Nov 16, 2015

Movie Studio Report Card - Biggest Box Office year ever?

It's going to be one of the biggest box office years on record, but the news with the movie studios is more of a mixed bag than you might expect. Here are how the top 5 studios fared...

The Big Two
Right now the big two movie studios are Universal and Disney. 2015 has been dominated by blockbusters from both studios but Universal has taken the lion's share.

TRIVIA BLAST: Universal's $2.2 billion dollars leads Disney's $1.5 billion, but there's the little matter of a Star Wars movie in December which will probably bring the House of Mouse out on top.

#1 - Universal

Universal have had colossal hits: Jurassic World, Furious 7 and Minions making the bulk of their record breaking box office. All three of these movies are in the worldwide box office top ten, with Jurassic World recently moving into third place.

Other good performers for Universal - Straight outta Compton, Trainwreck, 50 Shades of Grey (ugh), and Pitch Perfect 2 - probably left them drunk on success, however...

...sobering them up quickly were the returns on the big budget flops Seventh Son (blerg!), Everest, Crimson Peak, Blackhat and, adding to their misery in October, Steve Jobs ate it hard at the box office.

#2 - Buena Vista (Disney)

Disney announced a staggering release schedule of twenty-four movies in a twenty-four month period and few should doubt their ability to dominate the box office for the next few years. With sequels to proven successes like Pirates of the Caribbean, Avengers, Frozen, Star Wars, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Alice in Wonderland, Disney will be the studio to beat for the foreseeable future.

TRIVIA BLAST: Disney's calculated assault on total box office domination started in 2006 when they bought Pixar studios, Marvel Studios, and Lucasfilm. That little lot cost them in the region of $14 billion. However, since 2006, twenty-three movies have made more than a billion worldwide and eight of them are Disney movies...easily the most of any studio.

#3 - Warner Bros (WB)

With no more Hobbitses, or Harry Potters, WB are struggling to find a big summer franchise to pay the bills.

Big budget fiascos Jupiter Ascending, Pan, and The Man from Uncle died on impact and meant smaller budget movies kept them in the money. No doubt there are big hopes pinned on Batman versus Superman since it's the launching point of the whole DC (comic book) universe.
TRIVIA BLAST: WB have announced a new movie from the Harry Potter world: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Some Potterworld magic would suit the studio just fine over the next few years.

#4 - Fox

Fox had an okay year, but their biggest movie wasn't part of a franchise. The Martian, based on the best-selling book, made a healthy profit, but Fox will be looking towards milking the X-Men cash cow including launching Deadpool to increase the size of the mutant universe. Even so, I'm sure the bigwigs at Fox anxiously await the return of James Cameron with some sequels to the record-breaking Avatar.

TRIVIA BLAST: Fox's Fantastic Four reboot sucked harder than a Dyson so that probably killed off thoughts of a sequel.

#5 - Sony

Sony had a tough year. Hacked and humiliated, the studio has struggled to retain any dignity. However, the recent strong opening of Spectre, the eighty-seventh James Bond movie*, has been a welcome relief to the mediocre returns throughout the year. 
The new Bond should easily be Sony's biggest money-maker for the year but there's little to be enthusiastic about beyond that.

* = It's actually the 24th (produced by Eon) or 26th if you include the original Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again (not produced by Eon)

TRIVIA BLAST: Sony have struggled to keep Spider-man relevant in an increasingly crowded comic book movie marketplace. A remarkable agreement was forged between Sony and Marvel where they will allow Webhead to play in the Marvel Universe sandbox, alongside Iron Man and co., and let Marvel reboot the franchise under the Sony banner. It's an unprecedented agreement which bodes well for both the fans and the studio.

So that's what the studios have been doing this year. What were the biggest movie hits and misses for you this far?

Oct 8, 2015

Four blockbusters for Fall...and Winter

2015 had the second biggest summer box office haul of all time. With more competition than ever for good spots in the summer schedule, some valuable "tent pole" movies had to position themselves differently to avoid being smooshed. Here are my post-Summer blockbuster movie picks.

Matt Damon gets stranded on the Red Planet

The Martian (10/2)

What is it?

Movie adaptation of the surprise best selling book about an Astronaut stranded on Mars who has only his brains and a black belt in snark to help him survive.

What to expect

You had me at Ridley Scott.

Sir Ridley is still one of the best in the business and Matt Damon is perfectly cast as the titular Martian, Mark Watney.

The Martian was my favorite book of 2014, and I've been really looking forward to seeing how it is adapted for the big screen...since Watney spends a large portion of the book on his own and it's very heavy on the science. The cast is stellar, the previews looks great, and, if the movie is half as good as the book, it should be a lot of fun.

Martian factoid: The Martian started life as a free serialized story on author Andy Weir's blog. Fans of the story asked him to turn it into an e-book and he sold it for the minimum amount of 99c. The book took off from there and a few months later Random House called to publish a hardcover and then a few days after that Hollywood called. Weir was offered a book deal and movie deal in the same week.

Possibly Daniel Craig's last hurrah as Bond

Spectre (11/6)

What is it?

It's Bond...James Bond. The bajillionth movie in the franchise sees Bond pit his wits, and his gadgets, against the evil Spectre organization.

What to expect

Bond is the ultimate action hero. Sure, he's had to do some reinvention over the years, and owes some of his new DNA to a certain Mr. Bourne, but he's still kicking ass well into his sixties.
We can expect: Daniel Craig's brooding Bond, M, Q, gorgeous femme fatales, evil villainy, dangerous henchmen, probably something with lasers, and a breathtaking car chase. And on top of all that, it's still the only franchise where people anticipate the opening titles...and the song that goes with it. It was recently announced that Sam Smith will be crooning Spectre's theme.

Bond Factoid: Spectre marks Daniel Craig's 4th outing as Bond, tying him with Pierce Brosnan. Roger Moore still holds the record for most Bond Movies at seven, since Connery's appearance in "Never Say Never Again" is not considered an official Bond movie, leaving Connery with six official Bond appearances.

The end of the line for Katniss...

Hunger Games: Mockingjay - part 2 (11/20)

What is it?

The hugely popular Hunger Games trilogy of four movies (eye roll) based on the hugely successful trilogy of Young Adult books, reaches it's conclusion.

What to expect

Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss, and the trusty resistance forces, take the fight to Donald Sutherland and his city full of garishly dressed glitterati. The path to the big city is booby-trapped (of course) so expect Hunger Games style shenanigans along the way.

Despite some criticism that Katniss is simply being dragged reluctantly from Hunger Games to Resistance fighter figurehead, and rarely controls her own destiny, the franchise has proven very popular and made a star out of its lead actress. We can expect plenty of action and, since this is the last in the series, there should be some emotional satisfaction as the story threads finally play out. Will Katniss run off into the woods with Gale or hang out with the dude named after a bread product?

JLaw factoid: In five short years, from 2011 and including 2016's slate, Jennifer Lawrence will have played Katniss four times, Mystique (X-Men) three times and starred alongside Bradley Cooper in four movies. She's also racked up three Oscar nominations and one win...and she's still only twenty-five.

Legendary poster artist Drew Struzan returns too

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (12/18)

What is it?


What to expect

Regardless of how good this movie will be, Disney can expect to make a gajillion dollars. Confidence is high at the House of Mouse, with a new Star Wars movie slated every year for the foreseeable future and a new Star Wars World addition being planned for both Disneyland and Disneyworld.

As for the rest of us, hopes are high that J.J. Abrams is going back to Star Wars' roots. Fan favorites: Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie, are all returning, while a whole new generation of characters are established.

The second teaser did an amazing job of getting the fans (and me) excited. Anticipation is through the roof and, as long as Abrams avoids the pitfalls of the prequel trilogy, it should be one helluva ride.

Star Wars factoid: I want a BB-8. Oh and John Williams is also returning to do the soundtrack :)

What movie are you most looking forward to seeing before the end of the year?

Apr 9, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: H is for...Helicopters

 After the boffins discovered dinosaur juice, henceforth referred to as oil, locked away beneath the North Sea, they realized to get it out, and into cars, they'd need big drills. And the drills would have to be fixed in place on some sort of...rig. And to operate the rigs they'd need dudes in hardhats.

Dinosaur juice zones between Scotland (bottom left) and Norway

But, how to get those dudes to the rigs to operate the drills?

Since science wasn't smart enough to bio-engineer giant flying transport creatures, it fell upon the helicopter companies.

My dad worked for almost twenty years for British Airways Helicopters (later bought by British International Helicopters and then CHC Helicopters) and it was thanks to him I got to fly a Sikorsky S61N.

An actual British Airways Helicopters S61

Okay, that's not completely true. My dad was contracts manager and not a pilot, but he did manage to swing me some time in the S61 simulator, alongside an actual pilot.

This was no home computer simulator, this was one of those fancy state-of-the-art boxes on pistons, that give you a realistic-feeling ride while never actually leaving the ground.

Like this, only a helicopter version...

I got a quick "how to..." briefing from the pilot and then he asked to take off. I eased my helicopter into the air, no problemo. He told me to wheel it around a bit and I did, flying like a pro. He told me to land and despite missing my mark, I put us down with barely a bump. The pilot looked at me with a raised eyebrow and asked if I'd flown before. I assured him I hadn't, so he told me to do it again to see if it was beginner's luck.

The second time I tried to fly a helicopter it was like we were being flown around by a drunken octopus with vertigo. It was bad. Not only did I almost hit the ground at terminal velocity, but I'm pretty sure I nearly knocked part of an oil rig into the sea. My co-pilot took over and watching him handle the controls was amazing. He made it look easy as he wheeled around, touched down on an oil rig and then flew back. Easy.

Flying a (simulated) helicopter was great fun, but I definitely think it should be left to the professionals. I did get a certificate though. So, there's that.

That was H in the A to Z Blog Challenge. Come back tomorrow for I. And in the meantime go to and check out some of the other bloggers.


Apr 8, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: G is for...Glottal Stop

In America, despite my manly good looks, keen mind, and effervescent sense of humor...

...the first thing people normally notice about me is how I talk. Nowadays, my accent has been corrupted by the use of American words, the need to slow down to be understood, and the subtle assimilation of residency. Here in America, I still sound Scottish enough to raise questions about where I come from. To people in the UK, I sound American.

One thing people pick up on is my pronunciation of certain words, particularly those with the double t in the middle: 
Butter - Buh-uhr. This is due to Scots using a Glottal Stop when pronouncing those words.

A glottal stop is a complete or partial closure of the glottis (vocal folds) creating a sound which is used instead of the actual sound of the letter. So in butter, instead of the hard "t" sound I use a glottal stop.

Americans also use glottal stops, but you just don't notice it. Don't think too hard about it...just say:

Cat litter.

Did you make the t sounds or were they replaced with a constriction of the glottis and an interruption in air flow?

Say: Important

Did you say imPOR-unh? That's a glottal stop.

Say: Right now





...hate mail...

Do you hear it? If you're replacing a consonant sound with what is basically an interruption in air flow through your vocal chords, you should notice, unless you're really concentrating and over-pronouncing.

So, now that I've got you thinking about it, you'll be talking weird for a while...

You're welcome!

That was G in the A to Z Blog Challenge. Come back tomorrow for H. And in the meantime go to and check out some of the other bloggers.


Apr 7, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: F is for...Feist and the Foo Fighting Fleetwoods!

Last year I started a little journey through the alphabet talking about music. I like music a lot and know more than a normal person should about a lot of useless stuff. I started it HERE and continued HERE.

Now I'm working my way through the #AtoZChallenge and, reaching the letter F, my pal @LaurieBwrites suggested, nay DEMANDED, I write something around the Foo Fighters. I thought I could combine both my alphabet,

Foo Fighters 

I have to own up to not being a big fan or filled with jammy delicious knowledge about them. I have a lot of time for Dave Grohl who seems like a decent bloke, a great drummer, and a good frontman for his group.

Of all the music of theirs I've heard, my favorite is easily Hero.

"There goes my hero, he's ordinary"


Quirky Canandian chanteuse who first came to my attention after Apple used her song 1234 in an iPod commercial. After rooting around on youtube, I found that she had plenty more interesting songs to listen to and this one in particular caught my song...quirky voice...dancing on a moving walkway...what's not to like?

Fleetwood Mac

Take my advice - NEVER get stuck in an elevator with me, not just because my un-manly panicking will embarrass everyone, but because if I get started on Fleetwood Mac I will bore you to death.

You can blame 1987.

Tango In The Night was released in '87, with Big Love being the first single off the album. I was immediately hooked on the track. I bought the single (still have it) and played it over and over and over. I bought the album, then I noticed my parents owned Rumours...and then there was no turning back.

I still remember seeing the band picture and thinking they had the names Stevie and Lindsey mixed up. Stevie was the girl? Lindsey was the guy? Huh.

Lindsey Buckingham left the group after Tango In The Night and the group never played Big Love live until he returned several years later. Lindsey stripped down the song to just him and a guitar with a version that is every bit as good, if not better than the original.

But, here's the original. Just because it's still one of my favorite songs of all time, plus it's a cool video.

FUN FACT: The Uh-Ah sounds in the song are actually not Lindsey and Stevie (as people first thought). Lindsey did both parts. He just sped up his voice for the female part. lol. There...let that weird you out for a bit. Enjoy!

That was F in the A to Z Blog Challenge. Come back tomorrow for G. And in the meantime go to and check out some of the other bloggers.

Apr 6, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: E is for...Etaoin shrdlu

Etaoin shrdlu!

No, I'm not typing drunk. And no, Etaoin shrdlu is not a Gaelic curse word or the name of an elf in a new story I'm working on. It's not something offensive written backwards and it won't summon magical beasties if you say it while waving your arms around. (I think. I haven't actually tried that last one. Let me know if I need to put a magic disclaimer in here.)

What it IS though is a nonsense phrase...yeah, no kidding...common in the old days of newspaper publishing when Linotype machines were used.

So...not QWERTY then...

Back in the days before computers, and other newfangled technology like indoor toilets, Linotype machines were used to print newspapers, magazines and the like and the first two columns on the left hand side of the keyboard are...etaion and shrdlu. And the reason for the order is as simple as letter frequency: e is the most used letter, followed by t, a, i and so on.

 Pic courtesy of Al Silonov via Wikimedia Commons

So, much like QWERTY is synonymous with today's keyboards, Etaoin shrdlu was the old timey equivalent.

For more information on the linotype contraption you can check out this link:

That was E in the A to Z Blog Challenge. Come back tomorrow for F. And in the meantime go to and check out some of the other bloggers.


Apr 4, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: D is for...Dispatching

Those who follow me on twitter --> @SpartaGus  probably know this much about me:

1. I'm from Scotland. (One time a nurse stuck me with a needle to draw blood and all that came out was the quiet drone of bagpipes and the scent of heather. Granted, I might've been hallucinating...)

2. I wrote a book once (available from all good book stockists named after tribes of warrior women...yes, that means --> Amazon)

3. I work Wednesday through Sunday on the #BigTrainSet

So, what does working on the #BigTrainSet mean? (I hear you cry)

It means I'm a train DISPATCHER. (Got to the letter D eventually! Yay! The crowd goes wild)

A dispatcher is akin to an air traffic controller, except trains can't fly. Yet. My job is to line up trains through St. Louis and get them where they need to go in the safest and most efficient manner possible.

If you ever saw the Denzel Washington movie Unstoppable, about the runaway train, I'm like that one desk guy Rosario Dawson talked to...

Hi, Rosario...sorry, yes...emergency thing...

Except we don't have a gigantic map on one wall. Instead, I have an arrangement of 12 computer screens to look at. Also, Rosario Dawson doesn't talk to me.


This year is my 25th in the railroad industry and my 9th as a Dispatcher. Fortunately, I've never had to deal with anything like Denzel (or 'Guy at desk') did, but I've had my fair share of stressful shifts. It's important to keep a cool head (I keep one in the fridge...*boom tish*) and make sure everyone gets home in one piece to their loved ones.

If you're ever traveling through St Louis on Amtrak, you're going to run over some of the rail I control. So, give me a wave and I'll make sure I look out for you, get you where you need to go safely and, hopefully, on time.

That was D in the A to Z Blog Challenge. Come back Monday for E. And in the meantime go to and check out some of the other bloggers.