Monday, July 30, 2018

Musical Monday - Geno by Dexys Midnight Runners


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: May 3, 1980 through May 10, 1980.

While I am familiar with Dexy's Midnight Runners as a result of their later his song Come on Eileen, I had never heard Geno until this past week. The song is ostensibly a tribute to the soul singer Geno Washington, who was popular in the U.K. in the mid to late 1960s, but to be perfectly honest Kevin Rowland's vocals are so muddy that it is hard to make this out. I had to look up the lyrics online to be able to follow them at all. A little research reveals that the song is intended to evoke the sound of songs produced by Geno Washington with the Ram Jam Band, but I haven't listened to enough of their music to know if this is true.

One thing that is interesting about this song is that despite the fact that it spent two weeks at number one in the U.K., it was pretty much loathed by critics and not much liked by EMI, Dexy's Midnight Runners' record label. I'm kind of in the middle on this issue: I don't hate the song, but I don't really think I will ever feel the need to seek it out to listen to it either.

Previous Musical Monday: Call Me by Blondie
Subsequent Musical Monday: What's Another Year by Johnny Logan

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Call Me by Blondie
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: What's Another Year by Johnny Logan

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Dexys Midnight Runners     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Book Blogger Hop July 27th - August 2nd: The Battle of Messana, the First Battle Between Rome and Carthage, Took Place in 265 B.C.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you agree or disagree with this statement: A blogger's first name should be in a prominent place on his/her blog.

Given that my name only appears buried at the bottom of one page on this blog, it should seem relatively obvious that I disagree with the statement. I just don't see why anyone would really care about the name of most bloggers. I suppose if you were a famous person who took up blogging like Chuck Wendig or John Scalzi, then you might want to make sure your name was prominently displayed on your blog, but for most other bloggers I just don't think it really matters very much.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Review - Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee, Peter David, and Colleen Doran


Short review: Stan Lee gives an over-the-top, incredibly enthusiastic, account of his life full of superlatives and exclamation points all told in graphic novel form. Excelsior!

Haiku
It is Amazing!
Fantastic and Incredible!
Simply Marvelous!

Full review: Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible is Stan Lee's exuberantly hyperbolic graphic novel memoir in which he recounts the events of his life as he remembers them. I note at the outset that this isn't a biography, or even an autobiography, as it does not really seem to strive for complete accuracy. Lee has a known tendency to embellish the past, and an astute reader will note that at least some of the anecdotes related in this book are at odds with the recollections of other participants, and in some cases, at odds with documented history. One who was looking for a sober assessment of the life of Stan Lee and his career in and impact upon the comic book industry should probably look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you want a view into what more or less amounts to unadulterated Stan Lee enthusiasm, then this book will definitely suit your fancy.

Though the book more or less follows Lee's life chronologically from his birth as Stan Lieber to some time just short of 2015, the story is told as a flashback, with Lee bursting through the opening page in boisterous fashion to kick off the story with open arms and the question "How did it happen?" The scene then switches to Lee standing in front of a crowd ready to regale them with stories about his exploits before getting distracted by his own image on the giant jumbo-tron behind him whereupon he mentions that his wife has cut his hair for his entire adult life. This is an almost perfect metaphor for both Lee's storytelling skill and his almost oppressively omnipresent narcissism. The fact that he highlights this so early in the book, and with such self-awareness is what keeps Lee's intense self-promotion from being off-putting and makes it instead somewhat endearing.

The "it" in "How did it happen" is basically Lee's life, or more specifically, how did a poor kid from New York become a comic book writer and wind up as one of the most recognizable figures in that industry. The story itself isn't all that exciting - Lee grew up poor in the depression, got a job as a gopher in the comic books division of a small publishing company, was in the right place at the right time to move up and showed a flair for the kind of over-the-top evocative storytelling that the medium favored. Along the way he met a woman, got married, had a child, and kept making comic books for decades. What makes this book work as well as it does is that it takes this fairly bland story and wraps it in Lee's style of storytelling, punching up the mundane and lacing it with humorous anecdotes to make it exciting and interesting.

One of the keys to understanding this book is to note that it contains two mostly distinct but intertwined plot lines. The first, which shows up first, is the story of Lee's life, starting with his childhood making homemade milkshakes and devouring books and running through his service in the U.S. Army, his misadventures that led to his marriage to Joanie, and the other ordinary events that most lives are made of. The second is the story of Lee's professional career, kicking off with his first job working for Atlas through his glory years in the 1960s when he created and launched the lineup of Marvel characters that serve as the publisher's foundation to this day, to his repeated efforts to start and maintain a Marvel fan club, and on to his later projects including his ill-fated venture into internet commerce, and quirky titles like Stripperella. These stories are related insofar that they are all events in Lee's life, but for the most part they are otherwise disconnected with one another, resulting in a somewhat compartmentalized semi-episodic feel that pervades the book.

One of the odd things about the book is that the parts that are already pretty well-known, especially the the sort of person who would be interested in this book to begin with - the parts that recount Lee's work at Marvel, the creation of various titles for the company, the pages where he highlights the iconic figures he worked with such as Ditko and Kirby - are the parts that are interesting, whereas the parts that are not well-known - the details of Lee's early home life, his relationship with his wife, and other personal details - are somewhat less interesting, or at least they are only interesting because they are mundane stories that are told by Lee. This dynamic makes the book a bit weird to read. For example, it is somewhat interesting that Lee created the Fantastic Four as a crime-fighting family with interpersonal dynamics as a core element of the storytelling, and it is kind of cool to have a full page showing the cover of the first issue of the Fantastic Four title, but none of this is really much of a revelation to the intended audience for the book. On the other hand, it probably is news to a lot of people that Lee met his future wife Joanie when she answered the door as he was coming pick up her roommate for a blind date, but that isn't all that newsworthy a tidbit of information.

The whole book is wrapped in a kind of manic energy. In any other book this would hint of a desperate attempt to punch up a boring story, but here it just seems like a reflection of Lee's personality. Amidst all of the superlatives, the book contains numerous nice flourishes that long time fans are sure to appreciate, such as full page illustrations depicting some of the notable figures in comic book history, replicas of the covers of the first issues in which many of the most prominent Marvel characters appeared, and a reproduction of the anti-VD poster lee designed while he was in the Army. Through all of the unfettered exuberance, the most brilliant elements of the book are contained in the subtle touches such as a panel in which Lee explains how to be a better writer by paying attention while watching movies shows a scene from what appears to be Captain America: The Winter Soldier with Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans as Black Widow and Captain America. Or a sequence in which Lee explains to his younger self that the woman he daydreams about will be the woman he eventually marries that is punctuated by the older Lee tossing aside a copy of the issue of Action Comics in which Superman first appeared. Or the sequence in which Lee talks about, and grieves for, his daughter who died in infancy. These small moments elevate the book beyond being simply a steady stream of excited enthusiasm, and make it a memorable memoir.

Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible is ultimately kind of like Lee's favorite catch phrase "Excelsior!" - it is bombastic, enthusiastic, and delivered with an exclamation point, but beyond that it has about as much substance as one of Marvel's famous No-Prizes. Just like a No-Prize is nice to win but doesn't really provide much more than the nice feeling of having won it, this book is nice to read, but doesn't offer a whole lot more than the nice feeling of having read it. Anyone who picks up this volume looking to glean some insights into Lee's life is likely to come away feeling slightly disappointed. On the other hand, anyone who picks up this book hoping to experience just a little bit of what it is like to listen to Lee perform in front of an audience of appreciative ComicCon attendees is likely to get exactly what they were looking for. I'm not sure if this book can be really described as great, but it definitely can be described as ineffably Stan Lee, and that is probably all one can really ask from it.

Stan Lee     Peter David     Colleen Doran     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

2018 World Fantasy Award Nominees

Location: World Fantasy Convention, Baltimore, Maryland

Comments: For years, the World Fantasy Award was the domain of white male authors. It was, as far as I can tell, the whitest and malest of all the major awards. Thankfully, those days seem to be confined to the past, and the award is now a wonderful celebration of the diversity of the field of fantasy fiction. This year's list of nominees represents the full range of the field with a number of fresh new faces placed alongside some old stalwarts of the genre.

This year also reflects the trend started last year of having several nominees cross over with the other major awards. Several of the nominees on this list were also nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula, the Locus, or the Mythopoeic Award. There has always been some amount of crossover, but it appears that it is becoming more common in the past few years. I'm not entirely sure what this might mean and given that this is just based upon my perception and not on any kind of detailed analysis, it might not even be an actual trend. It feels like a trend, and may merit a more thorough investigation.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymir by John Crowley
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Best Long Fiction

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle
Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
The Teardrop Method by Simon Avery

Best Short Fiction

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Birding: A Fairy Tale by Natalia Theodoridou
Carnival Nine by Caroline Yoachim
Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde
Old Souls by Fonda Lee
Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™ by Rebecca Roanhorse

Best Anthology

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman
Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales edited by Ellen Datlow
The Book of Swords edited by Gardner Dozois
The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin
The Best of Subterranean edited by William Schafer

Best Collection

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Down and Out in Purgatory: The Collected Stories of Tim Powers by Tim Powers
The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Tender by Sofia Samatar
Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

Lifetime Achievement

Winner:
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Wollheim

Other Nominees:
None

Best Artist

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Gregory Manchess
Victo Ngai
Omar Rayyan
Rima Staines
Fiona Staples

Special Award, Professional

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Harry Brockway, Patrick McGrath, and Danel Olson
C.C. Finlay
Irene Gallo
Greg Ketter
Leslie Klinger

Special Award, Non-Professional

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Scott H. Andrews
Justina Ireland and Troy L. Wiggins
Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali and Jen R Albert
Ray B. Russell and Rosalie Parker
Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas

Go to previous year's nominees: 2017
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2019

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, July 23, 2018

Musical Monday - Call Me by Blondie


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: April 19, 1980 through May 24, 1980.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: April 12, 1980 through May 24, 1980.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: April 26, 1980.

In April of 1980, the 1980s arrived with Call Me. This is really the first identifiably "1980s" hit. There are definitely influences from the 1970s in it - it contains a little bit of disco, but it isn't quite disco; it contains a little bit of punk, but it isn't quite punk. And so on. This song, like Blondie itself, was kind of like things that had gone before, but was an entirely new thing at the same time.

To a certain extent, Blondie set the tone for the 1980s with songs like Call Me. Though the song wasn't like anything that had come before, there was a lot that came afterwards that tried to imitate it, and tried to imitate the band as well. In a way, Blondie made the 1980s what they were, and Call Me was a big part of that.

Subsequent Musical Monday: Geno by Dexys Midnight Runners

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) by Pink Floyd
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Funkytown by Lipps, Inc.

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) by Pink Floyd
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Funkytown by Lipps, Inc.

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Working My Way Back to You - Forgive Me Girl by the Spinners
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Geno by Dexys Midnight Runners

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Blondie     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Book Blogger Hop July 20th - July 26th: The Me 264 Bomber Was Designed to Attack New York from France


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What's your proudest blogging milestone or achievement?

I have to say that I don't really know. A blog is an ongoing thing, so there is very little that I ever really regard as being "finished". I suppose I could be proud of the fact that the blog is ten years old - I put up the earliest real posts in early 2008. I suppose I could be proud that the blog has more than 3,000 posts, although a number of them aren't really "blog posts" in the ordinary sense of the term. These milestones don't seem particularly notable to me, as they came and went without my even noticing they had.

I have a couple of projects that might be finished in the future, such as the Ad Astra Cooking Project, the 1980s Project, and Appendix E, but those are far from complete and probably will not be for some time. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but that's true a lot of the time, so that's probably par for the course.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: 263 Is a Strictly Non-Palindromic Number

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, July 16, 2018

Musical Monday - Working My Way Back to You - Forgive Me Girl by the Spinners


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: April 12, 1980 through April 19, 1980.

When I was young, I was more familiar with the 1966 version of this song by the Four Seasons due to the fact that my mother had an album of that band's hits. That said, I much prefer this version of the song. While the Four Seasons version is perfectly fine, the Spinners ramped up the tempo by giving it a driving disco beat and punched up the lyrics by making the song into a medley with Michael Zager's Forgive Me Girl. Couple those elements with the Spinners' characteristic choreography and presentation, and this is simply a better performance of the song, even though the bass singer (who I believe is Pervis Jackson) is clearly not a smooth dancer. This is pretty much the apex of disco-era R&B music, and for the most part, also its swan song.

Working My Way Back to You is a catchy peppy song with really quite problematic lyrics. The problem is, the lyrics to the song present a picture of a pretty awful person. The character portrayed by the singer is not only a jerk, he's an abusive jerk. He starts off by admitting that he fooled around, but escalates to saying that he made his girlfriend cry and that doing so made him feel like a man. Now that he's lost her, he regrets his actions and is making all kinds of promises to try to win her back, but this is also classic abuser behavior. The apologies, the promises, the pleas, the "just give me one more chance" routines, they are all almost textbook abuser behaviors, and knowing that gives this song a decidedly darker cast than was probably intended.

Previous Musical Monday: Going Underground/Dreams of Children by the Jam
Subsequent Musical Monday: Call Me by Blondie

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Going Underground/Dreams of Children by the Jam
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Call Me by Blondie

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

The Spinners     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Book Blogger Hop July 13th - July 19th: 263 Is a Strictly Non-Palindromic Number


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Does a cluttered blog have you not returning? By cluttered I mean too many columns, small type, too many photos, difficult to follow, etc.

I have to preface my response to this comment to say that I don't actually visit very many blogs. There are a few I return to on a regular basis, but between work, the Littlest Starship Captain, the Redhead, keeping up with this blog, and the various other demands on my time, I'm just not able to do a lot of blog reading.

That said, there are a number of things that will cause me to stop visiting a blog. Anything that autoplays, whether it is music or a video, makes me immediately click away from a blog. An overly busy background, especially one that makes it difficult to read any text is a big negative for me. I don't mind icons as long as they are confined to well-defined sidebars, but things should be clearly labeled and the blog should be easy to navigate. Above all, the text of the blog posts should be obvious and easy to read. Nothing will turn me off a blog quicker than page elements that obscure the text of the posts.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, July 9, 2018

Musical Monday - Going Underground/Dreams of Children by the Jam



#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: March 22, 1980 through April 5, 1980.

Through this project, I will come across artists and songs that I have never heard before. This is one of those cases. I completely missed the Jam in the 1980s. Then again, I was twelve when the band broke up and they never made much of a splash in the United States.

The first interesting thing here is that these two songs reached number one in the U.K. in part due to a labeling error. When this record was released, Dreams of Children was intended to be the "A" side and the promoted single. Due to a printing error, Going Underground was mistakenly labeled as the "A" side, with Dreams of Children as the "B" side. As a result, Going Underground got most of the airplay and consequently became the "hit". This was all sorted out later and the two songs shared the top position on the U.K. charts.

The other interesting thing here is that this pair of songs reached the number one position on the U.K. chart directly after Fern Kinney's disco hit Together We Are Beautiful. This sort of rapid shift in tone - going from a disco song to a couple of punkish new wave songs from one week to the next - is emblematic of the chaotic nature of the music scene in the early 1980s. The 1980s would eventually establish their own musical identity, but at this point they were still groping in the dark, lurching from style to style.

Previous Musical Monday: Together We Are Beautiful by Fern Kinney
Subsequent Musical Monday: Working My Way Back to You - Forgive Me Girl by the Spinners

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Together We Are Beautiful by Fern Kinney
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Working My Way Back to You - Forgive Me Girl by the Spinners

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

The Jam     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Biased Opinion - The Wailing Ignorance of the Star Wars Fanboys

So, there's a Website named "Remake the Last Jedi" that has a Twitter account by the same name that launched a campaign to, well, remake The Last Jedi and "save" the Star Wars franchise. Here is their call to action:
Our team of producers is offering to cover the budget for a remake of The Last Jedi in order to save Star Wars. Share this and spread the word to let @RobertIger & @Disney know you want this! This isn't a joke, we're ready to have the convo now! #RemakeTheLastJedi #StarWars
I'm going to leave aside the fact that pretty much everything they claim about themselves is almost certainly false. They clearly aren't a team of movie producers. They don't actually have the money to "cover the budget" for a remake. Star Wars isn't in need of saving. And so on. I'll even stipulate for the purpose of argument that The Last Jedi was a bad movie (it wasn't, but we're stipulating for the purpose of this discussion that it is). Let's just move past all of those issues.

The idea that Disney would ever agree to remake The Last Jedi is so delusional that only someone completely out of touch with reality could come up with it. The movie made $1.3 billion at the box office. From a financial perspective, it was wildly successful. In inflation adjusted dollars, it made more money than Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and Rogue One, and was in the same ballpark as The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Phantom Menace. In fact, the only two movies in the Star Wars franchise to perform substantially better than The Last Jedi were the original Star Wars and The Force Awakens.

It seems that even the "Remake the Last Jedi" guys realize that The Last Jedi was a huge financial success for Disney, so they have constructed a bizarre narrative to explain how it is actually a "failure" that involves home video sales and the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story. It is a chain of thought that is pure nonsense, and I'll let them explain it (the following was originally spread out over three tweets):
The biggest issue TLJ created for @Disney is apathy, as proved by the lack of repeat viewings of TLJ in theaters (losing them roughly $700MM) the abysmal Home Video numbers for TLJ & the Solo disaster. Say what you will about #BoycottSolo, but the fans didn’t boycott because of a movement created online to prove a point, they boycotted because they are no longer interested in the story @Disney is telling w/Star Wars.
There are three claims here: 1. The Last Jedi was bad and as a result lost a lot of "repeat viewers" which is why it made $700 million less than The Force Awakens, 2. The Last Jedi was bad so it had poor home video sales, and 3. fans stayed away from Solo because they were disappointed in The Last Jedi. All three of these statements display a fundamental lack of understanding of movie history (which is one of the reasons that it is obvious that they aren't a "team of producers").

The first point focuses on the fact that The Force Awakens did just over $2 billion worldwide box office business, while The Last Jedi "only" made $1.3 billion. The claim is that Disney therefore "lost" about $700 million due to disappointed fans not lining up to see the movie multiple times. The problem with this train of "logic" is that it ignores the history of the Star Wars franchise. Here is a chart of the box office performance of every Star Wars movie up through The Last Jedi. The middle column is the worldwide box office take for the movie (expressed in millions of dollars), while the third column is the movie's worldwide box office take adjusted to March 2018 dollars to account for inflation (once again expressed in millions of dollars):

Inflation Adjusted
MovieBox Office
Box Office
Star Wars
$786
$3,252
The Empire Strikes Back
$534
$1,629
Return of the Jedi
$572
$1,438
The Phantom Menace
$1,027
$1,542
Attack of the Clones
$656
$910
Revenge of the Sith
$848
$1,088
The Force Awakens
$2,058
$2,171
Rogue One
$1,050
$1,085
The Last Jedi
$1,321
$1,327

Look at the history of the franchise, specifically look at The Empire Strikes Back and Attack of the Clones. In inflation adjusted dollars, the Empire Strikes Back "only" made $1.6 billion, a staggering $1.6 billion drop off from Star Wars. Similarly, Attack of the Clones made $600 million less than The Phantom Menace. If either movie had been released in the age of Twitter, guys like "Remake the Last Jedi" would have been screaming that this marked the death knell of the Star Wars franchise as fans stayed away from films many found disappointing. And make no mistake about it, when one goes back and looks at the reactions to these movies, many contemporaneous observers found both of them to be disappointing.

Of course, we know that in fact neither movie had such impact, and in fact, The Empire Strikes Back is now regarded as one of the best movies in the franchise. The drop off in the box office didn't serve as any kind of indication of how fans felt about the franchise over the long term. The numbers seem to indicate that the middle movie in a trilogy can expect to make less money than either of the bookends, and can probably expect to garner a negative reaction until the lens of time focuses and the movie is placed in its proper perspective. In short, claiming that the box office results for The Last Jedi are an indication that the franchise is in trouble is an incredibly dubious proposition.

The second claim is that The Last Jedi had low home video sales because people didn't like the movie. The first problem with this is that making any kind of claim concerning relative levels of home video sales is really difficult at best due to the shifting nature of the market. Finding reliable information concerning the volume of sales from movies made even just a handful of years ago is difficult, and even if one could get such data, it probably wouldn't be useful as a means of comparison given how much the market changes from year to year. This means, for example, that finding reliable home video sales data for movies such as The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith is simply not possible, and as a result, there is no real way to make a comparison with the sales data for the more recent Star Wars movies and what is "normal" to expect.

The bare facts are this: The Force Awakens has made roughly $189 million in combined DVD and Blue Ray sales, while The Last Jedi has "only" made about $72 million. This is taken as evidence that the bulk of fans hated The Last Jedi and decided not to buy the DVDs and Blue Rays as a result. The first major problem with this analysis is that it is comparing apples to oranges.

The comparison being made is inapt because the home video sales figures given for The Force Awakens are taken from a period extending for more than a year and a half, while the home video sales figures given for The Last Jedi are taken from a period of less than a month. If one compares the first month figures for both movies, the difference is far less dramatic: The Force Awakens made about $127 million in its first month. That is still more than The Last Jedi has made, but when one considers that The Force Awakens was an anomaly with a box office take that was notable for being historically high, it isn't that surprising. In addition, The Last Jedi has not benefited from the Christmas sales season, which in 2016 alone accounted for about $10 million of The Force Awakens' home video sales. The Last Jedi will probably never catch The Force Awakens in home video sales, but the gap is certainly going to close. Further, as far as the data available shows, The Empire Strikes Back has always lagged behind Star Wars in home video sales as well.

The second problem with this analysis is that The Force Awakens is probably not an appropriate baseline for comparison with The Last Jedi. The Force Awakens is the second highest grossing movie in the history of the franchise, only outpaced by the original Star Wars. In inflation-adjusted dollars, The Force Awakens made almost $550 million more at the box office than The Empire Strikes Back, the third movie in the rankings. The distance in box office receipts between The Force Awakens and The Empire Strikes Back is almost twice as great as the distance between The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, which is the sixth movie on the list. This is more or less a long-winded way of saying that The Force Awakens is something of an outlier in terms of box office performance for Star Wars movies.

There is really no way to determine what the "normal" level of home video sales for a Star Wars movie should be. There is little data available for older movies - for example, The Phantom Menace is listed as having about $265,000 in home video sales, but that is based on a single week's worth of sales in 2015. Similarly, the original Star Wars is listed with about $30 million in home video sales, but that is based on two weeks' worth of DVD sales in 2006 and a month of Blue Ray sales in 2015. Obviously, none of these figures are reliable. Even if they were, the market for home video sales has changed so much in the last couple of decades that comparing sales for movies from 1999 or 1977 to movies released in more recent years is a fool's game. Even comparing the home video sales of the most recent set of movies to those of 2005's Revenge of the Sith would be a waste of time.

The only movies that are viable comparisons in terms of home video sales to The Last Jedi are the most recent movies. As noted earlier however, The Force Awakens is not a good comparison for any movies in the franchise for any purpose, due to its status as one of the extreme outliers in the franchise. This leaves only 2016's Rogue One, the Star Wars movie closest temporally to The Last Jedi as a comparative. Rogue One had a total box office of $1,050 million ($1,094 million in inflation adjusted dollars). Over the course of eight months of reported home video sales, Rogue One garnered about $83 million. In its first month on the market Rogue One sold about $62 million worth of DVDs and Blue Rays. In comparison with Rogue One, The Last Jedi's home video sales look much better. This isn't a perfect comparison, but it does give a much better indication of what might be "normal" to expect for home video sales. None of these comparisons are conclusive, but what they do highlight is reading a massive fan backlash against The Last Jedi into the home video sales performance is simply not supportable with the available data.

The third claim is that the poor performance of Solo: A Star Wars Story at the box office is evidence that disgruntled movie goers are staying away from Star Wars movies because they are upset by The Last Jedi. Once again, this claim requires a lot of assumptions that seem dubious at best. What is true is that Solo has only made $370 million at the box office thus far (although given that it is still in theaters at the time of this writing, that figure is likely to rise a bit more), which is considered somewhat disappointing, in large part because the production costs were reportedly quite high as a result of the fact that virtually the entire movie was reshot following the replacement of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller with Ron Howard in June of 2017.

The first problem with the claim that the poor performance of Solo is due to the supposed distaste movie-goers had for The Last Jedi is that there is really nothing to support this notion. There is no indication that Disney will look at the two movies' comparative box office performance in this way, and to be blunt, no reason to expect that they would. From Disney's perspective, the failure of Solo is an indictment of Solo, not of The Last Jedi. Disney knows that The Last Jedi made $1.3 billion and Solo only made $370 million. What that tells Disney is that they need to make more (from their perspective, preferably all) movies like The Last Jedi and fewer (from their perspective, preferably no) movies like Solo. What Disney really does not care about are angry fans writing denunciations of The Last Jedi on social media sites decrying how "awful" they thought the movie was. So long as the movie did well at the box office, they don't care how angry anyone is about it.

Additionally, one has to question whether one could have expected Solo to perform much better than it has. The entire concept of the "side story" movies is an experimental idea to begin with, and Solo is also the first Star Wars movie to focus on the backstory of an individual character. The nearest comparisons one can make are the movies from Disney's other successful movie franchise: The Marvel Cinematic Universe. The 2012 Avengers movie made about $1,519 million at the box office, which puts it right in the same ballpark as most of the Star Wars movies in that regard, but the various movies introducing the individual characters have generally made much less. Iron Man, for example, grossed a total of $585 million. Thor pulled in $449 million, and Captain America: The First Avenger only made about $370 million at the box office. The Incredible Hulk made $265 million, and Ant-Man made $519 million. What all of these movies have in common with Solo is that they are movies about individual characters featuring stories that are only loosely connected to the larger franchise plot arc. Placing these movies in chronological order and adjusting their box office performance for inflation yields the following (once again the last column shows each movie's box office take expressed in millions of March 2018 dollars):

Inflation Adjusted
MovieBox Office
Box Office
Iron Man
$585
$683
The Incredible Hulk
$265
$334
Thor
$449
$502
Captain America: The First Avenger
$370
$413
The Avengers
$1,519
$1,664
Ant-Man
$519
$549
Solo
$370
$370

Despite the fact that Solo is on the low end of this chart, it is not out of place at all. The movie outperformed The Incredible Hulk and is very close to Captain America in total receipts. Even the highest grossing of these first generation single character movies didn't manage to make twice what Solo has made thus far. If Disney expected Solo to perform substantially better than it has, then they were probably fooling themselves. A box office take of somewhere between $500 million and $700 million would have probably been a reasonable expectation, but anything more than that would have been demanding too much from the film. The truth is, Disney probably knew this. Any movie that had the kind of on-set drama that Solo had is almost certain to result in a weaker movie than it could have been, which is reflected in the box office receipts thus far. However, even if Solo had performed at the top of the range that it would be reasonable to expect - say in the $700 million range - that would still have been seen as a failure by the "Remake the Last Jedi" crowd. They would be saying that since it didn't make a billion dollars Disney was "losing" money it could have made due to fans staying away because they hated The Last Jedi. And if Solo had made a billion dollars, they would have said that was evidence of failure because it had not made two billion dollars. And so on. The claim that fans hated The Last Jedi and consequently stayed away from Solo is not based on any real evidence, so there is no reason to believe that any volume of box office receipts short of outperforming The Force Awakens would affect this claim in any way.

Finally, although it probably had very little impact on the box office performance of the movie, the reality is that the "hardcore fans" who organized the "Boycott Solo" protest in an attempt to get people to stay away from Solo, to the extent that they had any effect at all, almost certainly did themselves a massive disservice. Solo is, for want of a better word, a massive dose of fanwank. The movie is squarely aimed at devoted fans of the Star Wars franchise, answering questions that, to be blunt, almost no one outside of that small group really care about. Hard as it may be for some Star Wars fans to believe, most people who go to see a Star Wars movie see Han Solo as a character who is mostly cool because Harrison Ford played him. For the bulk of movie goers, questions like "How did Han Solo meet Chewbacca", "How did Han Solo win the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian", and "How did Han Solo make the Kessel Run in only 12 parsecs" are trivialities that are of almost no consequence. The only people who are concerned with these sorts of issues are the most obsessive fans of the franchise. Solo was Disney's attempt to cater to the "core" Star Wars fan base, and the failure of the movie tells Disney not to bother to try to do that any more. To the extent that the "Boycott Solo" movement had any impact, its net result was to make it clear to Disney that the hardcore Star Wars fan base is either too small or too fickle to worry about.

What this all adds up to is simply this:  The Star Wars franchise is not in trouble and doesn't need saving. Disney is going to make more movies like The Last Jedi. Disney won't make more movies attempting to cater to nostalgic grognards like Solo. Disney is likely to call upon Rian Johnson to make more Star Wars movies. People like the "Remake the Last Jedi" guys will impotently rant about these decisions while Disney ignores them.

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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Book Blogger Hop July 6th - July 12th: The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus Was Destroyed by Invading Goths in 262 A.D.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: If you were stranded on a deserted island, which ONE book could you not live without?

The Unreal and the Real by Ursula K. Le Guin

If I can only have one book, I'm going to go with one that is a collection of short works, because that's the only option that is likely to give me the variety of option that will keep me going. What I want to read depends heavily upon how I am feeling at the time, so having the option to pick from a wide array of works is a key element for me. To that end, I'd take The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin by Ursula K. Le Guin. I have never made a secret of my love for Le Guin's writing, so a giant compilation of her short fiction would be exactly what I would need to sustain me on a deserted island. My only real regret is that I wouldn't be able to also take the companion volume The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin with me as well, so I would be missing out on a huge amount of her short fiction. Also, the box set on the shelf is going to look wrong with the one volume missing.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: 263 Is a Strictly Non-Palindromic Number

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Musical Monday - Together We Are Beautiful by Fern Kinney


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: March 15, 1980.

By 1980, disco was essentially dead in the United States. Popular sentiment had tu7rned against the music genre, with the most notable event in killing it off being the "Disco Demolition Night" promotion run by the Chicago White Sox on July 12, 1979. There were a few dying embers that cropped up here and there, but for the most part disco didn't survive the 1970s in the United States.

In the U.K. and the rest of Europe, on the other hand, disco hung around for far longer, and artists like Fern Kinney were the beneficiaries. This disco-ish song reached #1 on the U.K. chart in 1980, but didn't even touch the U.S. charts. Kinney's best performing single was Groove Me, which reached number six on the Billboard dance chart, but had little impact on the Billboard Hot 100, topping out at number twenty-six.

Kinney is also an example of a black performer from the United States who had to leave the country to find success. Though her music was mostly met with indifference in the U.S., she fared much better overseas, most notably with this song which was a big hit in both Australia and the U.K.

Previous Musical Monday: Longer by Dan Fogelberg
Subsequent Musical Monday: Going Underground/Dreams of Children by the Jam

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Atomic by Blondie
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Going Underground/Dreams of Children by the Jam

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

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