Is It Time for the “Despicable Me” Franchise to Stop?

The first “Despicable Me” film made nearly half a billion dollars when it premiered back in 2010. It was fresh, original and new. The second “Despicable Me” made nearly twice that: $970.8 million. (Call it an even billion). And now we’re about to get the third “Despicable Me” film in the franchise in summer 2017. No doubt, it too, it will make close to $1 billion.

But this film franchise has to stop.

Number one – and this is not a minor point – the film trailer for “Despicable Me 3” looks like it was dreamt up by a bunch of old Baby Boomers looking to get a few laughs from fellow Baby Boomers. Here’s the basic plot: evil child star from the 1980s Balthazar Bratt is intent on achieving world domination and Gru (Steve Carell) and his wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) must stop him.

Along the way, Balthazar Bratt impersonates Michael Jackson (a big part of the trailer is the song “Bad”), chews bubble pink bubble gum that he uses for nefarious purposes, wears a suit with goofy shoulder pads, and uses a weapon called a “keytar” (it’s supposed to sound like a funny version of guitar). Along the way, we get a dance-off on a boat and just way too much Michael Jackson.

So that’s the first reason this franchise has to be stopped – it looks like Illumination Entertainment has taken a funny premise (Gru and the Anti-Villain League) and just stopped coming up with a funny or clever storyline. OJ Simpson, Michael Jackson and whatever else you can dredge up from the 1980s – we’re tired of it.

And then, what’s up with the minions? It used to take several successful films before you got a spin-off. The minions got their own movie – “Minions” – after just two films. In 2015, “Minions” was the second highest-grossing animated film in the business, as well as the highest-grossing non-Disney animated picture in history. It made over $1 billion. Yes, it featured some pretty cool music – The Kinks, the Who, John Lennon & Paul McCartney – but this is when we started to realize that we were getting played.

Here’s why: the merch. With the “Despicable Me” franchise, the merchandise didn’t seem to be the point of it all. With “Minions,” the merchandise became the focus. Can you even walk into a retail store like Target or Wal-Mart these days and not see Minion merchandise everywhere? Stand in line at a supermarket, and you’ll see the minions. You can’t escape those little one-eyed and two-eyed yellow creatures.

What’s more amazing is that there have actually been 10 short minion films to complement the 3 blockbuster summer features. You know, to feed the addiction, so that there will be plenty of demand for when the next film drops. 2010 gave us “Bananas,” a short film in which 3 minions fight over a banana. 2016 gave us “Mower Minions,” in which five minions mow a lawn. Wait, what?

But don’t get me wrong – it’s not that the “Despicable Me” films are bad. In fact, quite the opposite – the first two in the series actually did relatively well in terms of critical and viewer response, with just a slight drop-off between “Despicable Me” and “Despicable Me 2.” It’s the third one, though, that people need to be worried about. This one looks like it’s about to “jump the shark” and that’s why you need to be concerned.

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So, the billion-dollar question becomes: When is it time for a film franchise to stop?

Obviously, you can’t measure this on purely financial factors, because it’s hard to argue with films that are grossing close to $1 billion. And you can’t blame the artistic talent. We love Steve Carell and his voice cracks us up.

No, the concern here is that the minions exist as purely a money-making device of some evil overlord in Hollywood. Just as minions are programmed to serve evil masters, the minion films are programmed to serve the needs of evil corporate interests.

Quite simply, the answer to that billion-dollar question is the following: the time to stop is when the films are all about the bucks rather than pushing the storyline forward. “Despicable Me 3” looks like it’s way more about the adults (who control the cash flow) than about the kids. Until now, the reason the films made so much money is because they’ve been a crossover hit – kind of like “The Simpsons” or some other grown-up cartoon. But they were kid movies.

Kids wanted to see the movies because the plots are something they can identify with. Take the first “Despicable Me” – it was about an audacious attempt to capture the moon. That’s something you can explain to your kids. The second “Despicable Me” gave us the song “Happy,” which was fun to sing along to with the kids. But now consider “Despicable Me 3” – the plot line invokes bad 80s music, bad 80s outfits, and Michael Jackson. Quick, ask your 5-year-old if it’s funny to be a child 80s star or if they know who Michael Jackson is.

Umm, no.

So, here’s a humble suggestion. The “Despicable Me” franchise should just politely walk away while it’s still on top. It’s clear that there’s a mountain of creative talent at Illumination Entertainment – talent that’s better used coming up with creative new concepts rather than just endlessly re-hashing this minion stuff over and over again.

Illumination Entertainment actually has the potential to become a credible rival to Disney these days. And they’re doing it with some really cute stuff that appeals to kids, like “The Secret Life of Pets.” That’s a fun concept that everyone can embrace, and especially the kids.

The secret of Disney and Pixar is that they became great animation film studios by constantly coming up with fresh, new creative work – not by just recycling the same film over and over again. Imagine if Disney had taken the original “Cinderella” and then released a few prequels and sequels and filled up any gaps between films with lots of mini-films. The market would have been way too saturated, and “Cinderella” might never have become a classic hit.

So, please Illumination Entertainment, take a breather with the “Despicable Me” franchise. The first two films were creative, funny and quirky. They made you into a name-brand entertainment studio. Don’t ruin it by saturating us with minion merchandise and “Despicable Me” films we really don’t need. In short, don’t be despicable. The franchise will air periodically on TV, so make sure to watch it with a cable subscription from Comcast XFINITY.

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How “The Fosters” Sheds Light on Societal Issues

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Ever since “The Fosters” premiered on ABC Family (now known as Freeform) back in June 2013, it has been making headlines for its willingness to take on some highly relevant and often controversial societal issues. While the show is geared towards teens, it also has a sizable adult audience, due to its intelligent take on these issues by its cast members.

LGBT Themes

Take, for example, the central thesis of “The Fosters” – that a lesbian biracial couple has created a family that now includes one biological and four adopted children. As the two creators of the show (Bradley Bredeweg, Peter Paige) have pointed out, there were plenty of TV shows that have tried to take on the topic of two gay fathers raising children together, but “The Fosters” breaks new ground entirely by taking on the topic of two gay mothers.

The topic was so controversial, in fact, that ABC Family almost passed on the show, as did every other TV network. Finally, it was the involvement of global celebrity Jennifer Lopez who made the show happen. It turns out that her mother’s older sister was gay. Moreover, this relative faced a significant amount of exclusion and persecution as a result of this, so Jennifer Lopez knew this show had to be made. With her involvement, “The Fosters” has been able to take an unflinching look at LGBT issues.

In this case, the LGBT themes are brought to life by Stef Foster (played by Teri Polo) and Lena Adams (played by Sherri Saum). Stef is a police officer while Lena is a vice principal at a high school. What makes this pairing all the more unlikely is that Stef’s ex-husband (Mike Foster, played by Danny Nucci) is also her patrol partner. That brings the whole issue of LGBT marriage into a realm you might not expect to find it: within a suburban police department.

As Entertainment Weekly pointed out, “A lesbian, biracial couple on a family TV show is a big deal.” In many ways, “The Fosters” has been willing to push this LGBT theme further than anyone else. In one episode, for example, Lena tries to have her first biological baby, but has a miscarriage instead. Other episodes have dealt with the difficult topic of what it means to be a transgender teenager. And, in yet another episode, Jude (played by Hayden Byerly) begins to question his sexual orientation.

The multi-ethnic blended family

Today’s America is far from being white and homogenous, and the two creators of the show wanted to bring this topic front and center in “The Fosters.” In the middle of suburban San Diego (where the show is set), you have a biracial couple, a white biological son (Brandon, played by David Lambert), two Hispanic adopted twins (Jesus and Mariana, played by Noah Centineo and Cierra Ramirez), and two children adopted from a foster home (Callie and Jude, played by Maia Mitchell and Hayden Byerly).

Sherri Saum, the actress who plays Lena Adams, is herself from a biracial couple: her mother was German and her father was African-American. So that lends yet another dimension to this theme – and also made the show a tough sell with top TV executives. In the world of TV, what matters is creating a show that appeals to certain demographics, and the concern was that a show that didn’t cater specifically to a white, black, or Hispanic audience might not garner any of these audiences.

What makes the show work, though, is not just casting certain characters from blended racial identities – it’s exploring what happens when those racial identities live within the same household. In this regard, San Diego becomes a perfect place to watch issues of racial identity play out on the TV screen. We are literally watching a discussion of race in America play out in front of us.

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Adoption and foster care

There have been other TV shows that have taken on the theme of adoption before, but none that involved adoption by a lesbian couple. That’s what led to some critical outcries from conservative social groups, which felt that “The Fosters” was deliberately trying to explode popular notions of family. Even worse, the critics said, the show was trying to blur what adoption means by constantly taking the issue one step further: the adoption of Jesus and Mariana was soon followed up by a more unconventional adoption of Callie and Jude.

Where “The Fosters” really excels is showing viewers what happens when different social strata collide. Callie and Jude, for example, are from abusive homes, and some of the storylines involving them have been dark. Jesus and Mariana, too, have unsettled histories. In one storyline, Jesus tries to spend time with his biological mother, who has an abusive boyfriend who also happens to be a drug addict. That leads to some dramatic scenes involving Stef, in which she must take on this person face-to-face (with tragic consequences).

As part of another storyline, Brandon (the biological son) develops a huge crush and infatuation on Callie (an adopted daughter). This raises a whole number of other issues, including the permissibility of love between two family members who are not related by blood, but related by family ties.

As part of the adoption and foster care theme, the show takes on the whole foster care system, basing it around Girls United, a group home for troubled girls. In fact, one could argue that the whole title of the show – “The Fosters” – is an attempt to bring foster care into much greater prominence.

The covering of these three themes – LGBT issues, blended family issues and adoption and foster care issues – by “The Fosters” is what makes the show so powerful. For teens growing up uncertain about what it means to live in a “modern American family,” this show can be riveting TV.

What’s clear is that twenty-first century America looks very different than even the America of the 1980s or 1990s – a theme that the show’s producers aren’t afraid to take on any longer. “The Fosters” is nearing the end of a successful Season 4, and in the period from 2013-2016, has helped to shed light on some vitally important societal issues. If you buy a cable television bundle from XFINITY, you can watch The Fosters every week on Freeform.

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Film Review: “La La Land”

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Musicals are dead. That’s what everyone thought, including us, before La La Land came and completely turned this thought on its head. This all-singing, all-dancing musical is an homage to the genre that does not necessarily find Hollywood on its side. Truth be told, the recent musicals, most notably, Frozen and its Let It Go, have done enough harm to the genre as it is. But, La La Land is the living proof that even in this day of superhero movies, and blockbuster franchises, a fine musical can emerge, if allowed to. Barring some horrible mishap, there is no doubt that La La Land will bag an Oscar this time. However, the film had some heavy competition this Oscar season.

This is the story of two hopeless romantics inevitably falling in love with each other in the City of Stars. They are dreamers. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is an aspiring jazz pianist, and Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress. The story is one of hope, disappointment, dreams, and bitter-sweet reality of life. The two are drawn to each other’s passion for their dreams. They are both at a point in their lives where they crave their aspirations with all their heart. That very heart is now yearning for each other. So, between dreams and love-of-a-lifetime, what is more important? Which would you choose? Finally, did they even have a choice in the way things played out in their lives? This is the story of two lovebirds, who just like a thousand others that flock to Los Angeles with their eyes full of dreams and their pockets empty. But, not all dreams are meant to be, and once in a while, one or two of them do come true. At what cost? At what sacrifices? Enjoy this musical to visit this mysterious place of glamor, makeup, and stardom.

The musical numbers in the movie do an amazing job of capturing the emotions of the two leads of the movie. Starting from the opening number to the final melancholic moments, the movie is a treat for your ears. This has become so much rare in Hollywood, thanks in no part to its fixation on visuals. For this reason alone, La La Land deserves special credit. Yes, you can watch the movie at home, on your television or on your phone while you are traveling. But, to truly experience its awesomeness, you have to get yourself up, dust the chips off of your chest, get yourself ready, and go to the theater. There, you will get to experience La La Land in all its glory, accompanied by the groans, applauses, laughter, and the tears. This is a musical journey that has given us another reason to visit the theaters, especially an IMAX, if there’s one near you and enjoy the magic of cinemas.

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Chazelle has been waging a campaign singlehandedly to revive the cinema-going experience for the viewers, and his task will have unintended consequences. Truth be told, after you have experienced La La Land and its sublime musical score in cinemas, you will find a renewed interest in not only cinemas, but Broadway shows as well. However, there is one reason why watching these kind of stories on the big screen is better than a Broadway adaptation. On the big screen, you get to see up close the smallest of glints in the eyes, and the twitches in the corner of the lips, which can give a whole new meaning to a particular scene. In La La Land, Emma’s Mia is seen constantly wearing that glint in her doe-like eyes that can make any man fall in love with her instantly. They also betray the tears that keep welling up in response to the whole lot of twists of fate that life keeps throwing at her. Ryan’s Sebastian, for his part, wears his characteristic sardonic smile, as if dismissing his life’s worries or his feelings for Mia, which are making it unbearable for him to hold them inside. The silly hopeless romantics.

The choice of Emma and Ryan couldn’t have been better. They have an evidently smooth chemistry that enables them to deliver stunning performance in the movie. Whether they are dancing on the freeways or sharing a meaningful moment in the observatory, you can’t help but wonder “Wow! Are they made for each other or what!” Despite them not being singers, both of them have managed to do justice to their dance sequences with an elegance that deserves a special mention.

But, just because their chemistry is spectacular to watch, don’t expect everything to go smooth between Mia and Seb. The couple soon realizes that their pursuit of their career will surely come between them. They eventually find themselves at the crossroads, and they have to make their choice. The ending may not be something that you expect from such a movie. In fact, if you are young and are yet to go through life’s ups and downs, you might even be surprised by the climax. On the other hand, if you have lived through the vagaries of the real life, then you will know that the climax is pretty much how the real life works, in general.

If you feel that Chazelle has not made a single attempt to make the audience happy, then you need to think again. Just imagine the number of pretty women, and handsome men coming to Los Angeles every year, and how many of them actually find what they wanted here. A lot of them would end up in such shapes that they would die switch places with Mia and Seb’s places.

So, did they get what they wanted, or did they not? Why don’t you get off that couch now and find out yourself! It will be a memorable experience that will last with you a long time. Check out the flick when it airs on TV with an awesome Comcast cable plan.

“Rogue One” Impresses Audiences Worldwide

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Rogue One has broken the $800 million milestone in box office collections. Roughly $400 million of the 800 is from the international markets. This is not including the figures from China yet, because the movie is set to release there only by 6th of this month. It should also be noted though that Chinese audience are not particularly fond of the Star Wars franchise. Even The Force Awakens ended up making only $125 million there. However, in other countries, Rogue One has left even a lot of local productions behind. For instance, in the UK, Rogue One overtook the much anticipated and publicized Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in virtually no time at all. This is the story of what is maybe the best performing Star Wars movie yet.

It is true that the Star Wars movies have always had a strong appeal among their loyal fans, and a crowd-pulling ability among the masses. But, the most prevalent notion was that the entire franchise is built and draws the life force (pun unintended) from the Skywalker family. Before, the massive success of The Force Awakens was unthinkable without the revival of the key characters of the Skywalker family – Leia, Luke, and Han Solo. Not to mention the purposely left ambiguous nature of the relationship between Luke and Rey. The blockbuster performance of The Rogue One flies right in the face of that logic.

Everything about Rogue One’s performance is picture perfect. It has not even been a month since its release, and it has already made nearly as much as Batman vs Superman. It is now an absolute certainty that the movie will outperform Captain America: Civil War ($1.15 billion) to become the highest grossing movie of the year. In just three weeks of its release, it managed to sell a mindboggling 50 million tickets. Compare this with the 52 million tickets sold by Attack of the Clones, and 59 million sold by Revenge of the Sith. There is no doubt that Rogue One will be breaking a lot of records this year.

So, what does this mean?

It means that the audience is now looking for something fresh. They are ready to enjoy different stories from the Star Wars universe. In fact, considering that Rogue One has performed better than The Force Awakens so far, it wouldn’t be wrong to conclude that there is greater demand for alternative stories from this universe than those that revolve around the Skywalker family.

The success of Rogue One deserves special credit for another reason. There is no Jedi in the movie. For the first time in the history of Star Wars, there is neither a Jedi, nor anyone from the Skywalker family shown in the movie. Now consider this. What are the first things that come to your mind when you think about Star Wars? Jedi? Darth Vader? Luke? Leia? These things have come to define the Star Wars universe for the audience. And, they are not part of The Rogue One. (Actually, one of them is in the movie, but we won’t tell you which one. Because, spoilers!)

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These two factors should give Disney the right kind of incentive to pursue a wide variety of stories. If one looks at the material available in the various Star Wars comics, novels, video games, animated series, and so on, there is no dearth of characters or compelling stories in them. In fact, a great many fans would love to have Disney working on those plots.

To Disney’s credit, they are working on ways to pursue different stories in the Star Wars universe. After all, Disney bought Lucasfilm for an astronomical $4 billion, and surely wants to cash in all the money it can from the deal. Creating spinoffs, and sequels is perfectly in line with that objective. In fact, Disney is already releasing a movie about the origins of Han Solo as early as May, 2017. Of course, when so much of money is involved, you can expect Disney to do some hedging to reduce its risk. So, by the end of this year, Disney will again return to a Skywalker story – Star Wars Episode VIII – a sequel to The Force Awakens. Disney has planned more spinoffs in the future, and it will be interesting to see how they will turn out to be.

Rogue One has delivered stellar revenues for everyone involved, from the production team to the screening theaters. And, this is just the beginning of a whole new line of spinoffs.

And no. There will not be any sequels to Rogue One. The reason is that there already is a sequel to it – A New Hope. That’s right. The adventures of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) are set in a time before the events of A New Hope. In fact, she was part of the original crew that made everything possible that gave the rebels Hope. It is only because of Jyn that Luke and his ragtag band of rebels could destroy the Death Star, much later.

It was Jyn’s and her team’s act of selflessness and bravery that resulted in the rebels finding the blueprints for the Death Star. And the rest, as they say, is history in a galaxy far, far away.

Despite all the freshness and changes to the franchise, The Rogue One leaves its audience with the same sense of awe and admiration for this huge universe as did A New Hope. Gareth Edwards has made a masterful use of technology to incite the same wonder in you when you see the Death Star, the destroyers, and the works. Under his experienced hands, Jyn turns out to be exactly what you need for a mission in the Star Wars universe – someone with vague history, father issues, and stupid enough to die for a cause. You simply can’t help but fall in love with her and her suicide squad. To see Rogue One and other Star Wars movies when they air on cable, make sure you have a cable package now!

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