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

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

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

MCU Phase Four – Staying Connected

Contains Spoilers…

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – for those who have not traversed it – is a reference to the collection of theatrical movies and streaming series featuring their comic book superhero characters. The basic template Marvel has utilized is telling distinct stories about their characters, while also interweaving those experiences into the experiences of other characters, forming a team narrative.

The discussions among Marvel fans in my little corner of the world these days are two-fold…does Marvel recognize what they need to do to keep a large, global audience fully engaged…and if they do…does that audience feel inclined to continue their investment in all things Marvel based on their recent content?

In 2018-2019, Marvel released Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame in theatres, which served as the culmination of what they call Phase Three of their planned storytelling. Phase Four of their theatrical schedule began with the release of Black Widow last year. Since then, they’ve released Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the recently released Thor: Love and Thunder.

In this new Phase, Marvel also has released a great deal of existing and new character storylines within their streaming series: WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, What If?, Hawkeye, Moon Knight, and Ms. Marvel.

I have seen all of these Marvel properties. While I enjoyed comics when I was young, I have little recollection of them now. When I watch Marvel movies or series, I don’t have that iconic comic book background to know what is canon to the comics or not…and I don’t have a clue what might come next. So to provide some context, the following is from a guy who only absorbs what the Marvel movies and series provide. I rarely know how it ties back to the source material, and I’m certainly unable to puzzle together where superhero stories may eventually crossover…and a common villain or villains might appear.

First off, it should be noted in concluding its prior Phases Marvel did an incredible job of putting together several blockbuster theatrical releases with a finite number of characters, in a limited number of films, then intersecting their stories together to forge a high-quality resolution to the overall, narrative arc. The bar was set really, really high for Phase Four.

It is understandable Marvel’s fan base might shrink a bit after Phase Three. There were casual fans who got aboard and enjoyed the comic book ride, but also concluded it was unique and could never be topped…and have just moved on. The graphic novel novelty was surely going to wear off for some.

Maybe they can bring those casual fans back at some point…depending on how Phase Four plays out.

It appears Marvel is ignoring the fact a chunk of their fan base, because of all that prior formulaic success, is now expecting new movies and series to at least partially bind characters’ stories together. They are looking for connections to other superhero storylines, pushing the overall narrative for this current group of superheroes forward…outside of whatever current story is being rolled out at the time. World-building is essential to Marvel’s success, but so is team-building.

I believe Marvel also needs to reconcile many fans don’t want to feel like they have to research articles covering source material just to try and find potential connections, or guess at a possible overall arc for when this next wave of superheroes will likely come together to fight an ultimate threat…as the Avengers did vs. Thanos in the last two Phase Three films. Marvel has fans who do not know a thing about the comics these characters came to life within, and still have no interest in searching for connections among superheroes.

Marvel has always enjoyed winking at their fans, dropping hints in mid-credit or end scenes of what might come next. They’ll release some still pictures here, tease a trailer there. That was fine when they were producing a relative handful of theatrical releases with a limited number of characters in earlier Phases, but with the velocity of content released early in Phase Four the firehose of information pouring out doesn’t contain relevant info connecting these superheroes. They underestimated the logical impatience many in their audience would have regarding wanting to see superheroes and their stories start team-building to at least some extent with each release.

Bottom line…I feel Marvel released too much too soon in Phase Four, and very little has been connected between the characters. And, I think that’s a problem Marvel has to pivot towards and get corrected.

Spider-Man: No Way Home was a huge hit with most Marvel fans (me included), but a lot of what has been released recently – movies and series alike – have met with mixed reactions (me included).

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was madness. Poor Scarlet Witch. That girl has been to hell and back a couple of times now. What else can they do to her? Doctor Strange has been reduced to being a reckless, dangerous hack of a sorcerer. There was mention Marvel was going to be introducing more horror into their Phase Four. Indeed, I felt this script and story were horrible.

In Thor: Love and Thunder, Marvel did not understand the prior Thor film (Thor: Ragnarok) was successful first and foremost because of its uniqueness. With tons more humor and wackiness than was seen in a Marvel film before, and set for a third of the time within a bizarro, off-the-rails rainbow world with Jeff Goldblum of all people as a villain, it was never going to be replicated. Never. Yet, that’s exactly what Marvel so blatantly, obviously tried with Love and Thunder. They got crazy lazy, and for a character that didn’t even need another solo chapter, this movie for me landed with a thud similar to Thor’s hammer. If you pushed me for a compliment, I will say that even though this journey was God-awful throughout the ending was…acceptable.

It’s my belief these last two theatrical releases have been below the quality Marvel has given us in the past – especially with the characters of Thor and Doctor Strange – and these films barely moved the needle towards where we may be headed with the rest of Phase Four.

Love and Thunder has made over $300 million worldwide. Multiverse of Madness is closing in on a global total approaching $1 billion. Cracks in Marvel’s superiority at the box office certainly haven’t appeared in ticket sales. Audience surveys and critic reviews are where some fault lines have started to develop.

I believe Marvel needs to reconcile themselves to the fact if they want to have a chance of maintaining the lofty heights of their superhero success, their theatrical and streaming products going forward must feature more guest appearances…more hints…more clues…as to how all these current superheroes will come together to save the universe.

I’m not asking them to not surprise me…and I don’t need for everything to be spelled out completely. I’m just looking for Marvel to provide superhero storylines that start to relate in at least a partial way to each other…for these characters to start moving towards each other…building a new team…towards what hopefully will be another fan-tastic finish.

I want to stay connected with Marvel’s Phase Four. I’m just asking them to start making more connections.

 

Picture Courtesy Marvel Studios

Thinking Christmas

The Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel has already started their “Merry Movie Week,” and the “mothership” Hallmark Channel will be rolling out a whole month of “Christmas in July” starting at the end of this week. When we aren’t streaming or watching sports, one of the Hallmarks is usually on our television this time of year.

You’ll see Christmas pop up here more frequently as it gets closer, but I wanted to offer three disclaimers about my outlook on the holiday itself before I/we get there. To me…

  1. Hallmark Christmas movies reflect about 15% of what real life is all about. (The % may be a bit higher for their non-Christmas fare, but not by much…)
  2. Christmas can be a truly miserable time for many people, in some cases the lowest they’ve ever felt. Others don’t acknowledge or care about it. People who go all out for Christmas should keep that in mind.
  3. I myself l-o-v-e Christmas, even though I’ve only had one or two extra-memorable ones myself.

For that matter, any holiday or “celebrated” day on our calendars can be a time of soul-crushing sadness for others. Deaths, illness, separations. They don’t follow any calendar. Much like hearing a piece of music can transport us back to a certain place in time, the calendar may do the same.

The arrival of July signifies Christmas is less than a ½ year away. Then again, several networks (including Hallmark) fire up their Yuletide offerings Halloween week (!)…which no doubt makes those who don’t enjoy the Christmas season feel worse. I myself love Halloween…and Thanksgiving…and like to give those holidays total attention before then focusing in on Christmas.

Each July, when these films come on with their over-the-top messages of Christmas, I do find myself being a little nicer to folks, a little more considerate, a little more forgiving. The movies act for me as a mid-year reminder…a reset…to aspire to be the best human possible…even within the never-gonna-be-perfect-life we all reside within.

In the real world, I think all of us should never take a holiday from trying to understand what others are going through, where they are coming from, and how we can make both their day and ours a good one.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock