Under the Micro Scope

Link to Today’s Strip.

I think we all kind of guessed that this movie must have the budget of a community college staging of CATS, when they chose to film a park bench in winter on a soundstage rather than on location. I’ve seen better production values in classic Bonanza episodes.

At least they had the decency to put up a matte painting!

I don’t know how well weepy cancer movies are generally received, because I try to avoid them. If I wanted to hear sad adults having heartfelt conversations about personal tragedy I would follow strangers around the local Wal-Mart. The last one I remember being big was ‘The Fault in our Stars.’ That made $300 million on a 8-12 million dollar budget.

But is that a normal expectation for terminal illness sadporn? How did cancer movies do in the age of covid?

I did a little digging through the interwebs, just to see if making a movie about dying of cancer in current era is a good idea or not.

Ordinary Love. Filming began in 2018. Liam Neeson is afraid his wife will be taken by breast cancer. They’re sad their daughter died years ago. His gay friend’s husband gets taken instead. His wife recovers, and they go on a nice walk. It was released in the UK in December of 2019, and the US in February of 2020. Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 93%. The thing bombed like crazy though. US Box office was $774,877. Global seems to have ended at around $5 million. The only website I could find that listed a budget had it at $50 million. It is now streaming on Hulu, where random trolls complain that Liam Neeson doesn’t spend enough time threatening cancer over the phone.

I Still Believe. Filming began in 2019. Based on a book. Based on a true story. Christian musician, Jeremy Camp, is engaged to his college sweetheart who is battling cancer. They think she gets better. They get married. Then she gets worse. He has a brief crisis of faith. She dies. He finds a note from encouraging him not to lose his faith. It was released in March 2020. As is normal for movies made by evangelical Christians for evangelical Christians, critics were split on it, and it has a 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. It made $16 million on a $12 million dollar budget. It is now streaming on Fubo TV, and my little sister cried so much after watching we wondered if she needed rehydration therapy.

Clouds. Filming began in 2019. Based on a book. Based on a true story. High School student and aspiring musician, Zach Sobiech, writes music about dying of cancer and becomes a viral YouTube star. Dies of cancer. Was originally scheduled for a theatrical release through Warner Bros, but Disney bought the rights to release on their streaming service. Released in October 2020. Budget was between $10-12 million. I couldn’t find how much Disney bought it for. It was received decently with a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Life in a Year. Filming began in 2017. Will Smith’s son falls in love with pixie dream girl dying of cancer. She helps him on his journey to become a rapper. He marries her. She dies of cancer. Sony Pictures Releasing it showed it in 54 theatres in November of 2020. Box office was $43,862, and not enough critics reviewed it for a Rotten Tomatoes score. It is now streaming on Amazon Prime, where random people who love trash seem to like it. Couldn’t find a budget for it.

All My Life. Filming began in 2019. Based on a true story. Aspiring chef Solomon Chau is engaged to his girlfriend Jenn Carter. Then he gets liver cancer. They try to decide whether to postpone the wedding. Instead their friends encourage them to move the wedding up. They get married. He dies. It was released to theatres in December of 2020, and released to VOD a month later. Critics were split, with a 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. At the box office it grossed $2 million on a $25 million dollar budget. It is currently streaming to HBO Max.

Our Friend. Filming began in 2019. Based on an essay. Based on a true story. Mother and wife, Nicole Teague, is dying of cancer. Close family friend, Dane, moves in to help take care her, putting his life on hold for more than a year. His girlfriend doesn’t understand and breaks up with him. Cancer wife dies. Husband Matthew Teague writes essay thanking Dane. It was released into the theatres in January 2021. Had a positive critical reception, 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, but bombed big time. Not even $700,000 on a $10 million dollar budget. It is now streaming on Amazon Prime, where random people who love trash seem to love it.

So yeah, with the numbers we have, cancer movies look like a money sink. But that’s the thing, we have no ability to access the numbers that really matter. The streaming numbers. How much are they making on VOD? How much are they making on distribution rights? The theatre releases for many of these were perfunctory. Did they turn a profit for the studio in the long term? We don’t know. All of that is information hidden in the cloud.

Which terrifies me. Because it means that Lisa’s Story could still be a big success. It could still win awards. We might not be done with this yet. And I bet you dollars to donuts that commenter Jeff M. was right yesterday, and Les is going to start getting letters and emails from all the women whose lives he saved by profiting off of his wife’s death.

44 Comments

Filed under Son of Stuck Funky

44 responses to “Under the Micro Scope

  1. Epicus Doomus

    In the original book launch tour arc, Les was all conflicted, nonchalant and pissy about pretty much every aspect of his publicity junket. He also saved a planeload of people by talking to his dead wife on the white courtesy phone. During the “Lust For Lisa” arc, Les was all conflicted, annoyed and bitter about pretty much every aspect of the production. He also saved Mason’s career by giving him a bent nail he found on the ground.

    In the second cancer movie arc, Les was conflicted, annoyed and skeptical about every aspect of the production. He also saved Marianne’s life twice, first by (guffaw) rescuing her from a fire, then by having authored a book that made her conscious of cancer warning signs. After all three arcs, Les came home and acted like he didn’t really give a shit either way.

    One could say that the “common thread” with these stories is that Les is a wildly self-absorbed and quite whiny dick with ears who’s never obliged to consider how anyone else feels because his wife died of cancer twenty-four (strip time) years ago. His agent, Mason, Marianne, the cast and crew…f*ck ’em all. Les just shrugs it all away, makes a weak wry remark and that’s that. And it’s all redeemed away by his various “good deeds”. This is just one reason why he remains the single most detestable character in the history of fiction. Or at least all the way back to primitive cave paintings.

    • spacemanspiff85

      I’m expecting this “arc” to culminate in a Sunday strip with Les silently reading the newspaper, and an article showing that Marianne was found dead on the street in LA after LIsa’s Story bombed and she couldn’t afford rent or food anymore. And then the last panel is Les with a big grin on his face, telling Cayla that he found a coupon for hot dogs.

  2. Micro budget, micro profit…because of micro story and micro likeableness.

  3. William Thompson

    “Micro budget?” When they had Masonne Jarre at the helm? When he could have cut a deal with a major studio (“Make this film for me, and you’ve got me for your next blockbuster”) or dipped into his own bank account (it’s not like he’s paying rent on his mansion any more, now is it?).

    Meanwhile, let’s nominate Caucayla for an acting award. Sure, it doesn’t bother her that the movie made no money. Sure, it doesn’t bother her that all of the crap she took from Les came to nothing. Sure, she isn’t thinking about a good divorce lawyer.

  4. spacemanspiff85

    I’m kind of surprised the second panel isn’t Les responding “Why are you sorry? I got paid already, remember?”.
    I wonder if maybe Batiuk did this movie arc again maybe hoping that someone in Hollywood would read it and try and offer to make an actual movie of his work. It must eat him up every time a new Marvel movie comes out. The fact that there will be an Eternals movie, a third Ant-Man movie, a third Guardians of the Galaxy movie (and a holiday special) and no Lisa’s Story must be a big part of why he constantly portrays the film industry as full of greedy idiots.

    • J.J. O'Malley

      Let us not forget that TB’s beloved Scarlet Speedster, The Flash, is getting his own starring film next year, one that adapts the infamous “Flashpoint” storyline of multiple universes and also features the return of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Surely the fact that Warner Bros, never asked him to come in and restore his beloved Silver Age continuity (you know, like when Flash was turned into a puppet or weighed 1,000 pounds) must be dragging down his spirits like…an anvil dropped in a lake?

      Today’s lesson: micro-budget + micro profit = micro humor.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      I wonder if maybe Batiuk did this movie arc again maybe hoping that someone in Hollywood would read it and try and offer to make an actual movie of his work.

      That would explain why so many “prestige arcs” that start out with all this fire and brimstone, and then just peter out unresolved. The CTE arc was another one.

      I can’t reconcile this with the 11-month lead time, though. If Batiuk was counting on a story attracting mainstream attention after it runs, the rest of it would already have been made. Unless – and this is really cynical and conspiracy-minded – he writes alternate endings, and replaces the “prestige” ending with a desultory one once the window of mainstream attention has passed.

      It would explain a lot, though. The Funkyblog mentions one of his precious Sunday comic book covers “getting pushed back further and further on the schedule.” With 11 months’ lead time, why is scheduling an issue at all?

      • spacemanspiff85

        I feel that most of his “prestige” arcs exist just so he can brag about having done them to clueless journalists. Like the arc that just ended in Crankshaft. Since nobody reads it, he can claim he shined a light on the serious issue of how important journalism is and how journalists are heroes and corporations are pure evil, and the interviewers will have no clue that the story is a self-contradictory mess that has someone publishing and printing a story for a newspaper despite the fact that he’s the only employee and he actually quit before writing the story. Or that the story ends with Ed Crankshaft treating the guy to a meal at Montoni’s that he pays for with pennies in a sock while Act II Funky sweeps the sidewalks outside despite the fact that the strip is actually taking place in 2021.

        • Epicus Doomus

          This is exactly what he does. Anyone who actually reads the strip knows that his big prestige arcs don’t “address” anything at all. He presents a premise, repeats it a few dozen times, then his mind starts wandering off on pointless tangents until the original premise is either totally ignored or only mentioned briefly in passing. But because most people’s knowledge of FW is based solely around what he says it is, no one notices.

  5. billytheskink

    My take away from this is that Lisa’s Story would have done better at the box office if they had brought in Mopey Pete for some rewrites. Worked last time…

  6. Smirks’R Us

    P4:

    Caucayla: “matches your micro penis”

  7. Banana Jr. 6000

    Hey Les, you know who you sound like?

  8. Y. Knott

    Lisa’s Story means everything to Les. He can’t go for more than ten minutes without bringing it up. Which is why I still can’t get over how the fate of the theatrical release is so unimportant to him that he did not bother to check it out in any way, I mean, no looking up reviews, no getting ready for a premiere, no trying to drum up some publicity — nothing. I don’t even know if he ever saw a finished version of the film. He just slouched back to Ohio, and smirkmoped. (Smirkmoping — the default emotional setting for any FW character.)

    Then, after the film was out for a little while, Les got a single e-mail from the star, informing him that it tanked. THEN, DAYS AFTER THAT, he off-handedly mentioned the e-mail to his wife. Who also had no real clue as to how the movie was doing.

    This is a flavour of bad writing so specific, and so just plain unusual (although still very, very bad), I’m seeing why y’all are fascinated by it. This isn’t garden variety bad. This is “we may have discovered a whole new uncatalogued way the brain of a writer can malfunction” bad.

    • Banana Jr. 6000

      Well said. It’s as if Tom Batiuk doesn’t even know how to be a bad writer. A bad writer would have given Les a bad reason for making the movie. Batiuk doesn’t even bother with that. As usual, we have to guess what Les wants or why he wants it. This stupid story has been going on for years, and Batiuk has never bothered giving Les a motivation. Even though he had Les ask “what’s my motivation” in the story!

      If Les had his own reasons for making this movie, he’d be talking about them now. He didn’t do it to raise awareness of breast cancer. He didn’t do it for his own personal satisfaction. He didn’t do it to get redemption for its initial failure. He didn’t do it just to do a project with his friends. He didn’t do it to create a permanent, noble record of his Lost Lenore’s life. These are common reasons that characters do things, and Batiuk doesn’t employ any of them here.

      But what about “protecting Lisa”, Les’ one-size-fits-all reason for everything? He doesn’t do that either! Because if that’s all he wanted, all he had to do was say “no” and the movie could not have been made. And this isn’t speculation; the story depicted this! Mason had to get Les’ permission, and Les granted it while immediately rooting for it to fail. Mr. I Must Protect Lisa also didn’t shown up for the last 90% of shooting, or even ask why they proceeded without him after the fire. And they magically gave him exactly what he wanted.

      Funky Winkerbean always leaves you to fill in the blanks. And the answers get ugly fast. In the absence of any affirmative reasons to make the movie, it’s easy to conclude that Les only wanted the money and fame. When he didn’t get it, the movie became an immediate failure in his eyes. There was never any other reason for it to exist. For a story that has such disdain for Hollywood and its business practices, it sure does define success and failure the same way they do.

      I have some other theories, but they make Les look even worse.

      • The Duck of Death

        It’s telling that any one of us here could rewrite any given strip so it makes sense and advances character development. What if, in P3, Les had said, “Better a micro-budget box office failure than a big-budget Hollywood success that didn’t tell Lisa’s story right”?

        It’ll never win a Pulitzer, but at least it would have let us know how he felt about the thing. “Wry” is not really an emotion, Batiuk. This is your (arguably) lead character, your primary author avatar, your Gary Stu. And you don’t even let us see how he feels about the abject failure of “Lisa’s Story.”

        Once again, BJr6K, it’s just as you mentioned a few days ago. Batiuk has no “theory of mind” — he simply can’t imagine himself into someone else’s head, or even into his own head under different circumstances. I don’t think Tom even knows how his character is feeling. Glad it’s over? Sorry he even tried? Guilty because he let Lisa down? Angry because the studio didn’t do their job? Any of those would be reasonable. Instead, we get the wry smirkmope.* Batiuk doesn’t have the courage, or the imagination, to give his characters any concrete emotions other than “petulant” and occasionally “angry enough to fuel a sudden tantrum.”

        *Thanks for the new term, Y. Knott. I’ll be using it often.

      • hitorque

        And the COMPLETE absence of any involvement whatsoever from St. Lisa’s two children (one of which is a regular cast member and personally knows the lead actor) defies any and all logic… There’s no way to fill in that blank without Les being a total douche.

        My biggest misconception before this storyline was thinking that “regular” people getting the once-in-a-lifetime chance to help make a real live Hollywood movie and party with celebrities would be the greatest and most fun thing ever… Hell I’d do it for free but getting paid an obscene amount of money to do so would be the icing on the cake… But as Les (and Darrin+Pete to a lesser extent) have illustrated, making movies *IS* the Cancer, and I guess the commercial flop is the Chemotherapy? I dunno, that allegory makes just as much sense as anything we’ve seen from the Funkyverse the past few years…

      • Anonymous Sparrow

        We could blame Holly “Breast Cancer Survivor” Winkerbean (nee Budd) for being so enthusiastic about the project.

        Then again, she has a cast on her leg and wieners and legumes on her plate, so that would probably be unkind.

  9. Banana Jr. 6000

    I saw a great video called “how to create unlikeable characters”:

    It might as well be Les Moore’s biography. An unlikeable character is

    – is never allowed to have any flaws
    – is never disliked by anyone in the story
    – gets everything he wants without earning it
    – never grows or changes
    – complains about the same thing again and again
    – is selfish as opposed to selfless
    – faces no actual protagonists or obstacles
    – is visually off-putting

    Les is basically Caillou.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      That is an awesome video. And while I think Batiuk intends Les to have flaws, be occasionally disliked, and not get everything he wants; he definitely has him NEVER GROW OR CHANGE, and COMPLAIN ABOUT THE SAME THING AGAIN AND AGAIN AGAIN AGAIN AGAIN again….

      Two things that are INFURIATING.

      • Banana Jr. 6000

        Batiuk intends for Les to have flaws, but he’s as bad as writing them as he is writing everything else. It’s all just phony self-deprecation. Every time Les thinks he’s being self-deprecating he’s actually complimenting himself, insulting someone else, or expressing one of Tom Batiuk’s approved opinions about something.

  10. Anvil du Lac

    I hear conversations like this every time I go to get my autumn renos. I mean decos.

  11. Hitorque

    “Micro-budget?” What kind of retconned bullshittery is this?! Even if Masone Jarre gave Les a buddy-buddy discount, he still would have commanded at least a $15-20 million dollar salary up front, and Marianne Winters getting something similar… And that Starbucks Jonese movie director could demand top dollar for his involvement as well…

    Nevermind the fact that a tiny budget makes Les look all the more like a whiny asshole for not doing Jack Fuckin’ Shit to promote the movie himself… Hell, a casual observer might conclude that after Les collected his payout, he secretly wanted his movie to flop…

    You know, if this whole production was going to be done on the dirt cheap, then Les should have just gotten some film school students from the nearest university to make it… Hell, get his English class students to put on a stage play during a school assembly… The results would have been the same either way…

    • Anonymous Sparrow

      Now I have this vision of Les Moore as Max Bialystock preparing “Springtime for Hitler.”

      And now it’s cancer for Lisa in Westview
      CTE for Bull and for sportos like you…

      I better stop before, like Leo “Prince Myshkin” Bloom, I find myself in pain, wet and still hysterical.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Yeah, I seem to recall Masone talking about points on the backend too. His and Ms Winters salary would have blown the micro budget big time.

      But again, nobody liked Les’ story, he is sad, that makes me happy. Maybe this is all a metaphor for the poor sales of Batty’s cancer book?

      • ComicBookHarriet

        Respectfully disagree. Many big movie stars will take a huge cut in upfront salary to work on art projects, in the hopes it will get them awards nods. Like you said, they’ll take ‘points on the backend’ meaning they’ll get paid a percentage of profits if the movie is really successful. Marriage Story, starring Kylo Ren and Black Widow, had a total budget of $18 million. The Father, starring Hannibal Lecter, was $6 Million. Nomadland, starring a pregnant woodchipper operator, was $5 million.

        • Gary Stephen

          Mason and Marianne Winters’ involvement should have been an important point, but isn’t. However low-budget Lisa’s Story may have been, it would attract mainstream attention simply because Big Action Movie Heroes star in it. The story doesn’t care about that enough, because Les doesn’t.

          • Not to mention that in the real world, Marianne’s cancer scare would have gotten the movie at least a little bit of extra attention. Even if only in a snarky “I’ve never seen a movie so bad it tried to kill the actress” kind of way.

        • hitorque

          Like I said, I’m pretty sure Masone gave Les a buddy-buddy discount, but there’s no way in hell a lifelong D-lister who had been struggling for his critical/commercial breakthrough for years would take that big of a cut fresh off a superhero movie trilogy that made him a household name and grossed a billion dollars worldwide…

          Likewise for Marianne, who went from some nobody hoping for a big break to the hottest “it” dreamgirl/sex symbol in Hollywood (think Margot Robbie)… Now would NOT the time for either of them (or the director) to leave money on the table now that they’re actually making a bunch of it, and even if they were too dumb to realize this, I assure you their agents would have made it plain…

          Nevermind the fact that Lisa’s Story isn’t some weirdo esoteric arthouse flick, it’s a bestselling novel with well-trodden subject matter that’s as mainstream as white bread, baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet…

        • Rusty Shackleford

          Yes, you are right. But still, I’m happy Les is disappointed.

          Also, I love seeing celebrities grub for awards.

        • Anonymous Sparrow

          Cassidy Kerr approves this comment; however, some residents of Fargo thinks it’s funny-looking. (And not circumcised.)

    • William Thompson

      The next Dead Lisa film just might be a Westview High production. It would give Les total control of everything, and film everything on location, and find clever, cheapskate ways to handle any filmmaking problems (“We need falling leaves! But it’s springtime!” “No problem, have the art class cut leaves out of their brown paper lunch bags!”). Les, the Orson Welles of Westview, will show Hollywood how it’s done!

  12. Jimmy

    The strip doesn’t interest me, but I am fascinated by the sheer number of cancer movies out there. I would guess these would all be on the Hallmark Channel or something, but most made it to the theater somehow.

    I guess Funky Winkerbean is indeed 1/4 inch from reality.

    • ComicBookHarriet

      And that is just the cancer movies from 2019 to now. And I didn’t even include Hallmark Channel type weep fests starring Rob Lowe.

  13. sgtsaunders

    It was also a micro-plot film.

  14. Sourbelly

    Does Cayla serve any purpose in this strip anymore? She’s nothing more than a mildly supportive sounding board, and she isn’t even good at that. “I’m sorry to hear that the movie didn’t do well” is about as robotic as it gets.

    It feels like Cayla has grown to loathe Les and is contemplating divorce. Is that how we’re supposed to interpret this? Of course not. It’s called bad writing.

  15. He spends four weeks (FOUR PAINFUL, TERRIBLE WEEKS!) on Holly’s broken leg, which did not advance any story line, meanwhile Lisa’s Story has premiered, released, and been out long enough to flop and we find about it in an email that’s being discussed while pumpkin picking. One would think that we’d at least see Les and Cayla fly out for the premier (or Masonne/Marianne fly to Ohio for the premier at the Valentine), or something, anything. I honestly don’t know what to make of this. It’s getting to final days of A3G level ineptitude. At least the artwork’s not too terrible. If it wasn’t for this web site, I would have given up on this strip long ago (like I did with 9 Chickweed Lane).

  16. Les and Cayla can’t be arsed to care about the failure of the movie that defined their lives for years and years of increasingly bizarre story arcs, but at least they support their local Farmer’s Market.

  17. hitorque

    Because these points bear repeating from yesterday:

    1. I thought money didn’t matter, only that the story “got told the right way”? Fuckin’ hypocrite…

    2. Les Freaking Moore didn’t think enough of his $100 million movie production (a movie which HE co-produced and his based on HIS book, and starring two A-listers with allegedly better romantic chemistry than Newman and Woodward) to even promote it in his shitty little hometown… You know, the same hometown where the title character was born and raised, lived and died, and presumably had friends and family who knew and loved her…

    You know, I was living in Rhode Island in 2004, and I remember how much Chris Van Allsburg was promoting “Polar Express” in his adopted city of Providence… And that movie had freaking Tom Hanks in it… And I also remember how much hype “The Fault in Our Stars” had locally because the director is from Virginia Beach (yay, us!)… So I stand by my conclusion that after he got his money Les quietly WANTED this movie to fail… Because there’s no reason in hell why a “co-producer” who was a party to all the pre-production meetings, had final say on Lisa’s casting, and even coached Marianne in some early scenes would just up and go back to Ohio and be so far removed from the information loop of his own goddamned movie that his only update is through an occasional e-mail…

    Of course the other possible conclusion is Masone got sick and tired of Lester’s passive-aggressive manic depressive bullshit and slowly phased him out, which would be the smartest thing he’d ever done…

  18. hitorque

    MEANWHILE, over in Krankenschaaften:

    Ol’ Ed is about to burn his house down and possibly electrocute himself to death and I can’t fucking wait to watch.

    • Gerard Plourde

      I’ve missed a few days but your Crankshaft mention had me look at the end of the Centerville Sentinel arc. Crankshaft’s baseball career occurred before and (I think) a little after World War 2 during which he served in the Army. Rocky Colavito was born in 1933 and played between 1955 and 1968. Oops!

  19. Gerard Plourde

    Sorry to be late to the party. Did anyone notice that Les admits that the movie made a PROFIT? That translates as actual box office earnings exceeded the cost of production. Let’s assume that all of the A-Listers, including the director worked at their usual high salary levels while cutting production costs, as evidenced by the use of that minuscule and using (probably unpaid) Les in that cameo role. Those costs would have to be made up in box office receipts before any profit occurs. Remember the Freakazoid Rule – “Always ask for a percentage of the gross. The net is bupkis.”