Category Archives: Money

Summer Movie Scorecard

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Please email Stephen all of your movie, TV, and random entertainment questions:

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to tent pole movie season, where blockbusters are currently jumping off of the screen in 3D! The summer movie excitement is in full swing, and this weekend marks the first statement made by the movie-going public.  I predicted back in April that this would be a big year for movies at the box office, and that this summer would see Avatar get knocked off of its perch as the highest grossing movie of all-time, but the movie I picked to do it, Avengers: Age of Ultron, is not going to have the legs to run it down.

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Avatar’s reign may still be in jeopardy, however, as the statement made these last few days is that movie goers cannot get enough dinosaurs and Chris PrattJurassic World is gaining steam after a tremendous opening weekend, and the end to its momentum is still very far away.

So what has been the best movie of the summer?  I am so glad you asked!  I want to run through a few of them to take a look at the summer scorecard, which is 6 rounds into a 12-round heavyweight fight.  A fight that has already seen one movie crack the top 10 of the highest grossing movies of all time, and another one steaming towards the top spot like a runaway train that even Denzel and Captain Kirk can’t stop.

*All numbers current worldwide box office totals as of 06/19/2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Current box office total – $335,316,904

Village Roadshow Pictures
Village Roadshow Pictures

The point of a summer movie is to sit back, turn off your mind, and enjoy explosions.   Mad Max: Fury Road has this by the truckload, and knows exactly what it is the entire time.  You will not see Max pretend to be something it is not, nor will you see it apologize for how over-the-top it is.  There are times during this movie that I saw what was on screen and had two thoughts at the same time.

“That is absurd.”


“That is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!”

Those two thoughts typically don’t go hand-in hand, but for this movie it is an excellent balance, and the main reason that it is so much fun to watch.  You are not going to get very much message and meaning, but what you will get is two hours of explosions, car chases, gun fights, fist fights, awesome cars, and at least 20 things that you have never seen on any screen at any point in your life.  When I left Max, I walked out into the desert sun (literally – I was in Arizona) and needed some water and wanted to yell, “WITNESS ME!!!!” as I drove my rental car back to my hotel at high speeds.


If the box office numbers are any clue, however, you are probably going to wait to see this movie when you can watch it at home, but I’m begging you to reconsider.  This movie is the perfect combination of fever dreams, acid flashbacks and “looking back over your shoulder at cool explosions” faces. Go see this on the big screen with a bottle of water and a smile on your face.  You will not regret that you did.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Current box office total – $1,356,373,457

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

It’s hard to describe any movie that has climbed to 5th on the all-time highest grossing movies of all time a disappointment, but Age of Ultron was made by Marvel to claim the top spot on the list.  I have heard this movie described as lackluster, but I see it as the first comic book movie that combined all of the characters you love, and does not have to spend much time on backstory.  Other incarnations of the Marvel franchise have moved past origin stories at this point, so why the backlash when the studio does that exact same thing with the group?

This movie starts out action-packed, it ends action-packed, and there is plenty of action inbetween, so the quieter moments stand out more, but that exposition is what has tied the entire Marvel movie franchise together.  Marvel has never sacrificed story, and the future of their name, just to make a mindless summer action movie.  That is why they are so respected, so it baffles me that Age of Ultron is catching the type of reviews it has.  Was the entire movie great?  No, but they are building for a much, much larger payoff than any other movie this summer.

A conversation between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers while chopping wood seems unnecessary, but will fit perfectly when Captain America: Civil War kicks off.  Ant-Man will make money and be a good movie, but again, it will not be a stand-alone because the studio has already told us that he will be on screen with other characters from the franchise at some point.  That is very much a comic book trait and the reason that people have continued reading comics since the 1930s.  Do you think that generation after generation after generation would continue to read comics if the stories weren’t well thought out and compelling?  Do you think that Marvel could have existed for this long as a comic book company if they put each character on an island and never brought characters over from different books?


Marvel studios will continue to plan for the future and will continue to give the fans what they want, but if the occasional movie spends 20 minutes setting up the next 5 years, then we should trust them that it will pay off.  I have more faith in Marvel Studios than I do almost any other studio or executive group in the world.  They had a plan that has been executed perfectly, and they have the next part of that plan that has been put in progress, which will also be carried out precisely.  Trust me, it will all pay off when you see Spiderman slinging webs alongside Cap while the Guardians are protecting space with the help of Hulk.  This is your childhood coming to life on the big screen, so don’t judge farm scenes and exposition too harshly.

Jurassic World

Current box office total – $594,000,939

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

This is all the movie review that you need…This movie is so much fucking fun!!  I distinctly remember seeing Jurassic Park in the theater in 1993 and loving it.  I have also watched it several times since, and while parts of it do not hold up, (I’m looking at you Laura Dern’s high-waisted-khaki-mom-shorts) I still love the movie.  You could do worse than Steven Spielberg directing a movie with a clever script about dinosaurs, but when he signed on to direct the original there was always going to be a heart at the center of everything.  That is why the original is remembered so fondly and nostalgia for Jurassic Park is one of the main reasons loved I Jurassic World so much.

Jurassic World does such a wonderful job of including the past with the future, especially when they end up at the old park while lost on the island.  Seeing those old familiar doors and buildings, if only for a few minutes, made this sequel the first one that actually picked up the original story and made sense where Lost World did not.  The story itself isn’t going to win any awards, but I am a sucker for casting, and Jurassic World knocks it out of the park with the casting here and I’m not just talking about Chris PrattBryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jake Johnson, and Ty Simpkins make for a tremendous cast, especially when Chris Pratt is on screen doing Chris Pratt things on Chris Pratt motorcycle next to Chris Pratt raptors.


I had concerns about how Pratt would do outside of the Marvel machine, and he completely exceeded my expectations.  He is a full-on movie star and carried this movie so well.  How well you ask?  At one point he is telling the two boys the names of the raptors, with the last one being named Blue, the beta male.  When they ask him who the alpha is, he responded with, “You’re looking at him,” at which point I leaned over to my date and told her, “I think I would f*ck this guy.”  I’m lucky that she has a great sense of humor, but she also very much agreed that he is a bad ass.

This is one of those rare occasions where a sequel is made that makes you like the original better, at the same time you like the movie you are watching.  It is a fun, well-cast, kind of scary, really well done movie that needs to be seen in the theater, and everyone in the world must agree.  Through its opening weekend it is already half-way to the Avengers: Age of Ultron box office total, and at $204.6 million it is showing no signs of going away.  I’m not sure that it will take down Avatar, but I’m absolutely rooting for it to do just that.

You have possibly noticed that I don’t have much negative to say about any of these movies, and that is because I take them for what they are: summer popcorn movies that are an exciting two hours.  Does that mean there aren’t flaws in any of these movies?  Absolutely not, but what is the point of negative reviews for movies that aren’t pretending to be award-winning productions?  Sure, several summer movies aren’t great, but those are the movies I choose to watch at home instead of at the theater.  I’m sure I wouldn’t like San Andreas, and several summer movies tend to be sequels, but it all depends on the execution and casting.  Daredevil has as many interesting storylines from the comics as Batman, but Daredevil the movie and The Dark Knight don’t belong in the same category.  Execution is key, and casting is equally as important, so that is how I make my decisions, which is something that I’ve picked up from years and years of being a movie fanatic.  I knew every beat that was coming in Jurassic World, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of how they presented it.

More on this next week, same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Stephen Balding is the Entertainment Badass for The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenB_41.


Is Howard About to Say, “Buh-Bye, Baba Booey?”

Like David Letterman and Jon Stewart, will Howard Stern exit in 2015?

Losing two comedic legends and innovators within four months of each other is devastating, but will one more make 2015 the year comedy died in December?

Scoop Photo 3 Scoop Photo 2

(Letterman, left, signed off in May — Stewart will say his goodbyes in August)

Last month, with a heartfelt, “Thank you and good night,” David Letterman signed off, and Jon Stewart will exit The Daily Show in August.

Now all eyes, or in this case, ears are fixed on Howard Stern.

Legacy Secured

I started listening to The King of All Media during a tour of duty in radio in the early 1990s. Stern had exploded on the national scene with his book Private Parts and luckily, I had a co-worker who had a friend in New York State who would send bootlegs and underground recordings of his show.

It was like finding your older brother’s porn stash for the first time, or when you were assembling your own. No matter, it was forbidden, it seemed wholly wrong, but you couldn’t live without it either.

Scoop Photo 4
Stern circa Early 1990s

Since then, with the help of YouTube and my own conversion to satellite at over $200 per year, I’ve become become an unabashed “Stern Fan.” I have to say I’m grateful to have had the privilege of not only listening to a legend ‘live’ while also gaining a greater sense of his unique place in history, thanks to his unending catalog of back material and shows.

There’s little to no point debating Stern‘s impact on radio and pop culture. Love him or hate him, he revolutionized radio as we all know it. Quite simply, modern radio doesn’t exist without Stern. For every “morning zoo” in any city, to every silly stunt, prank call or celebrity interview that goes too far, Howard‘s fingerprints, the genius of his staff and writers and influence, are in there somewhere.

Scoop Photo 5
Stern on Letterman (CBS)

He’s done all there is to do. The bestsellers, the movie, it has all contributed to a very secure legacy and perhaps a very appealing retirement. His leap into satellite has made both him and Sirius extremely successful, with over 27 million subscribers and a balance sheet that is making shareholders very happy. Stern has become decidedly more acceptable to the mainstream, and a more respected talent thanks to his reach via America’s Got Talent.

One of the most recent estimates pegs Stern’s net worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and he recently purchased a home in West Palm Beach worth $52 million that is only slightly smaller than the actual island of Manhattan. To put it into perspective, the entire Wack Pack could visit for the weekend and likely never find him.

Has he finally had enough?

Like in 2010, Stern fans have started the second or even third, Bataan Death March. In December, Stern’s second five-year contract at Sirius-XM comes to an end. In 2010, at roughly the same point on the calendar, he had already begun to lament his schedule and the demands.

Not long after his re-signing in 2010, Stern sued his employer over stock options in 2011 and came up short, but it’s seemingly the only serious bump in the road on the corporate side.

America's Got Talent (NBC)
America’s Got Talent (NBC)

On his show, he has talked about expanding his interests in painting and photography, while also cutting back his schedule even further and to spend more time with his wife. As recently as last week he was speculating about which job he would prefer, the radio gig, or America’s Got Talent.

Seemingly every hurdle he faces makes him yearn for a life away from the spotlight, and between now and quite likely a few days before the contract is up, listeners will either be entertained or beaten down by the daily speculation.

No matter what, it’s going to be a long, hot, summer.

Further Cementing History

The twisted part is that these negotiations make for great radio. An angst-filled Howard is pretty much radio gold.

Without having to worry about timelines and sponsors, he has simply flourished since his foray into satellite. The satellite medium has given him the freedom to widen and expand his show’s reach in terms of comedy, news and features.

(LtoR - Stern, Billy Joel and Robin Quivers)
(LtoR – Stern, Billy Joel and Robin Quivers)

The porn stars and lesbians, while never far away, have been supplanted in some ways; the Stern channels run features on everything from embedded news items about specific members of the Wack Pack, to amazing projects like a three-hour Billy Joel interview/performance and a birthday bash that will go down in history in terms of both performances and guests. He’s also booked exclusive concerts that have reunited acts like Soundgarden and brought in other bands like The Flaming Lips.


As a further indication of how much better and more mature Stern has become, twenty years ago, if anyone would have guessed that Howard Stern would produce a men’s health show on radio, you likely would have been committed.

These highlight what has been a better than brilliant second term for Stern at Sirius.

Stern with Quivers (National Enquirer)
Stern with Quivers (National Enquirer)

Rumors are more than strong that one of the key factors in re-signing in 2010 was Stern’s loyalty and worry about the fate of his staff going forward without him. While nearly every member of his staff pushes him to the breaking point, arguably the most poignant and beautiful aspect of this second term was his outpouring of love for Robin Quivers during her yearlong battle with cancer.

It exposed a side of Howard not often seen, and the kindness and loyalty to Quivers, and begrudgingly at times to the rest of his crew, demonstrate that Howard is not only a legendary figure, but deep down a very good and gentle man.

The revolution and the high profile rebellion of years gone by may be over for Howard Stern, but he’s rich, comfortable and ultimately needs this forum. The pain and suffering hides the importance of this forum to him. He knows he’s a far more important voice than he ever was and is reaching a wider audience year by year.

Stern with Madonna (Rolling Stone)
Stern with Madonna (Rolling Stone)

Even though new technologies and platforms continue to emerge, he’s not overly interested in companies like Apple and their platforms via iTunes, and has all but denounced podcasts as being a waste of time. Most importantly, and any time he’s pressed, he’s intensely proud of what he has accomplished at Sirius, both for himself and the company.

In spite of the pain in his voice, the wealth and the legacy, I’m not sure we’ll hear a final “Baba Booey” for a while.

Kevin Donnan is a Contributor at The Scoop and is a sports obsessed and self-confessed Pop Culture idiot savant trapped in a frozen, northern wasteland, yet, loves all things Texas and is the most “American” Canadian who has ever lived above the 49th parallel.

What You Missed in 2014 Part 2: Television


If you missed Part 1 of this series, you can find it located here.

Please email Stephen all of your movie, TV, and random entertainment questions:

In a diametric opposite to my feelings on big-budget movies taking choices away from moviegoers, the landscape of TV is moving in an exciting new direction. The days of network television driving the business were already over, but in a surprising turn of events, it may turn out that premium cable channels are very close to taking it on the chin, as well. Before our very eyes, Netflix has changed the way we consume entertainment, but for some reason, it hasn’t gotten the acclaim for the magnitude of what they have accomplished.

Years ago, Netflix had a much newer catalog of streaming movies, which included an exclusive deal with Starz, but that quickly went away when Starz realized how much money and viewership it was losing by not providing this service themselves. An Internet company was providing a product that was far better and cheaper than a premium service. Think about the impact of that for a minute…go ahead, I’ll wait… Netflix made a fortune with a completely unique business model of sending DVDs through the mail to patrons, but the company hasn’t rested on that model. They quickly branched into providing streaming content separate from DVDs which, as it turns out, was a stroke of pure genius. Technology has caught up to them now, and it is as easy to stream a movie or TV show  through your gaming system or Smart TV as it is to watch something on a traditional broadcast.

Not only is it just as easy to stream as watch something live, but the product available is also dramatically better than anything network TV has provided in years. What executives of networks are failing to see is that Netflix isn’t just a small competitor; it’s dominating the market. You may be thinking, HBO and HBOGo have better quality shows and a bigger fanbase than Netflix, so how exactly is Netflix dominating the market?” The answer: Netflix sees their market as worldwide, not strictly U.S.-based like HBO. Being an Internet-based company means that after paying licensing fees, Netflix can provide content to the world, which is something other outlets are struggling with.

HBO is so lacking that in order to make money in markets outside of the U.S., they are dependent on Netflix. I was very shocked to learn on a recent trip to Canada that the majority of Netflix’s streaming content for the country is comprised of HBO products. HBO garners a smaller fee for other countries, and in turn, Netflix can provide users outside of the States with their product and HBO’s product, which is a win/win for certain. Granted, they are showing HBO‘s original programming and movies, but viewers watching in other countries only see that they are getting their entertainment from once source: Netflix.

To top off its global domination, Netflix has begun providing award-winning original content that rivals other networks. Capping a successful 2013 by announcing a deal with Disney and Marvel for original shows, they moved into 2014 preparing a true television takeover. They acquired a late night talk show that already had a fanbase with Chelsea Handler, so now they all they need is news and weather programming to be a fully-formed network monopoly. When technology is patterning itself after your business model, and binge-watching has replaced appointment television, you know you are doing something right. Which is why the lack of attention shocks me so much, not the lack of awareness, but the true appreciation for what a pioneer this company has become right before our eyes.

The Best in Television That You Might Have Missed in 2014

Fox Searchlight
Gotham: Fox Searchlight

The one bright spot from network television this year was the surprising new show from FOX, Gotham. There were so many ways that this show could have gone wrong or been cancelled in the first few episodes, but much to my delight, it did not. There wasn’t going to be a harsher critic of this show than me. I am a HUGE Bats fan, and I was very hesitant to watch this show for fear of it being bad. My fear was that this show would have everything I loved about Batman in it, with the one glaring exception of Batman.

That wasn’t a deal-breaker for me necessarily, because several origin stories about Bruce Wayne ascending to the cowl have been good over the years, but it was enough to give me pause. I waited until I had 4 episodes banked on my DVR before starting the show because I needed to immerse myself in it to be able to make an informed decision, and I’m so glad that I did.

The show isn’t a living timeline from the comics, but liberties have to be taken to build stories that we haven’t seen as an audience with Bruce being so young. What that amounts to is a fresh take on the life and times of the characters we love so much now, and it shines a light on supporting characters, making them the stars of this incarnation.

Gotham: Fox Searchlight
Gotham: Fox Searchlight

Bruce has been prominent so far, and will continue to be, but even in the Wayne household, the more interesting character has been Sean Pertwee’s portrayal of a tougher Alfred Pennyworth as young Bruce’s caretaker. Personally, to see a version of Alfred that has rarely been seen is a very nice change. Alfred was a retired member of the British SAS, and it has long been hinted at that he was a major force in teaching Master Wayne to stand up for himself, but to see this ass-kicking incarnation of Alfred is exciting.

Many other super villains have been seen (if you know what to look for), but all of them have been in a fledgling state on the rise to the beloved/hated characters we are accustomed to. From Edward Nygma (The Riddler) to Selina Kyle (Catwoman), all are at different ages and stages of their criminal careers and it’s enjoyable to see them on the rise or transformation to the current cannon.

Gotham: Fox Searchlight
Gotham: Fox Searchlight

The runaway star of the show so far has been Robin Lord Taylor’s version of Oswald Cobblepot. It’s an aesthetic version of Penguin that is new, but it is the only one I want to see now. The way that Taylor has played him as evil, but at times insecure, is very refreshing. He just wants to be liked, but also respected and feared, and will make sure that he gets that respect one way or another, even if it means risking his life in the process. It’s a brilliant portrayal.

As for the show itself, it has been picked up for the entire first season (22 episodes total), and is currently in mid-season break.  You have time to watch the first 10 episodes on demand and be ready for when it comes back after the break. One of the great things about this show is that it is finding a much larger audience during the break on digital platforms, which is promising, and the best news is that it isn’t geared strictly for the readers of the comics. The show could still take a turn in a bad direction if not handled carefully, but I am holding out hope that it continues on to the point we see Bruce in the cape and cowl, and we will have a new and darker version of a weekly Batman show on network TV for the first time since 1966.

On a personal note, I would like to thank you all for reading this year, and I hope that you will continue to do so in 2015. I wish you all the happiest of  holidays and a great New Year. I will see you all again right here in 2015… Same Bat time… Same Bat channel.

Stephen Balding is the Entertainment Badass for The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenB_41.

The Voice of Reason: Are Big Vehicles Back?

Have you noticed anything different lately as you drive in your city or on the highway? Big vehicles are back. We’re seeing more pickup trucks and SUVs on the road these days, and Hummers have even made a reappearance. The main reason?  Gas prices. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they are at their lowest point since 2010.

gas-prices2According to, as of Monday, November 17th, 2014, the price of gas ranged from $3.94 in Hawaii to around $2.67 in Texas, and $2.61 in South Carolina. Keep in mind that those numbers don’t even account for the locally-owned gas stations that compete for business and often are 15-20 cents lower than the state average. Locally for me in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it ranges anywhere from $2.43 to $2.60.

What do falling gas prices mean for car dealerships? The big boys are back in town!

Over the last month, auto analysts say that consumers have shown a fresh interest in the kind of SUVs — Hummers, Lincoln Navigators, Ford Explorers — that typified America’s bigger-is-better mindset of twenty years ago. The new mindset among some car buyers is one of the most unexpected consequences of a domestic oil boom that has helped global crude prices plummet in recent months, with the cost of a gallon of gas now below $3.

As oil prices hit a three-year low, Americans are starting to see price changes that could ultimately influence everything from their grocery shopping to their heating bills to their travel. The lower prices have the potential to nudge the U.S. further away from its dreary post-recession mindset, leaving instead a nation with more affordable air and road transportation options, higher consumer confidence, and yes, a few more gas-guzzlers driving around.

CLICK HERE to check real-time gas prices across the United States.

I checked with local auto dealerships in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and the results were almost identical among them. To a man, each place I contacted told me that truck sales, SUV sales, and “bigger” vehicle sales were up about 15%.

Most pickup trucks will get 18-23mpg on the road and 13-18mpg in the city, while Hummers will usually get 10 gallons to the mile. (Did ‘ya catch that one? I kid. They run about 10mpg.) 

imagesThat is the definition of a gas guzzler. When gas prices soared several years ago, it darn near killed off the Hummer. Luckily for GM, the interest is back! Toyota, Ford, and GM are all reporting a surge in customer interest in their larger vehicles.

So, as you drive around the next few days, look around to see how many “bigger” vehicles are on the road. It may surprise you, and leave you … humming along. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) 

Let me hear from you: Have you recently made a purchase that was at least in part influenced by the drop in gas prices? Hit me up on Twitter with your experience!

Ronnie Garcia is the Voice of Reason at The Scoop. He is also an avid guitarist, educator, and all around smarmy guy. You can follow him on twitter @CapnDD.