the show from here on out) was announced, it raised a number of expectations in what would be the core audience for the show. In fans of the MCU films, it raised the expectation that the TV show would just be a Marvel film brought to the small screen, complete with big names and big budget special effects. Comic book fans expected that this would be another venue for their favorite characters to come to life with living, breathing actors. It turns out that neither group of the show’s core demographic got what it wanted, resulting in a testy and disenfranchised viewership. This made it almost impossible for the show to be taken on its own merits. Every flaw, every misstep was exacerbated by its disappointed viewership as further reason why the show’s creators got it wrong and why the show didn’t work.

However, the question I asked myself is, “Are these expectations realistic?” The answer I found was, “No, and on the surface, yes.”

The most unrealistic expectation was that the films would transfer over to television exactly. This could be chalked up to fans simply not realizing the vast differences between film budgets and TV budgets. The Marvel films cost between $140 million to $225 million to make. The average TV show costs around $3 million to make. Even if AoS carries a slightly higher budget, it is still miles away from what goes into making a movie.

This means no Robert Downey Jr or Chris Hemsworth in a reoccurring role, no CGI characters, and no superpowers that would be cost prohibitive to portray on screen. This is why the series focus on the reasonably cheap adventures of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and not, say, War Machine or Sentry.

coulsonexplosion

Which isn’t to say that there couldn’t be more interplay between the film world and the TV show. This does sound silly when you consider that a driving plot point of the series so far–the Extremis virus–was also a main driving plot point of Iron Man 3. However,  its connection to Thor: The Dark World was simply to dedicate a show to cleaning up after the fact. It would not have been hard to have Fitz and Simmons investigate a separate dimensional aperture breach similar to the one in the movie in an episode leading up to the release date (and work in a reason why S.H.I.E.L.D. was nowhere to be found when a big alien spaceship was tearing up an English city while they were at it) .

skyeandwardPerhaps this is about to change. The current plot line focuses on Coulson losing his faith in the way S.H.I.E.L.D. does business, much like the sentiment Captain America expresses in the trailers for Captain America: Winter Soldier. Hopefully, the parallel is deliberate and is a sign of more synergy between the films and the TV series.

What could very well be more puzzling to fans is why there are not more Marvel Comics guest stars, and when there are, they are of the ilk of Victoria Hand and John Garrett and not Crusher Creel or Carol Danvers. After all, Disney owns Marvel and ABC, so if Marvel owns the rights to a character, ABC should have free reign to them as well. The only thing stopping them would be the cost of bringing their powers to the big screen.

It would be nice if it worked out that way, but no. AoS only has access to characters that Marvel think doesn’t have a chance at film success. This is what Jed Whedon told HitFix before the series premiered:

You said before that whenever you want to use an established character, it’s a process; Marvel’s this big machine. Working with characters you’ve created, how much autonomy do you have to make this show? Or are there layers and layers of bureaucracy you’re going through to do everything?

Maurissa Tancharoen:      There’s some rules, yeah.

Jed Whedon:           There’s some. There are some rules, but part of the process of figuring this out has been finding out what those rules are and where we can live between them. We always talk about how vast the Marvel universe is, so you’re not very limited. Obviously if it’s a huge name, they’d probably flag it for a feature and we aren’t going to get him for one week of television. But there’s plenty of characters. We also can work the other way in terms of coming up with stories we want to tell and then asking Marvel, “Do you have a guy who does that thing that we’re talking about?”

Of course, it doesn’t help that the guys that Marvel gives them are small-timers like Scorch and Blizzard. Either way, it sounds like every Marvel character that AoS wants to use has to go through a vetting process with Marvel, because there is no set rules or list of characters they can use. Now it’s a little bit easier to understand why the show’s villains are characters like Ian Quinn and the the Clairvoyant–it’s easier for AoS to create characters from whole cloth than it is to go through an application process every time they want to bring in a recurring character. It also makes the introduction of Deathlok that much more special because that character was long in development for a feature film. Taking all this into consideration, it’s a wonder he’s appearing in the series at all.

So, while it would be nice if AoS used more characters from the Marvel Universe, it’s not really their fault–it’s Marvel’s. The process of getting Marvel characters into the show should be much clearer and easier.

I believe that the show was burdened with unfair expectations. Expectations that hampered the show getting a fair shot right from the start. Granted, if these expectations weren’t there, people might still find fault in the show (for me, it’s extremely hit or miss. When it hits, it hits big. When it misses, it’s painful to watch.) But the show was handicapped by the successful films that came before it. And that is something the creators can not fix.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The War Over WATCHMEN, Redux

Posted on 07 March 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we once again interrupt our regularly scheduled program to cover new information about a film we already covered, Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

silver snyder watchmenIn terms of bringing Watchmen to the big screen, Joel Silver would be the alpha, and Zack Snyder would be the omega. Silver was the producer who first started process of bringing Alan Moore’s seminal work to theaters, but it was Zack Snyder who was able to finish the job. So, the two diverse and opinionated power players will be forever inexorably linked. But this doesn’t mean that they have to get along.

Through a serendipitous coincidence, Silver and Snyder produced films that were released a week apart. Silver is a producer on Non-Stop, which opened last week and Snyder is a producer on the sequel to his film 300, 300: Rise of an Empire which opens today. If the two films were released further apart, Snyder wouldn’t have just a quick turn around on answering Silver’s comments on his version of the Watchmen and I’d be writing about the Alien vs. Predator franchise like I had originally planned.

joel silverJoel Silver was interviewed by ComingSoon.net in conjunction with Non-Stop‘s release, and, as these interviews typically go, the interview spanned Silver’s entire career. Naturally, the topic of Watchmen came up. And since the bombastic Silver is never one to shy away from expressing his opinions–at length–we get exactly what he thought of Snyder’s version, and how his would have been much, much better:

CS: Speaking of ones that got away, as a die-hard Terry Gilliam fan I have to know if there’s anything juicy you can tell me about his conception of “Watchmen”?
Silver:
It was a MUCH much better movie.

CS: Than the one Zack Snyder made…
Silver:
Oh God. I mean, Zack came at it the right way but was too much of a slave to the material.

CS: Agreed.
Silver:
I was trying to get it BACK from the studio at that point, because I ended up with both “V For Vendetta” and “Watchmen” and I kinda lost “Watchmen.” I was happy with the way “V” came out, but we took a lot of liberties. That’s one of the reasons Alan Moore was so unpleasant to deal with. The version of “Watchmen” that Zack made, they really felt the notion. They went to Comic-Con, they announced it, they showed things, the audience lost their minds but it wasn’t enough to get a movie that would have that success. What Terry had done, and it was a Sam Hamm script–who had written a script that everybody loved for the first “Batman”–and then he brought in a guy who’d worked for him to do work on it [Charles McKeown, co-writer of "Brazil"]. What he did was he told the story as-is, but instead of the whole notion of the intergalactic thing which was too hard and too silly, what he did was he maintained that the existence of Doctor Manhattan had changed the whole balance of the world economy, the world political structure. He felt that THAT character really altered the way reality had been. He had the Ozymandias character convince, essentially, the Doctor Manhattan character to go back and stop himself from being created, so there never would be a Doctor Manhattan character. He was the only character with real supernatural powers, he went back and prevented himself from being turned into Doctor Manhattan, and in the vortex that was created after that occurred these characters from “Watchmen” only became characters in a comic book.

CS: That’s fascinating. Very META.
Silver:
Oh yeah. So the three characters, I think it was Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, they’re all of the sudden in Times Square and there’s a kid reading a comic book. They become like the people in Times Square dressing up like characters as opposed to really BEING those characters. There’s a kid reading the comic book and he’s like, “Hey, you’re just like in my comic book.” It was very smart, it was very articulate, and it really gave a very satisfying resolution to the story, but it just didn’t happen. Lost to time.

CS: Things happen for a reason, it might have changed the whole landscape of superhero movies right now as well.
Silver:
But I did like the movie, very much. Zack did great stuff in it!

I suppose before I go any farther, I should talk about the Alan Moore’s ending to the Watchmen series, which Silver briefly touches upon above. For as great as the series was, as ground breaking as the series was (more on what I thought here), it’s ending, in my opinion, was pretty damn awful. So, consider this your SPOILER WARNING.

Watchmen monsterIn the comic, Ozymandias’ grand plan to stave off nuclear annihilation was to create a giant, hideous creature, and then teleport the living, breathing creature into Midtown Manhattan, where it would promptly die, killing millions as it releases a psychic backlash as it undergoes its death throes. The nations of the  world would think this was the beginning of an alien invasion, and would put aside their differences to to unite to combat the supposed foe from outer space. The plan goess through and works.

Not only was Moore’s ending a swipe, inadvertent or not, of an old Outer Limits episode, but also it was a garish break from the realistic sci-fi of the rest of the series. Yes, you had a character that was a walking nuclear bomb, but at least his existence was explained by some pseudoscience. The beast’s didn’t get quite the same treatment.

On top of that, the plan doesn’t seem to be one that would work that well. You mean to tell me that the U.S. and U.S.S.R. wouldn’t be back at each others throats when the rest of the aliens failed to arrive? And the beast itself, the government wouldn’t chop it up to see how it worked? They probably find out a lot about it, perhaps even Ozymandias’ role in its creation.

Anyway, the ending did have to be changed for the film, on that I agree with Silver. I don’t agree necessarily that his ending was that much better.

The ending Silver describes corresponds with a Sam Hamm script for the project that I read years ago, one I spoke about here. The only other major changes I recall from that script would have been a tacked on action sequence where the heroes faced off against a superpowered villain at the Statue of Liberty (which would obliterate Moore’s deliberate plot choice of having Doctor Manhattan be the only superpowered being in the story) and removal of all the ephemera (the Minutemen, the Tales of the Black Freighter, etc) from the source material.

But the ending, well, it was a Twilight Zone ending with none of the irony that made Twilight Zone endings great. It kind of laid there on the page. Obviously, we were supposed have our mind’s blown, but the way it was presented, in an almost laughable way, it fell flat.

There are several things to take into consideration with Silver’s statement. One, you have to realize that Joel Silver is a producer in the Hollywood tradition of old, where he is a bombastic promoter of everything he puts his name on. Of course, he would think his version of Watchmen would be better. It’s not in his DNA to say any different. And another thing is while Silver made it sound like this ending was Gilliam’s idea, it definitely came from Hamm. Granted, I wasn’t privy to any communications between the parties in 1988, and how much influence Gilliam had on the script, but the ending came from a script with Hamm”s name, and only Hamm’s name on it. If Gilliam was so enamored with Hamm’s script, why did he bring McKeown in to rewrite it? Because he wanted to change it. Who knows if the ending was one of the things Gilliam wanted to change?

zack snyderBut thanks to Silver, Gilliam was thrown under the bus, and is being viewed as the bad guy in this. Well, at least in Zack Snyder’s eyes. Only one week later, talking to The Huffington Post while promoting 300: Rise of an Empire, Snyder and his wife Deborah decided to address Silver’s words–by taking a shot at Gilliam:

Was “Watchmen” the most “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” project you’ve ever been a part of? Now Joel Silver is criticizing you for being a “slave” to the source material while touting a very different from the source material script that Terry Gilliam was going to film.

Zack Snyder: It’s funny, because the biggest knock against the movie is that we finally changed the ending, right?

Right, you used Dr. Manhattan as the threat to bring the world together as opposed to the alien squid.

Zack Snyder: Right, and if you read the Gilliam ending, it’s completely insane.

Deborah Snyder: The fans would have been thinking that they were smoking crack.

Zack Snyder: Yeah, the fans would have stormed the castle on that one. So, honestly, I made “Watchmen” for myself. It’s probably my favorite movie that I’ve made. And I love the graphic novel and I really love everything about the movie. I love the style. I just love the movie and it was a labor of love. And I made it because I knew that the studio would have made the movie anyway and they would have made it crazy. So, finally I made it to save it from the Terry Gilliams of this world.

In Gilliam’s version, Dr. Manhattan is convinced to go back in time and prevent Dr. Manhattan from existing. But the specter of his existence is the threat to the world, which is kind of what you did at the end of the movie anyway.

Zack Snyder: Right, of course. It’s just using elements that are in the comic book already, that’s the only thing I did. I would not have grabbed something from out of the air and said, “Oh, here’s a cool ending” just because it’s cool.

Deborah Snyder: But it’s interesting because, you’re right, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You have people who are mad that the ending was changed and you have other people saying, “Oh, it was a slave to the graphic novel.” You can’t please everybody.

Zack Snyder: And that’s the problem with genre. That’s the problem with comic book movies and genre. And I believe that we’ve evolved — I believe that the audiences have evolved. I feel like “Watchmen” came out at sort of the height of the snarky Internet fanboy — like, when he had his biggest strength. And I think if that movie came out now — and this is just my opinion — because now that we’ve had “Avengers” and comic book culture is well established, I think people would realize that the movie is a satire. You know, the whole movie is a satire. It’s a genre-busting movie. The graphic novel was written to analyze the graphic novel — and comic books and the Cold War and politics and the place that comic books play in the mythology of pop culture. I guess that’s what I’m getting at with the end of “Watchmen” — in the end, the most important thing with the end was that it tells the story of the graphic novel. The morality tale of the graphic novel is still told exactly as it was told in the graphic novel — I used slightly different devices. The Gilliam version, if you look at it, it has nothing to do with the idea that is the end of the graphic novel. And that’s the thing that I would go, “Well, then don’t do it.” It doesn’t make any sense.

I can’t imagine people being happy with that version.

Zack Snyder: Yeah! If you love the graphic novel, there’s just no way. It would be like if you were doing “Romeo and Juliet” and instead of them waking up in the grave area, they would have time-traveled back in time and none of it would have happened.

Between this and his response to the casting controversy over Batman Vs. Superman, Snyder is coming off as a man with a larger than normal ego but with thinner than normal skin. This is not a good combination for a Hollywood player, especially one whose milieu is comic book adaptations. Reading Snyder’s response, you’d think that Joel Silver accused him of being a being the antichrist and of selling kidnapped babies on the black market. You’d think that Silver’s remarks were a vicious and petty slam on his genius, and that he didn’t say anything nice about Snyder’s Watchmen at all. Well, Silver’s comments are reprinted verbatim above. You can see that that wasn’t the case at all, unless of course, the kids these days consider “But I did like the movie, very much. Zack did great stuff in it!” the biggest diss in the world. OOH, SNAP!

Actually, scratch that. You’d think Terry Gilliam did all those things. Snyder doesn’t mention Silver once. But he is more than ready to place all the blame on Gilliam’s feet. I especially love the exceptional arrogance when he says that he was saving Watchmen from the Terry Gilliams of the world. Listen, Zack. I know this is hard to hear, but you really, how do athletes put it, you can’t hold Gillaim’s jock strap. Uh, uh, I know what you’re going to say. Stop. I have three titles for you. Time Bandits. Brazil. 12 Monkeys. Your argument, no matter what it is, is invalid.

secondwatchmenteaserI will give Snyder credit for one thing. His ending is better than either Hamm’s or Moore’s. He is correct when he says it ties into the story better and is more effective in reaching Ozymandias’ goals. And I do grasp the satiric bent Snyder was going for, and I got it when the film first came out. I knew the costumes in the film were meant to be a commentary on the latex, nippleriffic costumes of the first Batman franchise and others. However, the other changes did not work quite as well. The extended sex scene totally misses the point of the Dan/Laurie pairing from the novel and has the strong odor of crass titillation to appeal to the lowest common denominator (and also shoots a hole in Snyder’s claim about being interested in being true to the tone of his source). And having the heroes, all essentially athletes at the top of human potential, be able to kick bad guys six feet in the air or turn bricks to dust with their punch was very distracting from the narrative.

But outside of this, the film is way to faithful to the source material. That criticism is valid. What many comic fans (or fans of any media that is adapted to film) fail to realize is that films are different from comics. There’s a different machinery at play. What works in a 12-issue miniseries will not work in a 2 hour movie.

I’ll admit, the fanboy in me did get a certain amount of glee from hearing dialogue taken directly from the comics repeated verbatim from the mouths of the actors. However, at times the film was less a film, and more a rote, less visceral recap of the graphic novel. I felt myself forming a mental checklist of the plot elements that Snyder was bringing to the screen instead of getting lost in the story, like I should have. And a lot was lost in the translation. Snyder didn’t adapt the elements from the graphic novel, he presented them. And his visual style took a lot away from Moore and Gibbons’ style. The result? It was a faithful adaptation that lost a lot of the grit and gravitas of the original. That’s my main criticism of it.

Wrapping up, I consider the Terry Gilliam Watchmen one of the classic lost films that we’ll never have the opportunity to see. If he was able to make the adaptation work,I doubt that the final product would have resembled the Sam Hamm script in the least. It might not have resembled the comic either, but it would have been inventive and imaginative. But we will never know what we would have got because we didn’t get it. Therefore, it’s silly for Snyder to say his version is better than the one we would have received from Gilliam. But the fact that he felt so threatened as to say that really says a lot about Snyder and his personality. And what it says is not very nice.

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UPDATE: Stephen Amell Addresses JUSTICE LEAGUE News Stories

Posted on 23 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

stephenamell2Big day on updates to yesterday’s stories, isn’t it?

We have another update to that Justice League story we ran yesterday. Stephen Amell took to his personal Facebook page to rant about how the media twisted his words around to create a story out of nothing:

Something I need to get off of my chest.

When I do press, I try and be open, honest and thoughtful. That being said… I find it incredibly discouraging to see a headline like the ones I’ve been seeing this morning. Headlines that aren’t just a stretch, they’re totally fabricated. At no point, have I had “studio level” discussions about any feature films at Warner Bros.

In this particular instance, when I read articles that take a pretty straightforward answer and slap a title on it that has little to no correlation to what I’ve actually said, it makes it seem as though I’m disrespecting my current position. Which is bullshit. And why would I do that? I mean… I’m not the smartest dude in the world. (After all… I picked a career in acting.) But would I really just casually subvert a process cloaked in secrecy? A process – by the way – being run by the company who currently employs me. C’MON!

We’re making a kick ass show. We will continue to make a kick ass show. And I will continue to interact and provide interesting content for our fans. Because I love our fans. If every once and a while, some dickweed wants to pull a headline out of thin air to generate page views, then that’s the price we pay.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I subscribe to Amell’s Facebook page and I think for the most part, he’s a straight-shooter. I like Arrow and think he does an excellent job on the show. So I have no hidden animosity towards him. But I have to call shenanigans here.

Let me explain. I’ll start off by reprinting the pertinent quote in question, taken word for word from the Fandango site yesterday when I wrote the article:

I have had discussions, but I think the gestation process for this project is a lot slower than most people think. I mean, they haven’t even shot the next one. They haven’t even shot a frame of the movie before the movie everyone thinks is the Justice League movie!

That part of his quote is conspicuously absent from the story on the site as of right now. There is no reason given for why the text was altered or that part of the quote was removed. But the point is that that quote actually was part of that article yesterday, as reported by many, many, many other sources. Having it removed does not mean it was never there in the first place.

Furthermore, that was a direct quote attributed to Amell. It wasn’t a reworking of what he said, it was what he said. And he’s right. He didn’t specifically say that he had “studio-level” discussions. But he did say that he did have discussions. So that part, at the very least, wasn’t fabricated (unless the entire quote was). And it might be a stretch to say that he had these discussion with the studio, but not much of one. That is the context of the quote. I mean, who else WOULD he have discussions about bringing Oliver Queen to the big screen with?

And notice that Amell makes a point of attacking the “headlines,” not the original quote. Granted, the third paragraph of his diatribe seems to go with the idea that his original quote ceased to exist when Fandango removed it, but he never explicitly says that the original quote was a fabrication, just that he didn’t say he had studio level talks, which wasn’t what his original quote said anyway.

And what part of the original article was making it look like he was disrespecting his current position? The part of the quote that remains where he says that the important thing is his TV show?

In other words, I think Amell is dancing a fine line here, trying to show outrage without ever truly saying that he was misquoted. In my opinion, just judging by his overreaction  to his original quote, I think that these talks really did happen. Maybe that original quote was supposed to have been off the record and that Fandango ran with it anyway. That would be a breach of journalistic ethics, but not as big of one if the fabricated the quote out of thin air for page views. And if they did that, Fandango should have ran a retraction and an apology for it, and the writer, Scott Huver, would have been canned. As far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened. But I think, and this is purely speculation and opinion on my part, that Amell said these things, got called in the “principal’s” office (if you will), got read the riot act (up to and including having his job threatened), and is trying to do damage control.

I could be wrong. But that is what my gut is telling me.

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UPDATE: Gal Gadot’s Three-Picture Deal Does Include WONDER WOMAN Film.

Posted on 23 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

tumblr_mc7femyMba1runamko1_1280Yesterday, we reported on the interview that Gal Gadot had with an Israeli entertainment news program where she confirmed that she was signed up for a three-picture deal with Warner Brothers. In the article, we questioned if a standalone Wonder Woman film was one of those three films and if such a small commitment was a sign of little confidence in the actress. Luckily, Variety reported on the same interview, and since their connections are far better than mine, they were able to answer those questions.

First off, they confirmed that Wonder Woman is the third film of the deal after Batman vs. Superman and Justice League. Second, the trade confirms that there was in fact for such a low number of films in that contract:

Limiting the deal to three pictures makes sense for Warners, since the studio still doesn’t know how auds will react to Wonder Woman in the untitled Batman-Superman movie. Since its taken so long to find the right parts to make a Wonder Woman movie work, WB and DC don’t want to rush into a large commitment if fans are still not drawn to a standalone movie featuring the character.

See, just when you think that Warners/DC might have actually gotten their act together and were prepared to make a solid run at Marvel for comic book movie dominance, they pull the same shoddy, half-assed, stupid movie studio tricks they have been doing for decades. Instead of putting the time, the effort and the creative energy into giving us a Wonder Woman that the audiences can’t help to be drawn to, they decide to low-ball with an actress with a limited resume, unproven acting skills, a heavy accent, and whose main assets to the production is that she is pretty and comes cheap. They throw her in the mix, cross their fingers, and hopes it sticks. And if it doesn’t? Hey, they tried. I’m sure they’ll blame the the character. I can almost see the articles now! “Wonder Woman just doesn’t work as a character, says Warners exec”!

Warners might have a lack of confidence in Wonder Woman, but I have a lack of confidence in them. And there’s a whole lot more evidence backing me up.

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Your DOCTOR STRANGE Casting Rumor Of The Day: Jon Hamm IS Doctor Strange!

Posted on 16 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

jonhamm Okay, these Doctor Strange casting rumors have got to stop.

The latest casting rumor is from a site called The Infamous who states that Jon Hamm has been cast, no, not in talks or negotiations, but cast as Doctor Stephen Strange in the forthcoming Marvel film.

Forget about the fact that the last casting rumor was debunked by saying that they were completely overhauling the script. Or that the earliest the film will arrive will be in two and a half years. No, according to this guy’s sources, Hamm already has a contract for a film that probably won’t even arrive for more than three years.

Yeah, I’m not buying it.

Listen, running a news website depends on click, and Dr. Strange casting rumors are high click currency. But there’s got to—

Excuse me, my phone is ringing. Wait a sec…

benedictcumberbatchOh my god, you’re not going to believe this, but I just got off the phone with a woman who used to work with Kevin Feige’s mom, and she says Benedict Cumberbatch has just signed to play Dr. Strange! He’s definitely one of the hottest “geek cred” actors in the biz today, and a name everyone wants on their team.

But what about the rumors he was going to sign up for the new Star Wars films? Well, my source says: he still is!! Then they said something that just about curled my hair. I can’t bear to repeat it, but it rhymes with “smoss smover.” Can you say “Dr. Strange, Jedi Knight?” I JUST DID!

Hold on. My computer just told me I have mail. Which is strange because I don’t have an AOL e-mail account….

hughlaurieOh my stars and garters! I just got an e-mail from a pizza delivery guy who dropped off a Meat Lovers Special to Avi Arad.  The guy got two tips: a crisp $100 bill and a the fact that Hugh Laurie is in talks to play Stephen Strange! He’s moving from Dr. House to Dr. Strange!

What’s more, this casting was a package deal. Laurie would only do the film of he could bring a friend along. Yes, wait for it, Strange’s manservant Wong will be played by…..Stephen Fry! It seems that from Ant-Man on, the Marvel films will be of a more comedic bent. Does this mean we can expect Rowan Atkinson for Baron Mordo? Oh, I certainly hope so!

Ach! Facebook just beeped at me. Let me see what’s up.

tomcruiseGreat googily moogily! A guy who just got arrested for going through Joss Whedon’s garbage just sent me a Facebook message. He says he found top secret documents that the guy Marvel has made an official, no-holds barred offer to is none other than…..Tom Cruise! I feel the need…the need for supernatural screeds!

Apparently,Cruise has been wanting to do a superhero film for the longest time. Remember, he was involved with Iron Man during its early days. And it looks like the stars have aligned to bring Cruise on the project.

The rest of the message was hard to read–the guy obviously had autocorrect problems–but it appears Cruise is requesting some changes to the source material. Based on some pamphlets my source found, Dr. Strange will no longer be the Master of Mystic Arts but a Grand Level in the Study of Science (that’s what -ology means, right? Study of? The message said Science-ology). Also, Strange will not be facing off against Dormammu, but, instead, Dormamm-Xemu.

Oh boy!My phone just buzzed that certain buzz it does when I get a text. Let me check that and I’ll be right back.

merylstreepJumping Jehoshaphat! I have just got a scoop that is so big and so game changing that I would find it hard to believe if it didn’t come from such a trusted source (a guy who bagged Robert Downey Jr’s groceries that one time at Whole Foods).

Ladies and gentlemen, the search for Strange has not just turned serious, it has turned Oscar-winning serious. The latest name at the top of Marvel’s list to play the good doctor is none other than Oscar winning actress Meryl Streep!

While this is certainly going to cause controversy amongst fans of the comics, I have been told that Strange being played by a woman will be explained by in the film by having the character lose a “Gender Change Spell Challenge” to another sorcerer in her early days the Ancient One’s apprentice. This, my source says, is reliant purely upon the availiability of Rutger Hauer to play the male version of Dr. Strange.

My source tells me that all is left to do is to work on a perks package and determining which accent Streep is allow to use for the character and it’s a done deal.

CRASH! Oh, my! Someone just threw a rock with a note tied around it through my window! That’s scary because I live on the second floor of an apartment building with no windows open to the street. That couldn’t have been easy. Well, if they went through all that fuss, it must be something important. I’ll see.

peterhootenHokey smokes! I just got another rumor! It was from someone who wants to remain anonymous, but says he once got an autograph off of Stan Lee! The note reads “Go To Amazon.” Somehow, I know exactly what this means. Sometimes film companies list their films on Amazon even before the film comes out in theaters. You can get good spoilers that way!

And what good spoilers it is! It doesn’t get any more official than this!I am proud to announce, for the first time anywhere, that the actor playing Doctor Strange will be…Peter Hooton! I mean, it says it right there in the Amazon listing! Peter Hooton is Stephen Strange! There’s no way that can be wrong, can it!

I have to admit, this guy is a relative unknown to me. A quick perusal of the Google says that the actor had a role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds ( I think. The film was spelled Inglorious Bastards in the page results I saw, but that has to be a misprint, right?) And, as you can see to the picture to the left, the producers have already made it to the costume testing part of the production. Apparently, judging by Hooton’s hairstyle and clothing, the film will be a period piece, set in the 1970s.

Now, I didn’t bother reaching out to Marvel or these actor’s representatives for confirmation, because I expected nothing but denials all around. Just remember when any–or all–of these actors are your next Doctor Strange, that you heard it here first!

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Would You Buy A Used Car From Bill “Jett” Ramey?

Posted on 08 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

3148BE99-D275-33DD-E2C540EDC63375BANow, the “rumor-mongering sites” do indeed rub me the wrong way. There are FAR too many of these sorts of outlets that make stuff up just to see the reaction online. They are doing nothing more than throwing sh*t at the wall to see what sticks. There are a three or four sites – who shall remain nameless – that are very successful carrying out such illicit endeavors.

-Bill “Jett” Ramey, Batman On Film, THE BOF MAIL BAG, January 4, 2014

I’d bet a year’s pay – in MONOPOLY money, of course – that the “Amazons” of this cinematic DCU will be descendants of those “ancient Kryptonians” who attempted to set up Kryptonian outposts throughout spacedom thousands and thousands of years ago. Furthermore, I say that Wonder Woman will be powered-down, if you will, relative to Superman because these Amazons have evolved and adapted to living on Earth for hundreds of centuries. And since Kryptonians are produced without any “He’n and She’n” – Jor El and Lara excluded – couldn’t this original Kryptonian on Earth have used this reproductive science to create an all-female race? I say yes!

-Bill “Jett” Ramey, Batman On Film, THE BOF MAIL BAG, January 4, 2014

OK, it’s not funny any longer. In the recent mailbag I did with you all, I speculated on how Goyer/Snyder *might* account for the origins of the Amazons: Decedents of ancient Kryptonian astronauts who were able to create an all-female race due to Kryptonians artificially creating their offspring. It was nothing but a guess — pure speculation and my opinion — and nothing more. Now, many outlets have picked up the “story” and have run it as either me claiming it to be fact or me claiming it’s “inside info/rumor.”

BULLSH*T! I get that people are anxious for BvS news, but this was ridiculous! One dude on one badass outlet went on a tirade/rant over the whole thing which pretty much amounted to an online meltdown directed towards WB.

So once again and for the record, the BOF Mailbags are a fun thing between me and the readers of BOF — not for people to pick up and suggest it’s me reporting “news.” – Jett

-Bill “Jett” Ramey, Batman On Film’s Facebook Page, January 6, 2014

This is not going to be an apology post. Yes, I did write about the Bill “Jett” Ramey’s “mailbag” post yesterday, including his speculation that the New Wonder Woman would be Kryptonian. But I was sure to present it as speculation (Actually, I called it a theory), and I buried it in the story. It wasn’t part of the title or the excerpt that runs on the front page of the site (in retrospect, a tactical error seeing how much traction this article got). Yes, I did discuss the possibilities such a change would allow,  but never reported it as fact nor did I even call it a rumor.

But I did say that the blurb would cause a controversy, and cause a controversy it did. We weren’t the only one to run with the story. It also appeared on io9, The Mary Sue, blastr, The Outhouse, IGN, Comic Book Resources, ComicBook.com, BadAss Digest, and even more mainstream venues such as Yahoo! Movies UK and Moviefone. And I’m sure that there are many more out their too. And many of these articles rail against the idea as being very, very stupid.

Ramey’s complaints against these sites, saying that they are presenting his speculation as news or insider information, doesn’t sit well with me. All the examples above either make a point to say that this is speculation or copy the paragraph where he mentions Wonder Woman is a Kryptonian verbatim, including the part where he makes it clear it is only a bet (using Monopoly money, no less). Granted, some point out Batman On Film’s great track record and Ramey’s supposed connections, but none say explicitly that this is scoop or news. But even if they did, could you blame them?

Let me explain.

bof-600See that above? That’s the header that ran with the mailbag. Note the words “authoritative” and “definitive.”  This is how the site advertises itself. It is presenting itself as an authority on Batman On Film.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis presentation continues in the mailbox post as well.  Ramey makes the point that he has visited the set of at least one Batman film. He also states he participated in a Burbank press junket for Man of Steel and attended its premiere in New York.  These are all things that typically only people with connections to studios or producers have.

Also, Ramey makes some very definitive statements in the post. Lex Luthor will be in the film, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter will not. There will be a second villain that he knows the name of, but cannot say. There is no equivocation in these statements. Ramey presents them as facts.

And Batman on Film has published scoop in the past that no other site has, most recently the uniforms used in the football scene for the sequel.

This is empirical evidence that Ramey has some connection to the studio or to the production. While this doesn’t mean that his speculation is automatically fact, it does raise it to at least the level of an educated guess. It gives what he says, be it a news item, a rumor or a speculation, legitimacy. It gives it weight. It makes it newsworthy. Ramey should have known that.

And he also should have known how the Internet would react when they heard his speculation. He’s already written an op-ed piece about it on his site.  The fact that news sites, bloggers and regular fans would explode over such a major change to Wonder Woman’s history should have come as no surprise to Ramey.

And don’t get me started on his assertion that the BOF mailbags are not news and just a fun thing just between him and his fans. If that truly was the case, then he should have housed it on a message board or a usenet group (do they still have those?) or through an e-mail chain. No, he housed it on his site for public consumption, right next to other news items, opinion pieces, and rumors. The BOF Mailbag and all content therein became fair game for outside commentary and dissemination.

I’m not saying that the entertainment news media or the comic film fandom is blameless. One feeds off the other, and the food is gossip in any shape or form. But Ramey should shoulder some of the blame in this debacle himself. He threw some chum into the shark infested waters and he should have known better. As I told a friend of mine, the situation Ramey created was like an experienced pyrotechnic who throws a lit match into a bucket of gasoline and then expressed outrage and disbelief that it exploded.

So, in my opinion, Ramey playing the victim card, expressing outrage on how his words were twisted in order to infuriate fans just doesn’t hold true. He should have known his speculation would be widely picked up and distributed, that people would take it seriously, and react poorly to it.

Hopefully he can find a way to work past his anger and learn to enjoy the boost in unique visitors to his site that all this brouhaha will bring.

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STATE OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: A Juggernaut In Motion

Posted on 30 December 2013 by William Gatevackes

year in comic films 2013This year, I noticed a marked reduction in the “The Comic Book Film Must Go” articles. Certainly there was still griping, but no longer were there broadsides in the form of feature articles, but rather spitballs flung from the body of a film review. I think this is because the comic book film has become a steady institution. No genre is guaranteed permanence–the western was once the biggest genre in the land and now it’s nowhere to be found in today’s cineplexes–but the comic book movies has settled into a steady groove where each year the blockbusters make a billion dollars, and the flops are few and far between. In other words, the comic book film isn’t going anywhere.

Iron-Man-3-IMAX-poster1-405x600This year’s billion dollar baby was Iron Man 3. The film received a bump in interest by being the first Marvel film to be released after The Avengers, which led it to gross $1. 2 billion dollars worldwide. That’s double the grosses of Iron Man 2 and only $300,000 shy of The Avengers $1.5 billion, a surprising take for a third installment of a franchise. It was a fortunate turn of events for Robert Downey Jr., as it was the last film of his contract. The actor was quickly signed for two more Avengers films. I bet a lot of professional athletes would like to have a contract year like the one Downey had.

thor the dark world posterIron Man’s Avengers teammate Thor also was a beneficiary of an Avengers bump. Thor: The Dark World is, as of this writing, at a little under $628 million dollars worldwide in just 48 days of release. That’s about $180 million more than Thor made IN ITS ENTIRE 112 DAY RUN! And it’s still in over 1,100 theaters, so that number will just grow.

While the Marvel films have shown a great improvement in grosses over the originals, the quality of the films has decreased dramatically. In my opinion, Iron Man 3 was less  an Iron Man film than “The Adventures of Tony Stark, Amateur Detective.” He spent precious little time in the armor, spending most of the movie tracking down leads to solve the film’s main conflict. The character showed no aptitude for detective work in any of his previous films, and the change in direction seem just an idea to have the film play more into writer/director Shane Black’s wheelhouse. And Thor: The Dark World suffered from having too little plot for too many characters. The villain Malekith was poorly developed with no notable personality, and most of the supporting cast were given maybe one moment to shine before being shuffled back into the deck as another supporting character got their time in the sun.

Don’t get me wrong, these were flaws in otherwise enjoyable films. However, the Phase I of the Marvel Film Universe did not have as glaring flaws. With the little known Guardians of the Galaxy as one of Marvel’s features next year (joining the sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier), the studio needs to bring its A-game. Guardians might not survive such missteps as well as these two films did.

the-wolverine-posterAnother Marvel franchise went in the opposite direction on the grosses vs. quality scale. The Wolverine made about $30 million less domestically than its predecessor, X-Men Origins: Wolverine did, but the film was a vast improvement in quality. That’s even with the jarring break in tone of the film’s third act, where it broke down into a round of your typical superhero fisticuffs. But the first two-thirds told a great story and the narrative held through to the end of the film, some thing the last film didn’t have going for it.

The film also marked a new trend in comic book films. Every other studio is following in Marvel’s lead and creating a shared universe with their properties. The Wolverine had a mid-credits scene that set up next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will, in turn, lead directly into 2016′s X-Men: Apocalypse. This is both a sign that studios are investing a lot in the future popularity of the comic book film, but it also is a dangerous plan, as not every license can lend itself to a shared universe as the Avengers and X-Men can. 

man-of-steel-poster2013 also marked the year that many DC Comics fans have been waiting for. It marked the return of Superman as a viable film franchise. Man of Steel was a hard reboot of the property and it scored big time for Warner Brothers, earning over $662 million worldwide. The darker take on the was not a hit with everyone–longtime fans were vocal about how the hero now had a callous disregard to property damage and loss of life–but the grosses were strong enough for Warners to jump start its own shared universe with 2015′s Batman vs. Superman.

However, any optimism DC fans might have has to be tempered with the fact that Warners is rushing in order to play catch-up with Marvel. Not only does Batman vs. Superman reintroduce Batman to the film universe (in the person of the greatly lambasted Ben Affleck), but will introduce Wonder Woman, as portrayed by Gal Gadot, to the film world for the first time. And rumor has it that even more DC heroes, everyone from Flash to Nightwing to Martian Manhunter, might also be appearing in the film. Add that to the rumor that there will be at least two villains and numerous members of the characters’ supporting cast in the film as well, you have a movie that is top loaded with  more roles that a plot could conceivably justify. If Thor: The Dark World had more characters than it knew what to do with, how can we expect Batman vs. Superman to be any different. And since the film is going to be a machine designed to launch a DC film universe, it can’t afford to have any characters lost in the shuffle.

Marvel has provided Disney with at least four great franchises to add money to the coffers. But DC has a greater wealth of recognizable characters. It’s no surprise that Warners wants to exploit that. But Marvel built these franchises up slowly over years and years. Warners’ impatience with their properties might just cost them.

2gunsIf you were to look at just the domestic grosses, Oblivion ($89,107,235 domestic gross/$120 million budget), Red 2 ($53,262,560  domestic gross/$84 million budget), 2 Guns ($75,612,460 domestic gross/$61 million budget), and Kick-Ass 2 ( $28,795,985 domestic gross/$28 million budget) would all be flops. Okay, 2 Guns would be a disappointment, the rest definitely be flops. But if the sign of a film’s success is doubling its budget, when you add international grosses into the tally, these films were modest to respectable hits.

Oblivion made $286,168,572 and  2 Guns made $131,940,411 worldwide, more than doubling their budget.  Kick-Ass 2 made $59,556,104 worldwide, which also doubles its budget.  Red 2 did miss doubling its budget with a disappointing $142,078,971 worldwide, but home video and on demand might be enough to put it over as a hit.

This goes to show why the comic book film has such longevity–they absolutely kill overseas. Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Man of Steel all made well more than half their worldwide grosses overseas. The Wolverine did too, and it’s worldwide grosses gave it the bump over X-Men Origins: Wolverine in total earnings. So, if you were wondering why Tony Stark had his heart operated on by a Chinese surgeon, or why most of the Thor cast is from the UK or why Logan would spend an entire film in Japan, well, now you know.

BulletToTheHeadposterOf course, catering to the foreign markets doesn’t always pay off. A prime example of this is Bullet to the Head. The Sylvester Stallone film was based on a French graphic novel, and replaced the American Thomas Jane with the Asian-American Sung Kang in an attempt to appeal to the Asian market. It didn’t. The $55 million film only earned  $22 million worldwide. And that’s with a domestic gross of just under $9.5 million domestically. Ouch.

RIPD-poster2And can we officially dub Ryan Reynolds “Mr. Kiss of Death” for the comic book film?  Or, if that is too harsh, “Mr. Bad Luck?” He certainly has appeared in a lot of comic book films and all that he’s starred in has experienced problems.

First off is Blade: Trinity, in which he played Hannibal King. That film didn’t just kill the successful franchise dead, it failed to spawn a spin-off starring Reynolds’ character and alienated Wesley Snipes so much he sued the producers in lieu of coming back. Next was the aforementioned X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where Reynolds played Wade Wilson/Deadpool. Granted, Reynolds only played a small part in the film, and it was a box office success but it was a fairly awful movie.

He then moved on to the lead with the joyless Green Lantern, a film whose $219 million worldwide gross would have made it a hit—if it didn’t cost $200 million to make.

Finally, he hit screens this year with the Dark Horse comics adaptation R.I.P.D.. The $130 million film only made $78 million worldwide and opened to absolutely dismal reviews.

Of course, Reynolds can not be held wholly responsible for the bad mojo surrounding these films, but there has to be something there. Fox seems to be fast-tracking a lot of X-Men spin-offs. If the long rumored Deadpool actually sees the light of day, perhaps Fox would be better suited if they simply lost Reynolds’ phone number.

As for where the comic book films go from here, well, a busy 2014 will lead into an even busier 2015. We already mentioned that Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men: Days of Future Past will be headed our way. 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, both of which that were originally scheduled for 2013, will finally be hitting theaters barring any more delays. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will be continuing the reboot of that franchise and set the stage for more shared universe building, and the controversial reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film franchise is set to hit theaters in August. The year starts off in a couple of weeks with the adaptation of I, Frankenstein.

And 2015 is looking like it might be a genre movie heaven. In the comic book field alone you’ll have The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman vs. Superman, a reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise, the start of Marvel’s Phase III with Ant-Man and an adaptation of Mark Millar’s The Secret Service. If there’s going to be a decline in the comic book film, it will be at least two years away.

 

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The Dark Age Of Celebrity Autographing And Photo Ops 2, Now Starring Sigourney Weaver

Posted on 18 September 2013 by William Gatevackes

weaver_hp_bannerLast Friday, I did an article Sylvester Stallone coming to New York Comic Con and the exorbitant prices being charged to get his autograph or your picture taken with him. Well, since then there have been some developments that we thought would be worth a follow up article.

Most notably is the fact that Celebrity Authentics, the company that is bringing Stallone to convention, will also be bringing Sigourney Weaver as well. How much does her autorgraph/photo-op cost? Well, for her signature, you’ll have to pay $185 and to get your picture taken with her, you’ll have to pay $200. This is a bargain compared to Stallone’s prices, but quit a bit more than you’d pay for anyone else in Autograph Alley, whose signatures will range from free to $75.(And quite a mark-up over the autograph she gave FBOL head-honcho Rich Drees a couple years ago in Philly. She signed a copy of Ghostbusters for him for free).

1320-Harrison-Ford-Autographed-Han-Solo-Star-Wars-Action-Photo-MED-4314The real villain here is Celebrity Authentics. Celebrity Authentics is boutique autograph farm that seems to specialize in getting autographs from people you normally wouldn’t see on the autograph circuit (your Harrison Fords, your Christian Bales, your Daniel Craigs). And the reason why they get such A-list stars is that they seemingly charge more for the after product. Would you like a Star Wars poster signed by Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, C3po, R2D2 and Darth Vader? That will set you back almost $3,000. What about one of Han alone? That would have cost you $600 all by itself, if the had any available. The site says that particular autograph it is completely sold out.

Now, as I said in the previous article, if people are willing to pay that price, so be it. Let the market decide if the price Celebrity Authentics is charging is too much. Of course, that was before Celebrity Authentics made their defense of their prices.

See, when I posted the first article on my Facebook wall a friend of mine, who is a big Stallone fan, wrote to Celebrity Authentics to voice his disdain about the price they were charging for Sly’s autograph. He shared the response he got on my wall. This is it:

We fully understand your perspective, the same way many are now purchasing flights from around the globe including Australia, UK, Germany, Canada and across the USA to meet Mr. Stallone and believe that $395 is a great price to meet him and get his autograph. To you the opportunity is not worth it, while to others it is the chance of a lifetime. Mr. Stallone’s signature on boxing gloves and other items sell for in excess of $1,000. For example, a knife he signed recently sold on eBay for over $4,000 alone. In addition, keep in mind stars of this caliber have appearance fees in excess of $250,000 and in his case, Mr. Stallone will be flying in from filming in Bulgaria early for the sole purpose of attending the NYCC. As with most things in life, it is all relative to each of our own interests, monetary situation, etc. We will be announcing other guests for the event soon and hopefully one or more of them may be of interest to you. Take care.

That statement is corporate chicanery at its finest. From the rote “His autographs sell for much more on eBay” defense that is used by just about every celebrity to justify their autograph fees to the subtle guilt trip the spokesperson lies down on my friend (“PEOPLE ARE COMING FROM EUROPE, PAL! EUROPE! AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A FAN!”), the whole paragraph is unctuous. But what bothers me most is the fact that the spokesperson is claiming that people are paying for a once in a lifetime opportunity. Well, yes, if standing in line for an hour and then saying two words to your idol as they sign your stuff is a once in a lifetime opportunity, then, yes, they are right. Listen, if they were charging this much for a meet and greet, a chance to be in the same room as your idol and, you know, actually have a conversation with them, I think the price would be spot on. But for a brief signing or photo-op where you are rushed through, I think your money would be better spent elsewhere.

Speaking of which, here are some alternate ideas for you in case you can’t justify spending that much for Sly or Sigourney’s autograph (or you couldn’t save up enough dough in time for the show):

  • The 3rd Annual NYCC Charity Art Auction: Starting at 8pm on Saturday, October 12, original artwork from many of the artists attending the show will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. You could get a beautiful piece of unique art for a fraction of the price you’d pay to get a picture with Sly, and you’d be helping out a great cause.
  • The Hero Initiative: This is a not-for-profit charity dedicated to providing a financial safety net to comic creators in need. Typically, they deal with creators who have accrued great medical bills or have fallen behind on their rent or mortgage. Supporting the Hero Initiative is a great way to support the men and women who helped create comics .
  • The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:  This is an organization that protects free speech in comics. They typically pay legal fees for comic stores, creators or fans who find themselves in trouble with government agencies over the content of the comic books they sell, create or own. Typically, their booths at cons have items signed by creators such a Frank Miller (Sin City) and Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead).
  • And many, many more charities on the show floor: You’ll find a number of items on the convention floor that donate their proceeds to charity, be it T-shirts that raise money to fight cancer, comic books made to raise awareness of child abuse, or art programs that teach kids through the comics themselves. You don’t have to look very hard to find another charity you can give your money to. And I think that would be a better experience than giving all your money to Celebrity Authentics.

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How The MPAA’s Shutdown Of Megaupload Hurts Indie Films

Posted on 03 September 2013 by Rich Drees

MPAALogo

The ongoing debate about the economic impact of the file sharing of movies can perhaps be boiled down to two opposing viewpoints. The first is that it robs studios of income as people are seeing their product for free. The opposite view argues that file sharing allows people to preview a film and encourages them to spend the money on a movie ticket or home video release. Now a new study is showing that both arguments may have some validity.

In the wake of the forced shutdown of the filesharing site MegaUpload instigated by the Motion Picture Association of America, a research team from the Munich School of Management and the Copenhagen Business School have done a study of the box office returns of 10,272 movies released in 50 countries over the period 2007-2013 and came up with some rather interesting results.

From the study’s abstract -

We find that box office revenues of a majority of movies did not increase. While for a mid-range of movies the effect of the shutdown is even negative, only large blockbusters could benefit from the absence of Megaupload. We argue that this is due to social network effects, where online piracy acts as a mechanism to spread information about a good from consumers with low willingness to pay to consumers with high willingness to pay. This information-spreading effect of illegal downloads seems to be especially important for movies with smaller audiences.

So it appears as if there may be some truth to the MPAA’s claims that file sharing is hurting the film industry. However, to claim that this is the only effect of file-sharing would only be a half-truth. The six member studios that make up the MPAA are the big ones who are being affected by any potential revenue loss from file sharing, so the MPAA is really only talking about how things effect them, not anyone else. And only for their biggest films, not all of their product. Unfortunately, the study doesn’t compare the amount of file-sharing traffic versus the increase in box office revenue for blockbusters in a way that would either prove or disprove the MPAA’s dubious contention that every download automatically equals a lost ticket sale.

Note that the smaller studios most likely to benefit from what the report labels the “social network effect” are not members of the MPAA and are now suffering negative consequences due to the trade organization’s actions.* But we’ve seen this kind of disregard for indie studios from the MPAA before. In 2006, director Kirby Dick charted how the MPAA’s film ratings board routinely gave stronger, and more financially restrictive, ratings to indie films that it gave to studio films featuring similar material in his searing documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated and things have not changed since. If anything, it has gotten worse.

So for all its high-minded rhetoric about being an “advocate of the American motion picture, home video and television industries in the United States and around the world,” the MPAA really only cares about its own. The fact that their actions have a negative impact on their smaller competitors is just a happy coincidence that I am sure doesn’t keep them awake at night.

 

*It occurs to me that perhaps this “social network effect” is also what is helping the bigger films increase their box office. If people can recommend a smaller film to friends based on having seen a downloaded copy of it then surely they could also be warning friends away from spending money on some bloated Hollywood blockbuster they managed to view in a similar way.

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SCCC: A Opinion On The Comic Book News From The Con.

Posted on 24 July 2013 by William Gatevackes

san-diego-comic-conPeople have said that there has been a tidal shift in thought regarding at San Diego Comic Con in the film studios minds. Once, it was thought that a panel at SDCC promoting your genre flick would be worth millions in advertising dollars, that word of mouth from the panel would spread throughout the geek community and ticket sales would flourish. But after a few high profile films were rolled out at SDCC (namely, Cowboys & Aliens and Sucker Punch) to less than stellar box office, wags started saying Hollywood was scaling back its SDCC presence.

But even still, one would expect that the studios with comic book films would still deliver what they always had: big news, exclusive scoops and surprise guests. And this year, I found the comic book news was sort of lacking.

Let me explain what I mean.

DC/Warner Brothers:

DC won the comic book movie scoop war in the early rounds before their panel even started with the rumor that they were about to announce Batman/Superman for 2015, The Flash for 2016, and Justice League in 2017. This was diminished slightly when Warners only confirmed Batman/Superman. But even if those other films were announced, I’d still be a bit disappointed for a number of reasons.

First of all, as Rich mentioned, a Batman/Superman film was in the works in 2002 before Warners decided to reboot the franchises separately. A Flash film has been in the works for just as long if not longer. And a Justice League film got to the casting and set building stage before being scrapped. This isn’t Warners using Man of Steel‘s success to blaze new paths and break boundaries. This is Warners using that film’s success to clear out its superhero film backlog.

WonderWomanOn a somewhat related note, this bears comparison to how DC Entertainment handles its comic book operations. DC Entertainment business plan appears to be more about the now and less about the future. It seems like they plan one shocking event, including killing off popular characters, at the rate of one a fiscal quarter to bump up sales. They change writers on their books like most people change their underwear, not allowing anyone to build traction on a title or work free from corporate interference.  As long as the books are selling well right now, why worry about not finding writers or alienating fans in the future!

This seems like more and the same, only slightly less egregious. Superman is very hot at the box office right now. Batman is coming out of a franchise that made Warners billions. Putting them in the same movie together should be like printing money. But if you are building a shared universe, leading to a Justice League team-up, wouldn’t this spot be better used bringing another hero to the screen? If not that, having more films along the line that just the Flash’s? Like making a Wonder Woman film?

Speaking of that, I believe that now is the time for a Wonder Woman film. Twilight and The Hunger Games have proven that female-focused genre films can find an audience. And Wonder Woman has themes that mirror the ones in those films.

I know this might just seem like I am mad at Warners for not taking my advice, and don’t get me wrong, I am excited to see how Nolan and Goyer will be reinventing Batman again, I just think there is a lot of potential lost in the path Warners is taking.

Marvel Studios:

AvengersAgeOfUltronLogoIn August of 2011, Disney announced two Marvel films for the year of 2014. At SDCC in 2012, we found out that they were going to be Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.

In June of this year, we found out Disney has reserved May 2016 and May 2017 for Marvel films, with July 2016 being added later that month. At this year’s SDCC, we found out nothing about any of those dates.

Granted, there was a shorter turnaround time (one month compared to one year between announcement and the con) and a longer one between the con and the films release date (three years instead of two), but with some websites saying that Doctor Strange is all but cast, and Black Panther not far behind, you’d expect at least one of the films for those dates would be announced.

1005201_10151733620499570_124151884_nWhat we got was a subtitle for Avengers 2 (Now known as Avengers: Age of Ultron), a brief clip from Thor: The Dark World (with Thor supposedly losing an hand), a panel with the cast of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and a panel with the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy (with the scoop that Djimon Hounsou has joined the cast and that Thanos would make an appearance).

Certainly a fair amount of scoops there, but it seems like bigger scoops happened outside the panel. Joss Whedon spoke with Marvel.com’s blog, where he eased fans minds by saying Avengers: Age of Ultron would not be adapting the recently completed, somewhat poorly received comic book series of the same name. He then disappointed the same fans by revealing that Hank Pym, who created Ultron in the comics, would not be creating him in the film. Boo. This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, shifts from Marvel continuity that the films have taken, and not one I think is for the better. Creating Ultron is a big touchstone in Hank Pym’s background. He doesn’t really have many other character defining touchstones than that. Taking that away from him weakens the character if he ever appears on film.

Then, in an interview with Huffington Post, Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s co-director Joe Russo revealed that the film would play directly into Avengers: Age of Ultron. My guess  would be that either the cybernetics team that make the Winter Solder ‘s implants creates Ultron to replace the Winter Soldier, or Cap breaks with S.H.I.E.L.D and/or the government and they create Ultron to replace him.

Sony/Amazing Spider-Man 2:

2013-07-19-sdcc_spiderman_01-533x355I have to say that Andrew Garfield seems to be the actor who has the most fun playing a superhero in comic film history. At the very least, he is the one who has the most fun at SDCC. For the first film, he appeared from the crowd at SDCC ’11 in a store bought Spidey costume and read a statement on how much playing Spider-man meant to him. This year, he spent a good part of the Spider-Man panel in a better Spider-Man suit, answering questions in character. His enthusiasm for the role goes a long way for me.

The panel had a bit of fun introducing Jamie Foxx to the dias (he interrupted a taped statement from Emma Stone) but other than that, it was simply a “promote the film” panel. You can call the fact that Paul Giamatti’s Rhino would have a small part in the film a scoop, but that was common sense. There was talk of the Sinister Six making an appearance down the line, but nothing concrete.

Fox/The Wolverine/X-Men: Days of Future Past:

A first look at the Sentinels from X-ME:DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, as seen ast SDCC '13

A first look at the Sentinels from X-ME:DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, as seen ast SDCC ’13

If you are looking for surprises, look no further than here. The Wolverine panel ended with a surprise X-Men: Days of Future Past panel.

The Wolverine panel was essentially just a promotion for the film, which opens this week. But Hugh Jackman shows once again that he is one of the classiest actors in showbiz. He was effusive in his praise to the fans for accepting him and called up Len Wein to shake his hand and thank him for creating the character. Like Garfield, Jackman seems to sincerely enjoy playing the character and it shows.

X-Men: Days of Future Past had a presence at SDCC already, with Sentinel designs being on full display. The surprise panel, complete with a clip, offered little scoops, only rumor confirmation. It will be Wolverine going back in time, not Kitty Pryde. Quicksilver will appear in the 1970s part of the film. And whatever happens in the past will bring Xavier and Magneto back together in the future.

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