A ‘Marvel-ous’ list: An updated ranking of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films

669681The last time I ranked the Marvel Cinematic Universe films was October 2015, and since then I’ve been thinking about where to put Marvel’s two newest movies — “Captain America: Civil War” and “Doctor Strange.” So I’ve decided to create a new master list of the MCU films and I’ll just update this list as the movies come out, so I won’t have to keep creating separate blog posts.😉 “Civil War” and “Doctor Strange” ended up landing fairly high on my list, and a few other films shifted around. The more I watch some of the newer movies, like “Ant-Man,” the more I love them.

1. Iron Man (2008)

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is so close to taking over my No. 1 spot, but for now the original “Iron Man” just can’t be beat. This is the movie that made Iron Man my favorite superhero and Robert Downey Jr. my favorite actor.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

4. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

“The Winter Solider” and “Civil War” are really close, and repeat viewings may vault “Civil War” into the No. 3 spot. However, right now it’s hard to top “The Winter Soldier’s” blend of the superhero and political thriller genres, and the tough questions it asks about what’s more important: freedom or security.

5. The Avengers (2012)

6. Doctor Strange (2016)

I thought Benedict Cumberbatch was the perfect choice to play Marvel’s psychedelic sorcerer, Doctor Strange. It’s exciting to see more cosmic and magical elements being added to the MCU, and I’m really looking forward to watching everything come together in “Infinity War.”

7. Ant-Man (2015)

“Ant-Man” actually moved up a slot on my list. This is a fun, entertaining heist flick with Marvel flair. Paul Rudd was great in the lead role, and I also loved his cameo in “Civil War.”

8. Iron Man 3 (2013)

9. Thor (2011)

10. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

11. Iron Man 2 (2010)

12. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

13. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

14. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

I think objectively speaking, “Age of Ultron” isn’t the worst Marvel movie. However, I do have to confess that it has become my least favorite. It’s the only MCU movie I don’t own, simply due to the fact I would choose to watch all the other films on the list before this one. Maybe it’s because the hype was too high or the film turned out differently than I thought it would. I still love you, Joss Whedon!

I’d love to hear what you think: what MCU films have risen — or fallen — on your personal list? Where do “Doctor Strange” and “Civil War” rank for you?

Movie review: ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ returns to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world

fantastic-beasts-cast-xlargeHarry Potter fans assumed we had seen the last of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world on the big screen after the release of “The Deathly Hallows: Part 2” in 2011. Harry Potter finally defeated the dark wizard Voldemort and found his happy ending. However, while Harry’s cinematic journey was done, Rowling still had wizarding stories to tell. She wrote a screenplay inspired by her fictional guide to the magical creatures of the Harry Potter universe, called “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The new movie serves as a prequel of sorts to the Harry Potter stories, taking place in 1920s New York instead of the modern-day United Kingdom.

Former Hogwarts student Newt Scamander lands in New York City with a case of magical creatures that he can’t quite keep contained. Of course, several of these creatures get loose, and he has to enlist the help of two sisters who also have wizarding powers, as well as a somewhat overwhelmed No-Maj (the American word for “Muggle”). Four friends chasing magical creatures around the city would be a rather thin plot for a movie, so of course there’s more going on behind the scenes. As they search for the creatures, Newt and his friends stumble across a darker threat to the wizarding community. An “Obscurus,” a dark force that is created when magical children try to hide their powers, has been committing terrible acts, destroying buildings and even killing No-Majs. A key figure within the Magical Congress of the United States may also be trying to use the child’s powers for their own purpose.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is an enjoyable movie, though it doesn’t rise to quite the same heights as the best of the Harry Potter films. For me, it ranks somewhere in the middle: I liked it better than “The Order of the Phoenix” and “The Deathly Hallows: Part 1” (which is basically just an over-padded prologue to “The Deathly Hallows: Part 2”), but it doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as my favorite Potter movies, “The Half-Blood Prince” and “The Deathly Hallows: Part 2” (which pack one heck of an emotional punch — pass the Kleenex boxes!). Although it does feel as though Rowling is stretching a bit here, it’s still a fun adventure for Potter fans.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” introduces some new characters to Rowling’s film franchise. Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, a character who’s a little like a less manic and more introverted version of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor. I thought Redmayne was lovably quirky in this role, and his love for the magical creatures he keeps in his case was charming. As a Hufflepuff myself, I enjoyed seeing a hero from this house in the film.😉 Another character who stood out to me was Jacob Kowalski, the No-Maj who gets caught up in Newt’s adventure. As a bumbling and sometimes slightly clueless sidekick, Jacob could have easily become an annoying stereotype. However, I actually found his character to be rather endearing. He may not fully understand what’s going on in this world of magic and wizards, but he’s not afraid to risk his life for his friends. I didn’t immediately fall in love with the other characters, like I did with the main characters from the previous Harry Potter movies, but I think there’s a lot of potential for these characters with the upcoming “Fantastic Beasts” films.

I think my favorite part of this movie was the first time Newt took Jacob inside his briefcase full of magical creatures — a case that’s a little like the Tardis in that it’s “bigger on the inside” and has room for all of Newt’s creatures. I loved seeing all the unusual creatures and the care Newt had taken to craft the perfect homes for them. My favorite creature from the movie was the treasure-loving Niffler. Even though this creature causes a lot of trouble, it’s very cute.🙂

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The film does have an intriguing villain, but the less you know about that going in, the better, because the film ends with a surprise twist. ***Spoiler alert!*** I’m actually a little disappointed Colin Farrell’s character, a suspicious American wizard named Percival Graves, was actually just a disguise for Dumbledore’s famous adversary, the dark wizard Grindelwald. I wish they had actually made Graves a separate character because I was looking forward to seeing him in future films and learning more about his background/motivations. Still, I am intrigued by what Johnny Depp will do in the role as Grindelwald. There was actually a bit of controversy when this casting came out, since Depp has fallen from Hollywood’s graces somewhat and there are some troubling rumors about his personal life. However, I do think he could be a good fit for this role, and I’m glad he’s getting a chance to play something darker and more serious, to show off his range as an actor. ***End spoiler alert!***

In short, I had a lot of fun watching this movie, and I enjoyed returning to Rowling’s wizarding world. I am a bit concerned about the announcement of five “Fantastic Beasts” films, because I’m not sure this storyline can sustain five movies, but I do think there are interesting themes to explore going forward.

TV review: Thoughts on the first season of ‘Star Wars: Rebels’

star-wars-rebels-season-2-keyart-1536x864-531987300980After finally finishing all the seasons of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” the CGI animated series, I was definitely in the mood for more Star Wars stories. While I felt like “The Clone Wars” ended a bit too soon and I wish there was at least another season, Disney came out with another Star Wars animated series called “Rebels,” which is set between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope.” I was able to get a copy of the first season, which premiered in 2014, from my local library.

The series features a band of ragtag rebels who are engaging in a small-scale resistance against the tyranny of the Empire (I have a feeling season two will take on a larger scope as the rebels hook up with the larger resistance movement). This group of rebels includes a Twi’lek pilot, Hera; a Jedi named Kanan; a teenage Mandalorian, Sabine; Zeb, a warrior whose species was massacred by the Empire; and the feisty astromech droid Chopper. They pick up a teenage scavenger named Ezra who learns from Kanan that he has Force powers. Initially skeptical, Ezra eventually agrees to join their resistance efforts, and Kanan begins training him in the ways of the Jedi.

Although “Star Wars: Rebels” isn’t immediately as deep or emotionally resonant as “The Clone Wars” eventually became, I see a lot of promise in this series and I’m definitely hooked. This series introduces some fun new characters to the Star Wars canon and brings back some classics, including Darth Vader. I was also very excited to see Anakin Skywalker’s former Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, in the final episode of “Rebels” season one. Ahsoka had a powerful story arc in “The Clone Wars” but in that series we never got to learn what happened to her after she walked away from the Jedi Order. I’m looking forward to seeing her character again in “Rebels” season two.

I think my favorite of the new characters is the Jedi, Kanan, and I’m really hoping for some flashbacks in season two so we can see how he survived Order 66 and how he came to be a part of this band of rebels. I’m also curious to see how he felt about the rules of the Jedi Order before the fall of the Jedi versus how he feels about them now. Ezra is technically too old to become a Padawan (he’s even older than Anakin was when he started training, and the Jedi Council definitely balked at his age). Has Kanan thrown some of those old Jedi rules out, since the Jedi are practically extinct and more Jedi are desperately needed to fight the Empire? I also haven’t heard Kanan talk a lot about the order’s old rules against attachment. Is he romantically involved with the Twi’lek pilot, Hera? Will he expect Ezra to follow the “no attachment” rule? I think there are some very interesting issues to explore here, and I hope season two addresses some of them.

I enjoyed the balance of personalities in the team of rebels, and I think my second favorite character is actually the droid, Chopper. R2-D2 can be a bit feisty at times, but he’s nothing compared to Chopper, who seems to enjoy antagonizing and sassing the crew. He may only be able to communicate in beeps and whistles, but he most definitely gets his point across.

In short, I’d recommend this series for fans of “The Clone Wars” and Star Wars in general. I’m looking forward to starting the second season, although unfortunately right now I’m on the wait list for my local library’s copy. I guess patience is probably a good Jedi discipline to practice…😉

Stranger things: ‘Doctor Strange’ adds a trippy new dimension to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

doctor-strange-movie-composer-cumberbatchThe first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — “Iron Man” — is actually fairly grounded (well, at least as far as superhero films go). Tony Stark is an ordinary guy with no superpowers who builds himself a special mechanical suit he uses to defeat a guy with a bigger suit who wants to take over his company. Even in “Thor,” which features superpowers and a mythical hammer, most of the action takes place on Earth. However, Marvel has slowly been pushing the boundaries of reality, introducing the Infinity Stones and going full cosmic in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Now, Marvel is delving into a magical dimension with “Doctor Strange.”

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an arrogant but talented surgeon known for his cutting-edge techniques (I promise I didn’t plan that pun before I wrote it). Unfortunately, a devastating car accident damages the nerves in his hands and derails his career. When modern medicine fails him, desperation forces him to try something more mystical. Despite his initial skepticism, he learns reality as he perceives it is only a small slice of a much more complicated, mysterious universe. He learns how to use magic and travel to new dimensions, finding a greater purpose beyond just himself.

One of the things I admire most about the MCU is the way the franchise has been so patiently and skillfully constructed. There’s no way audiences would have bought a talking raccoon, a walking tree, a tiny man who runs with ants, and a former surgeon who conjures glowing magical symbols in the air in the first phase of Marvel films. However, now that the franchise has been well established, it’s time to start to playing with the formula and seeing how far the audience’s suspension of disbelief can be pushed.

While in some ways “Doctor Strange” is a standard origin story, the addition of magic nudges the MCU in an exciting new direction. Benedict Cumberbatch fits the role of Doctor Strange perfectly; the character is cut from the same cloth as Tony Stark, though a little more cynical and not quite as quippy. (I’m definitely looking forward to seeing those two go toe-to-toe in “Infinity War”). The movie also has a fantastic supporting cast, including Chiwetel Ejiofer, Benedict Wong, and Tilda Swinton as the otherworldly “Ancient One.”

Just as big a star are the visuals — which are just as fun, trippy, and mind-bending as the trailers hinted at. While I was initially a little concerned this might turn out to look too much like “Marvel: Inception,” the special effects are able to echo “Inception” while also adding something new. Some of my favorite scenes in the movie were fights that took place in constantly shifting structures and on reshaping landscapes: i.e. skyscrapers folding in on themselves, portals opening and closing, and up becoming down.

Although the movie has a two-hour run time, I actually wish they had added 20 to 30 more minutes. I think there were a few concepts and characters they could have expounded on even more. Like many other Marvel films, the villain — Mads Mikkelsen’s dark sorcerer Kaecilius — does get a little shortchanged, and I think more screen time could have fleshed out the character. I did appreciate that they gave us a new type of threat this time, one the current Avengers lineup couldn’t have handled since none of them use magic. I’m really looking forward to seeing the different types of powers — Doctor Strange’s magic, Tony Stark’s tech, Captain America’s super strength, etc. — in “Infinity War.”

I also thought the film covered some interesting themes. There is a compromising but interesting revelation about the Ancient One that ***spoiler alert!*** reveals she’s been drawing on the power of the dark realm. Did the ends justify the means for her? We don’t quite find out, and it’s an intriguing bit of moral ambiguity for a Marvel film, building on “Civil War’s” theme that right and wrong aren’t always black and white. I felt they could have dwelt on this even more, especially since, like the Ancient One, Doctor Strange also appears willing to bend the rules. I thought Chiwetel Ejiofer’s character, Mordo, was an interesting counterpoint to this since he does have a more black and white view of the universe. I think he could make a very interesting “villain” (who actually sees himself as a hero) in the “Doctor Strange” sequel. And I’m sure there will be a sequel! ***end spoiler***

In short, at this point I sort of feel like a broken record, because it seems like I always give Marvel movies a thumb’s up.😉 But I feel like they continue to do a good job of putting out films with the same solid, basic ingredients while also mixing things up just enough and giving us characters we care about. “Doctor Strange” is another fine entry in the MCU, and I’m excited to see what they do with this character in the future.

Everything Is Normal: A special Halloween post from Nightvale

welcome-to-night-vale-hc-cHello, WordPress. It’s me, Ashley. Of course it is. Who else would it be? It’s time for my weekly installment of Box Office Buzz. So, what with “Doctor Strange” not coming out until this weekend and today being a special day — Halloween — I thought I’d go a little off the beaten path and talk about a podcast. Can I talk about podcasts? I know this is usually about film but a podcast is merely a film being described, right? Of course it is. Why would you think it isn’t? Why would you think? Thinking isn’t your job. It’s the job of the city council to think for us and they said podcasts and movies are “basically the same thing.” Is this where I put a happy face? I think it is.🙂

At this moment of writing, which is virtually indistinguishable from all moments when you think about it, I’d like to write about “Welcome to Nightvale.” This podcast is a true-to-life series of community radio broadcasts about a town not so dissimilar from the ones you and I live in. There’s menacing government agencies, bloodstone circles, hooded cultists roaming the streets, and frequent disasters that threaten to pull all the inhabitants of the town into the eternal void of nothingness.

The show is hosted by Cecil Gershwin Palmer, voiced by himself as everyone in the world is also voiced by themselves. He opens each show with a standard proverb we all know like, “Life is like a box of chocolates: unopened, dusty, and beginning to attract a lot of insects.”🙂 Or, “You take the good. You take the bad. You take them both, and there you have spiders crawling out of a red velvet cupcake.”

After the opening proverb, Cecil takes us to the news. Though the content is fiction, you can’t help but notice the parallels between it and the goings-on of the real world. Sometimes it’s election season, so the votes for the city council are lovingly rigged, “Vote correctly, or never see your loved ones again.” Sometimes the Sheriff’s secret police are on a manhunt for dangerous fugitives like Hiram McDaniels, the literal five-headed dragon, or the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home. Or sometimes the town is facing a deadly summer reading program. You never know what will happen today.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We get to meet all the interesting people that live in this Anytown, USA. There’s Mayor Pamella Winchell, who after being replaced as Mayor becomes the Director of Emergency Press Conferences. There’s the kindly old Woman Josie who lives with those tall winged creatures who are definitely not angels because acknowledging the existence of angels is illegal. There’s the harrowing tales of Dana Cardinal, one-time intern at the public radio station, who becomes lost in a desert otherworld and eventually becomes town mayor. *END SPOILER* We get to know and love all these characters for all of their quirks and humanness. Except Steve Carlsberg, because he’s…he’s just STEVE. You know?

Since the town is in a desert, the weather is always the same, so instead of playing the weather report during its mandated spot, they play some random music from hipsters who probably come from the barista district. I just skip it personally. You can’t be seen encouraging these guys.

If you find you like the show, there is also a book by the same title which follows two of the minor characters from the podcast in their quest to find King City. Also, a woman eats a plastic avocado. That’s all I’m authorized to tell you.

I hope you find this quirky slice-of-life podcast as refreshing as I do. So until next time, good night, Wordpress. Good Night.

P.S.
This is the real Ashley. I don’t have long, but I’m being held in an unknown location and being forced to read into a radio microphone. I don’t know what it means, but if you could track the signal and find me, I’d appreciate it. :)

P.P.S.
This is the real Ashley, not that one. This is the same Ashley as the original post, but not the one from the P.S., who probably is named Doug. You shouldn’t trust Doug.

P.P.P.S.
Just listen.

***

OK, this is the real me, I promise!😉 I was having some trouble thinking of what to blog about for Halloween, and my husband Aaron has been bugging me to let him do a guest post on my blog. So, I decided to let him blog about the quirky, spooky podcast “Welcome to Nightvale.” I’d encourage you to check it out if you get the chance. Happy Halloween!

TV review: Animated Clone Wars series a better Star Wars prequel than the prequel movies

star-wars-animated-series-clone-wars-rebels-best-episodesI know I’m late to the party, but over the weekend I finally finished watching the last episode of the last season of the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” CGI animated series that originally aired on Cartoon Network and finished up with a special Netflix season in 2014. I had actually watched the first two seasons of this show years ago but for some reason never finished the others, even though I was a fan of the show.

I was inspired to actually go back and watch the rest of this series after re-watching the Star Wars prequels earlier this year. Although I used to be somewhat of a prequel defender in the past, during this re-watch I found it a little harder to overlook their flaws.😦 I feared maybe the Clone Wars animated series wasn’t as good as I had remembered it either, so with a bit of apprehension I decided to plow through the series.

The good news is, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is as good as I remembered it being, and the show actually gets even better as it goes along. Here are some of my thoughts about the series overall, with a few spoilers marked for those who haven’t seen it.

I’m always hesitant to tell people Anakin Skywalker is one of my favorite Star Wars characters, because their thoughts go straight to “Attack of the Clones” and its rather cringe-y romance. However, the computer animated Clone Wars series actually does a far better job portraying and developing this character. In the prequels, particularly “Attack of the Clones,” Anakin unfortunately comes across as a whiny teenager and a stalker who can’t get over a creepy obsession with Padmé. The character is a lot different in the animated series; he’s a badass but tortured warrior, a successful general who’s respected by the clones he commands. He’s a lot cooler, and it’s easier to see how this guy becomes the villain we all love to hate (or hate to love?), Darth Vader. The animated show also does a good job portraying his friendship with Obi-Wan (there’s less nagging and more fun quipping back and forth).

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I also really, really love how this series expands on the clones and shows their individuality. In the movies, there really isn’t time to do much with the clones personality-wise, or with the ethical issues surrounding the Jedi using these clones, who were bred for the sole purpose of fighting for the Republic. The clone-centric episodes have a sort-of “Band of Brothers” feel. One of my favorite episodes, “The Deserter,” introduces us to a clone who left the Republic army to start a family and live a more peaceful life. I also really liked the story arc in season four that had Captain Rex (a part of Anakin’s 501st division) questioning whether or not to commit mutiny after a Jedi general treats clones like expendable cannon fodder. I actually had to stop watching for a bit because this storyline made me angry; I was so upset this Jedi wasn’t treating the clones like humans and didn’t care if his risky plans had high casualties.

Although some might view this as a children’s show since it aired on Cartoon Network, there are some surprisingly dark, challenging, sad, and violent storylines, such as the one referenced above. We watch Chancellor Palpatine working behind the scenes, manipulating events in his favor and preparing for his rise as emperor. We see the Jedi Order making mistakes and moral compromises, and we watch Anakin struggle to avoid a dark destiny we all know he can’t escape.

One of the most powerful storylines sends Anakin and Obi-Wan to a mysterious planet called Mortis populated by three unusual beings known simply as the Father, Daughter, and Son, all representing different aspects of the Force. ***Spoiler alert!*** While on Mortis, Anakin has a vision of the terrible things he will do in the future after he falls to the dark side. Although this vision maybe could have prevented him from committing awful crimes in “Revenge of the Sith,” the Father decides to wipe Anakin’s memory in order to prevent the future from being altered. It was one of the most gut-wrenching moments in this show and made me think about Anakin’s destiny as the “Chosen One” in a new way. In the past I always thought Anakin’s fall to the dark side was a deviation from his path as the “Chosen One,” and then he became the “Chosen One” again in “Return of the Jedi” when he killed the Emperor and saved Luke. However, I’m now wondering if Anakin’s fall from the light was just as much a part of his destiny as his eventual rejection of the darkness. Was becoming a Sith the only way to ultimately destroy the Sith and restore balance to the Force? Anyway, I could probably fill up another post with my thoughts on the “Chosen One” theory.😉 This post is already getting long! ***End spoiler.***

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Finally, no Clone Wars post would be complete without mentioning the most significant character it introduced to the Star Wars canon: Anakin’s Padawan, Ahsoka Tano. I’ll admit at first I found Ahsoka to be a little annoying, but I think her character development really pays off in the end, and she’s an interesting foil for Anakin since she’s so much like him. ***Spoiler alert!*** When Ahsoka ends up walking away from the Jedi Order at the end of the fifth season, it’s a genuinely emotional moment and exposes some of the problems within the Jedi Order. ***End spoiler.***

Like any TV show, the Clone Wars series does have its highs and lows. I felt towards the end of the show it focused a little too much on action rather than character development, though the show ends on a strong note and the abbreviated final 13-episode Netflix season is REALLY good. There are a few droid-centric episodes that I didn’t find as interesting (sorry, R2-D2—you know I love you!), and fair warning, Jar Jar Binks does show up a few times. He’s actually not as annoying here and does have some useful things to do, though you can easily skip those episodes if you want.

Overall, this is a really solid show and I would highly recommend it for Star Wars fans. If you liked the prequels, this adds more backstory and fleshes out the events of the Clone Wars, which the movies don’t have a lot of time to cover. And if you can’t stand the prequels, please give this series a shot — it takes the good elements and uses them much more effectively. Also, if the Order 66 montage didn’t make you tear up in “Revenge of the Sith” before, it definitely will after watching this show, because you’ll know the individual Jedi and clones a lot better.

While I’m sad the series is over, I’m hoping to catch the animated “Star Wars: Rebels” series next. I’d love to hear your thoughts on “The Clone Wars” or if you think “Rebels” is worth a watch!

The ‘super’ list: My top 10 favorite superheroes

569d97ad7aa39-imageI was very excited to see Entertainment Weekly’s latest issue in my mailbox, which includes their ranking of the 50 most powerful superheroes. Seeing their list inspired me to put together a list of my own, with my top 10 favorite superheroes from movies and TV. I’d also love to hear who your top superheroes are!

10. Spider-Man

Although he’s one of the most famous superheroes, Spidey is also one of the more unconventional. He’s an ordinary teenager impacted by an extraordinary event: a bite from a radioactive spider that gives him superhuman powers. So far, Andrew Garfield is my favorite Spider-Man while the Sam Raimi films are my favorite Spidey movies overall. However, that could change with the upcoming “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Tom Holland had a fantastic cameo as the character in “Captain America: Civil War” and just might become my favorite version of Spider-Man.

9. Black Panther

I didn’t know a lot about Black Panther before this summer’s “Captain America: Civil War,” but I’m very excited to see this character join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chadwick Boseman brought a sense of strength and nobility to the role, and the character adds a fresh perspective to the Avengers team.

8. Wonder Woman

I’m waiting to see how DC’s upcoming Wonder Woman movie will turn out, but I’m thinking this character will end up moving up my list of favorite superheroes, based on her brief but exciting role in “Batman v. Superman.” She’s a smart, strong warrior who just about steals the movie from Batman and Superman.😉 I’m excited to learn more about her in her solo film next year.

7. Batman

There have been many incarnations of this character, but my favorite remains Christian Bale’s take in Christopher Nolan’s superhero masterpiece, the Dark Knight trilogy. Batman is definitely one of the darker superheroes, and Gotham, the city he fights to protect, sometimes seems like it’s too far gone to save. However, Batman refuses to abandon it in its hour of need, and the Caped Crusader is a beacon of light in Gotham’s darkness.

6. Daredevil/Punisher

This is sort of cheating but I ended up with 11 superheroes instead of 10 as I made my list and couldn’t decide which of these two to leave out.😉 I really love Netflix’s Daredevil show, and while the second season wasn’t *quite* as good, the parts with the Punisher were very strong. I really like the contrast between these characters and the very different ways they pursue justice. Both are compelling, thanks to great performances from Charlie Cox and Jon Bernthal.

5. Arrow

While the past couple seasons of The CW’s “Arrow” have divided fans, I’m still a fan of the character and the show. The second season remains a highlight, with its dark, gritty take on Oliver Queen’s conflicted vigilante. Oliver struggles to do the right thing but has to keep fighting demons from his past. While he has some similarities to Batman (rich playboy who moonlights as a superhero), his five years off the grid — where he learned how to be a fighter and a survivor — make this character stand out.

4. Magneto

Although sometimes he’s more of a villain, Magneto still makes my top superheroes list because I think deep down he does want to do the right thing (Michael Fassbender’s take on the character in the X-Men prequel series often paints him as a misguided anti-hero). His tragic background has made him suspicious of others, and he fears persecution of mutants. Although he and Professor X don’t always see eye-to-eye, they will always remain friends, at least at some level.

3. Black Widow

The top 3 superheroes on my list are all Avengers, which I’m sure surprises no one since I’m quite vocal about my love for the MCU.😉 While I think Black Widow is overdue for her own standalone film, I really like what they’ve done with the character in the team-up movies. Black Widow’s background as a spy and assassin make her an intriguing addition to the Avengers line-up, and she’s more comfortable delving into moral gray areas than some of the other characters.

2. Captain America

I don’t necessarily agree with Captain America’s actions in “Civil War,” but I can 100 percent understand and respect how he got there. He’s not afraid to risk everything to defend his principals, and he’ll do anything he can to save his friends. This character could have easily come across as self-righteous and one-dimensional, but Chris Evans adds a lot of nuance to the role as the Cap struggles to adjust to life in a different time, where right and wrong aren’t so black and white.

1. Iron Man

Admittedly, Iron Man is probably my all-time favorite superhero since Robert Downey Jr. is my all-time favorite actor.😉 But the first “Iron Man” movie started my love for superhero films and I liked Iron Man because he brought something new to the superhero genre. He’s smart, funny, and reveals his own secret identity. He doesn’t have any super powers but builds an awesome suit that allows him to more than hold his own with the rest of the Avengers.

The good, the bad and the ugly: Looking back at five years of hits (and misses!) at Box Office Buzz

luke-skywalker-han-solo-chewbacca-star-wars-a-new-hopeSince I started blogging, I’ve had some posts that I’m really proud of…and some stuff that, looking back, makes me cringe.😉 Since I’m celebrating five years of movie/entertainment blogging this month, I thought it might be fun to reflect on some of my favorite moments and also some of the entries that make me wonder what I was thinking.

Top five favorites

5. More than just mindless entertainment

This post from December 2013 is sort of my blogging manifesto and was inspired by a comment I heard while working as a reporter, in response to a question about the Academy Awards: “With all the problems we have in our world, who cares about movies or awards?” I do think that yes, sometimes society does go overboard in idolizing celebrities, and we focus on entertainment at the price of ignoring important issues. However, I think fans of movies and TV shows should never be ashamed of their hobby. Sometimes, it’s refreshing to just sit in a darkened theater or living room, relax, and go on an adventure. Film and television also provide a medium to explore important cultural issues, getting people to view the world from a new point of view.

4. Maybe it’s just me… Favorite rotten films and favorite flops

I’ve always had a soft spot for flawed but entertaining films and hidden gems that didn’t make a splash at the box office. I wrote about some of my favorite movies that weren’t well received by fans or critics (I had to express my undying love for “Armageddon”) in July 2013 and previously wrote about some of my favorite box office flops, like “Stardust,” in July 2012. Since there’s always more where that came from, I also revisited the topic earlier this fall and wrote about more of my favorite critically panned movies (and yes, I had to talk about “Armageddon” again).

3. Movie bucket list

I didn’t really get serious about my love for film until college, which means there were some pretty embarrassing gaps in my film repertoire. In September 2014, I decided to do something about that and created a “movie bucket list.” I watched and blogged about several classic films I hadn’t yet seen, including my first Tarantino film and “The Godfather.” There are still quite a few films on that bucket list, so I might have to revisit this topic in the future.

2. Marvel blog-a-thon

At this point, I don’t think anyone doubts my love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.😉 I’ve really enjoyed watching this franchise develop and last fall I decided to re-watch all the MCU films. Although “Iron Man” remained my favorite Marvel movie, every time I re-watch “Guardians of the Galaxy” it gets closer to taking over the No. 1 spot.

1. Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and the release of The Force Awakens

The announcement that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm — and that we’d be getting new Star Wars movies — took me completely by surprise in 2012. I never really believed we’d get anymore Star Wars films after the prequels, so I definitely didn’t see this news bomb coming. Of course, I was both excited and nervous. Although some were a little skeptical about J.J. Abrams taking the helm, he’s one of my favorite directors and his involvement made me feel more confident about the movie. Fast-forward to December 2015 (it felt like we had to wait forever for the new movie, didn’t it?), and “The Force Awakens” finally hit theaters. It was a triumphant return to the Star Wars tradition we knew and loved, and this Star Wars fan was extremely happy.

Top five biggest misses

5. Will Divergent be the next Hunger Games?

In March 2014, I reviewed the young adult dystopian film “Divergent,” which was aiming for the same demographic (and level of success) as “The Hunger Games.” Critics gave it mediocre reviews, but at the time I said the film was still worth checking out and I’d like to see another film featuring that world. I think maybe I was a little too optimistic because by the time the sequel came out the next year I found I wasn’t excited enough to see it in theaters, or even rent it on DVD. Apparently the film franchise fizzled out before it even ended, and I’ve heard the series’ conclusion is actually going to be a made-for-TV movie.

4. Godzilla not a monster-sized hit

Man, I really wanted to love the 2014 Godzilla reboot movie. The trailer for this movie was so amazing: soldiers parachuting into a dark, foggy cityscape with tense music playing in the background. When I featured this movie in my annual summer movie preview, I remember being really excited. However, the final product just wasn’t as exciting or gritty as those trailers, and I haven’t seen it again since I saw it once in theaters. I still want that “Godzilla”/”Pacific Rim” crossover, though!

3. Skepticism about Guardians of the Galaxy

In May 2013, I speculated on the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I called “Guardians of the Galaxy” Marvel’s “only real risk” in its Phase 2 lineup and a true test of Marvel’s brand power. In retrospect, the movie was a big risk but the payoff was great. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is now one of my favorite (if not top favorite) Marvel movies. I’m glad my skepticism was unfounded!

2. Age of Ultron vs. Ant-Man

The first trailer for Marvel’s “Age of Ultron” was amazing (like the “Godzilla” trailer, actually): dark, gritty, and exciting. Was this a new direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe? I was really excited for “Age of Ultron,” and I was actually more skeptical about “Ant-Man,” and I feared it might feel like a bit of a letdown after Ultron. Ironically, “Age of Ultron” ended up being the letdown for me, and “Ant-Man” made my best of the year list, while “Age of Ultron” did not.

1. Suicide Squad

I was so excited for “Suicide Squad.” I felt it was poised to be the breakout hit of the summer, and I really thought it would be as fun and dark and crazy as the trailers made it appear. Sadly, the final movie didn’t live up to the hype, and unfortunately those trailers were better edited than the final film. While I did give the movie a bit of a break in my review back in August, giving it some points for a good cast, my opinion of it has actually gone down in the months since then.😦 It’s hard not to mourn what could have been!

A blog anniversary: Celebrating five years of Box Office Buzz!

anniversary-graphicAs you all know, I have a huge passion for movies. Going to the movie theater is my favorite hobby, and I will talk movies (especially sci-fi and superheroes!) with anyone who will listen. However, I didn’t actually start getting “serious” about this hobby until college and it wasn’t until a year after I graduated that I actually worked up the courage to start my own movie/entertainment blog. I’d always wanted to have a blog, but I was worried I couldn’t come up with enough content or I’d get negative feedback (we’ve all seen how the Internet isn’t always a nice place).

However, in October 2011 I made my very first post on WordPress, and these past five years have been a great experience. I’ve learned a lot and grown as a writer, and I’ve gotten to know some wonderful fellow bloggers who also love all things film.

My first post on Box Office Buzz was called “Superhero fatigue,” where I expressed concerns Hollywood would overwhelm viewers with superhero films (this was even pre-Avengers!). This post really cracks me up now because since then I’ve become a die-hard Marvel fangirl and I am definitely not tired of superhero films. While I still think it’s possible for Hollywood to reach superhero overload someday, as long as Marvel keeps doing what they’re doing, I’m more than happy to keep watching.

My first actual movie review was “Real Steel,” a Hugh Jackman film about boxing robots. It’s a pretty short review, and I can see I was still struggling to find my “voice” as a movie blogger back then. As I look over my past entries and compare them to more recent ones, I’ve noticed my style has changed. I’ve grown more confident, and I think my personality has shown more in my blog.

I’ve also learned what works — and what doesn’t. I often talk about how the summer blockbuster season is my favorite time of the year for movies, and for my first summer of blogging — summer 2012 — I decided I was going to see as many big-name releases as I could. I was at the theater pretty much every weekend. That was the only summer I did that because 1) it was really expensive, and 2) I saw some movies I really shouldn’t have spent my money on.😉

I’m not fully certain how to work the WordPress stats page, but it appears my most-viewed post of all time is “Dream on: The legacy of Steven Spielberg,” with over 1,600 views. I’m sure most of those people ended up there by accident while Googling “Steven Spielberg,” but I’m always happy to see some love for my favorite director!

Probably my favorite moment as a blogger was Disney’s surprise purchase of Lucasfilm and the announcement we’d be getting new Star Wars films. The icing on the cake was the follow-up announcement my second-favorite director, J.J. Abrams, would be at the helm. I was so happy when “The Force Awakens” lived up to the hype, and I’m looking forward to seeing my favorite franchise heading in an exciting new direction.

I remodeled Box Office Buzz in May this year and have been thinking about where to take the blog in the future. I noticed in the beginning I wrote more newsy or issues-related stories tying into the general film industry (like spoilers, product placement, etc.). Since then, I’ve focused more on writing about my favorite genres: science fiction and superheroes. I’ve been playing around with the idea of renaming my blog to reflect this change in focus…or maybe I should go back to including newsy stuff again. Things for me to think about!🙂

Anyway, as I said before, I was initially a little nervous about blogging because I was afraid of what negative comments people might make. However, while there’s a lot of negativity showing up in YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook comments these days, I’ve found WordPress to be a great, supportive community. Even if people disagree with a blogger, they do it respectfully and carry out a good-natured discussion.

So, thank you to everyone who has read or commented these past five years! I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. There are several bloggers who were around when I first came to WordPress who have since left the blogosphere. While I miss their insights, sometimes life takes us in different directions. I know my life has changed a lot since I started blogging in 2011: buying and renovating a house, moving to a different city, starting a new job, getting married, and buying a different house! However, I hope all of you will keep hanging around WordPress, and I look forward to making new blogging friends in the years ahead.

TV review: ‘The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses’ a lavish BBC production of Shakespeare’s historical plays

cumberbatch3-large_transpvlberwd9egfpztclimqf98oamgzyx8vqbq2hlobtfcHBO’s “Game of Thrones” has won acclaim for its portrayal of a gritty, violent fantasy universe filled with warring families and political betrayal, where even main characters are not immune from a sudden, grisly death. However, England’s real-life history is actually just as shocking and violent, and the infamous Wars of the Roses more than match the level of betrayal and scandal found in “Game of Thrones.”

Shakespeare dramatized this bloody period in his plays “Henry VI” and “Richard III,” which were adapted by the BBC and released earlier this year as “The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench, and a number of other prestigious actors. It’s shot as a film using actual sets such as castles and battlefields, rather than as a traditional stage play. It’s a lavish, well-acted dramatization that’s perfect for any fan of history, Shakespeare, or medieval period dramas like “Game of Thrones.”

Confession time: I haven’t always been a big Shakespeare fan. I had to read a couple of his plays in high school and didn’t enjoy them at the time. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate his works a lot more, and I’ve found watching Shakespeare instead of simply reading it takes it to a different level. Hearing the dialogue and seeing the actors’ expressions made the plays more understandable for me. A friend of mine recently loaned me “The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses,” and it’s one of the best Shakespeare dramatizations I’ve seen. Even if you aren’t a hardcore Shakespeare fan, it’s still worth a watch.

The Wars of the Roses were actually a somewhat confusing period in England’s history, with a lot of political maneuvering and plotting. To simplify the plot, at the time of the plays there’s some debate about who should be the rightful king of England. Henry VI (be warned, there’s a lot of Henrys here) leads the house of Lancaster, and Richard (there’s a lot of Richards too) leads the house of York. Nobles express their loyalty to either side by wearing either a white rose (York) or red rose (Lancaster). This conflict leads to a devastating civil war, and there is conflict even amongst the allies in the two houses. Since people often switch sides, you’re never quite sure who to trust.

Benedict Cumberbatch leads the cast as Richard III, the son of Richard of York who initially allies with his brothers but later schemes against them to take the crown. He’s not really a good guy (as least according to this historical interpretation), but he’s fascinating to watch. Another favorite character was Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, played by Hugh Bonneville (best known as Lord Grantham from “Downton Abbey”), one of the few characters who is actually trying to do the right thing. Seeing the plays made me want to read more about these historical figures, to see what actually happened versus what may have been embellished or altered for the plays. Supposedly there’s some debate about just how evil Richard III really was, and some scholars argue he has fallen victim to revisionist history.

I feel that Shakespeare’s tragedies, such as “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar,” and his comedies, like “Much Ado About Nothing,” sometimes get more attention than his historical plays. The names don’t automatically sound super interesting to modern audiences: “Richard II,” “Henry IV,” “Henry V,” “Henry VI,” “Richard III” (I told you there were a lot of Henrys and Richards). However, the themes in these plays are still quite relevant. We still have politicians plotting and scheming and trying to gain more power, and we don’t always know which side is worthy of our trust (if either).

I learned “The Wars of the Roses” is actually the second part of the BBC’s “The Hollow Crown” series (though it can still stand on its own). I’m looking forward to checking out the previous plays, which star Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons.