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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

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A (belated) movie review: ‘Jurassic World’

1416937655_chris-pratt-tooth-zoomI meant to post a review of “Jurassic World” a lot sooner, but I promise, I have a good excuse. I got married earlier this month and just got back from a honeymoon trip to Alaska, so I decided it was time to stop procrastinating and just go ahead and write the review. I did actually end up seeing this movie the week it came out (I’m such a movie geek that I rounded up my bridesmaids and took them to a Thursday night sneak preview showing since the ceremony was actually the weekend “Jurassic World” was released). ;)

The film earned a respectable Rotten Tomatoes rating—about 70 percent—but the big surprise was just how strongly this movie has performed in theaters. Although I figured the movie would do well, I originally didn’t think it could beat “Avengers: Age of Ultron” for highest-grossing movie of the summer. I certainly didn’t expect it to beat the first Avengers movie for biggest opening weekend of all time—to the tune of $208.8 million. It’s definitely a box office success, but how does it compare to the other films in the series?

There’s a saying that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and such is the case with the operators of Jurassic World, a brand-new theme park built on the ruins of Jurassic Park. In the original 1993 film, cloned dinosaurs escape from their paddocks and wreak havoc on the theme park. This time, a genetically modified dinosaur called Indominus rex (who thought creating this creature was a good idea?) becomes too clever and ends up destroying the rebuilt park and countless other dinosaurs. Park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), her two nephews and raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) are caught in the aftermath.

First off, there’s still no topping the first “Jurassic Park” movie, which remains the best in the franchise. Critics have already commented that the plot, script and characters in the new movie aren’t as strong as the original film. That being said, I had a lot of fun watching this movie, and I think it’s the best of the sequels. The stars of the film are, unsurprisingly, the dinosaurs. Indominus rex does not disappoint, and contributes to plenty of nail-biting moments (in the theater, I will admit to jumping out of my seat a few times). I also liked the use of the velociraptors in this movie, and their tentative trust of Chris Pratt’s character. An animal like the velociraptor certainly can’t be tamed, and I appreciated the movie’s respect of the fact Pratt could train but never completely control these powerful predators.

While most of the human characters aren’t as memorable as the main characters from “Jurassic Park,” Chris Pratt is the standout here. At this point, I think it’s safe to call Pratt a major movie star. After proving he can carry two back-to-back summer blockbusters, Pratt is likely to see his career continue to rise. Which makes me happy, because he’s a talented actor with a good sense of humor who seems like a genuinely nice person in real life. He plays this role a little more straight than his role as Star Lord in last summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and he pulls off “action hero” quite well. He’s gotten some teasing about this role being basically an “audition” for the Indiana Jones franchise, and I’d actually like to see him take on the iconic character, as long as it’s a continuation of the franchise and not a reboot (note to Hollywood: no remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”—EVER).

“Jurassic World” may not top the first film in the franchise, but it’s a fun popcorn thriller with some nice moments of nostalgia and nods to fans of the original film. It’s worth catching on the big screen.

Movie review: Disney’s ‘Tomorrowland’

As a concept, “the future” is both fascinating and frightening. It’s the ultimate unknown, left open to our speculation. Are we headed towards an exciting explosion of technology, the sort of world depicted in “Star Trek” where people head out to explore strange new worlds and travel at faster than light speeds? Or does the future actually offer us a far bleaker prospect: a desolate “Mad Max” wasteland filled with violence and dwindling resources?

According to Disney’s new sci-fi family film “Tomorrowland,” both those possibilities could be true—it’s up to us to determine our own future. We can bravely face the challenges that await us and find ways to achieve innovation and progress, or we can give up and allow our world to implode. The choice is ours.

Critics are split on this film, with about a 50 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I like the concept for this movie, but does its execution live up to its potential?

“Tomorrowland” follows teenage dreamer Casey (Brittany Robertson) as she discovers a new dimension called “Tomorrowland” where virtually any scientific marvel is possible. Once she gets a glimpse of this world, she knows she has to go back, and must enlist the help of jaded inventor Frank (George Clooney). The residents of Tomorrowland have developed a way to glimpse the future, and they’ve determined that Earth is actually headed towards apocalyptic destruction. Casey is unwilling to accept that, and she eventually inspires Frank to help her change the Earth’s grim fate.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect walking into this film and ultimately had mixed feelings about it. I did enjoy watching it in the theater; the visual effects are gorgeous—I loved the depiction of Tomorrowland, a futuristic city surrounded by a field of wheat waving in the wind. In the scenes of characters flying around the city in jet packs, you feel as though you’re right there with them, darting around skyscrapers. One of my favorite parts was the geek memorabilia store in the middle of the film (I could probably fill up a whole blog just listing the sci-fi pop culture references found in there), and the Eiffel Tower turning into a space ship was very cool. It’s nice to see a kid-friendly, live-action family film that has a good message. This one encourages kids to dream and explore, and to look for positive opportunities in the world. I also appreciated the fact the film highlighted the shutdown of the U.S. space exploration program, one of my personal soapboxes. I think it was a mistake to shut down the program, and I hope future generations will be inspired to bring it back.

That said, I felt the film didn’t quite live up to its potential, and it didn’t inspire quite the same sense of wonder I was hoping it would. I liked the film’s message about the power of optimism and the dangers of numbing ourselves to the world’s problems to the point we just give up and lose hope. However, I thought the presentation of that message was a bit too heavy-handed (i.e. Hugh Laurie’s “villain” monologue towards the end of the film). I also wished they had shown more about the development of Tomorrowland itself; supposedly famous inventors from the 1880s put together a secret society that led to the creation of this utopia (wouldn’t that make a cool prequel?).

What do you think? Did you watch “Tomorrowland”? Did you like the direction the film took?

Versatile Blogger Award

Thanks so much to Drew from Drew’s Movie Reviews for nominating me for a Versatile Blogger Award! Drew writes reviews of movies and blogs about various entertainment-related topics, including a fun feature called “Movie Quote of the Week.”

Here’s the requirements for the Versatile Blogger Award:

  • Post the award on your site
  • Thank the person who nominated you
  • Share 7 facts about yourself
  • Nominate 15 blogs
  • Link to your nominee’s site

Here’s some facts about myself:

1) My favorite film series are Star Wars, Star Trek and the Marvel superhero films (my favorite film from each series is “The Empire Strikes Back,” J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot “Star Trek,” and “Iron Man”).
2) My favorite TV show is “Doctor Who,” and my favorite doctor is the Tenth, played by David Tennant.
3) I’m getting married in less than a month (and trying not to stress out too much about the details). ;)
4) I’m an occasional guest contributor on the podcast Earth Station One.
5) I have one pet, a black cat named Cricket.
6) I play the harp.
7) The first movie I remember watching in theaters is “Aladdin.”

Here are my nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award:

Tim’s Film Reviews

Mel Rook & The 7 Deadly Sins

Sidekick Reviews

Buddy2Blogger

Ian the Cool’s Reviews

Vinnieh

Bradscribe

Dan the Man’s Movie Reviews

Movierob

Gareth Rhodes Film Reviews

The Cinematic Frontier

Polar Bears Watch TV

Lasers, Monsters and Barbarians, Oh My! 

Cinema Parrot Disco

Silver Screen Serenade 

Thanks again, Drew!

Movie review: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

635560680919636292-MAD-MAX-FURY-ROAD-MOV-jy-1019-Although “Mad Max: Fury Road” is, in essence, a two-hour extended car chase, it’s also a surprisingly well plotted, thought-provoking and tense action film. Taking place in the post-apocalyptic Australian desert, the film follows an emotionally unstable drifter Mad Max (Tom Hardy), who finds himself fleeing with a ragtag band of rebels from a psychotic warlord who controls his people by controlling their access to resources. It’s based on the classic 1980s franchise “Mad Max,” known for its “road warrior” mythos and violent action scenes. Reboots of well-loved classics like the “Mad Max” franchise don’t always pay off (remember 2012’s “Total Recall”?), but this time, it works—to the tune of a 98 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating.

First, a confession—I haven’t seen the original “Mad Max” films (I know, I know, it’s going on my movie bucket list). ;) However, I’m happy to say the film works well on its own, even for those who aren’t familiar with the characters or the setting. It did take me just a bit to adjust to the world (which is a mix of futuristic sci-fi elements and old-fashioned technology, like the modified vehicles seen in the trailers), but once I did, the plot quickly pulled me in.

In the film, Charlize Theron plays Furiosa, one of the warlord’s lackeys who decides to go rogue on a supply run. The warlord sends out a search party to bring her back—which includes Mad Max (against his will). Max escapes and discovers that Furiosa has actually rescued some of the warlord’s “wives” (who are really just slaves) and is trying to transport them to safety. He reluctantly joins their quest, which also eventually includes one of the warlord’s sickly soldier slaves, Nux (Nicholas Hoult).

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this film and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It’s a good all-around action film; there’s a constant sense of tension running through the movie, even in the quieter moments, and you’re never allowed to feel that the characters are “safe.” I liked all the old-fashioned car parts that had been re-purposed into more futuristic war vehicles (my favorite was the hot rod “tank”).

However, as mentioned before, “Fury Road” is also refreshingly thought-provoking with good character development. It’s nice to see major roles for a variety of female characters in an action film. Although Mad Max is the character with his name in the title, Furiosa is just as much a main character as he is (if not more so). The slave wives are treated as little more than property by the warlord, but the film does a nice job showing who they are as individuals and how they begin to discover their own identities on the journey. Helping on the quest also starts to restore some of Mad Max’s humanity, which he had all but lost in the post-apocalyptic desert. I also liked how Nux discovered his humanity too, and realized he had more to live for than just dying in the glory of battle to please the warlord.

My only real complaints about the film were the flame-shooting electric guitar included in the war party (it was just a bit too over-the-top for me), and I also wish we’d seen just a little more character development and screen time for Mad Max. Still, I walked out of the theater very impressed and would definitely like to watch this one again.

Movie review: Avengers re-assemble for ‘Age of Ultron’

avengers-age-ultronSometimes the worst enemies are the ones we create ourselves.

That’s the difficult lesson the Avengers learn in “Age of Ultron,” as the team of superheroes face a genocidal artificial intelligence named “Ultron”… who was created by Tony Stark/Iron Man. Ultron was meant to protect the Avengers and the world from danger, but he quite literally takes on a mind of his own, builds himself a robot form, and tries to destroy the world.

“Age of Ultron” is the follow-up to 2012’s blockbuster superhero round-up “The Avengers.” Director Joss Whedon throws new challenges at his team of superheroes this time around, and it’s a conflict that one of them won’t survive. It’s already pretty much a given “Age of Ultron” will be the biggest movie of the summer – the real question is, does it live up to the hype generated by its wildly successful predecessor?

The short answer is, “Age of Ultron” is big, action-packed, and lots of fun. There’s plenty of banter between the heroes, the fight scenes/special effects are perfectly choreographed, and there are plenty of the trademark Marvel one-liners (such as a running joke started when Captain America chides Iron Man for using “bad language”). Marvel has well cast all of its roles, and once again, it’s a blast watching the dynamics between the very different heroes.

However, it is fair to say that overall, “Age of Ultron” doesn’t pack quite the same punch as “The Avengers.” Maybe that’s because at the time, “The Avengers” provided something we hadn’t seen before. Marvel produced a series of detailed solo films for each of the characters before throwing them together for a sort of superhero “Magnificent Seven”; all the build-up definitely paid off. The movie felt fresh and exciting, and I walked out of the theater feeling that rush of geeky giddiness. Although I also got that feeling from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it just wasn’t as strong for “Age of Ultron.”

*Warning: Major spoilers ahead!*

What I did love about “Age of Ultron”: Ultron himself is a fascinating villain, and I love the concept that as Tony Stark fights the robot, he’s really battling the manifestations of his own inner demons. Ultron is voiced with creepy perfection by James Spader, whose character is equal parts frightening, patronizing and captivating. He’s one of the best — and despite the fact he’s a robot, one of the most complex — villains to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I also loved Vision, the entity created to help the Avengers bring down Ultron. He’s played by Paul Bettany, who previously played J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark’s computer system. Vision is an intriguing enigma, and I definitely hope we see more of him in MCU films.

The action scenes in the film don’t disappoint, taking the Avengers to various spots around the globe. It was nice to see more of a backstory for Hawkeye, a character that sometimes seems to be overlooked in the Avengers line-up (a fact Hawkeye even cracks a joke about in the film). I enjoyed catching a glimpse into Black Widow’s past as well, and I hope we learn more about her backstory in future films.

I do have to say I wasn’t a huge fan of the romantic subplot between Black Widow and the Hulk. It’s not that these characters aren’t an interesting pairing; I think they are, and it’s a subplot that could work. However, it seemed to move too fast in this movie, and I don’t think film makers provided enough build-up. It also seemed like an odd plot shift after the decidedly flirty chemistry between Black Widow and Captain America in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” I had really been hoping the MCU would explore this chemistry more in later films, especially since Black Widow/Captain America would make an interesting pairing, as well.

I also wanted to see more development for the two new Avengers, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. I was genuinely surprised by Quicksilver’s death at the end of the film. We’d heard rumors an Avenger was going to die, but most of the speculation seemed to be surrounding Hawkeye. The film even seemed to set up Hawkeye to make the ultimate sacrifice, but Quicksilver takes a round of bullets for the archer, telling him (and the audience), “You didn’t see that coming.” I wish the film had lingered a bit more on this moment, to heighten its impact.

In short, “Age of Ultron” introduces some interesting concepts and sets up some intriguing storylines for future movies (I’m really excited for “Captain America: Civil War” now). Like all Marvel films, it’s a blast to watch, though die-hard fans may leave the theater wanting just a little more from it than it ultimately delivers.

2015 summer movie preview

avengers-marvelIt’s that time of year again—summer blockbuster season is here, the time when superheroes and sci-fi movies rule the box office. So far, 2015 has gotten off to a bit of a slow start movie-wise; I’ve actually only been to see one 2015 movie, “Cinderella,” in theaters so far, and though a few movies piqued my interest, I felt like I could just wait to rent them. That’s about to change, with one of the year’s most anticipated movies, “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” kicking off the summer movie season. Here’s a few of the highlights from this summer’s group of films:

Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1)

This is my most anticipated movie of the summer and my overall second most anticipated movie this year (the top honor goes to a certain little J.J. Abrams film coming out in December). ;) I’ve watched the trailers that have been released but have purposefully tried to avoid finding out much about the plot, since I’d like to be surprised. Director Joss Whedon is likely going to take the characters to a darker place this time around, and they’ll have to face a challenge of their own making: an artificially intelligent robot named Ultron who decides to unleash his own brand of justice on the world. It will be challenging to top “The Avengers,” but Marvel has proven it can successfully keep one-upping itself (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” etc.).

Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15)

Reboots of classic franchises are always risky, and this is just one of several major reboots planned for this summer. This is a gritty, post-apocalyptic twist on the classic road movie. Tom Hardy plays Mad Max, a drifter who gets pulled into a mission to help a band of fugitives escape from a dangerous warlord. The trailer looks intense and action-packed, and Tom Hardy is a talented actor, but it’s tough to live up to the pressure of nostalgia for the original films.

Tomorrowland (May 22)

Imagine if you could travel to a futuristic utopia where the realm of possibility is limited only to your imagination: flying cars, skyscrapers that reach beyond the clouds, jet packs that can take you anywhere you want to go. The only trick is figuring out how to get there. That’s the question posed to characters played by George Clooney and Britt Robertson in Disney’s sci-fi adventure film, “Tomorrowland.” The movie is based on the premise that famous inventors from the 1880s put together a secret society that led to the creation of this utopia. I’m not quite sure what to expect from this one, but that’s what I like about it; hopefully this will be a creative, imaginative summer surprise.

Jurassic World (June 12)

1416937655_chris-pratt-tooth-zoom“Jurassic Park,” released back in 1993, is now one of Steven Spielberg’s most iconic films, introducing a world where dinosaurs have been brought back to life. Originally I was skeptical about the new movie, but the trailers have won me over (it’s impossible not to get pulled back in, thanks to that soaring theme from John Williams). This one looks like it’s captured some of the old magic from Spielberg’s original film, and Chris Pratt—who plays a velociraptor wrangler—and his rising star power also will likely give this film a boost. It doesn’t look as if this one will stray too far from the formula found in the original, but that’s OK. I’m hoping this will just be a fun summer blockbuster, like the movie that started the franchise.

Terminator Genisys (July 1)

Like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” this is another 1980s action movie reboot. “Genisys” features a time-traveling plot, jumping between past, present and future and following well-known franchise characters John and Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. The previous Terminator reboot, “Terminator Salvation,” wasn’t overly well received, but this movie’s Independence Day weekend release leads me to believe film makers are confident this one could give the franchise a shot of adrenalin. It also will be fun to see past “Doctor Who” actor Matt Smith in a role in this film.

Ant-Man (July 17)

I’ve gone on record as a Marvel fangirl, so of course I’m looking forward to “Ant-Man,” a film about a superhero who can change size. However (and you can go ahead and call me crazy), I think “Ant-Man” might be an even bigger risk than Marvel’s supposedly more obscure property-turned-blockbuster, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Hung up by some development issues, including the departure of director Edgar Wright, “Ant-Man” is coming right on the heels of what is likely to be the summer’s biggest movie, “Age of Ultron.” There’s a chance that, no matter how good “Ant-Man” is, it will feel like a bit of a letdown after “Ultron.” Or, it could ride the wave of fan excitement about “Ultron” to also top the box office. I like Paul Rudd, who plays the lead role, and I’m hoping this is a success.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (July 31)

Although this is now the fifth Mission: Impossible movie, the franchise certainly doesn’t appear to be losing steam. “Ghost Protocol” (2011) was a taut, witty thriller, and most of the same crew is back for the follow-up, which pits Tom Cruise’s spy Ethan Hunt against the Syndicate, a shadowy organization seeking to bring down IMF, the organization Hunt works for. Say what you will about Cruise, but the actor never phones in a performance, and based on the trailer for “Rogue Nation,” the new movie should be just as fun as its predecessor. And as a Cornetto trilogy fangirl, it’s also great to see the always-funny Simon Pegg return for a role in this film.

Fantastic Four (Aug. 7)

Marvels-The-Fantastic-Four_0Of all the movies on this list, this one is, unfortunately, most at risk to be a flop. The trailer looks intriguing—the special effects are strong, and it seems less cheesy than the previous Fantastic Four films, which don’t seem to be well regarded by Marvel fans. However, I’ve heard a lot of skepticism from fans about this one, and this reboot may not be able to generate enough excitement to beat some of the other big movies coming out this summer. Audiences also tend to get a bit burned out by the end of summer, though “Guardians of the Galaxy” performed very well in this similar time frame.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Aug. 14)

I loved Guy Ritchie’s Victorian steampunk take on the Sherlock Holmes stories, and I’m very excited to see his new spy movie based on the classic TV show. It takes place during the Cold War and appears to have the same vibe as the retro-cool “X-Men: First Class” and stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as CIA and KGB agents, respectively. I’m expecting this film to have some fun action sequences and Ritchie’s trademark stylized shots. Again, audience burnout can be a threat for films released later in the summer, but this film’s retro setting sets it apart from some of the other movies this summer.

***
So, what movies are you most looking forward to this summer? What will be the biggest hit? What will be the biggest flop?

Truth or dare: Marvel and Netflix’s ‘Daredevil’ off to a promising start

daredevil-posterThe first few minutes of the pilot episode of a new TV series are always critical. In a short amount of time, you have to successfully introduce the main character, set the tone for the series, provide background information so the audience knows what is going on but also leave enough mystery so they’re intrigued enough to keep tuning in.

The new Marvel series on Netflix, “Daredevil,” starts off the first few minutes of its first episode with two key scenes: showing how future crime fighter Matt Murdock is blinded as a child due to a toxic spill, and then fast-forwarding to an adult Murdock asking forgiveness from a priest for his vigilante actions. It establishes that this show will be gritty, tightly-written, thought-provoking — and thoroughly engrossing. By the time they started playing the opening credits, I was already hooked.

First off, I think Marvel made a good choice to tell the story of Daredevil — a blind defense lawyer who moonlights as a crime-fighting vigilante — in a TV format. I didn’t see the original Daredevil movie starring Ben Affleck but know that it is not exactly beloved by fans. Netflix has produced a show with cinema-like quality but is able to tell the story in a more episodic format.

Daredevil is an intriguing hero. Unlike some of the other heroes, his defining accident doesn’t give him superpowers (like Spider-Man and his spider bite). He doesn’t have fancy gadgets or unlimited resources like Iron Man or Batman. Instead, even though he can’t see, he uses his other senses to fight crime. Hearing becomes vitally important, as Murdock must listen carefully to tell when an assailiant is running towards him or preparing to fire a gun.

The show is a little grittier than we’re used to seeing from Marvel; to me, it feels like a cross between the CW’s gritty DC Comics show “Arrow” and a classic crime drama. Interestingly, the show also doesn’t seem to use a lot of CGI special effects — a fact I didn’t actually notice until later, when I was thinking back over the episode. Instead, the show relies on well-coreographed fight scenes.

I was impressed with the first episode and am looking forward to watching more. Even though the show is more serious in tone, I like that they still include a few moments of humor, something I hope they keep up throughout the series. After this promising start, I’m also looking forward to some of Netflix’s other planned projects with Marvel.

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