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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
Top Music groups of
the 1950s – The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly & The Crickets, The
Platters, The Drifters, The Coasters…
Bill Haley & The Comets:
Top Music Groups of
the 1960s – The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson
& The Miracles, The Byrds, The Four Seasons, The Who, The Kinks, The
Shirelles, The Drifters, The Four Tops, Martha & The Vandellas, Sam &
Dave, Sly & The Family Stone, The Yardbirds, The Marvelettes, The Lovin’
Spoonful, The Ventures, Jan & Dean, The Ronettes, The Band, The Velvet
Underground, Junior Walker & The All-Stars, The (Young) Rascals, The
Animals, The Dave Clark Five, The Righteous Brothers, Buffalo Springfield, The
Chiffons, The Isley Brothers, Tommy James & The Shondells, The Turtles, The
Shangri-Las, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, The Mamas & The Papas,
Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin/Big
Brother & Holding Company, Ike & Tina Turner, The Jackson Five, Frank
Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention, Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs, Sonny
& Cher, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Van
Morrison/Them, The Hollies, Steppenwolf, Herman’s Hermits, The Grateful Dead, The
The Beach Boys: American Alternative to the Beatles; surfer
Top Music Groups of
the 1970s – Black Sabbath, Paul McCartney/Wings, Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees,
Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, KISS, The Clash, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman
Brothers Band, Aerosmith, The Ramones, Steve Miller Band, Crosby, Stills, Nash,
& Young, Deep Purple, Three Dog Night, Temptations, AC/DC, Kool & The
Gang. Doobie Brothers, Yes, War, The Guess Who, Emerson, Lake & Palmer,
Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Bad Company, Steely Dan, Electric Light Orchestra,
Sex Pistols, Grand Funk Railroad, Kinks, Kansas, Harold Melvin & the Blue
Notes, The Chi-Lites, America, Styx, Blondie, Jethro Tull, Foreigner, Moody
Blues, ZZ Top…
Pink Floyd: Play “Dark Side of the Moon as an alternate
soundtrack to “The Wizard of Oz”
Top Music Groups of the 1980s – U2, Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, George Michael/Wham, Metallica, N.W.A, Rush, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, The Cure, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, REO Speedwagon, Kool and the Gang, The Smiths, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Eurythmics, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Salt-N-Pepa, The Go-Go’s, Depeche Mode, Sonic Youth, Culture Club, Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine, De La Soul, Chicago, Pixies, Simply Red, Thompson Twins, Dire Straits, R.E.M, The Pet Shop Boys, Whitesnake…
Duran Duran: The Reflex;
The Police: Sting;
Genesis: Phil Collins;
Hall & Oates: Maneater;
The Cars: You Might think I’m crazy, Rick Ocasek;
The Pointer Sisters:
Men at Work:
Tears for Fears:
The Talking Heads: David Byrne;
Huey Lewis and the News: Greatest band of the ‘80s;
Bon Jovi: Hair band; Livin’ on a Prayer:
B-52s: Rock Lobster:
Flight of the Conchords: Comedy group with multiple sounds
David Bowie Changes
and Major Tom
(Bowie’s in Space)
Pet Shop Boys: West End Girls
(Inner City Pressure)
Jemaine Clement MIB3, Tamatoa in Moana; Bret McKenzie
“Shazam!” is a fun DC romp that shows DC can use humor on
its superhero films. Sure, there are some scary parts (The monsters are
U-G-L-Y; THEY AIN’T GOT NO ALIBI; THEY UGLY!), and 14-year-old Billy Batson
uses his newfound adulthood for some nefarious purposes, one of which he
rejects outright. Another he indulges in and commits a crime to go back for more.
It’s played for comedy, so it works if you don’t think about it too much.
Zachary Levi is at his goofy, charming best, and “Shazam!” is a fun popcorn movie. If you remember “The Greatest American Hero,” you’ll recognize elements of the TV superhero comedy as Shazam tries to learn about his superpowers.
I saw this in Russian with my wife, who laughed far more
than I did, and after discussing with her some of the things I didn’t catch, “Shazam!”
may be a little deeper than a popcorn movie. That being said, it was fun, even
if it has a deeper message about envy and family.
Apparently, there are some people, aka trolls, causing a
ruckus pitting “Shazam!” against “Captain Marvel.” A small part of this stems
from the DC vs. Marvel rivalry. Small minds have an issue with holding two
competing theories in them, and it’s the same with this rivalry. You can like
DC AND Marvel. It’s not either/or; don’t fall for the false dichotomy. In fact,
if you like Indie comics and want to see more of them on the big screen, going
to see films that are like the Indie comics you love will cause the studios to
scour the nation looking for stories they can adapt, thus creating a larger
market for the smaller IP.
A larger part of this trollduggery is the unfounded fear
that males, and usually white males, have at being rendered irrelevant as the
world changes. They lose a power that has been a birthright since before the
U.S. was founded, and the act of taking that power away and distributing it so
that all people have the same equality of opportunity feels like
discrimination. What good are the movies if you don’t share them? While we
could delve deeper into the psychology of this issue, I’m just going to let Zachary
Levi take it from here:
Of course, if you still want to ring in on the Marvel vs. DC question, you can take our poll.
When my oldest niece was about five, my mom and I took her
on the Haunted Mansion. We went through the Stretching Room, down the Portrait
Gallery and boarded the same Doom Buggy. As we rolled up the stairs and into
the mansion, I was getting into it. The Haunted Mansion isn’t scary, but it’s
fun to pretend it is.
So, I was taking everything seriously. The armor, the
endless hallway with the floating candelabra, the chair that seems to be
staring at you. Each new “horror” made me look more fearful. As we rotated to
see the body trying to get out of the coffin, my mom hit me in the shoulder.
“Lighten up. You’re scaring your niece,” she whispered at
I switched the way I was looking at the mansion and laughed
at its humorous elements. I kept smiling through the ride, and my niece had a
great time. She wasn’t afraid of no ghosts.
Fortunately, the team of Claude Coats and Marc Davis helped
to provide the elements of a frightening atmosphere and comic presentations. (Of
course, there are plenty of contributions from other prominent imagineers, like
Rolly Crump and his human-like furniture and wallpaper and the effects
pioneered by Yale Gracey with Crump.) So, you can see the Haunted Mansion the
way you want to. It is the creativity that the team put into the mansion that
makes it a classic attraction that everyone loves.
National Geographic’s “Mars” interchanges documentary
footage with interviews from 2016 of the people trying to get there and
scientists and authors who theorize what it’ll take with a science fiction
story set in 2033 about the first manned mission to Mars. It’s a creative and
ambitious attempt to get people interested in space travel again.
In the present day, the series focuses on SpaceX’s rocket
building and failures. Interviews with Elon Musk are cut with scenes of rockets
exploding and the SpaceX team reacting to the failures. Neil de Grasse Tyson has
a small segment, and the author of “How We’ll Live on Mars” Stephen Petranek
also makes his suggestions for successful colonization.
‘Mars’ celebrates humanity’s reaching for the stars while
exposing everything that people will face, including the unknown, as they head
to Mars. Humans are still in the infant stage of rocket control and production,
even though rockets for transportation to space have been around since 1957’s
Sputnik, instead of inspiring an international cooperative effort, sparked a space race that sent Americans to the moon. It’s the international collective in “Mars” that’s still missing in real life. It exists in “Mars,” but in reality, the collective has yet to emerge. So, humanity is relying on Elon Musk, his SpaceX program and his ability to build a viable company in a capitalist society to send people to Mars.
SpaceX has already faced numerous failures, which is a part
of the creative and innovation processes. They are attempting to do something
no one has ever done. The failures and mistakes should be celebrated and
learned from. They are the stepping stones to Mars. But what happens if SpaceX
fails as a company? Who gets those records? Who will learn from the failures?
If they stay with Musk or get lost in the dissolution of the company, those
mistakes and failures are for nothing.
The 2033 depictions are entertaining, but given what we know
now, 2033 is too ambitious of a deadline. With only 14 years left to get there
and no infrastructure in place, the deadline will need to be pushed further into
the future. At least, if we can judge by one episode.
Going to Mars is going to take more resources than one man has.
Musk has the right intentions. He has the goal. The real question is how long
his fortune can hold out while he pays people for failure after failure, and
how much tie he’s willing to wait for success. At age 47, he’s got another 30
years or so left assuming an average life span. It may not be enough to get to
the red planet. And the last unknown for Musk could doom SpaceX long before it
gets to the end of its proposed road.