Crossing Pumpkins

We won’t be putting out pumpkins on the front porch this October. Two years ago, we went outside one crisp, early October morning to find our three pumpkins in various states of distress and eaten-ness. Our squirrels apparently decided there weren’t enough nuts out there in the world to nosh on, so they turned their attention to our vulnerable decorations. It was not a fair fight. It was not a pretty sight.

The irony is those three pumpkins may have been doomed from the start anyway. They barely survived the trip home.

We have a Wegmans grocery store nearby, where we bought those three pumpkins. If you have a Wegmans in your area, you know how ginormous they are. Many people are coming and going, with a front entrance that goes on forever. After we checked out a handful of groceries and the three pumpkins, we headed out the front doors and headed for the relative safety of the crosswalk. I say relative because everyone gets a little crazy whether they are coming or going from the Wegmans, driving by or walking to and from their cars, etc. And at the crosswalk, you can clearly see many drivers glaring at you as they reluctantly stop for the foot traffic to proceed.

I went to put my sunglasses on just as we got to the crosswalk…while awaiting those not-very-compassionate drivers to stop in both directions… so we could get to the parking lot. Two hands on the sunglasses. No hands on the cart. We were on a slope at that point, and I didn’t compensate for the additional weight of the pumpkins we had with us that day.

The shopping cart started to cross the crosswalk…without…me.

My wife gasped as I executed an impromptu jog to catch up to the cart. By the grace of the Holy Great Pumpkin himself, there were no cars immediately in the vicinity of the crosswalk and I regained control of the wayward cart. Little did we know the pumpkins wouldn’t be as lucky crossing paths again with the Grim Reaper just a couple of days later.

Ah yes, October. Days are getting noticeably shorter (am I the only person who likes that?). Leaves start to fall (they usually all wind up in our yard even though we have no trees). Air feels crisper (the air where I live, at least).

The following represents a handful of entertainment items I’ve noticed are on the way in October. As always, please share your comments on these (good or bad – this is a safe space!), and most definitely let me know anything you might be looking forward to.

October 3 – The Good Doctor returns on ABC – My wife is always down for watching medical shows. I’m not a big fan of them, in part because of the great lengths shows like this now go to show as close to an actual surgery as possible. It’s very hard for me to sleep after being deep inside a chest cavity late at night.

October 4 – The First To Die At The End is released – A prequel to the best-selling They Both Die At The End, Adam Silvera writes a new tale regarding the new app named Death-Cast, which promises it can predict the date of your death. When strangers meet, their lives are forever altered when one gets the call from Death-Cast…the other doesn’t. Didn’t read the first book, but might give both a read now. The biggest complaint I have heard about the original novel was they both died at the end.

October 5 – Reginald The Vampire debuts on Syfy – My wife and I are suckers for anything Syfy puts out there, aside from the relatively-new Chucky series and reruns of their “classic” Sharknado movies. I myself have never connected with the Chucky vibe, and my wife would rather be married to Chucky than watch shark movies. Sharks are her kryptonite. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t real sharks. Trust me, it doesn’t matter.

October 6 – Walker returns on The CW – We are huge, fanatical fans of The CW’s recently-concluded Supernatural series and Jared Padalecki, who played Sam Winchester on that show, is the lead character on Walker. This show is similar to Chuck Norris’ Walker, Texas Ranger in name only. I like Padalecki, but I’m not sure yet if I like his acting choice-post Supernatural.

October 6 – Walker: Independence debuts on The CW – Even my wife agrees the last show that needed a prequel was the above-mentioned Walker. It’s only been on for two freakin’ seasons. I will say this show will feature a good leading lady in Katherine McNamara, a star on Freeform’s Shadowhunters, as well as a co-star on The CW’s Arrow when that show was winding down. I’ll watch the first episode and see what kind of world-building they do.

October 7 – Amsterdam debuts in the theatres – Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Anya Taylor-Joy, Taylor Swift, Mike Myers, Chris Rock, Robert De Niro. Yes, please. Loosely based on a true story, it follows three friends in the 1930’s who saw a murder, got framed for it, and now are the prime suspects. With this cast, I am all in.

October 7 – MLB Playoffs start…NHL Regular Season starts – I remember as a little kid coming home from school as soon as possible to watch playoff games, especially when they involved my favorite childhood team (aside from the Phillies), the Oakland Athletics. Not a bad team at all to be rooting for as a child, as they won three straight World Championships from 1972-74. The Phillies may yet find their way into the playoffs this year (courtesy of Major League Baseball adding an extra Wild Card berth). The chances for the Flyers to win a Stanley Cup this year? None. Playoffs? None. We won the Cup back in 1973-74 and 1974-75. I went into Center City for both of the massive parades honoring the team. Who knew they’d be the only parades? Sigh.

October 9 – Full Moon – Called the Full Hunter’s or Harvest Moon. I always pause to check out the Full Moon. The Moon has always fascinated me, and it’s hard to believe we landed on it in 1969 and still no one lives there. Then again, it’s even harder to believe we’re now going to spend a gazillion dollars to start going there again. I think my fascination with the Moon goes back to when I was a kid and somehow the Moon wound up representing Heaven to me. At least I got the direction right.

October 11 – The Winchesters debuts on The CW – You’ll recall I mentioned the TV series Supernatural earlier. That show ran for 327 episodes…a whopping 15 seasons. Now THIS is a show you can have a prequel for. It will tell the early stories of John & Mary Winchester, the parents of Sam & Dean, who Supernatural was all about. Jensen Ackles, who played Dean is – along with his wife – an executive producer of this new series. Jensen will also be narrating this show. His time invested behind the scenes and his active participation on the show has we fans of Supernatural very hopeful the spirit of the original series will be honored and extended within this prequel.

October 14 – Halloween Ends debuts in the theatres and on Peacock – The 1978 original film for me is a cinematic classic. The director, John Carpenter, is one of my all-time favorites. In 2018, a reboot of the Halloween franchise (for the umpteenth time) provided the first film of a promised trilogy. I thought that movie modestly captured the spirit which made the first film successful, and I was ok with it being made. It was good enough I thought they should just forget the idea of making the next two movies and just call it a day. Unfortunately, the second film released last year was a complete and utter failure for me. I think it is an embarrassment to the franchise. I do hope that – as this new release is named – Halloween Ends.

October 18 – The Last Chairlift is released – John Irving’s first novel in seven years deals with a skier who becomes pregnant after competing in the National Championships in Aspen. She returns to New England and becomes a ski instructor, raising her son Adam in an unusual manner. As an adult, Adam travels to Aspen looking for answers in the hotel he was conceived within. The main themes here are sexual politics, a love story…and a ghost story.

October 19 – NBA Regular Season starts – Our 76ers will most definitely make the playoffs again this season, but it is hard to see them winning the Eastern Conference and getting to the Finals. That being said, I don’t have an opinion yet who will be the last teams standing at season’s end. Do however keep an eye on those Cleveland Cavaliers. No, they did not get Lebron back again. They’re going to be just fine without him. My sleeper team in the NBA this season.

October 21 – Black Adam debuts in the theatres – Dwayne Johnson is as big (literally) a movie star there is, but will he be believable and welcomed as a DC Comics mega-superhero? We shall see. I like Dwayne a lot and am hoping he and this film do great things. The Peacemaker series with John Cena recently turned out well for DC. Maybe the Black Adam movie will do the same.

October 21 – Taylor Swift’s Midnights drops – I am not a Swiftie (even though she’s from nearby Reading PA), but I will take note if any notes on this new release resonate with me. I will tell you her ten minute song and short film All Too Well is one of the very best musical concoctions I have heard and seen in the past year. She performed it on Saturday Night Live last Fall and just crushed it.

October 21 – Hallmark Christmas 2022 Readers here may recall my admitted weakness for having Hallmark Christmas movies on as we begin Christmas prep. I’ll be honest, I more often steer towards their older films made before the Hallmark “formula” became a standard for all their movies…which some folks legitimately can find repetitive. Some of the earlier entries took a much bigger creative swing and were a bit less predictable. Hey, Hallmark storylines and families aren’t anything like I’ve ever experienced, but I guess that’s the appeal.

October 22 – World Cup Alpine Skiing begins – This sport may have to rethink its locations as snow continues to disappear around the globe and man-made snow becomes ever more challenging to maintain. I never learned how to ski, but I always wanted to (still do, but the wife just shakes her head). As a kid I loved taking in skiing during the Winter Olympics, and have been hooked on watching it ever since.

October 30 – The White Lotus returns on HBO and HBO Max – The first season of this series had a super-great cast, but to me came across as slow and plodding. And then the finale came and it was – wait for it – slow and plodding. This show has garnered wide critical acclaim, but to me Season 1 was just a slow burn of a show that never got hot, and its finale left me ice cold.

October 31 – Halloween – Loved this holiday as a kid, and I do appreciate it even more as an adult. It’s great to see what characters come up to the front door for their treats. In addition, my wife does not enforce the cut-off number Mom did on candy consumption Halloween Night.

Happy October!

 

Pictures Courtesy City of Salisbury MD/The CW

Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young

You can’t write a post about James Richard Steinman without mentioning Meat Loaf…so now that we’ve done that…let’s get back to Jim.

Steinman passed away in April 2021 at the age of 73. In his legendary musical career, among other things he was a composer, arranger, lyricist, producer, and performer.

While in school at Amherst College, Jim created a musical which got the attention of one Joseph Papp, he of the New York Shakespeare Festival. After Steinman graduated, Papp hired him to help compose a musical called “More Than You Deserve.” And that is where Jim Steinman met one Marvin Lee Aday aka Meat Loaf, who was in the musical’s cast. It was the beginning of a relationship which lasted over four decades.

Jim wrote big, bombastic, theatric, over-the-top orchestrations which aligned perfectly with Meat Loaf’s desire to not just be a singer on stage, but an actor as well. Steinman wrote mini-operas, not just songs. In an era of disco and punk, no major recording companies wanted any part of the Steinman-Meat Loaf collaboration which eventually became “Bat Out Of Hell,” one of the biggest selling albums in history. The opening, title track is almost ten minutes long. Seven songs in all…all heavily influenced by opera, one of Jim’s boyhood passions. Just a few years ago, Steinman’s vision of “Bat Out Of Hell” becoming a stage musical was finally realized, and remains on tour to this day.

When I met my wife, I learned she was a fan of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” movie which Meat Loaf co-starred in. She also introduced me to “Bat Out Of Hell,” and that’s how I became a fan of both Meat and Jim. We wound up seeing Meat Loaf in concert on multiple occasions before he passed away in January of this year at the age of 74. My wife and I even got to meet Meat once. The best thing about his performances was you could easily see he was giving everything he had each time out.

We unfortunately never got to meet Jim Steinman. His career has certainly always been tied to Meat Loaf’s, but below is a sampling of Jim’s better-known works, some of which he also performed himself:

“Bat Out Of Hell” (Meat Loaf)

“Dead Ringer” (Meat Loaf with Cher)

“Heaven Can Wait” (Karla DeVito, Ellen Foley, Meat Loaf)

“Holding Out For A Hero” (Bonnie Tyler)

“I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” (Meat Loaf)

“It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” (Celine Dion, Meat Loaf with Marion Raven)

“Left In The Dark” (Barbra Streisand, Meat Loaf)

“Making Love Out Of Nothing At All” (Air Supply, Bonnie Tyler with Matt Petrin)

“More Than You Deserve” (Meat Loaf)

“Paradise By The Dashboard Light” (Meat Loaf with Ellen Foley)

“Read ‘Em & Weep” (Barry Manilow, Meat Loaf)

“Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” (Meat Loaf)

“Total Eclipse Of The Heart” (Bonnie Tyler, Nicki French, Tori Amos)

“Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” (Bonnie Tyler, Todd Rundgren, Olivia Newton-John, Meat Loaf)

“You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth” (Meat Loaf)

Yet, when I thought of Jim Steinman recently it was in reference to two songs in a largely ignored 1984 Walter Hill film, “Streets Of Fire.” The songs were performed under the name Fire Inc. even though such a band never actually existed. The two songs, “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” respectively open and close the film.

“Streets Of Fire” stars include Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe, Amy Madigan, Bill Paxton, and Rick Moranis. The tagline for the movie is “A Rock and Roll Fable.” It’s a story of an unlikely group of heroes who set out to rescue pop star Ellen Aim (Lane) from the Bombers biker gang led by Raven (Dafoe).

“Nowhere Fast” sets the pace, while “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” brings down the curtain. There’s an interesting story behind the latter. Originally, the movie was to close with Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets Of Fire” but negotiations for the rights took too long and the movie had to make its release date, so the producers of the film asked Steinman to write a song to finish the film with.

In just two days, Jim turned in “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young.” The producers were so blown away by his song they commissioned a million-dollar reshoot of the final concert scene so the performers could be seen singing it. I believe that reshoot resulted in one of the better film finales you will ever see. “Streets Of Fire” is certainly not for everyone. It is different. Yet, no matter what one’s overall takeaway of the film is, I am confident most who have seen it find the end scene satisfying.

Tres Dean of Vulture best describes the film and its ending:

“Streets Of Fire is very much a cult film, which is to say that it will not work for everyone. But if you are one of the people it was made for, those seven minutes will break your heart and, moments later, stitch it back together.”

 

Picture Courtesy Wikipedia

Sounds Of NFL 2022

The above image is a copy of a newspaper ad for a concert I was fortunate enough to have attended back in 1978. The site of the concert, JFK Stadium, hosted many great artists over the years, including the American portion of Live Aid just seven summers after this event.

When I pulled in the image for this post, I noticed something I didn’t take note of back then. Sanford & Townsend is spelled incorrectly, instead reading as Townsand. Their big hit back then was “Smoke From A Distant Fire.” Perhaps someone was smoking “something” when they made that error. As I recall there was a LOT of smoking the day of the concert…

Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” is one of my all-time favorite songs. Every time I hear it, I’m transported back in time. Which as we all know, is one of the most magical things about music. Time travel made easy.

On to the Chessboard’s NFL 2022 Power Rankings. The self-imposed rule here was to sum up each team’s outlook in conjunction with a song title off my heavy-rotation playlist. This way you get to see my expectations for each squad, as well as a sampling of my musical leanings.

(If you have any newly-released music you have on “repeat” these days please let me know. I’m always looking to sample sound suggestions…)

Buffalo Bills (1) – “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. QB Josh Allen’s offense and LB Von Miller’s defense should both be dynamite this season. This should be their year. With regards to their Super Bowl history, the fifth time is the charm for the Bills. Enough said.

Kansas City Chiefs (2) – “Levitating” by Dua Lipa featuring DaBaby. Even without departed WR Tyreek Hill, QB Patrick Mahomes will once again be levitating above and around opposing defenses. The defense…we’ll see. With the Chiefs, that’s always a moving target…sometimes moving in the wrong direction. They are always a rollercoaster ride.

Green Bay Packers (3) – “Feeling Good” by Sofi Tukker. – QB Aaron Rodgers recently opened up about his use of a hallucinogenic drug, which supposedly had him feeling good and playing his very best football. Whatever, Aaron. Whatever. The Packers defense is really good. They do have to replace departed WR Davante Adams, which they should be able to do with a combined effort.

Baltimore Ravens (4) – “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. QB Lamar Jackson is indeed “smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy,” a lyric from this song. Yet, he must push his offense to score early and often to take more pressure off their D, especially the iffy secondary. The arrival of former Saints S Marcus Williams should help also. The Ravens defense just has to stay out of the trainer’s room this year.

Los Angeles Rams (5) – “Butter” by BTS. QB Matthew Stafford made the big move from Detroit as smooth as butter. WR Cooper Kupp had a season for the ages. And if the team doesn’t have a Super Bowl hangover and stays hungry, they could easily be back defending their crown. WR Allen Robinson arrived from the Bears, with LB Bobby Wagner in from the Seahawks. Two good pieces to add on to an already strong team. Their best move in the post-season…getting DT Aaron Donald to commit to two more seasons.

Los Angeles Chargers (6) – “Sooner Or Later” by The Grass Roots. Every year I think this team is going to take the next step. I often overrate them, and may be doing it again. Sooner or later I’m going to be right. The concern is a more competitive AFC West, but the Chargers defense might be able to rise to the occasion with former Bears LB Khalil Mack and Patriots CB J.C. Jackson. QB Justin Herbert should be better with another year of experience. Hopefully, HC Brandon Staley will also. His uber-aggressiveness last year was silly at times.

Cincinnati Bengals (7) – “Shoot To Thrill” by AC/DC. I always knock the Super Bowl runner-up’s down a few notches. That’s just how I shoot. However, QB Joe Burrow is a thrilling difference-maker with a lot of weapons. (When I saw he had a recent appendectomy, I admittedly started to think “Bengals Super Bowl loser curse” again). If the defense plays like last year, Cincinnati should be in good shape. Hopefully, Burrow will be also.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8) – “Raise Your Glass” by Pink. A toast is in order to QB Tom Brady as he continues his GOAT career. The Buccaneers look solid enough on both sides of the ball to keep him racking up more W’s than L’s. The defense will have to give the offense some time to recalibrate, especially if WR Chris Godwin isn’t fully recovered from last December’s torn ACL. Former Falcons WR Russell Gage is a solid add.

San Francisco 49ers (9) – “Breakout” by Swing Out Sister. QB Trey Lance will have the handcuffs removed and be handed the keys to this 49ers offense. I think his breakout stardom is not far off and if nothing else, just get the ball into WR Deebo Samuel’s hands. In Trey and Deebo I trust. The San Francisco defense looks rock-solid…except perhaps in the secondary.

Indianapolis Colts (10) – “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen. RB Jonathan Taylor is as good as anyone at that position, and former Falcons QB Matt Ryan should be handing off quite a bit. It will be a run-first offense for the Colts as it should be. The Indianapolis defense will be more aggressive under new DC Gus Bradley. They were already pretty good to begin with.

Philadelphia Eagles (11) – “Runnin’ Down A Dream” by Tom Petty. If QB Jalen Hurts is running less and throwing accurately, the dream of him being the Eagles franchise quarterback will be realized. Former Titans WR A.J. Brown, WR DeVonta Smith, and TE Dallas Goedert are all ready to make this team pass-heavy…but they will run the ball well if Hurts struggles. Look for the Philadelphia defense to take huge strides led by former Panthers LB Haason Reddick rushing throws, with former Giants CB James Bradberry defending them.

New Orleans Saints (12) – “Starships” by Nicki Minaj. I just happen to think the Superdome looks like a UFO…I just do. Anyway…the Saints defense is the real deal. No issues there. The two offensive questions are, 1) Will RB Alvin Kamara be sidelined by his battery case?…and, 2) Will QB Jameis Winston continue the new-found momentum of throwing to his teammates rather than the other team?

Dallas Cowboys (13) – “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd. America’s Team always has those bright, blinding lights upon them, and this year certainly is no exception. If QB Dak Prescott is going to elevate the Cowboys to a higher level, WR CeeDee Lamb will need to be a catching machine. The Dallas defense, led by LB Micah Parsons and CB Trevon Diggs, will be just fine thank you. Then again, with HC Mike McCarthy likely being a dead man walking even if they win it all…who the hell knows?

New England Patriots (14) – “When You Were Young” by The Killers. HC Bill Belichick is still chasing trophies after all these years, but he looked old indeed when Buffalo pounded the Patriots defense in last year’s playoffs. QB Mac Jones will continue to improve if he gets to throw the ball more often this season…and he might have to if Bill’s running back by committee stuff doesn’t jell. The New England defense definitely must play like Belichick teams of old.

Denver Broncos (15) – “Better Now” by Collective Soul. QB Russell Wilson is now cookin’ in the Rockies, and he has some weapons at the skill positions making Denver a better squad. He may need to run for his life to get those throws off, but opposing team QB’s will be doing the same against a strong Denver D. The Broncos secondary led by Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, and Justin Simmons is rockie-solid (see what I did there?).

Las Vegas Raiders (16) – “Caught Up In You” by 38 Special. Former Packers WR Davante Adams is the big catch everyone is talking about. It remains to be seen if new HC Josh McDaniels can chart the same success like he did as a coordinator in New England. Former Cardinals DE Chandler Jones will help make opposing QB’s miserable, teaming up with DE Maxx Crosby to provide a stellar pass rush…which the Raiders will need to stay in games.

Minnesota Vikings (17) – “Hot n Cold” by Katy Perry. This team always seems to be operating either very hot or very cold. With new HC Kevin O’Connell’s arrival, his main focus will be to put QB Kirk Cousins in better position to get the ball to WR’s Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn. If the aerial attack clicks, RB Dalvin Cook might just get through a whole year in one piece. The Vikings defense needs to stay healthy this season. They will also need that offense to be hitting on all cylinders.

Detroit Lions (18) – “Year Of The Cat” by Al Stewart. HBO’s current Hard Knocks team certainly looks inspired enough by unorthodox HC Dan Campbell to play like very big cats in 2022. They should definitely score more points as long as QB Jared Goff remains steady, but they will find themselves having to score a lot if the Lions defense doesn’t improve a ton. Rookie DE Aidan Hutchinson certainly is a step in the right direction.

Tennessee Titans (19) – “Breakdown Dead Ahead” by Boz Scaggs. RB Derrick Henry is inevitably gonna breakdown completely from all his usage, and opposing defenses now have even more reason to key on him with WR’s A.J. Brown and Julio Jones gone. QB Ryan Tannehill is on shaky ground, as he always is. The Titans defense will probably keep them in a few games, as will HC Mike Vrabel.

Miami Dolphins (20) – “Rain On Me” by Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande. At some point in every game I see in Miami, it always seems to rain. QB Tua Tagovailoa is from Hawaii, so at least he’s used to the rain. He’ll be getting used to another address if he fails to impress this season with new acquisition WR Tyreek Hill on hand. This franchise had a good HC in Brian Flores but fired him nonetheless…likely because he would not throw games at the direction of shady Owner Stephen Ross, who also managed to lose the Dolphins’ first-round pick next season…so there’s that.

Pittsburgh Steelers (21) – “Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire)” by Meat Loaf. HC Mike Tomlin stayed with Big Ben Roethlisberger too long… and here we are. RB Najee Harris may be carrying the ball all four downs. LB T.J. Watt will head a Steelers defense that while good, will be under too much pressure if the offense can’t move the ball. Tomlin is a wizard, but I’m not sure he’s gonna work any magic with this team…this season.

Washington Commanders (22) – “Out Of Touch” by Daryl Hall & John Oates. Abusive Owner Dan Snyder doesn’t even deserve to still have a team, which also doesn’t deserve that nickname. This will be the last audition for QB Carson Wentz, but at least he has WR’s Terry McLaurin and rookie Jahan Dotson to throw to. Star DE Chase Young will start the season on the injured list. That’s unfortunate, but the Washington defense should still have some merit if they play like they can…not play like last year’s group.

Arizona Cardinals (23) – “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. QB Tyler Murray wants to prepare for games his own way, which apparently is heavy on video games and light on film study. I am totally unimpressed with HC Kliff Kingsbury. WR DeAndre Hopkins will be out for the first six games. The Cardinals defense lost its best pass rusher (DE Chandler Jones) to free agency. Oops.

Carolina Panthers (24) – “Level Of Concern” by twenty one pilots. I still think HC Matt Rhule can coach winning football, but he better have a level of concern about his future in Carolina. We’ll see if the newly-acquired Baker Mayfield can help save his job. Will RB Christian McCaffrey be able to stay on the field? I don’t know, but I drafted him #1 on one of my fantasy teams last year and I still haven’t stopped cursing. The Panthers defense looks to very much be a work-in-progress.

Cleveland Browns (25) – “God Was Never On Your Side” by Motorhead. They went out and acquired QB Deshaun Watson. Everyone deserves a second chance. I strongly believe that. Twenty-four chances? Nope. I have a friend who is a big Cleveland sports fan. He was just getting over their baseball team being renamed the Guardians…and now this. The defense should be fine if they don’t have to stay out on the field all day. We’ll see about the offense, which surely will now be a run-first squad at least for the first half of the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars (26) – “Livin’ On A Prayer” by Bon Jovi. I love new HC Doug Pederson, in no small part because he guided the Eagles to a Super Bowl win. He never should have been fired from here, and I hope he rocks out in J-Ville. That being said, he is living on a prayer down there in Year One. The prayer is QB Trevor Lawrence can become a top-notch signal caller. The Jaguars defensive outlook? Make that two prayers…

New York Jets (27) – “Used To The Darkness” by Des Rocs. This may be the most apt song title of all-time for Jets fans. Their QB is already on the injured list. Do I have to go on? Don’t make me, but I will say they are starting to get some pieces in place for…next year.

Seattle Seahawks (28) – “Long Way Down” by The Goo Goo Dolls. HC Pete Carroll should buckle his seat belt, because it is going to be a l-o-n-g way down for the Seahawks. This will be his last year, whether he wants it to be or not…and he very well may not even finish it.

New York Giants (29) – “Broken” by lovelytheband. Rookie DE Kayvon Thibodeaux already has a sprained MCL, and QB Daniel Jones just revealed he had off-season neck surgery. Um, ok. Toss in whether or not RB Saquon Barkley even makes it through a few games. The Giants appear to be already broken.

Chicago Bears (30) – “Dammit” by blink-182. I think it is safe to say the word “dammit” is in every Bears fan’s vocabulary, and is used quite often at that. QB Justin Fields will be running for his life again this season, which probably gives Chicago the best chance to win games…as long as no one catches up to him.

Houston Texans (31) – “Forget Me Too” by Machine Gun Kelly & Halsey. The Texans hosted the fiasco that became Deshaun Watson. Let’s not forget that. Newly-promoted HC Lovie Smith may have an easy first year if the marching orders are to win as few games as possible.

Atlanta Falcons (32) – “Doom And Gloom” by The Rolling Stones. When QB Matt Ryan flew off to Indianapolis I knew this song title would represent the Falcons this year. This franchise has endured one long Super Bowl runner-up’s hangover, as they have never been the same since they let the Patriots steal Super Bowl LI. That game was in Houston, and I do believe the Texans and the Falcons will be neck-and-neck this year when it comes to losing games.

 

Picture Courtesy Concert Archives

Adapting To Death – Neil Gaiman Brings The Sandman To Netflix

In this age of “social” media, offering a review or opinion of just about anything creative can yield comments and responses supporting your take, but more often than not you’ll also generate opinions which are not only the polar opposite, but served up with a heaping side of snark and venom.

It is also a time that when creative works are adapted into different mediums, that fact alone can inspire an outpouring of fiery anger and hatred.

I find it ironic whenever a baby boomer guy like myself complains about something, we’re designated as “the old man on the porch,” supposedly resistant to change and complaining just for the sake of complaining. Yet, it seems to me people now learn at a very early age to come for and declare war on anyone who doesn’t completely agree with their views…or wants to mess with something they love.

When I was in college, I took a course on Film Criticism. One of the takeaways I still abide by is to not only be tolerant but inquisitive when someone views films/series/plays/books/art differently than I. My feeling is reviews and opinions of creative work are subjective in every way (unless or course the company that employs you also owns the creative property you’re reviewing but I digress). Further, you might actually learn something from differing viewpoints which could lead to your modifying or even changing your thoughts about the work. Finally, creative forms or mediums provide vastly different experiences, even if the subject matter is essentially the same.

I recently saw the movie “Where the Crawdads Sing,” based on a best-selling book by Delia Owens. I never read the novel, but was drawn to seeing the film because of the book’s overwhelming success. For a number of reasons, I did not enjoy the movie. However, in leaving the theatre with my wife I mentioned it probably made for a very good book. While I didn’t like the way it was portrayed on the big screen, I considered what I saw as it might have played out in written form – in other medium – and could see where it might well be a most compelling novel. In fact, my suspicion in the instance of “Where The Crawdads Sing” was and is the filmmakers stayed quite true to those written words…which may be why I felt it wasn’t a very good watch.

I later read reviews which highly praised the movie, but I didn’t feel there were any opinions or observations that altered my feelings about it. Yet, I did do that personal due diligence and seek out positive reviews to see what those folks had taken away from the film, what experiences they had. And in my comments back to those reviewers, I was respectful of their opinions while expressing mine.

The release of the Netflix series “The Sandman” has garnered much reaction on social media over the past couple of weeks. For decades, this distinguished work in the world of comics languished in development hell until its creator, Neil Gaiman, found just the right folks to help bring his adaptation to the screen. Yet, even though Gaiman was fully immersed in developing this project, there were those who began tirades the moment it came out saying the comic is still great, but the TV adaptation is rubbish, and don’t even give it a look. You would have thought they owned the property themselves and hadn’t gotten paid for it. Of course, there were others who absolutely loved the series and they raved about it, heaping over-the-top, God-like praise upon it. Indeed, yet another social media flexing of the extremes had broken out. People these days can’t just calmly state they like or dislike creative work, and sometimes can’t even remain civil when opposite opinions appear.

Fandom on social media seems to me to be fairly toxic most of the time. If you don’t like something someone else does, you’re right and they’re wrong. The actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, who lends his voice to the character Raven in “The Sandman,” had this to say to IndieWire regarding current fan culture:

“This happens with everything, including sports and music. There are fans out there who unfortunately look at everything they love as showing the person how much they love them by hating other things. If I express hatred toward the thing that’s not them, that shows them how much I love them. It’s a sad and ugly way to show how you love things, but unfortunately that’s how a lot of people are being taught and how people are being modeled by our leaders now, which sucks.”

Oswalt also had this to say regarding the priorities of people in our world today versus being opposed against any adaptation of “The Sandman”:

“If you can look out your window and this is what you’re mad about, then you have way bigger pathologies to deal with than I can handle. If you are looking at the headlines and going, “I am planting my flag on the hill of “don’t fuck with The Sandman” well then, you’ve got some really serious problems. You’ll love this show, especially Episode Six, “The Sound of Her Wings,” which is so goddamn beautiful.” (Do hold that thought about Episode Six…I’ll circle back to that in a moment…)

The following is an excerpt from The Nerdist where Michael Walsh wrote about why adaptations are done in the first place:

“Why does anyone bother making or watching adaptations of great stories? If we already love something, why do we need to experience it in a different medium? Especially, when adaptations so often disappoint the people who care about the source material the most. “The Sandman’s” sixth episode, “The Sound of Her Wings,” is why. The Netflix series did more than introduce new fans to the beauty of Neil Gaiman’s Death. “The Sandman” gave old fans new ways to appreciate a beloved character with an episode and performance that exemplifies the best of what adaptations can and should be.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Netflix’s “The Sandman.” I didn’t find it perfect in every way, but to me it’s a very high-quality production. I am only diving into the source material now, but I was already aware there were several significant changes from the comics which were made in bringing this to the screen. Why? Because it’s a completely different medium, designed for a global streaming audience.

And for fans of Gaiman’s original comics, considering they surely knew he was involved in every aspect of this television project, why would they not be thrilled which the fact millions of more folks now get exposure to his stories, his characters?

Since I recently asked readers to give “Evil” a watch, knowing everyone has thousands of entertainment options these days, it’s downright obscene of me so soon thereafter to now suggest you give this series a look if you weren’t otherwise inclined…but before I wrap this up I must give Episode Six of “The Sandman” its due.

It is one of the most moving episodes of television I have ever experienced. It’s about dying and Death, but equal measures of dignity, faith, and hope are baked in as well. Here’s another excerpt from Walsh regarding that particular episode, and how seeing scenes play out is such a different dynamic than reading them:

“Dying doesn’t seem as terrifying when you imagine this Death will be by your side. The act of dying on “The Sandman” – whether in old age doing what you love, or alone in an alleyway far too young – certainly wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t defined by sadness or anger, nor even by the finality of life. Instead, it was about the comfort of holding a hand and the soft sound of wings. And seeing and hearing all of that in “The Sandman” was powerful in a way than reading about them isn’t. Not better or worse, just different. Because while no TV show or movie can ever fully capture every aspect of what makes a book or comic great, live-action adaptations bring elements the written word or a static illustration inherently can’t.”

“The existence of Netflix’s “The Sandman” will never change the existence of Neil Gaiman’s comic book. Nor will Netflix’s Death change how you think about the version you first met on the page. All that’s changed is that we now have two versions of Death to appreciate, each in a different medium that offer elements the other one can’t. The two aren’t competing with each other or for our admiration, either. They complement one another, and in doing each elevates their counterpart. That’s the best you can hope from any adaptation of a great story. That’s the reason adaptations are worth attempting even if they so often disappoint us. When done right, they give us something new to love while reminding us why we loved the original in the first place. And you can’t do that better than “The Sound of Her Wings.”

We all die. We all have our own ideas about the moment life will end. One thought on that subject is offered in “The Sandman,” and it is one worth considering.

In any medium.

 

Picture Courtesy Netflix

Robust August

Seeing a rabbit in the front yard this morning…not unusual.

Seeing a rabbit in the front yard with geese marching down the street…this is unusual. The geese spend most of their day at the golf course next to our development. I can only assume air traffic control told them to land on an auxiliary runway…our street.

August has finally arrived. With it, the welcome return of all the Fall and Winter sports I love. I’m definitely Team Fall/Winter, so this month is the gateway to the time of year I enjoy the most.

And regular readers know no matter what month it is I love watching shows…here’s the line-up for August. Let me know if anything looks familiar or intriguing:

CURRENT REWATCHES (Started in July…)

On Syfy Channel…

Warehouse 13 (2009-2014) – Great cast (Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly, Saul Rubinek, Allison Scagliotti, Aaron Ashmore) and a very impressive list of guest stars. The network caught lightning in a bottle with this series, which they decided to rerun in its entirety starting last month.

The premise: Two Secret Service Agents are reassigned to a mysterious warehouse located in the middle of South Dakota that holds every artifact, relic, and object collected and stored by the U.S. Government.

The rewatch takeaway: It has been great seeing Warehouse 13 again, so much so if someone asked me for a viewing recommendation on a series which is no longer airing, this would be right up there.

The moment worth a mention: At the end of the first hour of a two-part Season 3 finale, there is a scene so hard-hitting and emotional it usually tops anyone’s list of memorable moments from this series. This scene also features a slower, stripped-down, piano-driven masterpiece of the Kate Bush song “Running Up That Hill,” which recently played a big part in Stranger Things Season 4. I am not exaggerating in saying the scene is one of the very best I’ve ever experienced on television. And if you admire that song, please do give the version by Track and Field a listen.

On Comet Channel…

The X-Files (1993-2002; 2016-2018) – David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s chemistry shined brightly in this series, which a lot of folks have on their All-Time Greatest TV Show lists.

The premise: Two FBI Special Agents investigate unexplained events and government conspiracies alike.

The rewatch takeaway: In general, the show holds up really well over all this time when it comes to the stand-alone, “monster-of-the-week” episodes. They feature some of the best acting, writing, and editing you’ll see. However, the recurring, overarching plots regarding government conspiracy and paranoia interrupts the momentum our dynamic duo creates when digging into the paranormal, the supernatural…the weirdness. Every time the “Cigarette Smoking Man” came on-screen, I didn’t feel engaged. I also grew weary of him when it first aired.

The moment worth a mention: Season 5, Episode 12’s “Bad Blood.” Duchovny’s Fox Mulder kills what he thought was a vampire, but turns out to be a young man flashing some false teeth. The differences in how he and Anderson’s Dana Scully recall and remember what went down in their separate reports to their boss are wildly different…and quite humorous. This series features several other episodes which are welcome, funny breaks.

On Comet Channel…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) – Sarah Michelle Gellar and her “Scooby” gang became pop culture icons for many teenagers and young adults during their run. Like The X-Files, this show appears on some All-Time Greatest TV Show lists.

The premise: Destined to slaying otherworldly invaders of Sunnydale CA, Gellar’s Buffy enlists her Watcher and friends in trying to keep their town from being taken over by a wide variety of dark forces.

The rewatch takeaway: While the sets, special effects and make-up of the various creatures look silly at times, the whip-smart dialogue, camaraderie, and friendship of the characters – as well as outstanding acting – makes this a very satisfying rewatch.

The moment worth a mention: The 10th episode of Season 4, “Hush.” One of the most fascinating, unique episodes in television history. Over half of the episode’s running time features no dialogue. And with most of the episode having no spoken words, the show was actually nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. Even if you don’t know a blessed thing about the Buffyverse, if you ever get the chance to watch “Hush” do it.

RETURNING SHOWS

On Syfy Channel…

Resident Alien (2021-Current) – New episodes in Season 2 return on August 10th. It has become a breakout hit for Syfy due to solid writing and a great cast of characters, led by veteran actor Alan Tudyk. The concept is simple and straight-forward…an alien’s original mission was to kill everyone on Earth…but now he’s the Earth’s only hope for survival. Tudyk’s portrayal of an alien trying to not look out of place in a small town in Colorado includes some of the best physical comedy you’ll see. It’s a show that has me smiling throughout.

ONGOING SHOWS

On HBO…

Westworld (2016-Current) – Season 4 has a couple of episodes left in it. This year has been a wild ride. One week I love it, one week I hate it…and that’s how the WHOLE series has been for me since Season 1 ended.

On Paramount +…

Evil (2019-Current) – Season 3 has a couple of episodes left in it. Regular readers here know how special I think this one is.

On Amazon Prime…

Paper Girls (2022) – Season 1 episodes just dropped a few days ago, and based on reviews that mentioned a faint resemblance to Stranger Things, I took a look. I still have three episodes to watch, but it has been a very pleasant late-summer surprise. It is set in the 80’s, and it has kids on bikes fighting sci-fi elements, but that’s about it for the similarities to Stranger Things. It starts out with four girls delivering newspapers in the early AM hours after Halloween in 1988, when they accidentally become caught up in a time-traveler war and their lives are changed forever.

NEW SHOWS

On Netflix…

The Sandman (2022) – Season 1 episodes debut August 5th. This series was in product development hell forever but this show – based on one of the most decorated comics of all time – is ready to roll now. I know next to nothing about it other than, 1) how very highly the comic is revered, 2) how creator Neil Gaiman waited a really, really long time before he found folks who could best translate his source material to TV and, 3) my very favorite Doctor Who companion is in it – Jenna Coleman. I’m going to give this one a go.

On Disney +…

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (2022) – Season 1 episodes debut August 17th. Readers know Marvel is on very thin ice with me, but I’m going to go ahead and give this one a go also. The Hulk himself (Mark Ruffalo) is in it…so we’ll see.

Conditionally Yours, Kyler Murray

For purposes of this post…let’s say after three years as a Purchasing Agent, you have just been promoted to the title of Purchasing Manager for your company. The company is a global organization consisting of many employees, and also has many suppliers providing you material as cheaply as you can possibly negotiate it for. In fact, all of your employees know deep down the financial success of your firm often comes down to just how well the Purchasing Manager and his team have negotiated costs with all of its suppliers on a regular, consistent basis.

The announcement of your promotion comes via a press release, sent not only to all your employees, but to all the suppliers as well. In it, there is also mention of a contract clause you agreed to which says as part of earning your new salary, you will commit to studying strategies of being a successful negotiator at least four hours a week outside of the company’s regular business hours. Furthermore, the addendum goes on to say you have agreed to the stipulation that your studying cannot be done while playing video games, watching television, or browsing the Internet.

Well, that would be humiliating, wouldn’t it? For you…and your company.

I present one Kyler Murray, who recently signed a five-year contract extension to continue as the quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals. The new deal is valued at $230.5 million, with about $105 million guaranteed at signing.

Kyler’s status was the talk of the NFL when he deleted all references to the Cardinals on his social media back in February after the team’s awful playoff performance against the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. With Murray entering the final year of his contract, his agent insinuated the Cardinals may not be that serious about winning, and that his client would now seek a new deal giving him the stability he wanted going forward.

Meanwhile, word leaked out that Arizona might have some concerns Murray was going to be their long-term solution at quarterback, worried about his total commitment to the sport, as well as his alleged lack of leadership.

After winning the Heisman Trophy while at Oklahoma, Kyler was the #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and in his three seasons with the Cardinals was named to the Pro Bowl twice, while also improving his passer rating from season to season. However, Arizona has only made the playoffs once with Murray calling the shots…that awkward, ugly loss to the Rams last season. His body language during that game didn’t look very leader-like…and it was also reported Murray refused to go back onto the field to take the final snaps of that contest.

Several days ago, while both Murray and the team were basking in the glow of that contract extension, word leaked out regarding an almost unheard of addendum added to his contract…which I’ll paraphrase below based on media reports:

Murray will need to earn “credit” for studying film to prepare for each of the team’s games. Time in mandatory team meetings does not count, and he will study in good faith…which means he can’t be playing video games, watching television, or browsing the Internet.

It is certainly not unusual for teams to put adders in contracts dealing with weight or other tangibles, but we may have gone down a whole new road here on a clause speaking towards intangibles such as effort, attention to detail, and concentration. The clause is simply titled “Independent Study Addendum.”

Playing quarterback in the NFL is hard. There are only so many athletes who can do it really, really well. When you have invested a #1 overall pick, it’s admittedly hard for Arizona to walk away from Murray right now based on that fact alone. He’s performed fairly well in his three seasons, but the question is if he hasn’t been continuously trying to improve himself and his team…and you believe he does not have a leadership mentality…how do you let him keep the keys and drive the bus?

He could have played major league baseball if he so chose. Kyler is a tremendous athlete. I openly questioned his height (5-10) as he entered the pros but with his arm, and the ability to elude defenders and take off in any direction, I was open to the possibility he’d develop into a good if not great quarterback. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I am hopeful he can still become a star in the NFL. I’m rooting for him to succeed.

Murray turns 25 on August 7th. Looking back when I was that age, I didn’t always focus on the job at hand. No way. I was undisciplined at times. If you throw in all the entitlement Kyler has likely enjoyed throughout his high school and college experiences, I think we can see where he’d think he knows everything about life – and football – already.

He told the New York Times two years ago, “I’m not one of those guys that’s going to sit there and kill myself watching film. I don’t sit there for 24 hours and break down this team or that team and watch every game because, in my head, I see so much.”

I don’t know how the Cardinals plan to enforce this addendum to Murray’s contract, or if they’d get laughed out of court if they tried to hold back his pay. I do know this. If you are paying someone this kind of money, who because of their position is also likely the face of your franchise, you don’t do something so incredibly stupid as to put any of this in writing.

It remains to be seen if Arizona has also done something so incredibly stupid by extending Kyler Murray’s employment.

Curses on occasion can be intriguing…as long as you aren’t the cursed. Last January, before that playoff game with the Rams, the Cardinals’ Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury (who certainly is culpable in Murray’s apparent lack of maturity) made mention of the Pottsville (PA) Maroons. “I’m sure they’re very lovely people in Pottsville. I hope that they will rescind the curse very soon.”

That curse involves what fans of the Maroons claim is stolen property – the 1925 NFL Championship – which the then-Chicago Cardinals were gifted. Pottsville played an exhibition game against some Notre Dame players following the Maroons’ victory at Chicago, which was very much against the wishes of NFL Commissioner Joseph Carr. The title of NFL Champion was then stripped from Pottsville and awarded to the Cardinals.

Those Chicago Cardinals did win a more legitimate NFL title in 1947, but since then the franchise hasn’t won another. It’s been 75 years.

If Kyler Murray can pull off an NFL Championship after all of this contract nonsense, it will be unconditionally money well spent.

 

Picture Courtesy Athlon Sports

Premier League 2022-23: Soccer’s Calling

My love of soccer goes back to a time when my high school hadn’t even yet sponsored it as a varsity sport. That was likely because soccer was still in the process of trying to get any kind of foothold at all in the United States on the professional level. I wound up playing goal one season for our school’s club team, playing other schools who had yet to formally sponsor soccer squads.

In that season, I learned a pretty cool life lesson during one match when I spectacularly stopped a penalty shot…only to relax a bit, not control the rebound, and the other squad scored a goal anyway. Lesson learned – never take anything for granted and don’t celebrate too soon. Well, maybe that was two life lessons…

My interest in what the rest of Planet Earth calls football did not start more recently with the popular TV series Ted Lasso, as I suspect was the case for some Americans…although I think that’s an excellent show and anything that helps people in the States connect with soccer is great.

By the way, did you know the genesis of Ted Lasso came about when star Jason Sudeikis did a couple of sketch-length commercials for the Premier League’s broadcast coverage in the US? The basis for the series about an American football coach using his skill set to embark on a career as an English club soccer coach came about from two promos Sudeikis did. By the way, I think NBC Sports does a really fine job covering the PL. Watching matches on Saturday and Sunday mornings has become a tradition for a lot of folks in the States, with many gathering at their favorite watering holes to enjoy the action with fellow fans.

As for how the Premier League may shake out in its upcoming season, the pre-season rankings below are from analytics site FiveThirtyEight. They use a number of metrics to determine each squad’s soccer power rating (SPI), and then refines them throughout the season as results accumulate. With the kickoff of the new campaign less than two weeks away, here is how they have each of the 20 clubs ranked:

Manchester City (92.3)

Liverpool (90.5)

Chelsea (85.7)

Tottenham Hotspur (81.9)

Arsenal (78.5)

Manchester United (75.2)

Aston Villa (74.1)

Brighton & Hove Albion (73.7)

Crystal Palace (71.4)

Leicester City (71.2)

West Ham United (70.6)

Brentford (68.6)

Newcastle United (68.6)

Wolverhampton Wanderers (67.7)

Everton (63.8)

Leeds United (62.2)

Southampton (61.3)

Fulham (58.7)

Bournemouth (57.9)

Nottingham Forest (57.3)

The site ultimately feels defending champ Manchester City has a 46% probability to win the league, with Liverpool given a 30% chance and Chelsea 11%. Last season, a thrilling final day of the campaign saw Manchester City score three goals in under six minutes to snatch victory from Aston Villa and claim their fourth championship in five seasons. They finished a lone one point ahead of second-place Liverpool. Chelsea was third, Tottenham Hotspur fourth, Arsenal fifth, and Manchester United sixth.

So…in comparing last season’s results to those pre-season rankings it looks like nothing is expected to change in terms of the squads at the top. More on that in a moment. Of course, there is always the question of Premier League relegation, which is I feel one of the coolest aspects of many soccer leagues. It often presents as much drama as who all may be fighting it out for first. For those unfamiliar with relegation, the teams that finish in the bottom three positions in the Premier League standings each season leave the league and are relegated one level/tier down to what is known as the EFL Championship. The EFL Championship in turn promotes three teams up to the PL for the following campaign. Burnley, Watford, and Norwich City were the Premier League clubs sent down last season…replaced this year by Fulham, Bournemouth, and Nottingham Forest. There is always a fair amount of stress among the lesser squads each year with the potential to be relegated. Residence in the Premier League each season provides a cash windfall for its participants.

There has always been debate about whether or not dynasties are good for a sport. In the Premier League, there certainly are the haves and have-nots based on cash to spend, the quality of their facilities, historical prestige, etc. It’s no accident the same teams that finished at the top of last season are the ones favored at the top this year. Manchester City certainly is in dynasty-mode right now with those four titles in the past five seasons. Yet, I still recall the incredible run of Leicester City in the 2015-16 campaign, considered by many to be one of the greatest team sporting stories of all time. Rated at 5000-1 to win the Premier League at the beginning of that year, they did just that. Indeed, it is unlikely a club will pull of a miracle like Leicester City did that season, but it is great fun each year watching lesser squads sometimes give the big boys all they can handle in a match…potentially denying them what they thought going in would be an easy victory and three points in the standings.

What I like most about the Premier League is the passion of the fans. They are devoted to their clubs, and it is fantastic to see the joy in their faces when their squads do well. These clubs have been at it for a long time now, and the love they have for their teams has been passed down from generation to generation.

Other PL likes…I am ok with ties, which probably puts me in a very small minority. I know it may sound strange, but I honestly never had a problem with ties in either the NFL or NHL regular seasons before they moved to overtime periods. In the Premier League, where there is an acknowledged uneven amount of resources among the membership, I like the fact those have-nots have the ability to forge a tie and take away something against the favorites. I also think it is neat the PL, like many other leagues in world soccer, has no post-season. The season IS the season. A true champion, not diluted by an over-abundance of playoff teams like we allow in American sports. I find that refreshing. Each August, fans of the Premier League heed the call back to their club’s pitch knowing every match means so much.

One additional note about the Premier League for this season. There will be an unusual interruption to the schedule in November-December as players are allowed to compete for their national teams at the World Cup in Qatar. If interested, you’ll be able to find information online about how Qatar was selected to host this championship in the first place, as well as troubling reports of poor safety conditions there while construction of stadiums and facilities was going on. The positioning of this World Cup in Qatar also means not just the Premier League, but leagues around the world, have to suspend their seasons. To have the Cup played at its usual time, in the middle of the calendar year, would have been the equivalent of playing soccer on the sun. The whole planet seems to be heating up these days, but Qatar always features scorching summertime temps, so the decision was made to move the World Cup to the fall. Hopefully, all players who compete there come out of the competition in good health and ready to resume their seasons.

The most powerful, most watched soccer league in the world begins its new season on August 5th.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Top Guns At The Box Office

Some box office history was made today as Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick passed The Avengers to become the ninth-highest grossing movie in domestic box office history. According to Variety, movie business experts believe before this film finally lands it can fly by a couple more movies on the list, Jurassic World and Titanic.

It has been a long time since I took a look at the top domestic gross box office list, as well as any list which attempts to take inflation into account to better represent how many folks actually came out and supported movies over all the years which we’ve been blessed with cinema entertainment options.

Below are two current domestic gross box office lists which I think are fun to take a glance at…

Courtesy Of Filmsite

All-Time Domestic Gross Box Office (Unadjusted for Inflation)

  1. Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
  2. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  3. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
  4. Avatar (2009)
  5. Black Panther (2018)
  6. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
  7. Titanic (1997)
  8. Jurassic World (2015)
  9. Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
  10. The Avengers (2012)
  11. Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
  12. Incredibles 2 (2018)
  13. The Lion King (2019)
  14. The Dark Knight (2008)
  15. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
  16. Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
  17. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
  18. Finding Dory (2016)
  19. Frozen II (2019)
  20. Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

All-Time Domestic Gross Box Office (Adjusted for Inflation)

  1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
  2. Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977)
  3. The Sound of Music (1965)
  4. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  5. Titanic (1997)
  6. The Ten Commandments (1956)
  7. Jaws (1975)
  8. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
  9. The Exorcist (1973)
  10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  11. Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
  12. 101 Dalmatians (1961)
  13. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  14. Ben-Hur (1959)
  15. Avatar (2009)
  16. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  17. Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
  18. Jurassic Park (1993)
  19. Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
  20. The Lion King (1994)

I am not an analytics guy but I’m smart enough to know trying to accurately compare and compile all-time box office gets a bit tricky. Nonetheless, here’s my takeaways on both of these lists:

Avatar – Look, I’m ashamed to admit somehow I missed seeing this on the big screen, but after watching it a couple of times on the small screen…I just don’t get how this movie was this beloved. Please educate me if you feel differently. That being said, I will go see the sequel at the theatre when it opens up in mid-December.

Incredibles 2 – I was incredulous this film did that much business. Like Avatar, I didn’t get the appeal. The first Incredibles was just ok for me.

Jaws – I remember sitting in the theatre watching it on its first weekend and saying to myself…I think a few more people are going to see this. I remain impressed with where it resides all-time. When I went back to see it again a few weeks later…I remember being in an awfully long line. People love sharks…at a distance, of course.

The Star Wars Franchise – What can you say? These films have resonated with moviegoers throughout the decades. I am curious to see how future films do considering the additional Star Wars streaming content that has come out recently covering different eras. I have enjoyed the recent theatrical releases, but I don’t know if we really need any more movies. However, these lists mean they’re going to keep on making them.

Top Gun: Maverick – In addition to raking in even more money before it’s done, I don’t see any way the movie doesn’t get nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. I’m betting other folks share my view, judging by its box office success.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Is There Good In Evil?

I have recently been hesitant to make TV recommendations in what is supposedly our current “golden era” of television. The fact is there are so many good, quality shows out there I suspect some folks occasionally wind up feeling a bit frustrated because they know they’ll never be able to watch everything of interest. I know in my case there is a lot of sensational TV I’ll flat-out never get to, but I’m resigned to that fate.

I recently came across an article titled “Please Stop Forcing Your Favorite TV Show On Me.” It expresses a couple of theories regarding human behavior which I see merit in, behavior which presents at an early age:

Nobody wants to be told to do something.

If you tell somebody not to get involved with something, they’ll likely try to.

So, for heaven’s sake please do not watch Evil, a series which just got renewed for a fourth season on Paramount +. Currently in Season 3, new episodes of Evil drop on Sundays.

My wife and I started watching from the very first episode in September 2019 when it debuted on CBS. Thirteen episodes later, my wife wasn’t quite sure how she felt about watching it going forward. I definitely wanted to see what was next, especially when it was announced later the show was shifting from CBS over to Paramount +. The creators of the show, Robert & Michelle King (The Good Wife, The Good Fight), were now being given a much bigger canvas to paint upon. The broadcast censorship reins were taken off, and their characters could now live more realistic lives when it comes to having no subject being off limits, foul language, expressions of physical intimacy…as well as depicting more…pure…evil.

The show’s premise is simple enough. Three diverse personalities come together to form a “dream team” of sorts investigating extraordinary events. The goal – to determine if there is a rational, scientific explanation behind these events…or not. A prospective priest wrestling with his career path, a cynical psychologist juggling work while serving as both parents for her children, and a no-nonsense contractor who offers an “Earthly” reason for all he encounters.

That decision to move to a streaming service and engage with the full velocity of the Kings’ creative storytelling skill set has paid off. I am sure you’ve also heard this line from friends and relatives about their favorite TV series. “There is nothing like it on television right now.”

As far as I know, there is NOTHING like Evil on TV right now.

God vs. Satan is fought on cerebral and hand-to-hand levels alike. This show questions and challenges beliefs in religion, relationships…and reality. Twists and turns exist along the way. Some sudden shocks and jump scares, but other frights proceed at a slow burn. Yet, there are guardrails built into the scripts which ensure a balance between at least two…but often three…viewpoints and reasoning on whether events, possessions, demons, miracles, etc. have explanations that are faith-based, science-based…or somewhere “in between.”

Several critics have compared it to The X-Files series from the 90’s. I think that’s fine if you’re trying to give people familiar with that show a general idea of what is going on in this one, but I believe there are more layers to the characters in Evil…as well as more protagonists.

I don’t know if you put any stock at all in the Rotten Tomatoes site, but critics there currently have Season 1 rated at 92%, Season 2 at 95%…and Season 3 at 100%. The numbers are trending upwards, and that tracks for me.

Season 1 does start very slowly, and there is some real weirdness which will have you questioning your decision to even give it a go. If you do start watching Evil, do give it time to produce a return on your investment. Get to Season 2.

The writing, editing, score, and direction are all top-shelf. The cast is stellar: Mike Colter (The Good Wife, Luke Cage), Katja Herbers (The Leftovers, Westworld), Aasif Mandvi (The Proposal, Million Dollar Arm), Michael Emerson (Lost, Person Of Interest), Christine Lahti (Chicago Hope), Kurt Fuller (Psych), and Andrea Martin (My Big Fat Greek Wedding).

Colter, Herbers, and Mandvi come together to investigate and navigate all kinds of crazy. Within an episode you have your case-of-the-week (like…how much does a soul actually weigh?), but there are also character storylines with no quick, one-episode conclusion which continue to develop.

Emerson’s portrayal of forensic psychologist Leland Townsend is a candidate for the most vile, evil villain on any current series. Yet, this show provides its fair share of laughs…especially with a family whose well-meaning kids have a habit of all talking at the same time.

As it turns out…I am suggesting you give Evil a look. If the timing or circumstances aren’t right, write it down for future consideration. Keep it in mind. There’s an awful lot of good…in Evil.

 

Picture Courtesy Paramount +

Chaos Isn’t A Pit. Chaos Is A Ladder.

That title is a quote from the HBO series Game Of Thrones. I was reminded of it the other day when someone used it as their reply in a comments section of an article about the current health of college football.

Many fans have been lamenting the fact yet another conference realignment move is now being made. Schools have been switching allegiance from one conference to the other for years now, but the recent decision by California schools USC and UCLA to have their athletic teams participate in the Big Ten Conference has many followers feeling this is the end of college football. They claim college football is dead.

It is.

But…who knows what the sport’s landscape will eventually look like? We are talking about a viewing activity second in popularity only to the National Football League. It’s morphing into something else…what else, who knows?

When collegiate athletic conferences were first organized many moons ago they were for the most part geographical in nature, allowing for regional rivalries to be created or enhanced, as well as to reduce team travel requirements. This also allowed fans to see their teams play home and away in certain instances.

But then TV came along. And with it, the arms race of college football was spawned where television simply couldn’t get enough of college football… and many schools spared absolutely no expense to get on television.

And that’s why we can’t have nice things like traditional college football. Television.

A quote from Drew Hamm of SBNation:

“College football going away from being a fiercely regional sport will eventually kill all that is fun and different about it. The path to becoming NFL Lite is paved with gold for TV execs, the coffers of major athletic departments and the various other power brokers in college sports who do not care what they break in their quest for one more dollar.”

For me, college football certainly was more fun and different when it was regional. My high school’s athletic teams were in a conference and always had annual rivalries with nearby towns. You looked forward each year to hosting and/or visiting your opponents, knowing fans would be with you no matter where you were playing. That’s similar to the college football we all grew up with.

Now, mega-conferences like the Big Ten and the SEC generate their universities massive revenues from television rights fees. This increased exposure on TV helps schools attract athletes and students alike, as well as motivate their alumni to donate more cash. In many instances, football-generated money pays for every other sport these universities sponsor for their students. With these changes in conference allegiance as schools try to align with the best television partners they can, some traditional rivalries have remained…but stakes have been lowered…others eliminated completely. Not just in football, but in all sports.

TV executives have decreed football – all college sports for that matter – do not need ties to geography or history or tradition. When it comes to college football, schools do need to have viewership. Lots of viewers. Some college football teams don’t have as strong a following, and their university athletic departments will wind up in a pit of schools not invited to participate in the newly-configured, upper echelon of college football.

College football is dead, but only for the version a lot of us grew up with. It wasn’t a mega-business then. It is now. Money changes everything. For two California universities to switch allegiances to a conference whose members are in the Midwest and Eastern part of the US, it is a chaotic time for some fans.

From this chaos, the ladder television provides extends upwards towards even more money and exposure.

We need to see who all makes it to the top, and what may be available for those not invited to climb. Then, we can better assess the health of college football.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock