Thursday, December 4, 2014

What movie theaters get wrong...

A long time in a small town far away, I grew up to love movies.

My Aunt Susie would take me every Sunday afternoon to the matinees. I saw George Bruns in Oh God multiple times. Star Wars. at least ten. My mother stood in line with me to see Empire Strikes Back on opening day. Movies were a big deal. A family deal.

This was before cineplexes and multiple screens. One theater, one screen. It was, like a big thing, when the neighboring town of Celina got two....count'em...TWO screens. Two movies to choose from. It was AMAZING!

Flashforward to the late 1990s. I still love movies. I still go every week. If there is nothing new of interest, I repeat one I have. I saw the 1998 debacle of Godzilla three times. Medium popcorn. Large soda. Ten bucks and I had two hours of escapism.

2008. As Mark Wills says in his lyrics for "19something", I have a mortgage and an SUV now. Yet, somehow I still make it to the movies every week. My extensive VHS collection are now DVDS and Blu-rays. The perfect evening includes a movie somehwere. I still love movies. Still rent them if I miss them in the theater.Even if I'm not that interested in the movie, I still catch it in the theater. Is it expensive? Sure. Dinner and a movie by myself is twenty five bucks.

Now it's 2014. My expenses have increased. I work two jobs and write part time just to make less money than I did six years ago. Money is tight. Yet I still love movies. I just don't go very often.

Why, you might ask?

Let me take you to December 2013.

I get off work a little early and head to AMC24 at Downtown Disney. I hadn't seen the Hobbit yet and wanted to. What the hell? I was already there. It was a short walk. I deserved the splurge. I only had to wait a bit for the next showing, which was 630. Otherwise I would have to wait until 745. I go to buy a ticket and the showing is in 3D and IMAX, so the ticket price was 18 dollars WITH MY DISCOUNT.

I was already committed so I paid it. Then I realized I hadn't eaten since breakfast. A large soda and popcorn cost me over 20 bucks. This movie was costing me 40 dollars.

Now I understand inflation and all, but when a movie night costs 40 dollars for one person, it doesn't become a viable source of entertainment any longer. And repeated views are limited to favorites only. I saw Winter Soldier and Guardians twice this year. I might've seen them more. But I missed alot of other movies that I would've gone to like Transformers 4, Gone Girl, Fault in our Stars, Neighbors and Maze Runner.

Annual movie grosses seem to be increasing, yet ticket sales are down. When a movie night for a family of four costs 100 dollars, it eliminates a good portion of the country. Just imagine if theaters discounted bulk sales, say four tickets, large popcorn and four medium sodas for 60 dollars. Still a steep price, but much more affordable for the average joe.

Or, say half price tickets for movies that have been in the theaters for more than two weeks.

There are options, ways to increase attendance and that increases profits. Yet AMC, Regal and the others seem to content to leave the moviegoing experience to the middle class and above. Well, at least you have Star Wars and Age of Ultron this year, theater owners. JJ and Joss have me hooked so I'll come, but I'm not buying popcorn.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Holiday Movies 2014

November 7 kicks off the holiday movies season with a bang, although possibly not as loud as previous years.

Interstellar (Nov7) opens to much hype, but a serious lack of fanfare. I've seen the previews and am confused by the direction of the movie. Admittedly, I am not a Nolan fan. Other than Heath Ledger, I thought he missed the mark on Batman. Memento was good, innovative, but his other efforts are mixed. I'm sure it will do well for opening weekend, but have steep drops after.

Big Hero Six (Nov 7) was an odd choice for a Marvel animated movie, I thought at first, but since seeing the previews, I'm jazzed to see it. I keep wanting to pick up cats and say "Hairy Baby." While I will probably skip Interstellar, I will be in line for this one.

Dumb and Dumber To comes out the following weekend. Another skip. Twenty years is a long time for a sequel and this one will probably fail to live up to the first's expectations.

The Penguins of Madagascar comes next and is one of the few brands that do reliable domestic business, although the series' international returns have skyrocketed. It will be the family go-to for those who want something familiar.

Nov 21 is the beginning of the Thanksgiving crop of movies. Of course, Mockingjay will open huge, but not the levels of Catching Fire. The third book is the worst liked of the trilogy and I expect that to carry over into the films. Plus, splitting it into two seems a bit of a money grab. Still, it will probably take the top spot from Guardians by Xmas.

The week before Christmas brings the final Hobbit movie, but there has been declining returns for each one. Turning the slim book into a trilogy seemed like overkill and, as a big LOTR fan, even I'm not looking forward to it.

Christmas brings three movies that will undoubtedly be well attended. Into The Woods is Disney's offering and the few scenes I've seen make it look inventive and exciting. Annie is the usual holiday musical fare which plays well for families and Night at the Museum 3.

There are a few other offerings that may surprise such as Paddington, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Unbroken and Horrible Bosses 2, but none of these seem to be sparking very well. One or two might break through and do decent BO, but most will flounder.

Mockingjay 1........375 million
Interstellar.............260 million
Hobbit 3................240 million
Big Hero 6............215 million
Penguins...............185 million
Into The Woods....17o million
Night/Museum......155 million
Annie....................150 million
Dumb and Dumb..125 million
Unbroken..............110 million
Horrible Bosses....85 million

Check back in February for final numbers

Marvel vs. DC - Cinematic Universes

I grew up reading comic books. If it had a superhero on the pages, I wanted to read it. And I could read most of them, being 40 cents a copy. I guess I was a fanboy when fanboys didn't exist. So this past month, October 2014, was a virtual orgasm of delight for me.

The first note I must make is, Am I Marvel or DC? By an edge, I'll say Marvel, only because I was a huge FF fan and I loved John Byrne. Yet there are a number of individual DC heroes I liked: Firestorm, Blue Devil, Booster Gold and especially the New Teen Titans with Raven and Cyborg. I loved the team books since it felt like I was getting more heroes for my 40 cents. Justice League and Doom Patrol were right up there with Avengers and X-men.

So you would think I should be utterly excited by Warner Brothers announcement two weeks ago. Except I'm not. I viewed the upcoming slate with skepticism and dread. The even funnier thing is they made their announcement during a shareholder's meeting. Not a fan or reader in sight.

Unlike the MCU, DC has yet to prove that they know what they are doing with their characters. Ezra Miller as Flash. Huh? Gal Gadot who? They reboot Superman and he kills in the first movie and we get another origin story. Green Lantern could have been epic, but a giant cloud monster was the villain. WTF? Other than Heath Ledger, the Dark Knight failed to impress me the way Avengers did. It always feels like the company handles their heroes like they don't know who they are. Or, they approach them as a business, while Marvel genuinely love their toons and are fans themselves.

 Two weeks later, Marvel announces their entire Phase Three. They rented a building, invited press and fanboys and made a spectacle of it. Like they're proud parents showing off their children. RDJ and Chris Evans showed up. Their upcoming list is just as impressive and ambitious, yet for some reason I believe they'll pull it off. OK, I'm leery about Ant-Man, but I trust Marvel, so I'll be there on opening weekend.

What is the difference? Marvel hasn't let me down yet. DC has yet to impress. (Green Lantern?) Their casting has been spot on, even when I've raised an eyebrow. Mark Ruffalo? A Third Hulk? Their storylines have skewed from the source material only because it needs to fit into a two and a half hour slot, but they don't piss all over the source material and change it for artistic purposes.

Although I am interested to see what DC does, it does not create the fervor the Marvel does now. I already have the weekend of Age of Ultron off from work. I plan on seeing it at least three times that weekend. It will probably do 275 million opening weekend and give Avatar a run for the top domestic spot. Its budget is 250 million and I bet it does 2 billion worldwide. Dawn of Justice will probably have a higher budget and do MoS numbers. Not impressive.

The point is, Marvel can fail and not much will happen to their brand. Their entire Phase 3 will progress as expected. If DC can't ignite audiences with DoJ and Suicide Squad in 2016, their ambitions may be short lived.

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.