Quick review: ‘First Man’ – the story of Neil Armstrong

FirstManI don’t have time to write a full review this week, but I had a chance to go to the theater and watch “First Man” last night and I REALLY loved it. It’s the story of famous Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong — the first man on the moon. I’ve been interested in space exploration ever since I was a little kid, and I have fond memories of doing a report when I was in school on the Apollo 11 moon landing. So as soon as I saw the trailer for “First Man,” I knew I had to watch this movie.

Although “First Man” is technically a biopic, it feels different than a lot of other biographical films I’ve seen, which I actually found refreshing. Some biopics feel like they’re just checking off items on a list — i.e. this thing happened, and then this happened, and so on. In “First Man,” director Damien Chazelle is more interested in capturing feelings and creating a certain mood. He uses the “shaky cam” technique a lot, which I’m not always a fan of; however, it works really well here, particularly during the rocket launch scenes. You really feel like you’re blasting off right alongside the astronauts.

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Ryan Gosling stars as Neil Armstrong. Gosling is always great, I feel, so I wasn’t surprised that he turned in another solid performance here. It’s a very restrained performance, actually, and it’s an interesting contrast to the hotshot flyboy stereotype that you think of when you think of the early astronauts. But that restraint just makes the moments Gosling does show emotion all the more powerful.

Speaking of emotion, I wasn’t expecting to get teary-eyed in this movie as often as I did, but there were a number of moments that really got me. There’s some stunningly gorgeous cinematography in this film. My favorite part was watching Armstrong and the other astronauts walking to the Apollo 11 rocket and then blasting off into space; all the scenes on the moon were also beautiful. I kinda wish I’d splurged to see this in IMAX.

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This movie was definitely worth catching on the big screen. I could write a lot more about it, but I definitely recommend it! I’m pretty sure it’s going to end up on my “best of the year” list when I rank my favorite 2018 films.

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Better Late than Never blog series: ‘Jaws’ review (‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat…’)

jaws-1200x707Few film scores are as immediately recognizable — and as immediately terrifying — as John Williams’ theme for “Jaws.” Instantly iconic, the slowly building duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum increases in speed and intensity; even before you spot the infamous shark, you know it’s on its way.

Although I’m a big fan of Steven Spielberg, I had actually never seen “Jaws” before. It’s one of those movies I just never got around to watching, and — admittedly — I was also probably a bit squeamish. But after successfully surviving some other scary movies this year like “A Quiet Place” and “Get Out” (and really enjoying them!), I decided it was time to give “Jaws” a try.

Even though I hadn’t seen the movie, I was already fairly familiar with the plot of “Jaws”: the seemingly quaint and quiet summer resort town of Amity Island, New England, is plunged into chaos after a series of violent shark attacks. Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) becomes increasingly frustrated, due to the fact that no one seems to take his warnings seriously until there have been multiple fatalities. He convinces the mayor to hire shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), and together with oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), the three men set out on a quest to kill the shark before it harms another swimmer.

“Jaws” originally came out in the summer of 1975 and is looked on as a definitive summer blockbuster (and has been making people think twice about stepping into the ocean ever since). Yet how does the film hold up for first-time viewers 40 years after its original release?

While films are always going to be a product of their time to a certain extent, the movies that become classics do so because they also manage to transcend their era and provide just as much enjoyment to modern viewers. I think “Jaws” still works well because it’s a simple, timeless concept executed with top-notch practical effects. While “The Meg” will probably look a little dated in 10 years based on its CGI, “Jaws” will still feel real.

Spielberg starts off the film with a gruesome shark attack, putting the viewer on edge right from the beginning — and keeping them there throughout the film. You never forget that first scene, and every time a character goes into the water afterwards, you’re terrified the shark is going to return.

I think Spielberg was also smart to keep the suspense building and wait to fully reveal the shark until later in the film. In horror films, I feel that what you don’t see is always scarier than what you do see. When Spielberg finally does allow the shark to pop up out of the water, it’s terrifying. (Yes, I actually did scream out loud a few times!) There were a few moments where I noticed the shark was a puppet, but overall it was very realistic. I don’t know that I could have been in the water filming those scenes, because the shark looks too real and probably would have made me jump every time I saw it. 😉

It’s interesting that this film came out before the PG-13 rating was established (partially thanks to another Spielberg film, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”). Now I think of PG-rated movies as fairly safe, family films, but “Jaws” is rather traumatizing and gory at certain moments. In fact, it’s way bloodier than the Marvel and Star Wars PG-13 films today. Anyway, it’s interesting to see how film ratings and our perception of them have changed over time.

I thought the characters were cool, although I didn’t connect with them on an emotional level like I did with the characters from some of Spielberg’s other films, like the Indiana Jones series, “E.T.,” or “Jurassic Park.” In fact, that’s probably why “Jaws” won’t top my list of favorite Spielberg films, even though I did enjoy watching it. Just as a matter of personal taste, I prefer those three previously mentioned films because I feel like that’s where Spielberg best displays his trademark sense of wonder, fun, and adventure.

Still, like I said before, I did enjoy watching “Jaws,” and it’s definitely a must-see Spielberg film. It’s a great beginning to Spielberg’s legendary career.

Announcing the ‘Better Late than Never’ blog series!

CinemaBackground2I love movies — that’s something that pretty much everyone who knows me knows. But I actually didn’t get really serious about film until college. I’ve seen plenty of movies that were released post-2010, but there’s a number of classic films I haven’t seen yet.

In 2014, I actually sat down and created a “movie bucket list” of well-known films I hadn’t watched. I’ve watched several films from that list since then and blogged about them too, including my first Quentin Tarantino film and “The Godfather.” But then I kinda forgot about the list until this past summer.

And so, I decided it’s time to dive back into my movie bucket list with the “Better Late than Never” blog series! I’m going to start off with four movies from the list:

Jaws
The Big Lebowski
An Alfred Hitchcock film (haven’t seen any yet, to my knowledge, so I’m open to recommendations!)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I’d also like to turn “Better Late than Never” into a continuing blog series, so be sure to let me know if you have any “must see” films that you’d like to add to my list. They can be new, old, popular, or off the beaten path — send me your suggestions! 🙂

Box Office Buzz is back!

Howdy, friends! I decided to take a break from my personal blog about a month ago; I was feeling a little swamped with other projects and wanted to take some time away to refocus. But now I’m feeling refreshed and ready to drive back in! Here’s a little of what I’ve been up to in the past month…

At the end of August/beginning of September, I went to Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia, for the first time. And it was awesome! I’ve recently started going to more geek conventions, and now I am addicted and want to go to even more cons next year. 😉 ha ha I heard about Dragon Con from some friends I got to know through the Earth Station One podcast, and I’m so thankful I finally got a chance to go this year. I got to attend some fun panels and also meet up with some of my podcasting friends. And of course, I had to take lots of cosplay pictures!

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I also got to do several interviews with a friend of mine for the ESO podcast, including talking to one of my favorite Star Wars authors, Timothy Zahn! It was hard not to geek out, but I am proud of myself for holding back my fangirl squeal when Zahn said he wouldn’t mind seeing Benedict Cumberbatch or Jason Isaacs play Grand Admiral Thrawn in a live action movie. 😉

Anyway, here are the four interviews we got to do at the con!

Timothy Zahn: https://esopodcast.com/star-wars-legends-eso-network-chats-with-author-timothy-zahn/
Disney animator Tom Bancroft: https://esopodcast.com/tale-as-old-as-time-eso-network-chats-with-disney-animator-tom-bancroft/
Star Wars artist Robert Hendrickson: https://esopodcast.com/illustrating-the-galaxy-discovering-the-artwork-of-robert-hendrickson/
NASA engineer Kim Steadman: https://esopodcast.com/to-boldly-go-nasa-engineer-kim-steadman-helps-humanity-explore-the-stars/

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading and re-watching some of my favorite movies at home. Sometimes I get caught up in new movies and doing reviews of those, so it’s been nice to re-watch some old favorites just for fun. (Of course that included some Star Wars movies, but you probably guessed that!) Although I love blogging and I’ve found that writing reviews has really deepened my love of film, sometimes I do miss watching a movie and just casually enjoying the experience, without having to worry about analyzing it for a review afterwards.

On a more serious note, I’ve also been struggling a bit this year in terms of fandom and how I relate to it. As you all well know, Star Wars is my favorite franchise, and the past year the Star Wars community has been a bit…“unsettled,” is perhaps the best way to put it. 😉 And Star Wars is not the only fandom struggling right now; I’ve seen some fans getting angry and saying terrible things to each other within the Doctor Who and Star Trek fandoms too. I’ve had to abandon some fan discussions on social media because people have started making sexist comments or talked down to me for liking things that I love.

However, I’m not giving up! As much as I used to rant about Twitter being a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” 😉 I’ve actually found a pretty fun community of film lovers there (though I’m very careful about who I follow because there’s still some pretty toxic stuff on Twitter). And I’ve started listening to some great podcasts too; I might have to do a write-up of my favorite geek podcasts eventually!

I still don’t know what the balance should be within fandom between promoting positivity and also allowing for thoughtful, honest (and sometimes negative) critique, but I’m going to keep exploring that! I want to have fun within my fandoms, yet I also don’t want to get caught in an echo chamber and surround myself only with voices that are very similar to mine. People shouldn’t be shamed for liking something, and people also shouldn’t be shamed for having a negative reaction.

I’m also going to try to be a little braver about sharing my opinion. A lot of times in the past, I’ve been afraid to share my opinion if it goes outside the “geek norm.” But I’m going to try to be better about standing up for my opinions; I definitely believe it’s possible to do that in a kind, respectful way. I’m going to keep working on gaining self-confidence as a reviewer/blogger; getting involved with the WordPress community has definitely helped with that!

In light of all that, I’ve been re-watching a lot of the Star Wars movies during my hiatus, and I think I have some major shifts in my ranking of the films (including a new #1 and #2). I’m planning to update my Star Wars ranking blog post fairly soon; I have a feeling it may be somewhat controversial 😉 ha ha but I love a rousing debate! I’m also planning to bring back the “movie bucket list” series I did a while back — i.e. famous films that I’m embarrassed I haven’t seen yet and want to get caught up on. If all goes well, a blog post about that should be going up next week!

Anyway, thanks to all of my lovely WordPress friends; I love discussing films with you, and thanks for being a fun, safe place on this often wild and wacky world of the Internet! May the Force be with you all — or, if you prefer, live long and prosper! 🙂

Taking a break from Box Office Buzz…

Hello, friends! Since I started blogging back in 2011, I’ve tried to do at least one post per week. While I’m definitely not planning to disappear from here on WordPress, I am going to take a little break for a month or so. I’ve got some other projects I’m working on, and September can kinda be a dead time at the movies anyway. 😉

So don’t worry, I won’t be gone forever, but it will probably be a little quiet around here for the next month or so. I look forward to seeing everyone else’s blogs, though, and I’m hoping to be back soon!

An outside perspective: I finally got my non-Star Wars loving husband to watch ‘The Last Jedi’

star-wars-the-last-jediIt’s been about eight months now since “The Last Jedi” was released in theaters, and while the controversy surrounding the most recent Star Wars saga film has died down, it certainly hasn’t gone away. “The Last Jedi” proved to be surprisingly divisive amongst the core fanbase, launching numerous debates and discussions. I personally don’t quite trust the often-cited Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 50 percent; I still believe more people had a positive reaction to this film than a negative one (especially when considering the high critics’ rating), although I’m definitely willing to acknowledge that my own biases could be coming into play here.

As of a couple weeks ago, my husband Aaron still had not seen the film, though he’d heard it was controversial. I always have to chuckle a bit when I tell people that my husband isn’t really a fan of Star Wars, because he’s married to the biggest Star Wars fan in our circle of family and friends. 😉 He’s not really a movie buff; he geeks out more over board games and video games. However, since I haven’t shut up about how much I loved “The Last Jedi” since I saw it last December, I finally convinced him to watch it. I thought it would be interesting to share his response, since he’s not really a fan of the franchise and could offer an outside perspective.

Some quick background information, for context: Although Aaron is not really into movies as much as I am, his favorite films are anything by Christopher Nolan (particularly “Interstellar”) and the new movie “Annihilation.” “Rogue One” is his favorite Star Wars movie, even though he’s not super excited about the others. I told my husband I didn’t want to watch “The Last Jedi” with him, because I didn’t want my own opinions to color his response (or to interrupt his viewing experience by exclaiming “Ooo, that’s my favorite part!” too many times or quoting lines of dialogue along with the film). He knew the portrayal of Luke was controversial, but I tried not to go into a lot of detail about common complaints regarding the film; I wanted to see what observations he would come up with on his own.

So, what was his verdict? He actually liked “The Last Jedi”! Not as much as “Rogue One” (he likes the grittier war movie feel of that one), but he said he would add “The Last Jedi” to the list of Star Wars movies he likes (sadly, that list has only two items as of now, but I still love him). 😉 I’ll bring him over to the light side someday!

Before I go further, I do want to clarify that this blog is not designed to shame anyone who didn’t like “The Last Jedi.” Everyone should be free to either like or dislike a movie, based on their own personal preference. I’ve just heard a lot of conversations about this movie from die-hard Star Wars fans, and I thought it would be interesting to hear from someone who’s not necessarily a part of the fandom. And even though Aaron liked many of the same things about this film that I did, he had some criticisms I didn’t share.

Interestingly, Aaron said his most favorite part of the film was what he and I jokingly call “Grumpy Luke.” “I liked that he didn’t do what the Star Wars film formula dictated that he should do, which is train the new Jedi, see them on their way, etc.,” my husband told me. “He did things that made sense with his character. I liked his sass. I liked the character.” Aaron said he particularly enjoyed Luke’s final appearance trolling Kylo and the First Order, appearing via Force projection versus in person. And, of course, that epic shoulder brush.

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For the other characters, he liked that the film gave Rey some flaws and darkness. He thought Rey was too powerful in “The Force Awakens”; I personally don’t agree with that take, as I really liked Rey from the beginning and her character makes a lot of sense to me. But he said enjoyed this take on the character more.

He liked Kylo tricking Snoke in the famous throne room scene. He said he didn’t mind it that Snoke died abruptly; he thought it was a clever twist in the story. He also liked the Kylo and Hux power struggle, and he liked Hux as a character.

Aaron appreciated that Poe was taken to task for his reckless decision-making and insubordination and then learned from the experience. The “hotshot flyboy” archetype in films (i.e. the “Top Gun” Maverick type) usually gets away with reckless behavior with a wink and nod, but “The Last Jedi” taught Poe an important lesson about humility. Aaron liked Vice Admiral Holdo, which I thought was really interesting. I’m a fan of Holdo as well, but she is one of the characters I see the most complaints about from fans. He didn’t like her as much at first, but then he said he enjoyed her character more as he realized she had a plan and cared more about doing the right thing than just protecting her own reputation.

Aaron did have some things he would like to change about the film. He didn’t like the animation on the Porgs (which hurts to hear, as I love everything about the Porgs). 😉 He also thought that Finn and Rose surviving the explosion in Snoke’s flagship was a little unrealistic (he likes to point out “plot armor” in films a lot more than I do). 😛 He would have cut out the casino scene, which is another common complaint about the movie. He also would have liked to see even more flaws built into Rey’s character, and he thought Leia’s character should have either died in space or not gotten sucked out into the vacuum in the first place. I don’t share all of those criticisms, but I think it’s always important to share alternate takes!

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So after Aaron watched the film and enjoyed it overall, I asked him why he thought the film had proved to be so controversial. He felt Luke’s portrayal was probably a deal-breaker for some fans, especially if they were expecting something closer to his portrayal in the old Expanded Universe. He also thought maybe some fans would have preferred a more traditional master/padawan relationship between Rey and Luke.

“I’m honestly a little surprised that it provoked as much controversy as it did,” he said of the movie. “It’s kind of a departure from the tone of the previous movies, but it’s not that much of a departure. It’s still Star Wars.”

The humor, the lack of a time jump, and Snoke’s lack of backstory were some other complaints that I have seen from fans, but Aaron didn’t bring those up. None of those three things bothered me, so maybe I’ve just indoctrinated him at this point. 😉

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So again, if you didn’t enjoy “The Last Jedi,” I definitely respect that, and I don’t want anyone to feel that I’m trying to pressure everyone into having the same opinion as I do. But it’s always interesting to me to hear from more casual fans who don’t have the same stake in these franchises as I do. I don’t think I’ve convinced Aaron to come watch Episode IX with me on opening night, but he said he’d watch it later if I thought he’d like it, so that’s something, at least!

If you have family members or friends who aren’t die-hard Star Wars fans, I’d love to hear what they thought of “The Last Jedi” as well! I’d like to keep the conversation going. At least to me, it’s more fun when we don’t all agree but can share our different opinions in a safe space. May the Force be with you all!

Box office breakdown: Summer 2018 in review

InfinityWar5aa86b6fdaeb5.0It’s hard to believe it, but another summer movie season has already come and gone at the box office. Although this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, the biggest winner of the summer was “Avengers: Infinity War,” wrapping up a decade of buildup and letting the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ultimate villain, Thanos, take center stage.

“Infinity War” made a boatload of money — over $2 billion worldwide, to be precise. Domestically, though, it couldn’t *quite* touch “Black Panther’s” insanely impressive $700 million. “Black Panther’s” exciting reign at the box office is a topic worthy of an article all on its own, and the film clearly resonated with audiences.

“Infinity War” is my personal favorite movie of the year so far, simply because it was such a joy to see all these characters we’ve fallen in love with in one big movie together. I figure most people have heard about the ending already, but just in case, spoiler alert! I loved that they actually let Thanos snap with the gauntlet, even if I’m 100 percent sure that those characters who disappeared are coming back. In fact, that’s my one little gripe about the film; the deaths are well-acted, particularly the scene with Spider-Man and Tony. But I know these deaths aren’t going to stick, which guts their impact just a little. However, I’m waiting to pass judgement on that until I see part 2 next year, because I have a feeling some of the original Avengers will be called to make some devastating sacrifices in order to bring back the characters who crumbled into dust.

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While “Infinity War” was the biggest film of the summer, there were quite a few nice, smaller surprises along the way. I actually enjoyed “Deadpool 2” a lot more than the original; I liked the story more, I laughed at the jokes more, and Josh Brolin was awesome as time-traveling soldier Cable (Brolin wins the award for this summer’s biggest overachiever, as he also did an awesome job playing Thanos). And speaking of awesome, “Mission Impossible – Fallout” was fantastic, and is one of the best action flicks I’ve seen in a long time. I always forget about that franchise, and then it always comes back and amazes me. It was definitely a must-see this summer.

I was sad to see “Solo: A Star Wars Story” under-perform, because it really was a fun movie, despite all the drama behind the scenes. Sure, it didn’t carry the same narrative weight or emotion as “The Last Jedi,” but it’s an entertaining heist flick, and it deserved to make more money than it did. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with what Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise, and now it seems like an insanely long wait until Episode IX. I still think Disney should have held “Solo” until late fall this year, but we’ll never know how that might have played out differently at the box office.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” didn’t receive glowing reviews from critics, but I had a lot of fun watching that movie. Dinosaurs on the big screen always make me smile.

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Although I didn’t see any films this summer that I disliked, I was a bit disappointed in a couple of films I was really looking forward to: “Incredibles 2” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Granted, I still had fun watching these movies, and I was glad I saw them in the theater. But at least for me, neither one of them *quite* lived up to their predecessors. I know others who really loved them, though, and I’d still recommend them.

The last film I saw this summer was “Christopher Robin,” and I thought it was a perfect note to end on. Disney’s live-action Winnie the Pooh adaptation was a lovely little tale about rediscovering joy in life, and it felt like an incredibly relevant and timely message. The importance of kindness, friendship, and compassion is a lesson that needs to be shared as often as possible.

And…that’s it! There are a couple other films that were released this summer that I’d like to catch on DVD but I probably won’t be back at the theater until late fall. I hope everyone had a great time at the movies this summer, and I’d love to hear your favorites and least favorites! Here’s my quick list — what’s yours?

Favorite movie: Avengers: Infinity War
Least favorite movie: Incredibles 2 (I’m really sorry, Pixar! I promise, I didn’t hate this movie!)
Best scene: Thor arriving on the battlefield in Wakanda
Best soundtrack: Solo: A Star Wars Story
Best laughs: Deadpool 2
Best special effects: Infinity War
Best character: Thanos
Least favorite character: The villain in Incredibles 2
Most suspenseful: Mission Impossible – Fallout
Best surprise: Christopher Robin

 

‘Best of the worst’: Top five Marvel Cinematic Universe villains

ThanosLEAD2After an epic 10-year buildup, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ultimate villain finally arrived to restore balance to the universe earlier this summer. Thanos was, at least for me, worth the wait, and I’m looking forward to watching him in “Infinity War” again, now that this movie is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray today.

Few franchises have been able to match the success of the MCU, or its impressive cast of well-loved superheroes. However, it’s fair to say that the track record for the MCU’s villains hasn’t been quite as strong. For a while, in terms of strong villains, there was Loki…and…well…it was pretty much just Loki.

That’s been improving in recent MCU history, so in honor of “Infinity War” coming out, here are my top five MCU villains — and I’d love to hear yours as well! (Note: I didn’t include the Marvel Netflix shows, but if I had, Kingpin, Kilgrave, Cottonmouth, and Mariah Dillard would have taken up most of the slots on this list.) 😉

Honorable mention: Hela

I LOVED Cate Blanchett in this role, and you could tell she had a blast playing an MCU villain. The only reason she misses the top five is because of an issue I have with “Thor: Ragnarok” overall. It’s a really funny movie, but it’s almost *too* funny. The more emotional and serious moments are glossed over a little too quickly, so Hela doesn’t carry the same pathos as, say, Loki in the MCU movies.

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5. Ego

Even though the revelation that Ego was the film’s true villain wasn’t a major surprise, I found it super interesting that the Guardians movies, which are all about family, featured a villain who was a family member of one of the main characters. Kurt Russell is such a likable guy that it’s hard to hate the character, until you realize what terrible things he has done. He also helps Peter realize that even though the other Guardians may not be related to him, they are Peter’s true family.

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4. Killmonger

Although Killmonger’s methods were (obviously) wrong, what made him a compelling villain was the fact he was asking some important questions about racism and responsibility that needed to be asked. He proved to be a key foil for Black Panther as T’Challa developed his own leadership philosophy and shaped Wakanda’s future. There’s a lot going on in “Black Panther,” and I almost wish they had cut a few characters and tightened the plot a little to get even more time with Killmonger. Still, a great performance from Michael B. Jordan.

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3. Vulture

Vulture is definitely the smallest-scale villain on this list, which is actually why I really like him. Michael Keaton has a very down-to-earth take on the role; Vulture isn’t an over-the-top villain who has a bunch of superpowers and wants to take over the world. He’s just a regular guy trying to take care of his family, and then ends up going down the wrong path. The fact he’s such a believable character is what makes him even scarier.

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2. Thanos

It feels weird not putting Thanos in the No. 1 spot — he really is the ultimate MCU villain, and I’m super curious to see what happens with the character in “Infinity War” part 2. Although I love the character in my No. 1 spot just a *little* bit more, I appreciated that the film makers gave Thanos more nuance than I was expecting. He was a fascinating character, and I liked that the film really dug into the motivations behind his actions. He definitely lived up to the 10 years of hype, at least for me.

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1. Loki

At this point in the MCU, is Loki even really a villain? 😉 He’s probably more of an antihero, but I just love Tom Hiddleston’s performance as this character. Loki is funny and charming, but there’s a bit of tragedy running underneath the surface. Loki feels like a bit of an outsider in Asgard, and he resents living in his adopted brother Thor’s shadow. As sad as it was to see Loki go in “Infinity War,” I hope that’s one of the MCU deaths that sticks, because I thought it was a good end for the character.

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And, as a bonus, here are the top 5 Marvel villains that most need improvement (counting down from “sort of okay” to “definite missed opportunity”). My “worst of the worst” list, I guess you could say? 😉

5. Kaecilius

I actually really love the look of this character and how he fits into “Doctor Strange’s” overall aesthetic as a film. But I felt he didn’t have enough character depth, and there’s so much more they could have done with him as a character.

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4. Ivan Vanko

I don’t think Vanko was a bad MCU villain per se; he just doesn’t particularly stand out, either. Tony Stark has fought better villains that are better foils for his character.

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3. Yellowjacket

Although “Ant-Man” is one of my favorite MCU films, Yellowjacket feels more like a generic superhero movie villain, who is more just there to drive the plot forward.

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2. Ronan the Accuser

Ah, Ronan. He actually doesn’t bother me that much, because the rest of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1” is so awesome. But he still feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to do something even cooler with the character.

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1. Malekith the Dark Elf

I don’t really remember much about this character from “Thor: The Dark World” (Loki pretty much steals that movie, anyway). Like Ronan, Malekith feels like a missed opportunity, especially since I was excited to see “Doctor Who” alum Christopher Eccleston in an MCU film.

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So, what are your favorite (and least favorite) MCU villains?

Movie review: ‘Christopher Robin’ a sweetly charming tale about rediscovering what matters in life

a9814b5365Most of us probably have at least one childhood memory involving “Winnie the Pooh” — whether it was reading the books, watching the cartoons or playing with the stuffed animal versions of these beloved characters, like Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, and, of course, Pooh himself.

I hadn’t thought about “Winnie the Pooh” in a while, actually, but I was intrigued by the trailers for Disney’s new live action film, “Christopher Robin.” The film takes place many years after Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) last visited the Hundred Acre Wood to play with his animal friends. He’s grown up now, and the pressures of the “real world” have squeezed much of the light and imagination out of his life. He has a wife and daughter, but he sees them less and less as stress piles on at work. The spirit of the younger, happier Christopher Robin seems pretty much gone…until a little bit of magic brings Pooh back into his life.

I really liked the film’s theme of rediscovering childhood, because I had kind of forgotten about how much I enjoyed these characters as a kid, and I loved being reminded about them. There’s something timeless and appealing about the lovable but bumbling Pooh, the exuberant and bouncy Tigger, the longsuffering and pessimistic Eeyore, and the rest of the gang. You could fast forward 50 years, and these characters will still be just as charming.

The film moves at a fairly slow pace, but I don’t mean that as a criticism. Many movies geared specifically towards “kids and families” these days tend to move a frenetic pace, with bright, wacky visuals blasting the screen. I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism, either; I adore “The Lego Movie,” which can only be described as “bright and frenetic.” 😉 But sometimes it really is nice to take a breather, to just sit back and enjoy a movie at a more leisurely pace. “Christopher Robin” feels like an old-fashioned film, with a simple but important message.

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The film’s tone is surprisingly melancholy, a fact that I didn’t mind but is good to know going in. It is hard to see Christopher Robin struggling and feeling so unhappy, and although the film does, of course, have a happy ending, it doesn’t rush to get there. We’re presented with some very sad moments, as we see Christopher and his wife, Christopher and his daughter, and even Christopher and Pooh drifting apart.

I’m always happy to see Ewan McGregor and Hayley Atwell in a film, but the real stars of this movie are arguably Pooh & Co. At first when I saw the trailers, I wasn’t completely sold on the look of the stuffed animals, as some of them actually appear a bit dingy and faded. But it fits with the film’s tone, I think; these animals are worn and have been well played with, an indication of how much they’ve been loved.

The film is what I would call “sweetly funny,” with hijinks that will make younger children laugh but won’t make adults roll their eyes. Kids will enjoy watching the stuffed animals’ adventures, while adults will find deeper themes to reflect on. I’m sure most of us can relate to Christopher Robin at least a little bit, as the stresses of “grown-up life” sometimes put a damper on that unabashed joy we used to feel as kids.

There aren’t really any surprises in this film, and it’s not really groundbreaking per se. It would be just fine to wait to watch on DVD. Yet I’m glad I paid to see it in the theater, and it’s exactly the sort of movie I needed after a rough week. I think it’s also exactly the sort of movie needed by our culture at large. We need to be reminded of the importance of kindness and friendship and compassion. We need to be reminded that the best — and most important things in life — are the people around us. When things look dark, we need to be reminded that the light is still there, we may just need to try to shine a little brighter.

I enjoyed my trip to the Hundred Acre Wood at the movie theater this weekend, and as I go about the rest of my week, I’m going to make an effort to set aside my stresses and find the joy in the little things in life…just as Pooh does with his famous pot of honey.

Movie review: ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ is a perfect late summer shot of adrenaline

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUTLast fall, fans had plenty to say about Superman’s now infamous CGI upper lip in “Justice League.” To summarize, the actor playing Superman, Henry Cavill, was called back for reshoots, but at the time he was also working on “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” for which he had grown a mustache. The “Mission: Impossible” crew wouldn’t let him shave said mustache, so it had to be digitally erased in “Justice League.” The CGI work was, well, more than a bit obvious, and was endlessly analyzed/joked about on social media.

So, now this brings us to the burning question of the summer: having seen “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” in theaters this past weekend, was “mustache-gate” worth it? The answer is yes — most definitely yes. All kidding aside, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is one of the best action films I’ve seen in a long time, quite possibly the best in the franchise.

Mission: Impossible is one of those rare franchises that actually seems to get better and better as it goes along. Usually one would think the sixth sequel to a film would start getting a bit tired or stale, but that certainly isn’t the case for “Fallout.” Although the basic plots may stay the same — agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) gets into trouble, the government (sort of) disavows him, and then he saves the day at the last minute — somehow this franchise manages to stay fresh, thrilling, and relevant.

I actually don’t want to go into any real detail about the plot here, because so much of the fun of watching this film comes from not knowing what to expect. Going in, all I knew about the film was what I had seen from the trailers, which definitely sold me on the movie.

Although we’ve all seen fist fights, car chases, and spies parachuting out of airplanes before, it still feels exciting and new here. There’s something special about a film packed with real stunt work and not just CGI, even though I do love a good CGI spectacle. And say what you will about Tom Cruise, but he always brings his A-game to these movies.

“Fallout” may arguably be the most “James Bond” of the “Mission: Impossible” films. I heard one commenter in an online forum call “Fallout” something along the lines of, “darker but not oppressively so,” and I think that’s an apt statement. “Fallout” feels a little more serious at times, forcing Ethan to question his ethical guidelines as a spy. The soundtrack is a bit grimmer too, and the music adds a certain gravitas to the events. And there’s so many layers of plot twists that I feel like I need to see the movie again to sort out who was planning what, and who was allied with whom, at what time. I got hoodwinked several times by Hunt and his crew’s cover-ups (there’s a fantastic bait and switch towards the beginning of the film, but I’ll say no more — spoilers!).

Another thing I respect about Cruise is that even though he’s the main star in this film, he’s willing to step out of the way and let all the other characters have their moments to shine. Of course, it’s always great to see Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg returning as their characters, Luther and Benji, respectively. I’m also glad Rebecca Ferguson returned as MI6 agent Ilsa. As a female film fan, I always appreciate seeing a female character in an action film who’s actually given something to do and isn’t just relegated to the role of “love interest.” She fits in well as a member of Hunt’s team, and if Cruise ever gets tired of doing these movies, I’d love to see her in a spin-off series of her own.

I also thought Henry Cavill (and his famous mustache!) 😉 did a great job as CIA assassin August Walker. Minor spoiler alert: Cavill gets to play the villain this time, but I feel that almost isn’t a spoiler since you don’t really trust him from the moment he shows up on screen. But Cavill seems to really enjoy getting to play a darker character, and it’s fun to watch him cut loose as an actor. He and Cruise are both fully committed to the stunts in this film.

Sometimes with all the superhero and other franchise films out there, I forget about the Mission: Impossible movies. Which is sad, because this is actually one of the most reliably entertaining action franchises running today. “Fallout” is one of my favorite movies in the series so far; it might actually be my top favorite, though it’s hard to beat “Ghost Protocol.” This movie definitely needs to be seen on the big screen, and I kinda wish I’d splurged to see this in IMAX. Overall, I call this another “mission: accomplished.”