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.

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.

Is There Good In Evil?

Courtesy Paramount +

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.

MCU Phase Four – Staying Connected

Courtesy Marvel Studios

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.

ClickClickKnow

Courtesy: HBO

So there I was last night, re-watching the opening episode from the fourth season of the HBO series Westworld just before the second episode of this new season was to debut, and…

(We interrupt this post to advise readers in order to get the point of this post you do not…repeat do not…have to know anything about Westworld. If you don’t know what’s going on with Westworld that’s just fine, because none of us who have watched it from the very beginning know what the hell is going on either.)

…at the end of this re-watch episode I was reminded of a beautiful piece of instrumental music playing towards its conclusion. I had initially figured it was original music recorded for the show and probably not available just yet. However, I really liked it and was determined I should try to research its origin on the chance I could get a copy somewhere. I know there are websites which list background music used on movies and shows…but that info isn’t always made available immediately and I wanted to know now.

I searched #westworld on Twitter from the week prior when the episode first aired…and what-do-ya-know…a Twitter user had in fact tweeted out last week how cool it was Westworld used an instrumental from Lana Del Rey’s song, “Video Games.”

So, then I was off to iTunes to confirm that was in fact the same piece. Yep, it was. Then, over to Wikipedia to see what if any entries were there…and what-do-ya-know…it had a new entry stating an orchestral cover of “Video Games” was played at the end of the Westworld episode, composed by Ramin Djawadi. I was familiar with him, as he is known for a slew of famous movie and television scores including Iron Man, Game Of Thrones…and Westworld. I was also familiar with Lana Del Rey, but was way less knowledgeable of her work. I wound up listening to a number of her songs and was impressed. She could be an artist I’ll be doing more “in-depth” research on.

And…it is in moments like this where I find myself giving silent thanks I’m living in a world with such instant access to information…as well as all the various communication platforms we have at our disposal.

I was not only born pre-Internet, but pre-Fax machine (Google “fax machine” if necessary…). It is truly mind-boggling to think back occasionally to how very little we had in all our information and communication toolkits then, and how recent technology advancements have propelled us to where we are now.

The super-basic takeaway from my research to find what that music was all about…was simply how very little research was needed.

Westworld?

I don’t think any amount of research will ever determine what it’s all about.