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Rod Serling’s Original “The Twilight Zone” a Relevant National Treasure

Rod Serling’s original “The Twilight Zone” is a timeless television show that continues to be relevant and thought-provoking. I have wanted to own the entire series for a very long time. With each trip to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Disneyland, I looked at the collected series and its price, and decided I just couldn’t afford it. During one of my brainstorming sessions, I thought about adding Rod Serling and “the Twilight Zone” to my “… Is Creativity” series. That gave me the excuse to get the series on DVD, and I’m so glad I did.

I waited until recently to open the DVDs because I was working on “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity” (to be released June 1, 2019 at Lilac City Comicon 2019). Now that I’ve started watching them though, I’m so glad I bought them. “The Twilight Zone” is hands down one of the best written series I have ever watched. In 30 minutes, Rod Serling creates characters that you can engage with and stories that move you.

Nothing may ever come of my wanting to do something with Rod Serling, creativity and “the Twilight Zone,” but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the was a man who wrote such wonderful stories for the betterment of the world. I may never attain the stature of Serling, but I’m glad that I have been able to see the fruits of his labors.

For more on Rod Serling and his creativity, get “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.”

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Wicked Comics Goes to the Movies and Every Comic Store Should Follow Suit

I have been to enough comic conventions to know that people who love comic books complain about the people who love the movies but don’t buy comic books. There’s a whole faction of geeks who love every issue of their favorite comic and consider someone who only knows the character from the movies and abomination.

Comic stores say they haven’t noticed an uptick in individuals coming into their store because of the film. For them, there just is no crossover. Perhaps, that’s because the comic stores need to take more initiative. Call it “The Avengers Initiative.”

A majority of movie-goers don’t go to comic stores. They probably don’t even know where the comic stores are. The simplest way for a comic store to attempt to harness the movie-goers who love the movies is to pay for an ad before the movie. Most movie theaters offer the opportunity to be in a slide show before the trailers. This offers an easy and less expensive way to get the word out about the shop, and placed before a “comic book” movie, it hits the target audience right where they live.

If the comic store can afford it, a comic store trailer, shot in high-def, should be appropriate for the movie screen. A trailer will even reach more people in their seats. Still, this isn’t the most effective way to reach people because most movie goers probably don’t have a reason to go to the store.

Setting up a booth with items themed to the film is the single best way to provide movie-goers an opportunity to find out about the comics. Any comic store that has also participated in a comic convention should already have the tools available to create a booth. By targeting the movie(s) in the theater at the time, a comic store can create an impulse buy and point of contact for new fans. Include a business card with every purchase, and you’re all set for getting new people involved in comics fandom.

It won’t be that easy. “Avengers: Endgame” openings promise to be chaotic. Imagine Free Comic Book Day without the giveaways. That also means more opportunities to generate revenue from the event.

National chain theaters may be less willing to give up lobby space for a booth. Of course, DC and Marvel could step in because it would be good for their comic sales and their movies. The theaters could see a rise in movie goers if the comic store is able to bring their patrons to the movie. Theaters also get the good will of comics fans and the advertisement that comes with the promotion of the event. A local theater may be more willing to partner with a local comic shop, and both could benefit from the exposure.

Most shops are run by one or two dedicated people. Having to give up a weekend, move everything, set up and take down is already a lot of stress. The change in routine, in addition to the increase in dealing with people who may not know what they want, can also be daunting, especially when there may not be any return. The keys to a successful theater run for a comic store setup is a willingness to get out of the comfort zone and a desire to improve sales at the store. Even if there aren’t any sales at the theater, the chance to meet people who love films can be worthwhile in and of itself.

Wicked Comics in Malta has partnered with Eden Cinemas for the opening weekend of “Avengers: Endgame” for Comic Fest. They will have booths, cosplayers, retro-gaming, performances, local artists’ booths and comics. It looks like they’ve organized a mini-comic convention to celebrate “Avengers: Endgame.” Wicked Comics organizes the annual Malta Comic Con, so they have a head start on any comic store that may not have organized events outside the store before.

Private showings are already sponsored by larger comic conventions like Salt Lake’s Fan X’ “Avengers: Endgame” screening. They could add a comic store component to the screening, giving people more opportunity to purchase from local businesses.

It may be too late for comic stores to partner with movie theaters for “Avengers: Endgame,” but it can be something to keep in mind for the next big movie. Of course, it doesn’t have to be applied to just Marvel movies. Disney’s “Frozen 2” and DC’s next film could also make for good opportunities to partner with a local movie theater.

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Take a break with quirky ‘Aloha’

Aloha” (2015) brings broken Brian Gilchrist (Bradley Cooper) back to his Hawaiian military roots as a contractor designated to get the blessing of the king of Hawaii for a military base’s pedestrian gate, which would allow private contractors access to the launch area of the military base. Gilchrist is assigned Fighter Pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone) as his military watchdog for his time in Hawaii. There is a love triangle involving quiet man Woody (John Krasinski) and his wife Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who also happens to be Gilchrist’s ex from 13 years ago.

The real problems arise when Ng discovers that billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) has put a nuke in the payload of the rocket being sent into space. Weapons aren’t allowed in the sky, and this would violate treaties. However, because Welch is a private citizen, it falls in a gray area; he never signed a treaty. Gilchrist is faced with the choice of further disgrace and saving the sky or keeping his lucrative job and losing Ng.

Stone chews the scenery as the intense, socially awkward, quarter Hawaiian, who loves the sky and Hawaiian mythology. Krasinski provides an amazing performance as the man who doesn’t talk much. Cooper and McAdams are good in their roles as is the rest of the cast, which includes Murray, Alec Baldwin, and Danny McBride.

“Aloha” is a surprisingly good film. It’s low key nature and quirky characters provide an interesting family/friend drama. If you need to find your way back to yourself, there are worse places to do it than Hawaii. Welcome to a pleasant diversion, or as they say on the islands – Aloha!

Read more about the islands with these links on Hawaii.

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‘Domovoi’ Movie Brings Legend to Life

Domovoi are the house elves of Russia. They live in the home, and as long as the people in that home are peaceful and respectful, Domovoi will help the family. If they are unhappy, Domovoi can become mischievous, petulant and violent. Most Russians cherish their Domovoi and will invite the house elf to come with them to a new home when they move. If the Domovoi is abandoned, it can spell trouble for the next family.

In “Domovoi” (2019), this all gets explained, which makes the film a good place to jump into Russian fairy lore. A mom and her daughter find the perfect place to live, and it’s sold to them by an unscrupulous real estate agent, who has made use of the angry Domovoi to resell the same property over and over.

Slapstick comedy ensues as the Domovoi fights against the mother and the cat for dominion over the house. Only the daughter offers a voice of reason, which goes unheeded by the mother, but softens the heart of the Domovoi. The strange characters in the film and its effects create a nice fantasy world for “Domovoi” with enough Russian culture to put this out of your ordinary world experience (if you’re not one of my regular Russian readers; though those familiar with Germany and Austria will recognize the Domovoi as akin to wichteln, and Britain has house elves.)

Explore the dual nature of fairies (something Lilac City Comic Con alum Ty Hulse talks about in his book “A Writer’s Guide to Fairies, Witches, and Vampires from Fairy Tales and Lore”) and see one story about the mythical creatures who inspired “Penguins in the Pipes.”

Watching foreign films is a good way to improve your creativity, especially when they are fun. Let “Domovoi” help you gain a new perspective, spark new ideas, and replenish your creative well.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.

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‘The Polka King’ Steals Hearts and Money in True Life Adventure

What if I told you there was a Polish immigrant in Pennsylvania, who fronted a Polka band, met Trump, George Burns and the Pope, and ran a Ponzi scheme that bilked people out of their life savings? “The Polka King” is based on the true story of Jan Lewan.

Jack Black’s portrayal of Jan Lewan is positive, upbeat, and American. Lewan does everything to make a dollar and to climb up the ladder of success, but it’s never enough. Then he hits on the idea to get investors for his career. Offering a 12% return on their investment, Lewan unknowingly embarks on a huge Ponzi scheme, and everyone is happy as long as they’re making money. He gets caught by the government and gets a warning, but the allure of easy money that can help him, his bandmates and his wife get ahead, is too much to resist. He continues with the scheme.

From the beginning of the film to the “Rappin’ Polka” ending, which might be the funniest moment of the film, “The Polka King” is baffling. It’s clear that what Jan is doing is wrong, but his heart seems to be in the right place. He’s just looking toward future success. How does something like this happen in real life? It can only happen in the movies, and sometimes in Pennsylvania – they have the pictures, newspaper articles and videos to prove it.

“The Polka King” provides plenty of fun and a little comedy. And if you don’t watch out for it, you might be hit with a dose or two of criticism of American Culture.

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Roger Ebert and What I Learned from the Nostalgia Critic about Living a Better Life

In the Nostalgia Critic’s tribute video to Roger Ebert, the Nostalgia Critic unpacks a lot of wisdom and lays it out for the viewer. What he sees in Roger Ebert is amazing, and what the Nostalgia Critic sees should be what we all strive to be.

The Nostalgia Critic’s greatest point about Roger Ebert, and by extension Gene Siskel, is that Ebert had a passion for movies. From the classics to animated films to the dreck released by Hollywood, like “Leonard 6,” Ebert was passionate about movies. When they were bad, he got angry about it. When they were good, he experienced great joy. These feelings and his expression of them were all a part of his love for film as an art and cultural signpost. The passion for film was a large part of what made him and Siskel so successful at a job that many would say is inconsequential. After all, “it’s just a movie,” but to them both it never was.

Passion is what makes us successful at life. Unfortunately, everyday life and its responsibilities can sap your passion. It can take what you love and tie it to money until your passion is squeezed out and turns to drudgery. Everyday life carries debts, worries and obligations that stymie and steal energy from your passion. It can even make your passion seem inconsequential, like the movies.

If you find your life is devoid of passion, seek out what brings you joy again and grab at it. Hold onto it and rekindle your passion because that’s what the human experience is about. When you are doing what you’re passionate about, you become a more creative and happier you.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.

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Does ‘Avengers: Endgame’ trailer tell the whole story?

Marvel has misled us before with its trailers. They have shown clips that didn’t make it in the movie: Remember the Hulk in the Battle of Wakanda? It was in the trailer but not in the movie. Marvel has also created trailers that showed scenes from the first 30 minutes and nothing else. (I think it was “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”) They’ve kept entire stories under wraps, except when Tom Holland has spilled the beans, and apparently Holland didn’t get the entire script for “Avengers: Endgame.”

What if this is what they’re doing now? These trailers could be from the first hour of the movie leaving the last two hours under wraps while we all pontificate over the details.

What are we going to see? Two and a half hours of Avengers assembling? This isn’t a Lego movie, and we already did that in “The Avengers.” Two and half hours of Tony Stark lost in space? This isn’t a sequel to “Gravity,” and Robert Downey, Jr. is no George Clooney. Two and a half hours of a “Fantastic Voyage through Inner Space”? We’ve been to the Quantum Realm; Marvel wouldn’t take us there again for the same meta-reason Doctor Strange didn’t use his Dormammu-bargaining time loop with Thanos.

They have to show the Avengers avenging to pay off Tony Stark’s assertion that “If we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damn sure we’ll avenge it.” So far, the Avengers haven’t done any avenging. They protected the Earth on two occasions. They have to recruit Hawkeye/Ronin. They have to get Nebula and Tony Stark back. They may face trip through the Quantum Realm. They may get transported through space by Captain Marvel.

But we’ve already seen them battle Thanos. We’ve seen them in their glory, even if they didn’t win, even if it was without Captain Marvel. We’ve seen them going after the Mad Titan. Marvel isn’t going to make a three-hour long film about something they’ve already done. A battle they win against Thanos can’t be any more exciting than the one they already loss. We might as well plug in the Battle of Helm’s Deep. If Marvel wants to score more than just the largest opening weekend ever, it’s going to need to do something new. The addition of Captain Marvel and some time travel mumbo-jumbo isn’t it.

Which brings us to the Endgame… The Gamemaster, Red Skull, ADAM from Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Collector are presumably still around. Any of these characters could figure into the plot, especially considering that Jeff Goldblum and Benicio del Toro are big enough names not to waste on a couple of cameos and a theme park attraction. Maybe there’s a villain we haven’t seen manipulating Thanos and events.

Where does the story go after Thanos? I doubt if a second meeting and subsequent defeating of Thanos will be satisfying enough to justify three hours of film, and if that’s the case and “Avengers: Endgame” is only about beating Thanos, it could have a short and financially disappointing theater run. Then again, what if that Hulk scene in Wakanda was filmed for “Avengers: Endgame”?

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The Problem with ‘the Single’ in Disney’s Movie Business

Disney movie tie ins

In his examination of Disney’s “Dumbo,” “Forbes” writer Scott Mendelson laments the Disney Company’s penchant for releasing big budget films that have already been made, including the live-action remakes of animated classics and the multiple sequels that Disney has released over the course of roughly the last decade, and while he acknowledges that the studios are in part to blame, he also lays the blame on movie goers. “The studios can’t responsibly green-light what they know audiences will not go to see in theaters.”

The Dollars and Sense of It All

In 1984, when Michael Eisner became CEO of the Disney Company, the top grossing movie was “Beverly Hills Cop” with almost $235 million and $316 million worldwide. Disney’s movie releases were in the tank and not making what they should be with a few exceptions. In 1984, Touchstone’s “Splash” opened at No. 1 on the chart and grossed over $69 million (Box Office Mojo) by the time it finished its run; it cost $8 million to make. The film was a huge success at the time, and it brought in about $62 million profit.

Eisner looked at the situation and decided that Disney and its movie making companies would make smaller budget films that would make money rather than hope for a summer blockbuster that could fail. They were going to hit singles rather than try for homeruns. In 1986, “Ruthless People,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “The Color of Money” were released with grosses of $71, $62 and $52 million making them the 9th, 11th and 12th highest grossing movies of the year. Eisner’s strategy was successful, and Disney carved out a niche with these low budget, over-performing types of films.

Flash forward to 2018 and the surprise hit (not Disney) “A Quiet Place.” With a budget of $17 million dollars, this is the type of film Disney would’ve happily made in the 1980s. The movie made $340 million dollars worldwide ($323 million profit). Marvel’s “Black Panther” cost about $200 million to make and brought in over $1.3 billion; domestically, it was the top grossing film of the year. It would take about three “A Quiet Place” size releases to make the same amount of profit as “Black Panther.” However, “Black Panther” was a surprise in its own way.

Marvel’s sure thing for the year was “The Avengers: Infinity War” – a sequel, which according to the just over $2 billion box office gross, you’re probably familiar with. The estimates for the cost of the film run between $300 million and $400 million. Even on the high side of the estimate, the film brought in $1.6 billion, or the rough equivalent of five “A Quiet Places.”

I understand these numbers aren’t exact. There are marketing costs to consider as well as what the actual theaters make, which is different depending on the country. However, the point is it doesn’t make any sense for a company that brings in $12.6 billion (2018 net income) to worry about $10 or $20 million, the budget of “A Quiet Place” for a return of only $323 million. As Mendelson pointed out, Disney had taken risks with “Tomorrowland” (profit at a scant $20 million), “The Finest Hours” (losses estimated at $20 million), and “The Queen of Katwe” (estimated loss of $5 million). These movies didn’t return enough profit to justify their existence.

Other Sources of Income

When “Star Trek” dolls were released and the series ended, the sales of the toys dried up as well. There wasn’t anyway to remind people about the purpose of the toys without the show. When “Star Trek: The Next Generation” returned the Star Trek universe to television, toy sales skyrocketed.

In 1983, Funimation released “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” after Reagan deregulated children’s programming. The show was designed to sell He-Man action figures. Once it made it on the air and He-Man sales sky-rocketed every toy company got involved in Saturday Morning Cartoons: “Transformers,” “Go-Bots,” “M.A.S.K.,” “Jem and the Holograms,” and “G.I. Joe” to name a few. Whether the show or the action figures came first is of little consequence, what mattered was that some of the cartoons were pulled from the air not because of the cartoons’ popularity, but because the toys lacked sales.

Disney’s synergistic approach to marketing means the media giant isn’t looking just at the movies. It’s also looking at what it can make from tie-ins. Dumbo’s new movie release, regardless of how it’s received, sells more stuffed Dumbos. Marvel’s movies sell more superhero action figures, Lego sets, and whatever else they put their characters on. These things all bring in more money. Disney princesses outsell Barbie now are a multi-billion-dollar market segment. Their inclusion in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” keeps them fresh, updates them for this generation and keeps the product moving. The Disney company not only needs to create movie sequels and remakes because they are smaller financial risks, but also because they sell more toys, products and Disney park experiences.

What’s It All Mean?

There’s no incentive for Disney to green-light smaller film projects, even if they become the next “A Quiet Place.” The movie industry can only stand so many new films before there aren’t enough movie-goers to see them all. Worse, people say they want new stories, but they only think they want new stories. Audiences still flock to their favorite characters and movie franchises because its an acceptable risk. To spend $10 to $15 on a movie that you may not like or know nothing about doesn’t make much sense when you know that Marvel (or DC or Pixar) has a release right around the corner.

Moreover, Disney can make more money from product friendly franchises that it can tie into its theme parks than it ever could from a movie that has to stand on its own two legs. This all becomes more problematic with Disney’s recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, and it’s looming control of 40 to 50 percent of the box office. The studios will have to schedule movies so they don’t cut into each other’s profits, which will mean fewer movies and fewer opportunities for a smaller film to get made.

For more on the Disney Company, preorder “Penguinate! The Disney Company.

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‘Unicorn Store’: Embrace Your Creativity

When Kit (Brie Larson) is kicked out of art school and moves in with her parents, she decides, is coerced into, taking a job with a temp agency that palaces her in a PR firm. Kit puts away her childish things and becomes a business women with a suit she borrows from her mom. She meets the VP of the company, and naive about his intentions, she accepts his invitation to work on a Mystic Vacuum account.

She rejects her initial drawings, a Pokémon meets vacuum amalgamation, and tries to go with more traditional representations of women vacuuming, which she draws on graph paper for added grown-upness. These mundane vacuums and their housewives earn her creepy boss’ approval, but they don’t work for Kit.

She finally gets an idea and recruits her work friend and the delivery guy to help her with the presentation. They come in at the end of the sexy woman, baby, selfie vacuum presentation, and pitch Kit’s idea with glitter, magic, creativity, love and enthusiasm. She has an original idea that would sell vacuums through the sheer differentiation factor.

The woman executive who is in charge of the Mystic Vacuum company thinks it’s too much. She likes the sexy woman with the selfie, baby and vacuum – an idea that says women can have it all, and one that is outdated and done to death. All of the other male ad execs express the same sentiment. So, it comes down to the boss, and Kit has hope.

The boss said earlier that the lack of creativity in the work place was killing him. He still chooses the woman, vacuum, baby, selfie by asking to be told more about the lingerie. Kit loses her job.

While the movie itself is whimsical and freeing, this particular commentary on creativity in the workplace is all too real. On average, creative people get fewer promotions and fewer raises than their less creative co-workers. They face ridicule for their ideas and blame when the idea fails while not receiving commensurate rewards when an idea succeeds. No matter what people say about creativity, most times bosses, teachers and coworkers want the comfort of the known and the safe.

For Kit, it’s all for the best. She seeks her own personal unicorn and finds her creative self and the support she needs to continue being creative. For creative people, it’s important to learn that many ideas will be rejected not because they’re bad or they won’t work but because people fear the unknown and failure, and every new idea carries a risk with it. Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, but it can be better if you find people who love and support your work, even if they are relative strangers.

For more on creativity, get “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” Order “Disneyland Is Creativity.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.

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Thinking Deeply with the Nostalgia Critic Exposes American Culture and Identity

The Speakers’ Club at Satori School where I lead English Speaking sessions first introduced me, figuratively speaking, to the Nostalgia Critic. When I asked which topics they would like to cover before the Speakers’ Club ended for the season, the Nostalgia Critic was one of the right topics they chose. So, I started doing some research.

First, I filled out the contact form on Channel Awesome. I thought if the kids could actually talk with Doug Walker they would get more out of the session and enjoy it 11 times more (because Doug likes to go one step beyond) than if I conducted the session myself. I didn’t expect a response, but Doug did get back to me to tell me he was too busy to Skype, but he would be doing something special for the kids. And he did.

Then I started looking at the 12 seasons of videos he has done. I had to cull them by length and relevance. Speakers’ Club is only 90 minutes long, so I tried to find videos that were in the 20-minute range or less. Relevance was a little more problematic. I tried to stay away from videos that would most interest my class – the Batman ones – and find videos that would speak to the American culture.

The tribute to Roger Ebert, the video on originality, and Is Charlie Brown Christmas overrated? are the ones that caught my eye and ear. In these three videos, Doug Walker breaks down the reason why things are the way they are and how it affects the culture at large. His commentary shows that he has thought deeply about these subjects. He didn’t just dismiss them out of hand or accept them as they are, he went beyond to understand what it is that appeals to him, others and how they have altered America in their way. His M&M characters video shows the same amount of thought and research but was too long for inclusion in the Speakers’ Club.

The Nostalgia Critic is loud, brash and swears. Sometimes, he makes not safe for work jokes that are inappropriate for a younger crowd. However, he doesn’t just rip things apart – something that would be easy to do and possibly garner more video views. Instead, he applies his knowledge and research to whatever subject he’s discussing.

And what he’s discussing is the very essence of American Culture. He’s discussing the very things that made our childhoods and have thus made us Americans. He is discussing how we came to be who we are through our media consumption and what it means to us today. In short, his discussions touch the very core of our identities, and as such, his show is worthy of our attention. Dig into the Nostalgia Critic and find out who you are.

Books to help you think deeply: “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Improve your Creativity for a Better Life and World” and “Penguinate! The Disney Company.”