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I'm a movie buff, and I love anything to do with entertainment (especially science fiction and British dramas!) I write about current and upcoming films and other entertainment-related news. I currently work as a communications coordinator, and I'm an aspiring novelist. - Ashley Marie Pauls


Movie review: ‘The Martian’ an inspiring, crowd-pleasing story of survival in space

Matt-Damon-in-The-Martian-Movie-Wallpaper“The only thing stronger than fear is hope.”

That may be a quote from “The Hunger Games,” but it could just as easily apply to the new movie “The Martian.” In the film, astronaut Mark Watney finds himself stranded on Mars after the rest of his crew evacuates, mistakenly believing he was killed in an accident. With a limited supply of food, no way to communicate with Earth and the belief that any rescue attempt is more than a year away, Watney has to find a way to survive on a lonely planet that isn’t designed to support life. He stubbornly refuses to give up, holding to a sliver of hope that he can make it back home.

Based on a book by Andy Weir and directed by Ridley Scott, “The Martian” is an uplifting tale of ingenuity and survival with an attention to scientific detail. It’s also a reminder that while space travel will always be dangerous, humanity will always have a need to explore the unknown. Although space exploration seems to be less of a priority now, we still haven’t conquered the “final frontier” and it’s still worth venturing out into the stars.

“The Martian” continues the apparent trend of Hollywood’s renewed interest in space movies. It feels like a blend of “Gravity” and “Apollo 13,” capturing the sense of isolation felt by Sandra Bullock’s drifting astronaut and the clever ways during the Apollo 13 mission the astronauts and engineers jury-rigged equipment after everything went wrong. However, that certainly isn’t to say “The Martian” feels like a rip-off of these films. One of the things that helps the movie stand out is its surprising amount of humor. It seems a little unusual to have humor in a movie about an astronaut stranded on an uninhabitable planet, but the humor here actually feels authentic rather than forced. Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) jokes in order to keep up his spirits, and his positive (albeit slightly sarcastic) attitude keeps him from giving up.

While the film has what is arguably this year’s most impressive casting line-up, featuring Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and more, my favorite parts of the movie were simply watching Watney on Mars: exploring the planet, figuring out a way to grow crops, fixing his living quarters when the airlock blows off. Matt Damon plays Watney as an everyday sort of guy; he’s not a hardened man of action who never shows a moment of fear or discouragement. He makes mistakes and expresses frustration at his setbacks. Yet he’s also incredibly resilient, and even when his death seems inevitable, he doesn’t regret his decision to come to Mars. He’s willing to make the sacrifice.

I also thought it was powerful that (spoiler alert!) Watney’s crew members risked interrupting their journey home and turned around to rescue Watney on Mars as soon as they learned he was alive, defying NASA’s direct orders. This meant extended time in space and more danger, but they refused to abandon their crew member. Would I be brave enough to make that decision? I hope that I would. I also found myself wondering if I could cope as well as Watney if I were the astronaut stranded on Mars. Considering that flying on regular commercial airlines makes me anxious, there’s probably no chance that I’d ever be allowed in space anyway, but it’s still interesting to ponder how I would react. I think sometimes, we as humans are stronger than we think. People can beat impossible odds and survive impossible situations if they keep fighting and refuse to give up.

“The Martian” is definitely a film I’d recommend catching in theaters, and while I didn’t get to see it in IMAX, I bet it would be worth splurging on to see the gorgeous and desolate Mars scenery on a huge screen. The only thing I might have changed is the film’s ending, which features a “where are they now” montage of all the characters after the Watney rescue attempt. A more powerful ending might have been (sorry, spoiler alert again!) right after the crew rescues Watney and they are embracing in the airlock. The actual ending feels just a bit too “Hollywood” and takes away some of the emotional impact of the rescue. Still, I really loved this film and I hope Hollywood continues to make movies about space travel.

Marvel Blog-a-thon Week 4: ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World’

thor-fightI’m now halfway through the Marvel blog-a-thon, and up next is a pair of sequels: “Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Dark World.” “Iron Man 3” was well-received by critics but proved to be a bit polarizing among fans due to its villain “bait and switch.” “Thor: The Dark World” performed well in theaters but is one of the lower-rated Marvel Cinematic Universe films, according to Rotten Tomatoes. How well do these films hold up to repeat viewings?

Iron Man 3 (2013)

“Iron Man 3” was the first solo MCU film after the epic team-up “The Avengers.” I remember there being some concern as to how well these solo films would play after such a large-scale event movie like “The Avengers.” Would these smaller films now feel like a bit of a letdown? However, with a $175 million opening weekend, “Iron Man 3” proved audiences were still very much on board with more stories about these individual superheroes.

I’ve already commented many times during this blog-a-thon how much I love Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark, so I won’t fill up another paragraph here. ;) Downey still seems to enjoy playing this character, and I think the MCU owes much of its early success to him.

Whether you love “Iron Man 3” or hate it, one of the good things about this movie is that it does make an effort to be something different. It’s not just a retread of the first “Iron Man” film (“Iron Man 2” perhaps tried too hard to copy its predecessor). The film allows the hero to have some surprisingly vulnerable moments, showing some of Tony Stark’s panic attacks after the events in “The Avengers.” It’s completely understandable that he would have lingering anxiety after what would have been the extremely traumatic experience of fighting aliens and flying a bomb up through a wormhole into space. Sometimes superheroes in films seem invincible — physically, mentally and emotionally — and I’m glad Marvel let us see a (slightly) more realistic portrayal of how a superhero might deal with the aftermath of an event on the scale of the New York attack.

What divides some fans on this film is its portrayal of the main villain, Tony’s famous arch-nemesis the Mandarin. In the film, Tony discovers the Mandarin isn’t real: he’s just a character portrayed by a bumbling actor named Trevor Slattery who’s been hired by a scientist to create a distraction by spreading terror (I’ve got to hand it to Marvel — I definitely didn’t see that coming!). “The Mandarin” is just a smoke screen for the real villain, Aldrich Killian. While the twist did not bother me, I can see why some fans were upset; this is a well-known Iron Man villain, and some fans felt betrayed. I love the bait and switch concept in itself, but maybe Marvel could have done this with another villain and saved the Mandarin for a future film, with a portrayal that was more in line with what fans were hoping for. Still, I think there definitely is a chance the whole Mandarin thing could be a double blind; maybe Slattery is only playing dumb and is actually using Killian, who only thinks he’s using Slattery. We’ll have to see if Marvel returns to this villain in the future.

That being said, I think the themes in “Iron Man 3” are very relevant, and feel perhaps even more relevant now than when the film was released. Our enemies are becoming more and more difficult to identify or capture. Like the Mandarin in this film, today’s terrorists are using smaller-scale attacks to create fear, further spreading that fear through media. I think we’re drawn to films like “Iron Man 3” because we want to believe that there are still heroes in this world and that evil doesn’t have to win.

Anyway, I’ve spent too much time talking about “Iron Man 3.” ;) Let’s move on to Thor’s sequel…

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Although not as polarizing as “Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World” is one of the lower-rated Marvel films. After watching it again, I’ve decided that it will probably end up at the bottom of my revised ranking. I did have a blast watching this in the theater; I went to see it with a bunch of friends who are also huge Marvel fans, and there are a number of fun (and funny) moments in this movie. However, the overall plot is not one of Marvel’s strongest and the film’s villain is one of the most under-developed.

The film’s primary villains are the Dark Elves, led by the vengeful Malekith. Malekith is played by Christopher Eccleston, who is perhaps best known as the Ninth Doctor on “Doctor Who.” Eccleston is a fine actor, but he’s not given enough to work with here. Despite how cool and eerie the Dark Elves look in this movie, Malekith remains a vague and generic villain. I would have liked to see more background on the Dark Elves. What is their history and culture? How do they fit into this larger universe? Malekith needs more personality (again, this is the script’s fault, not Eccleston’s); he’s definitely evil but he’s not as intriguing as Loki or as scary as Ultron.

I also wish the film makers had done more to play up the significance of the Aether, a nebulous red substance that fills Malekith with a dark power he intends to use to destroy the universe. In a mid-credits scene that’s actually a teaser for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” we learn the Aether is an Infinity Stone, like the Tesseract from “The Avengers.”

There are definitely some good things about this film, though. The visuals are spectacular, and I like how the film blends science fiction and fantasy. The final battle, which has Thor and Malekith dueling as they jump through portals between worlds, is pretty cool. This film also has my favorite ever Marvel cameo, having Loki briefly transform into Captain America and allowing Chris Evans to play Loki playing Captain America (it’s great).

It’s also interesting that the best part of “Thor: The Dark World” isn’t even Thor (sorry, Chris Hemsworth!). Hemsworth is great, as always, but Tim Hiddleston steals the show as Loki and also gets the most significant character arc. Loki has done plenty of bad things, but we never get the sense that he’s pure evil. He’s terribly conflicted, and while he resents his father Odin, he deeply loves his mother, grieving for her when she is killed protecting Thor’s girlfriend, Jane Foster. Hemsworth and Hiddleston have great chemistry, and I enjoy watching them banter as brothers. I’m also certain we haven’t seen the last of Loki, as the film’s twist ending reveals Loki is now impersonating Odin and ruling Asgard.

Up next is the double-bill I’m most excited about on the Marvel blog-a-thon list: two of my top Marvel movies, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Marvel Blog-a-thon Week 3: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ and ‘The Avengers’

The-Avengers-Movie-1-Team-PoseThis week’s Marvel blog-a-thon movies are “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Marvel’s final Phase 1 origin film, and “The Avengers,” Marvel’s team-up mega-hit. By now I’m sure I’m starting to sound like a broken record in my reviews ;) but re-watching these movies has been a lot of fun and has reminded me how much I love them. Even the movies that rank lower on my list at least contribute something to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America ties with Black Widow for my second favorite Avenger superhero, and his origin film is another solid entry in the Marvel franchise. Chris Evans does a great job in what could have been a tricky role. The Cap’s sincerity and squeaky-clean character could have easily come across as too earnest, but Evans gives him enough authenticity and heart to make us empathize with him. I like how Steve Rogers starts out as an underdog; he’s not a wealthy bad boy like Tony Stark or a strong superhuman like Thor. Even when he does gain superpowers, he doesn’t lose sight of his humanity — or humility.

I also love that this movie is set during World War II. I think it really helps with the authenticity of the character; we get to see Captain America in his own time, in an era where patriotism was more clear-cut and the enemy was more easily identified. It also makes the Cap’s eventual accident all the more heartbreaking: he’s frozen in ice for decades and wakes up to find that his friends, the woman he loves and the world he knew are all gone. The Cap is such an interesting character in “The Avengers” and his sequel, “The Winter Solider,” because he’s a man out of time, and there’s an aura of sadness his character can’t quite escape.

There’s plenty of great moments in this movie: Tommy Lee Jones is terrific as a no-nonsense Army colonel, and it’s fun seeing Dominic Cooper as a young Howard Stark, Tony Stark’s father (Tony’s a lot more like his father than he’d probably care to admit). Another character I liked was Agent Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell. I know Hollywood still has a ways to go in terms of its portrayal of women in films (especially action films), and we still haven’t gotten a solo female superhero movie from Marvel. However, I do appreciate that the female characters in the MCU are portrayed as competent and interesting, and they aren’t just helpless love interests needing to be saved by the main (male) superhero. Pepper Potts from “Iron Man” is fully capable of running Stark Industries, Jane Foster from “Thor” is a scientist, and Agent Carter has a position of command in the military.

While there’s definitely a lot to love about “Captain America: The First Avenger” and I enjoyed it even more this time than the last time I watched it, I don’t think it will overtake “Thor” on the final ranking of movies. It’s hard to top Loki as a villain, and while I think the Red Skull was the right choice for this story, the scriptwriters made him a little too over the top. I also feel Thor’s script was just a tad stronger. However, the Cap definitely beats Thor for best sequel, so I guess they’re even in the end. ;)

The Avengers (2012)

“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” may be my all-time favorite movie, and “Iron Man” (at least for now) may be my favorite Marvel film, but “The Avengers” is actually my favorite memory of watching a movie in the theater. I talked a group of friends into going with me to see this on opening night back in 2012. They teased me for suggesting we buy our tickets weeks ahead of time, but later on we were really glad we did. The movie was already sold out by the time we got to the theater, and at one hour to show time the line of people who had already purchased their tickets but were waiting to see the movie was so long it had wrapped all the way around the inside of the theater and was looping back around again. The crowd was pumped, and this was the first movie I’d ever been to where people actually clapped and cheered during the film (I’m pretty sure the Hulk’s famous “Loki smash” scene even got a standing ovation). It was just a special moment with friends and fellow Marvel fans, and it was worth every penny we’d splurged on to see it in IMAX.

“The Avengers” is the culmination of arguably one of the best-executed marketing campaigns in Hollywood history. Marvel took a big risk by releasing smaller, origin story films first about these characters, who did not have the same notoriety as Batman or Superman. But people were willing to pay to see these movies, thanks to fun scripts, good actors and the excitement that these films were all connected. When we finally did get to see all the superheroes team up, it was exhilarating. Marvel had absolutely earned that moment.

What I love about “The Avengers” is that despite the fact we have six main characters, the film doesn’t feel too cluttered. Each character gets a moment to shine. There are so many quotable lines and memorable moments, from the Cap’s command, “Hulk, smash!” to Thor’s muttered comment about his brother Loki’s rampage, “He’s adopted.” I liked Tony Stark and Bruce Banner’s unexpected friendship, and it’s great finally seeing Nick Fury in action.

I feel like “The Avengers” should rate a little higher on my scale than No. 4, but I just can’t bear to bump the three above it — “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Iron Man” — any lower. I think what happened is, “The Avengers” is very much an event movie. It was a movie you had to see opening weekend, on the biggest screen possible, with a bunch of fans who were as crazy excited as you were. While the film is certainly enjoyable each time I watch it, I just can’t quite recapture the magic of seeing it for the first time. That being said, it’s still one of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it will always be one of my favorite superhero films.

Marvel Blog-a-thon Week 2: ‘Iron Man 2’ and ‘Thor’

Iron-Man-and-Thor-HD-from-The-Avengers-Action-WallpaperNext up on my Marvel blog-a-thon project are a sequel and an origin story: “Iron Man 2” and “Thor.” I kind of wish “Thor” had actually ended up on the same week as “Captain America: The First Avenger,” since they’re both somewhat similar origin stories that were released very close to each other. But I’m supposed to be watching these movies in order, and this is how it worked out. ;)

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Although “Iron Man 2” is a Marvel film that doesn’t always get a lot of love from fans, I have to admit that I actually quite enjoy this one (don’t judge me!) ;) The first time I watched this movie (it was actually the first Marvel movie I saw in theaters) I remember feeling a little bit disappointed because it wasn’t as good as the first “Iron Man,” which ranks among the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. However, once I accepted it for what it was, it’s a fun sequel.

First off, I do understand why this one is criticized. The first Iron Man film felt fresh and exciting; Robert Downey Jr. was a surprise hit and perfect fit as Tony Stark, and the film offered hints about the larger-scale plans Marvel had for its movies, to culminate in “The Avengers.” “Iron Man 2” perhaps tries a bit too hard to ride the wave of the first film’s success (love it or hate it, “Iron Man 3” at least has a discernably different tone than the first two movies). The primary villain, Mickey Rourke’s “Ivan Vanko,” isn’t fully developed or utilized, and the final battle features the villain in an Iron Man-like suit, too similar to the finale of the first Iron Man movie.

Still, there are some good moments in the sequel. Scarlett Johansson makes her first appearance as Black Widow, a female superhero who holds her own and isn’t just a “love interest” for another character. I love Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson’s banter as Tony Stark and Nick Fury (“I’m going to have to ask you to exit the doughnut” is a favorite and often-quoted Marvel line among my friends). It’s also nice to see an expanded role for Tony’s friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes, who gets a suit of his own.

Like I said, this movie doesn’t rank in the top half of the Marvel films for me, but it’s my favorite of the more under-appreciated Marvel films. Captain America holds the award for best Marvel sequel, but “Iron Man 2” is stronger than Thor’s sequel, “The Dark World.”

Thor (2011)

Although “Iron Man” kick-started the journey to “The Avengers,” the release of “Thor” was another important milestone for Marvel. Were people starting to recognize the Marvel brand and believe in it enough to pay to see movies starring relatively unknown actors and featuring superheroes with far less notoriety than “big names” such as Batman and Spider-Man? The answer, apparently, was yes. “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” were both hits in 2011, and set Marvel up for its mega-hit, “The Avengers,” in 2012.

I love how all the Marvel movies have a similar tone and feel like they fit into the same universe, but still have their own unique touches. “Thor” features a blend of fantasy and sci-fi elements, with a touch of regal nobility thanks to director Kenneth Branagh. As I watched it again, I also forgot what a great soundtrack the movie had; it’s probably one of my favorite Marvel soundtracks.

Much of the movie’s fun comes from its “fish out of water” scenario, as the proud and vain Thor is banished to Earth, where he’s forced to learn humility by living among mortals. Chris Hemsworth is a perfect choice to play Thor, which reminds me of another thing I really like about the MCU: the casting. I might not have originally picked Hemsworth to play Thor, or Chris Evans to play Captain America, but now I can’t imagine anyone else playing these roles. The actors all seem to be having fun in these movies, and I’ve really grown to love all these characters. Even the weaker Marvel movies — which feature what seems to be Marvel’s Achilles’ heel, underdeveloped villains — are still fun because the main characters are great.

Speaking of villains, Thor introduces the character who is arguably the best of the Marvel villains: Loki. He’s played by Tom Hiddleston, who is undeniably a Marvel treasure. ;) Hiddleston’s Loki is cunning and vindictive but also conflicted. He’s bad but you can’t hate him. Also, I’d forgotten about the fun Hawkeye cameo in this movie, introducing us to another Avenger.

I really enjoyed my re-watch of “Thor” and I’m thinking it will move up a few points on my final Marvel ranking. Next up are “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “The Avengers.” Please feel free to leave your own comments and tell me what you thought of “Iron Man 2” and “Thor”!

Marvel Blog-a-thon Week 1: ‘Iron Man’ and ‘The Incredible Hulk’

the-avengers-hulk-and-ironman_156211First up on my Marvel Blog-a-thon project are “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk,” the first two films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Interestingly, these are the only two MCU movies I didn’t watch in theaters (I guess I was late arriving to the party) ;) and also the films at the top and bottom of my original ranking of favorite Marvel films. Did my thoughts on these films change after watching them again?

Iron Man (2008)

“Iron Man” has long been not just my favorite MCU film, but my favorite superhero film in general. It’s a perfect example of the winning Marvel formula: humor, heart and plenty of action. It’s just a fun, quality summer blockbuster. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the same time it isn’t too silly.

Although originally Robert Downey Jr. may have seemed like an unusual choice to head this franchise, he turned out to be the perfect fit as Iron Man/Tony Stark. He’s smart and snarky, and he cares more than he pretends to. Deep down, he recognizes some of the emptiness in his hard-partying, irresponsible lifestyle, but he still ignores the potential he’s wasting. His kidnapping by terrorists and narrow escape, thanks to the selfless sacrifice of a fellow prisoner, serves as a wake-up call, and he builds the Iron Man suit to right some of the wrongs he’s created.

Some films aren’t as good the second time you watch them, but “Iron Man” still seems fun every time I watch it. It’s got a great beginning, kicking off with Humvees driving through the desert to “Back in Black” from what’s become Iron Man’s signature band AC/DC, to my all-time favorite superhero ending, where Tony Stark ignores his assigned, already-prepared statement at a press conference and announces that “I am Iron Man.” I also like Robert Downey Jr.’s chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

“The Incredible Hulk” doesn’t get quite as much praise as some of the other Marvel films. While I have enjoyed all the Marvel films and think there are some good features about each movie, this isn’t the strongest in the MCU franchise. As I watched it again, I tried to pinpoint exactly why I didn’t like it as much as the other MCU movies.

I think Edward Norton does a good job as Bruce Banner/the Hulk in this film. It’s a haunted performance, and also a somewhat tragic one, because unlike Iron Man, Thor or Captain America, Banner’s life arguably gets worse after becoming a superhero. His power — turning into a giant green monster every time he gets angry — forces him to live in isolation to avoid accidentally hurting the people he cares about. Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo in the Avengers films, and I think Ruffalo also plays the role well. Edward Norton was, I think, a better choice for the solo film, but Mark Ruffalo has better chemistry with the Avengers group as a whole, especially Robert Downey Jr., than Norton would have.

I also liked that the film handles the origin story in a creative way, breezing through the creation of Hulk during a montage in the opening credits. While the film doesn’t take full advantage of the time freed up by this storytelling technique, it was nice to see film makers try something different. I also liked the villain choice. Marvel is sometimes criticized for its underdeveloped or generic villains, but I thought it was interesting the “bad guys” were two men who didn’t start out trying to be evil: Banner’s girlfriend’s father, a U.S. general, and a British marine who is injected with strength-enhancing serum.

In the end, I think the Hulk tends to rate lower in Marvel fans’ rankings because it doesn’t have quite the same amount of Marvel magic as some of the other films. In this movie, it feels like Marvel is still setting up the tone and deciding what direction it wants to take these films. The Hulk movie doesn’t have as much humor as the other MCU films, and the humor that is in the script feels a bit forced. The script and film felt like they needed a little more time in development.

That being said, I think I was a little tough on “The Incredible Hulk” in my original ranking, and I think it will move up at least one spot on the revised list. Up next, “Iron Man 2” and “Thor”! I’d also love to hear your thoughts on these films, and what you think about the MCU as a whole.

Marvel Blog-a-thon: My fall blogging project

the-avengers-team-imageEarly fall tends to be a slower time at the box office, so sometimes it’s a bit more challenging to find something to blog about. Last year, I went through my “movie bucket list” and watched and reviewed famous movies I hadn’t seen. This year, I thought it might be fun to take a look back and re-watch the films in one of my favorite movie franchises: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Those who know me know that I love the Marvel movies *almost* as much as I love Star Wars. I love the characters and watching how the movies all tie together in one overarching storyline. I like how the films are fun and filled with humor, but often still make a deeper impact on an emotional level, as well.

Earlier this year, right before “Age of Ultron” was released, I put together a ranking of the Marvel films. However, I’ve been rethinking this list recently. It’s been a while since I’ve seen some of the movies, and I’ve watched some way more times than others. I thought it might be interesting to re-watch all the Marvel movies, in order, and see if my rankings change. This way, it’ll be easier to compare them to each other.

Before watching “Age of Ultron,” my ranking was (ending with my all-time favorite Marvel film):

10. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
9. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
8. Iron Man 2 (2010)
7. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
6. Thor (2011)
5. Iron Man 3 (2013)
4. The Avengers (2012)
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
1. Iron Man (2008)

I’m thinking some of these will change after I re-watch them; I might have been a bit harsh on “The Incredible Hulk,” and “Guardians” might even take over my No. 1 spot. I’ll also need to expand the list now that there’s 12 Marvel films instead of 10 and plug in “Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man” (I think “Ant-Man” will end up in the top 6 and “Ultron” in the bottom 6).

Right now I’m planning to review two films at a time, with one blog post a week. I don’t want the project to last forever or overload people with too much Marvel content. ;) I’m looking forward to watching these films again, and please feel free to share your own thoughts on these films. Thanks for reading!

Fall/winter 2015 movie preview

star-wars-the-force-awakens-bb8-daisy-ridleyAnother summer movie season has come and gone, but there are plenty of movies to look forward to in this year’s fall/winter line-up, including a Bond film, the final chapter in the Hunger Games series and a certain little science fiction film directed by J.J. Abrams. Here are the five films I’m most looking forward to this fall and winter. Let me know what films you’re most excited about, as well!

The Martian (Oct. 2)

1E2FE3ADSpace movies seem to be experiencing a bit of a resurgence, with “Gravity” achieving commercial and critical success in 2013, followed by Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” in 2014. “The Martian” continues that trend, highlighting mankind’s feelings of fascination — and fear — about the dark reaches of outer space.

Based on a best-selling novel, “The Martian” is a survival story about an astronaut stranded on Mars after his team members have to abort their mission. It has a fantastic cast — Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, just to name a few — and the trailer certainly caught my attention.

Pan (Oct. 9)

PANThis is my wildcard pick for this fall and winter movie season. It could be really good, or it could be bad; it’s one of those films I don’t think will fall in the “in between” zone. We’ve seen Peter Pan on film plenty of times before, and even in Disney’s mash-up TV show “Once Upon a Time,” but this appears to be a darker take on the famous story.

The film features an almost unrecognizable Hugh Jackman as the pirate Blackbeard and has Peter befriending his future nemesis, Captain Hook. Retellings of famous fairytales can be hit or miss in Hollywood. For every live-action fairytale adaptation that’s good (such as this year’s charming “Cinderella”), there’s one that’s pretty bad (the 2012 Snow White retelling “Mirror Mirror”). “Pan” could be a fun twist on the Peter Pan legend, or it could fail to hit the mark.

Spectre (Nov. 6)

SpectreDaniel Craig continues his run as James Bond in “Spectre,” the follow-up to 2012’s blockbuster “Skyfall.” I love Craig’s portrayal as Bond; he brought fresh life to the Bond franchise back in 2006 with “Casino Royale,” which is still my all-time favorite spy film.

I’m excited to see the new series delve into classic Bond history, presumably charting the rise of the mysterious criminal syndicate Spectre. I’ll miss seeing Judi Dench as M, the head of MI6, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what Ralph Fiennes brings to the role. It will be interesting to see if this is Craig’s last outing as Bond, and if so, what film makers have planned next for the franchise.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 (Nov. 20)

Film Review The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1I still wish the film makers hadn’t split the final Hunger Games novel into two films instead of one (especially since “Mockingjay — Part 1” mostly felt like a two-hour long trailer for the series finale). But what’s done is done, and judging by the trailer, this film will bring back the sense of dangerous tension that made “Catching Fire” such a thrilling watch.

Many fans of the book have complained about the series’ ending, and I’m hoping the film will fix some of the issues, such as abrupt and jarring character deaths that don’t give the other characters (or readers) time to grieve. Let’s hope the final film ends the franchise on a high note.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Dec. 18)

Star-Wars-Force-Awakens-First-Order-stormtroopersThis is, hands down, my most anticipated film of the year and, OK, I’ll be honest, of the decade (I’m just a little excited about this). I’m also incredibly nervous, because this is my all-time favorite film franchise. But I’ve got a good feeling about this. The cast is solid. The costumes look great. The trailer gave me goosebumps. And I believe J.J. Abrams and Co. will be able to pull it off.

As a fan of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, it was a little hard to let go of stories and characters I’d already come to love. I don’t know how much, if any, of those details or characters will show up in the new Star Wars universe. But this is a brand-new Star Wars movie — in theaters — something I didn’t think I’d ever get to see. As much as I want to know more about the plot, I’m trying to avoid learning too much about it, because I want to be surprised and simply let the film sweep me away. I’m excited that we all get to return to that galaxy far, far away. I hope it will be magical.


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