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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 at The Newton Kansan newspaper as a reporter, and I'm an aspiring novelist. - Ashley Marie Bergner

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To boldly go: In memory of Leonard Nimoy

5731__leonard-nimoy_images-uploaded-by-terraincognitoI stayed home from work sick today, and was just lounging in bed and resting when I got a text from my dad — and fellow “Star Trek” fan — to let me know that actor Leonard Nimoy had passed away today. I had heard that Nimoy was ill, but that doesn’t really make the announcement easier to take. Nimoy played Mr. Spock, arguably the most iconic of the “Star Trek” characters, in numerous TV episodes and films, and it’s a loss that will certainly be mourned by the community of science fiction fans.

I haven’t always been a “Star Trek” fan. “Star Wars” was my first love, and when I was younger, for whatever reason, “Star Trek” didn’t really click for me. I went to see J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot film with some friends who were Trek fans, and the film took all of five minutes to win me over, and when I went back to watch other Trek episodes and films, I fell in love with them too. I admire Nimoy’s willingness to appear in that reboot film. It was a risk, of course; nobody knew if Abrams would successfully reboot or ruin “Star Trek,” but Nimoy had enough confidence — or faith? — to appear in the film as the older version of Spock. Even though the reboot film made the gutsy move of altering the classic Trek timeline, having Nimoy there made it seem legitimate. He was, in a way, passing the torch to a new generation of actors, as well as saluting long-time fans of the series.

Nimoy was great as Spock — a character who valued logic above emotion, and yet was willing to sacrifice everything for his friends. Kirk and Spock are the ultimate odd couple, two beings who “logically” shouldn’t be friends but realize they can’t function without each other. Admit it, Trek fans — we all teared up when Spock sacrificed himself to save Kirk and the Enterprise at the end of “The Wrath of Khan.” In Nimoy’s hands, Spock was both alien and accessible; he was different enough to fascinate us, but still “human” enough to be relatable.

Although the character will live on in the continued Trek films, thanks to a strong performance from Zachary Quinto (whom Nimoy praised), there will always be a special place in the hearts of Trek fans for Nimoy as the original “Mr. Spock.” He helped launch a sci-fi show that in turn helped to launch a genre.

Thanks for being a part of “Star Trek,” Mr. Nimoy — live long and prosper.

Swinging into action: Thoughts on Spider-Man joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Marvel Studios is — at least for now — the undisputed victor when it comes to superhero films. “The Avengers” remains the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time (and one of the all-time highest grossing movies, period), and even their “B-list” heroes have become major stars and major money-makers. At this point, they can even make a blockbuster out of a walking tree and a talking, gun-toting raccoon.

However, a fact that has complicated the expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that while there are a variety of Marvel comics films — Avengers spin-offs, Spider-Man, X-Men, etc. — Marvel Studios (and Disney) don’t have cinematic control of all the characters. Sony has the rights to Spider-Man, and Fox has the X-Men. Understandably, neither studio really wants to give up  those lucrative characters. A mash-up with X-Men and the Avengers, or a Spider-Man appearance in an Avengers film, seemed unlikely.

That is, until Sony recently announced a deal to allow Spider-Man to appear in a Marvel Studios film with characters like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, granting a long-time wish of many Marvel fans. According to the official press release from Marvel, Spider-Man will first make an appearance in an MCU film (possibly “Captain America: Civil War”?), then a solo film with help from the MCU team and a supposed “new creative direction.”

I really think this was a smart move on the part of Sony. Marvel Studios is the biggest power player in superhero movies, and allowing Spider-Man to appear in an MCU movie will only make the character more bankable. Bringing him into the same universe will offer new creative — and financial — opportunities.

4229836-1418955711-38972I am sad to see Andrew Garfield go as Spider-Man; although I haven’t seen a firm confirmation of this, it’s more than likely the role will be recast. Garfield brought a sense of lovably awkward earnestness to the role, and I don’t think we got a chance to see all he was capable of in the role, either. That being said, I think with this new direction it probably is a good call to go with a new actor, so that audiences’ perceptions of the character aren’t too tied to what’s been done before. What I’d actually like to see is, instead of recasting Peter Parker, having the movies features Miles Morales, a character from Marvel Comics who is Spider-Man in an alternative universe with no Peter Parker. Peter Parker already has been rebooted twice in a relatively short time, and using Miles Morales instead would give Spider-Man a genuine fresh start.

I’ve very curious to see how Spider-Man will be worked into the MCU. I’m guessing his first appearance will be more of a cameo, but Marvel Studios will certainly want to show off the new addition to the team. It will be interesting to see how the new Spider-Man interacts with the existing Marvel team. There’s already some big personalities in play, and general audiences are used to thinking of Spider-Man as operating on his own. Film makers will have to be careful about how he mixes with Iron Man, Thor, etc.

Overall, however, I think adding Spider-Man to the MCU is a good move, and positive news for Marvel fans (I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for an X-Men/Avengers mash-up). What do you hope to see from Spider-Man in the MCU?

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Shout-out of the week: This week’s blog shout-out goes to Sidekick Reviews, a great blog with movie and TV reviews, as well as entertainment news. Check out this recent post on past Spider-Man films: https://sidekickreviews.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/battle-of-the-movies-spider-man-2002-vs-the-amazing-spider-man-2012/.

‘So bad it’s good': Terrible movies that are still fun to watch

There are good movies, OK movies and bad movies. And then there are movies so terrible, they transcend to a whole new level of bad. However, at some point a movie can be so awful, the acting so cringe-inducing, and the dialogue so cheesy the movie actually crosses into “so bad it’s hilariously entertaining” terriority.

There’s an art to watching an awesomely awful B-movie. You have to let go of all senses of better taste and just enjoy the movie for what it is: “so bad it’s good.” It’s also best to watch these types of movies in a group, so everyone can have fun riffing together (definitely don’t try to go this alone).

Here are some of my favorite low-budget “so-bad-they’re-awesome” movies, and I’d love to hear what some of your guilty pleasures are, as well!

“Sharknado” and “Sharknado 2: The Second One”

It’s not often the title alone is enough to sell me on a film, but the Syfy channel’s “Sharknado” did the trick. A tornado full of sharks — sounds like B-movie gold, right? These really are awful movies. The acting is cheesy, the plot is extremely over-the-top, and let’s not even get started on the topic of scientific accuracy. Yet there’s an undeniable sense of gung-ho fun to be had here; the film makers know they haven’t created an Oscar winner, and they simply revel in the ridiculous concept. The second movie has a string of great cameos, including a hilariously deadpan turn by Matt Lauer and Al Roker as themselves. If you’re willing to switch off (OK, completely shut down) your brain, you’ll find plenty of intentional and unintentional laughs in these films. As the movie’s tagline so appropriately states, “Enough said.”

“Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”

Everyone should see this movie — not just because it’s possibly the worst Christmas movie ever made, but because it’s in the running for worst movie ever made, period. The basic plot (believe me, I’m not making this up) involves a group of Martians who travel to Earth to kidnap Santa Claus because their children are depressed and there’s no Christmas on Mars. The special effects are awful, the acting hilariously bad, and the dialogue brings plenty of laughs (most of them unintentional). This movie features the creepiest portrayal of Santa Claus I’ve seen in a holiday movie, and also one of the most annoying opening credits songs. Its epic level of badness makes it entertaining to watch … but not more than once a year.

“George and the Dragon”

I believe I first saw this on the Syfy channel, a great place to find “so-bad-they’re-good” gems. It’s a low budget fantasy film about a long-suffering knight who gets into some unexpectedly complicated adventures while trying to rescue a princess from a dragon. The film has plenty of good actors who all deserve better, and Patrick Swayze oddly shows up in a role and is, for some reason, one of the only characters without a British accent. While it doesn’t have the blistering cleverness of the more famous medieval comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” it’s actually of a higher caliber than the other films on this list (which admittedly isn’t saying much). It’s definitely cheesy, but has plenty of amusing moments.

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Shout-out of the week: I’m planning to start a new little feature with my blog called “shout-out of the week,” where at the end of every blog post, I’ll link to another blog I follow. I’ve found a great community of bloggers and wanted to recognize some of the bloggers I’ve gotten a chance to know. :) This week’s shout-out goes to my friend JGuyWrite, who writes fictionalized satire, at http://jguywrite.blogspot.com.

‘Let’s make a deal': Why viewers should pay attention to Netflix and the BBC negotiations

matt-smithBBC’s sci-fi adventure “Doctor Who” is my absolute favorite TV show, and so of course I nearly had a heart attack the other day when I heard a rumor that Netflix would be pulling the show. I don’t have cable, so Netflix pretty much is my sole source for “Doctor Who,” unless I want to purchase all the seasons on DVD. The news could have been even worse, with some reports that Netflix and the BBC were parting ways altogether.

Thankfully, the rumor turned out to be just that — a rumor — and Netflix will continue to offer “Doctor Who,” “Sherlock” and other popular British shows. Some shows still are going away, however, including spy drama “MI-5.”

Since many favorite BBC shows are remaining, no cause for worry, right? You can still see “Call the Midwife,” “Robin Hood” and “Luther.” However, for film and TV fans, this isn’t the first time they’ve had to be concerned about what may or may not be pulled from Netflix.

I’m a big fan of Netflix, and I think it’s a great concept — one place where you can find a variety of TV shows and movies. It’s changed the way people consume entertainment media and helped give rise to the concept of “binge-watching.”

Netflix is becoming an increasingly powerful player in the entertainment industry, even offering original content such as the prestigious series “House of Cards” and the revival of “Arrested Development.” However, it’s not the same as a library, and Netflix has to negotiate with the companies that produce the content it streams — Disney, the BBC, etc.

Content may get pulled because perhaps a company wants more money for its content, or Netflix isn’t willing to pay for that content anymore. It can be frustrating for viewers, especially if you’re in the middle of watching a TV show and then Netflix pulls all the episodes. I still haven’t finished watching “Stargate: Atlantis,” since the show got pulled when I was halfway through watching it on Netflix.

Netflix can’t feasibly stream every movie and TV show ever made, so naturally we can’t expect all content to be available there forever. However, as more and more people choose to experience entertainment media through alternative formats — rather than the movie theater, broadcast TV or even cable TV — it’s in the best interest of both services like Netflix and major companies like Disney to work together to make content accessible. Netflix benefits by having more content that is popular to draw in more viewers, and producers benefit by having a new platform to access viewers.

Have you ever had a favorite movie or TV show pulled from an online streaming service like Netflix? How often do you rely on streaming services for entertainment?

2015 movie preview: My most anticipated upcoming films

870ae77d2c2310133b4fc937959c42d92b5bb4e6Every January, I like to put together a list of my most anticipated films for that upcoming year. It’s fun to peek ahead, and it’s also fun to look back at that list at the end of the year, and see how many of my “most anticipated” actually ended up on my “best of the year” list.

This year, I narrowed my list down to my top 5, and interestingly, they all happen to be sequels. While normally I also like to include some original films with new concepts, the sequels coming out this year are unique in that many of them are high-pressure or high-risk. Will “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “James Bond: Spectre” live up to their critically and commercially well-received sequels? Will “Jurassic World” prove to be a successful reboot of a well-loved franchise? And, perhaps the biggest risk of all, will J.J. Abrams be able to successfully continue the “Star Wars” legacy?

Here is a ranking of my top five most anticipated movies for 2015. I’d also love to hear what movies would make your list!

5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2

Mockingjay“Mockingjay — Part 1″ was a financial success, but didn’t rise to quite the same heights as its tense, masterfully-crafted predecessor, “Catching Fire.” “Part 1″ felt more like a prelude to “Part 2,” coming out this November — and hopefully it will be a stronger film.

Many fans expressed frustration with the ending of “The Hunger Games” book trilogy, and it will be interesting to see how closely the film follows the book. The movie will undoubtedly be dark, featuring a difficult invasion of the Capitol and the loss of some beloved characters.

4. Jurassic World

Jurassic World“Jurassic Park” continues to be one of my favorite Steven Spielberg films. From the dinosaur special effects, which still hold up pretty well even today, to that soaring, iconic theme from John Williams, it’s a fun, crowd-pleasing classic. I was really skeptical about the reboot … until I saw the preview, and though I tried to resist at first, I finally had to admit that yes, the preview stirred those same feelings of excitement I had gotten while watching the first movie.

It also will be fun to see Chris Pratt in another action role, after “Guardians of the Galaxy” made him a breakout star.

3. “James Bond: Spectre”

SPECTREThe last Bond film, “Skyfall,” was an elegant, stylish spy thriller, and director Sam Mendes is back for the next installment in the Bond franchise. Daniel Craig has earned himself a place near the top of the “best Bonds,” and this could be his last outing. Fans hope the film’s title is a reference to the secret terrorist organization that has shown up in past Bond films.

While I’ll be sad to see Craig go, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for rumored Bond replacement Idris Elba.

2. “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

images2012’s “The Avengers” is going to be a tough act to follow — a fact director Joss Whedon seems to be well aware of. He appears to be taking the Marvel sequel in a darker direction, having the team of dysfunctional superheroes create their own worst enemy: an artificially intelligent robot called “Ultron” with a frighteningly warped sense of justice.

Rumors about the plot are running rampant of course, including one that a major character could die in the film. I admire Whedon for his willingness to take a risk and give us a (presumably) darker film, but I hope he will be able to find a nice balance between this darker tone and the spirit of fun we’ve come to love about the Marvel films.

1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Forum-menace---an-image-f-011Most likely no one is surprised this movie ended up at the top of my “most anticipated” list. ;) “Star Wars” has long been my favorite film franchise; “The Empire Strikes Back” is my all-time favorite movie, and the series has always occupied a special place in my heart. That’s why I’m thrilled — and terrified — that the saga is continuing this December.

I love what J.J. Abrams did for the “Star Trek” movie franchise, and I hope he can work his magic again with “Star Wars.” I loved the teaser trailer, and how it brought back the feel of the original series. I love that some of the original actors will appear in this film to pass the torch on to the next generation. This is certainly a risky project, but I hope it will be just as amazing as we all dream it will be. Here’s hoping “the force” is with J.J. Abrams and Disney this December! ;)

Entertainment year in review: My top 10 movies of 2014

2014If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that a sci-fi movie about a talking, trigger-happy raccoon and a walking tree would wind up being the highest grossing movie of the year, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. However, not only did Marvel’s long-shot “Guardians of the Galaxy” turn out to be a surprise summer blockbuster, it became the highest grossing movie of the year, even beating out the well-received “Captain America” sequel.

2014 was an interesting year at the movies. Summer, normally the time when studios roll out their biggest blockbusters, didn’t seem to drive as much buzz as in seasons past. Some of my most highly anticipated films at the start of 2014 turned out to be a little bit of a letdown (though five of the seven did end up making my “best of 2014″ list, just not in the order I expected). And I was also (pleasantly) surprised by a number of films this year. Here’s the list of my top 10 favorites from this year.

10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

apesThe reboot/prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was a surprise hit in 2012, and its sequel, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is even better. Humankind is now living on a post-apocalyptic Earth, while apes grow more intelligent and begin forming their own society. The always-great Andy Serkis has a riveting motion-capture performance as ape leader Caesar, and I liked how the movie portrayed both sides of the conflict without choosing a side.

9. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

battle-of-the-five-armiesI still believe “The Hobbit” would have been better as a two-parter than stretched into a trilogy, but Peter Jackson certainly goes for broke in the final chapter of the saga based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” prequel. Elves, Dwarves and Humans are forced to put their differences aside to fight together to defeat an Orc army, and Dwarven king Thorin Oakenshield must overcome his greed for the treasure inside the Lonely Mountain. The film kicks off with a tense set-piece involving the dragon Smaug’s attack on a village, and ends with Bilbo returning home to his beloved Shire, setting the stage for the events of the “Lord of the Rings.”

8. Arrow and The Flash

arrowTechnically, these are TV shows, not movies. However, I couldn’t resist including them in this list, due to the great characters, intriguing plot lines and close-to-cinematic quality. These two CW superhero dramas, both based on DC Comics characters, are some of my favorite currently running shows on TV. “Arrow” returned for a third season this fall, and Stephen Amell continues to turn in a strong performance as the conflicted vigilante Oliver Queen. Grant Gustin joined the fun this fall in a new spin-off, “The Flash.” More light-hearted than “Arrow” but still with plenty of suspense and interwoven mystery, “The Flash” has been a lot of fun so far.

7. Interstellar

interstellar_a_0“Interstellar” is a big, ambitious, flawed and beautiful piece of science fiction, from director Christopher Nolan. Faced with an Earth that is dying, a brave team of astronauts venture into deep space to find another planet that is capable of supporting life. The film stars Matthew McConaughey, who continues his surprising career renaissance. With echoes of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the more recent “Gravity,” “Interstellar” is gorgeously shot and thought-provoking. A few of the themes are perhaps communicated with too heavy a hand, but it’s still a must-see for sci-fi and Nolan fans.

6. Edge of Tomorrow

Edge-of-Tomorrow-reviewThis movie didn’t seem to receive a lot of attention when it was released — which is a shame, because it’s a clever, fast-paced sci-fi thriller. A sort of mash-up of the concepts of “Saving Private Ryan” and “Groundhog Day,” Tom Cruise plays a PR officer in the military who turns down a risky assignment. His reward is being demoted to the rank of private and sent into battle. It’s not a spoiler to reveal Cruise’s character dies — because he ends up coming back … again and again and again. The key to the mystery will also be the key to saving the earth from a race of invading aliens. Cruise uses the film to subtly poke fun at his own action hero persona, and Emily Blunt is great as the steely soldier who helps him.

5. The Fault in Our Stars

faultinstarsI didn’t expect to like this movie, or even that it would end up on my “best of the year” list. However, it’s far more than just another film in the “teen romance” genre. The movie stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as two teenagers with cancer who fall in love despite the realization their story isn’t likely to have a happy ending. It’s a movie about learning to appreciate the small moments and recognizing the truth in the phrase “it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” I’m not ashamed to say this movie made me cry in the theater, and then again when I rented it at home. It’s a beautiful, mature love story.

4. X-Men: Days of Future Past

X_Men_Days_Future_Past_13838031568400My favorite of the X-Men films is still the prequel “First Class,” but “Days of Future Past” is a fun, stylish “Avengers” style round-up of X-Men, including past and future versions of the main characters. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back in time to alter history, thereby saving mutants from destruction. The highlight of the film for me was seeing both the younger and older versions of sometimes friends/sometimes enemies Magneto (Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen) and Professor X (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart). The movie also contains the best — and most fun — prison break scene I’ve ever seen in a movie: lighting-fast Quicksilver’s trippy rescue of Magneto from a holding cell in the Pentagon, set to “Time in a Bottle.”

3. The LEGO Movie

2014-the-lego-movie-1920x1080-650x365Yes, everything really is awesome about “The LEGO Movie.” No one expected this to be a blockbuster, but it turned out to be one of the most clever and creative movies of the year. Far more than just a shameless advertisement for LEGO products, the film is delightfully quirky, with original humor and a big sense of imagination. It’s also surprisingly moving, with a message that you don’t have to be super smart or extraordinary in order to be special. An all-star voice cast and fun cameos (hello, LEGO “Millenium Falcon”!) are other highlights.

2. Captain America: The Winter Solider

captainamerica252caf98173f6aProving to be a huge early year hit and one of the best in the line-up of Marvel’s “Avengers” tie-in films, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” succeeds as both a superhero action film and a taut political thriller. Chris Evans gives his best performance yet as the loyal but conflicted Steve Rogers/Captain America, struggling to adapt to life in the modern era and uncovering a secret that destroys the organization S.H.I.E.L.D. Rogers also had plenty of fun, flirty chemistry with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, adding an unexpected will-they-or-won’t-they element to the Marvel-verse.

1. Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-End-Credits-Scene-ExplainedI thought long and hard about which film should end up at No. 1, and it was a tough choice. Technically, I think “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was a better film, but as a movie-going experience, I enjoyed “Guardians of the Galaxy” just a little bit more. It’s been a long time since I had as much fun at the movies as I did when I watched “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It’s a quirky, irreverent space opera with a cast of colorful characters, led by a star-making performance from Chris Pratt. With a funky ’70s soundtrack and plenty of laughs, the film also had just the right amount of action and heart. I’ve watched it numerous times already, but I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. It’s the year’s unlikeliest hit, but one that’s well deserved.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,200 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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