Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Year In Review - 2013: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Okay, so I know it's May and we're almost halfway done with 2014 already. I got a late start. Sue Me.

The Good -
1. Marvel Studios - Seriously, can these people do anything wrong? Even the critically bashed Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 did boffo box office. Winter Soldier is doing 40% more than First Avenger. Guardians previews look phenomenal and we can't forget the burgeoning anticipation for Age of Ultron. I'm sure they will eventually stumble with something, but they may even make that look good.

2. Arrow - What Marvel does right with movies, DC accomplishes on the small screen. Although I will admit, I was ready to give up after Season 1. The showrunner's entire 'no powers' rule was exactly the opposite of what the fanboys wanted. They listened (somewhat) and introduced a whole slew of characters as well, making a cohesive universe. Now if only Agents of SHIELD has a chance to do the same. Looking forward to Season 3 and the Flash.

3. Gay Marriage - I mean, really, it's 2014. Are we still discussing this? Why is this still an issue? Two men or two women getting married is not going to end society as we know it. It isn't going to ruin the family or erode away the morality of our country. If any group has accomplished that feat, it would be the religious leaders who molest little kids or the evangelists that consort with prostitutes and trade redemption for a twenty dollar donation. At least the religious sycophants seem to be losing this fight in the state courts/legislatures.

4. Jennifer Lawrence - I didn't know or care who she was before Hunger Games, but it wasn't Katniss that endeared me to her. What made me fall in love with JLaw was her interviews. She was refreshingly honest, had no filter between her brain and mouth and said the things on TV that we only speak with our closest friends. She is a breath of fresh air that doesn't seem tainted by the plastic skin of Hollywood.

5. The Pope - I was born and raised Catholic, although I haven't stepped foot in a church in ages (Mainly because I am afraid I will burst into flames.) To me, the institution of organized religion seems antiquated and outdated, falling behind the times farther and farther with each year. Instead of evolving with its constituents, it seems to cling to the old ways that many have forgotten. And they wonder why attendance has dropped. Yet, this new pope realizes this and seems like the catalyst to bring Catholics out of 1590 and into 2014. Kudos.

The Bad -
1. Obamacare - First off, I supported healthcare reform. (Throw rotten fruit at me now. I'll wait). At its core, it is a good idea, although I didn't agree with all the tenets of the Act. Still, you have to start somewhere and our government runs on compromise. I would rather start with something and tweak it along the way instead of negating the protections that it does offer. You don't always get everything you want right out of the gate. But if you're going to roll out such a controversial and pivotal piece of legislation, hire people who know how to set up a website. There are 12 year olds that could've done a better job. People are going to remember that messed-up rollout before they remember anything else now.

2. IPads/IPhones/Internet - Remember when the internet was a tool to enhance everyday life. Now it consumes everyday life. God forbid someone has to do without the internet for a day. Everywhere I look, people are attached to their electronic devices and it feels as though the human connection has disappeared from life. I see families out to dinner and Dad is texting, Mom is sending pictures, kids are watching a movie or playing a game. We used to talk to each other around the table. If anything is eroding the family unit, it's this. Human interactions are now reduced to how fast you can type with your thumbs. It's a disturbing trend.

3. The Disneyfication of my childhood - All right, the jury is still out on this one. Yet Disney seems to have it out for me by buying Marvel and Lucasfilm. So far, the Star Wars/ comic book images of my youth have not been overly tarnished, yet I can now buy a Darth Vader helmet with Mickey Ears on it. That was a chilling sight. The higher-ups at Disney seem to be leaving Kevin Feige and the Marvel people to do what they do best, but how long can that last?

4. Inflation - I used to drink milk. A lot of it. Maybe two gallons a week. Or, at least I used to. Five years ago, a gallon would go on sale for 2.49, somewhere every week. Now the cheapest I can find it is 4.18 with an occasional sale at 3.49. My response: stop drinking milk. It was only a few years ago that three dollar gas was unimaginable. Today it was 3.43 a gallon and coming down. The government says that the inflation rate is stagnant and overall they may be right. The price of TVs are coming down, as are computers, DVDs and appliances. But those things I don't buy on a weekly basis. The very food staples that I do buy weekly have skyrocketed. I still have to commute to work and the more I spend on gas, the less I have to spend on anything else. (See below) This 'ground level' inflation has eaten up more and more of my miniscule discretionary income until I have had weeks where I scrabbled to buy food.

The Ugly -
1. The Federal Government - It seems like such an easy, fixable issue. Don't spend more than you bring in. Call a time out and place the kids in opposite corners until they agree to play fair. Worry about your own home instead of what your neighbors are doing. This is how every American lives and the government is supposed to be a reflection of us. Right? Right?

2. Justin Bieber - This is a role model? OK, so I remember how risqué Madonna was when I was growing up, but at least she was just pushing the boundaries of female empowerment. The 'Biebs' is just getting high, getting drunk (allegedly) and racing cars down city streets because he thinks he is entitled. From my viewpoint, he is a spoiled brat with too much money and is surrounded by yes-men who can't tell him he is being a brat.  

3. Gas prices - I can't tell you how sick I get every time I have to fill up. I work two jobs and commute about 75-85 miles a day every single day. That's about 12 dollars a day in my SUV. (Yes, I know, gas guzzler. I keep it because I'm 6'5, like the leg room and it's paid off.) Even worse is the nausea I get when CNN reports the record breaking earnings from Exxon, BP or any of the others. When you post a 3 BILLION dollar profit, it makes me feel as though they are gouging a nation dependent on their vehicles.

4. The Fleecing of the Lower Middle Class - This one's personal. I recently moved from the house I lived in for ten years. I called the electric company, who, by the way, is technically a monopoly, and requested to switch service to the new house. I've been with them for ten years. I am a customer in good standing. My deposit was quoted at 385 dollars. What?!?!? Ten years. No late bills and I have to pay a deposit because the people who lived there before me wasted energy. It's not like I can go down the street and talk to their competition. Electricity is a necessity and one company is all there is to get it from. How is that fair to the American consumer when there is only one corporate entity to deal with?

Sunday, May 4, 2014


My name is Mark Stephens. I live in Central Florida. I am a self-published author and a waiter. By self-published, I mean I write books, short stories and the like, but haven't quite reached the heights where a publisher would notice.
A brief history of my universe - I grew up in Ohio and moved to Florida 15 years ago by way of a short stop in Asheville, NC. Throughout grade school and high school and into college, I was always lauded as an inventive and creative writer. I never pursued it until 2011 when I began to write my first full length book, Time After Time. Why did it take so long? Mainly because of my own pragmatism. Knowing the chances of writing a book, finding an agent and a publisher, and then actually selling said book was at best a long shot. I still wrote, but never with the intention of shopping it around.
Then, back in 2010, I heard about the burgeoning self-publishing craze. Here was a forum where I could write and publish whatever I wished without worrying about a middle man. Although I would love to have a publisher be interested in  my work, now I don't have the onus of waiting for their approval.
And here we are. 2014.
Now, what exactly do I need a blog for?
In researching marketing and publishing e-books, I ran across many blogs from aspiring authors. These granted me much insight and helped me to avoid certain pitfalls as well as giving my a plethora of ideas of getting my name out there. If my trials and tribulations can afford another future writer the same insight, then it's a win-win since they may have the next best seller that I read.
Of course, this is a blog. For the casual fan of mine who reads it, I also hope to use this forum to give them an inside look at me. For example, I love movies so I've already written a post on the summer movie season. In future posts, I may tackle some controversial topics and my opinions on them or just some flights of fancy that caught my eye.
I'll be the first to admit that I refuse to shy away from those polarizing ideas and this blog will definitely explore some of those. You may not agree with what I write. You may distinctly despise me for my beliefs. All I ask is that you remember that I respect you for your opinions, please respect me for same.
With that in mind, I realize that most people do not want to hear my opinions on some topics so each title will be clearly labeled so that the reader only has to read what they want.

Thanks for reading and being a fan,
Sincerely, Mark Stephens

Saturday, May 3, 2014

At The Movies - Summer 2014

Its the first weekend of May and you know what that means: Summer Movie season has started and a Marvel Superhero movie has opened. This year seems packed wall to wall with blockbusters and, looking at the slate, I think there will be several good movies that will be eclipsed by the tentpole flicks.

For May, we have sequels and reboots and reimaginings galore. May 2 is Amazing Spiderman 2, which I am sure will do boffo box office, but I think that the April release of Cap has taken some wind of those sails. Plus, five Spidey movies in 12 years has a bit of series fatigue involved.
May 16 is the Godzilla reboot. I'm on the fence about this one. I want to see it, but being a big fan of the old Toho movies leaves me expecting a lot out of it.
May 23 is the date I have circled this month. X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the perfect moments in the comics and I have high hopes that Bryan Singer can get most of that perfection on screen. If anything, I'll finally get to see Sentinels and Patrick Stewart again.
May 30 is the toss-up weekend. Disney releases Maleficent and they've done wonders with live action adaptations on older properties lately. But...I'm a huge Seth MacFarlane fan so A Million Ways to Die in the West feels like a winner especially after Ted.

The first three weeks of June appear to be a wasteland of underperformers and wannabes. Edge of Tomorrow is straight sci-fi with a great premise, which should satisfy hardcore fanboys like me, but ignore everyone else but Tom Cruise fans. (See Oblivion) Think Like a Man Too and 22 Jump Street are more sequels from surprise hits. But this year sees no Pixar movies released. Instead, we get How to Train Your Dragon 2. Being the only family offering with any pedigree this summer, it should do quite well, much better than the original, yet I still miss my Pixar outing.

The end of June sees Transformers 4. I'm actually excited about this one since they got rid of Shia and it has the introduction of Grimlock. It may be short on plot, but sometimes I like endless violence and mounds of popcorn. There is a cornucopia of second tier releases for July and, to be honest, many of them will cannibalize one another for movie bucks. None of them really stand out as winners, although one or two will undoubtedly break out of the pack.

July does see the release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to the surprise 2011 hit. Rise was an unexpected bright spot in summer 2011 and has gained even more popularity in DVD release. Although James Franco is not in it, this one will definitely outperform the original.

As we hit August, we also hit movie fatigue. Yet there are a few gems amidst the doldrums of summer. August 1 is Marvel's first risky venture with Guardians of the Galaxy. If the previews are any indication, they're going to have another success on their hands. Two more possibilities to breakout are Sin City 2, which has been a long time coming, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Predictions for Summer:
1. How to Train Your Dragon 2 - 300m                  Actuals - 172 million and counting  (-128m)
2. Transformers 4 - 280m                                        ***243 million                                        ( -37m)
3. Amazing Spiderman 2 - 270m                             202 million                                        (-68m)
4. X-Men: Days of Future Past - 240m                    ***232 million                                  (-8m) 
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - 230m               ***204 million                                  (-26m)
6. Maleficent - 225m                                                ***237 million                                  (+12m)
7. Guardians of the Galaxy - 175m                          226 m and counting (280 final)
8. Godzilla - 155m                                                    200 million                                        (+45m)
9. A Millions Ways to Die in the West - 140m        43 million                                           (-97m)
10. 22 Jump Street - 125m                                        190 million                                         (+65m)

Honorable Mentions - Blended, Edge of Tomorrow, Hercules, Tammy, Think Like a Man Too
Any of these may break through and see themselves in the Top Ten for the summer.

Recap - Labor Day 2014
So, prediction is not an exact science. Some of mine were spot on (within 20 million), others were way off.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 and A Million Ways were my biggest flops. Dragon underperformed by 130 million and obviously Seth MacFarlane's name cannot sell a movie since A Million couldn't break 50.
Other surprises...Transformers showed franchise fatigue even though it made it up overseas by passing a billion dollars. Which is a step ahead of Spiderman 2. Spidey barely broke 200 million and 700 million global. Still a success, it had declined enough that Spidey 3 and 4 have been derailed for the time being.
Godzilla also overperformed by my estimates, but the super duper surprise of summer came in August with Guardians of the Galaxy. I knew the Marvel name would add some cache to this unknown property, but not this much. As of this writing, it's in line to become the highest grossing movie of the year so far in another week and a half. Marvel did everything right with this one. Perfect marketing (I bought the soundtrack). Different in tone. There was much more humor in this one. It seems as if nothing can derail the Marvel behemoth, which has become more reliable than Pixar. And they aren't stopping yet. Next up...the mega, super, colossal blockbuster that will be Avengers 2.