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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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After ‘Age of Ultron’ and ‘Ant-Man’: What’s next for Marvel?

civil-war2014 turned out to be an impressive year for Marvel. First, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” impressed both audiences and critics with its political thriller plot and truly game-changing revelation for the Marvel universe: the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. Then, despite some initial skepticism about how well it would play to general audiences, “Guardians of the Galaxy” — a quirky sci-f film starring Marvel D-list characters — became the highest-grossing movie of the year, turned Chris Pratt into a buzzed-about movie star, and made us all fall in love with a walking tree and a talking raccoon.

However, the sailing hasn’t been quite as smooth for Marvel this year. Although “Age of Ultron” made plenty of money, most fans seem to agree it didn’t completely live up to its potential. Marvel’s origin film “Ant-Man” turned out to be a very fun — and funny — movie, but it didn’t bring in as many dollars as Marvel’s previous offerings. So, what does this all mean for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and where is Marvel headed in the future?

First off, I’ve never NOT had fun watching an MCU movie. I love the characters, there’s always some funny lines, and I’ve never walked out of the theater wishing I hadn’t spent money on a ticket. There are always some redeeming factors to take away. Still, “Age of Ultron” left me wanting more. Maybe it was too many characters packed into one film. Maybe this time Marvel tried a bit too hard to create a film that was “darker” yet not give up any of the trademark one-liners. Maybe the film contained too many teasers to future Marvel films, taking up plot time that could have been used to add to the story or flesh out character development.

I hope for future films, Marvel will remember that sometimes, less is more (“Ant-Man” is a good example of this). Don’t try to pack too many heroes or plot points into one movie. Also, you don’t need to try too hard to convince us to see sequels with well-established characters — we already love Marvel and have practically pre-ordered our tickets already. ;) Instead of scenes that were more than likely teasers for Thor 3, I would have liked to see “Age of Ultron” throw out a reference to Ant-Man, a new character that general audiences aren’t as familiar with.

I thought “Ant-Man” was a great deal of fun, and I wish it had earned more money in theaters. I am a little surprised it wasn’t able to ride the Marvel brand to a bigger box office take, and I definitely encourage fans to go see this movie. Maybe advertisements needed to communicate more clearly Ant-Man’s importance to the MCU and the Avengers team. Hopefully Marvel will be able to do this for another upcoming origin film starring another more obscure character, “Doctor Strange.”

Going forward, I’d like to see Marvel continue to expand into new mediums. Not every character needs a movie; for some characters, TV may be a better format to tell their story. Marvel and Netflix’s “Daredevil” is a great example of this. The show has a darker, edgier tone and more episodes to develop the characters. It also has one of the most complex and layered villains I’ve seen in a superhero project.

I’m also really looking forward to “Captain America: Civil War.” While this too carries the risk of trying to include too many characters in one film, I think the movie will actually be closer to what fans were hoping for from “Age of Ultron.” The film ups the MCU stakes by pitting two of the most popular Avengers characters against each other — Captain America and Iron Man — and forcing other superheroes to choose sides. I’m glad to see Paul Rudd show up on the cast list for this one; the movie could help tie the Ant-Man character into the MCU. I’m also glad to see other characters like Black Widow and Falcon.

Movie review: ‘Ant-Man’ proves bigger isn’t always better

antman0007On paper, I’m sure “Ant-Man” always looked like a tough sell. A superhero who discovers a suit that gives him the power to shrink to the size of an insect and control an army of ants isn’t an easy concept to pull off onscreen. With the film project also mired in development delays and internal issues, such as Marvel and original director Edgar Wright parting ways, “Ant-Man” seemed to be on a fast-track to earning the distinction of Marvel’s first real flop. However, the good news is, Marvel’s magic has worked once again, and “Ant-Man” is a charming, fun — and funny — addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There are actually two “Ant-Mans” in this movie: Michael Douglas plays Hank Pym, the original creator of the suit who hides his technology from S.H.I.E.L.D. for fear of what could happen if it fell into the wrong hands, and Paul Rudd, who plays an ex-con named Scott Lang who is recruited by Pym to stop Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from giving a similar technology to HYDRA. Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) train Lang to use the Ant-Man suit and show him that he’s capable of more than committing crimes.

Although I was initially more than a little worried about “Ant-Man,” considering all its production woes, this movie turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and I have to confess that I think I actually enjoyed it more than “Age of Ultron.” “Ant-Man” is certainly a film on a smaller scale (sorry, I know it’s bad, but I had to throw in at least one of those puns), and it doesn’t have the epic scope of the Marvel movies we’ve seen recently, such as “The Winter Soldier,” which brings the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. organization to its knees, or “Age of Ultron,” which features the creation of an artificial intelligence with the power to bring on the apocalypse. It does feel more like a “Phase I” origin story on the level of Marvel’s earliest films, and to some that could be a disadvantage.

However, that’s actually what I liked about “Ant-Man.” “Age of Ultron” almost had too many characters and too much going on. It tried to be darker but still pack in plenty of Marvel’s famous one-liners. “Ant-Man” may be a less grandiose movie, but it’s also a more cohesive story. While it does tie into the larger Marvel universe (there’s a great extended cameo — SPOILER ALERT! — from Anthony Mackie’s Avenger, “Falcon”), it also stands on its own, with a unique tone and message.

This film feels more like a comedy with action than Marvel’s other offerings (which feel like action with comedy), but I think that’s the right approach for this project. Paul Rudd is a good choice to play Scott Lang; I’ve always been a fan of Rudd’s, and he’s relatable and funny in this role. It’s also great to see Michael Douglas in a Marvel movie, and he plays the role sincerely. Another highlight for me was Michael Peña as Lang’s enthusiastic and good-natured former cell mate Luis.

The film’s special effects also are strong. While a tiny superhero running with ants may not seem as dynamic as, say, Bruce Banner rampaging as the Hulk, watching Scott Lang shrink down and control an army of hundreds of ants is actually pretty cool. I also really liked the fight scenes with Ant-Man and Yellowjacket (the villain Stoll’s character becomes), with both characters alternately shrinking then jumping back to full size.

The film does have some weaknesses, one of which is the villain. There’s nothing wrong with the casting; I just wish Corey Stoll had been given a little more to work with in terms of character background and motivation. Part of me also still wonders what a full-on Edgar Wright Marvel movie would have been like. Wright is perhaps best known for his film “Shaun of the Dead” and has a quirky, decidedly British style of comedy. I’m sure this version of “Ant-Man” has been altered somewhat from his original vision, but I’d like to think the funniest moments — such as the mini train set fight — were Wright’s touches.

Although “Ant-Man” isn’t a flawless film, as a movie-going experience I really enjoyed it, and I’m definitely eager to see it again. I hope it performs well at the box office because I want to see Marvel make more movies like this one. I’m excited about Marvel’s big round-up movies like “Captain America: Civil War,” but I also still want to see them pursue smaller, origin-story projects like this one.

Comic-Con highlights: What upcoming movies are getting the most buzz?

batman_v_superman_dawn_of_justice___trinity_poster_by_lamboman7-d7sesunI’ve never been to Comic-Con in San Diego, but as a sci-fi and superhero movie buff, it remains on my bucket list. However, since I’m not able to go in person, I always appreciate Entertainment Weekly’s annual Comic-Con issue, which gives readers a sneak peek at some of the cool stuff appearing at Comic-Con. In what will come as a surprise to no one ;) the section of the magazine I was most excited about was the information on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” There’s a lot of pressure riding on this movie. “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” is my all-time favorite movie, and I really, REALLY want “The Force Awakens” to rank up there with that film.

I really like what we’ve seen so far. The trailers have been great (admit it—what fan didn’t tear up a little at that first shot of Han Solo and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon when Han announces, “Chewie, we’re home”?). I also enjoyed the short behind-the-scenes video released at Comic-Con, especially seeing Carrie Fisher return as Princess Leia. “The Force Awakens” appears to capture the magic of the original trilogy while also taking the franchise in a new direction. Of course it’s way too soon to call it, but I’ve got a good feeling about this one.

Another major buzz generator at Comic-Con was “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” I’m cautiously optimistic about this one. I’ll admit it, I’m definitely more of a Marvel fangirl, but I’d like to see DC find success on the big screen as well. Regardless of how you feel about Ben Affleck as Batman, I like the new direction they appear to be taking the character. According to the Entertainment Weekly article, this film will offer an older, more world-weary version of Batman, who is perhaps not quite in his prime anymore. This type of portrayal could produce some thought-provoking themes such as, what’s it like to be a superhero with amazing powers who starts to lose some of that power and ability? What do you do with your life after being a superhero like Batman? What will happen to the world after you step down?

It’s also good to see Wonder Woman in this film, and I’m glad she’s getting her own movie in 2017 (note to Marvel: it’s definitely time for a Black Widow solo movie!). Women have been under-represented in superhero cinema for quite some time, and it’s nice to have Wonder Woman join the team and star in a solo film. My main concern for “Dawn of Justice” is that it could suffer from the same issue as this year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron”: too many characters and a little too much going on. DC needs to tease their Justice League film without trying to pack too much into this film.

Marvel’s big news is the release of a Deadpool movie in early 2016. Fan reaction to Comic-Con preview footage appeared to be very strong, which is a good sign. For a while, a Deadpool movie seemed rather unlikely. Fans and critics didn’t respond well to 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” where Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool had a brief appearance. Reynolds has had a bit of a rough ride at the box office since then, including the also not-well-received “Green Lantern” movie in 2011. It would be unfair to place all of the blame for that movie on Reynolds’ shoulders, but Hollywood is always looking for a scapegoat.

Even though Reynolds has experienced a bit of a fall from Hollywood’s graces, I still believe he’s a good choice to play Deadpool. He can handle action movies, and he’s a master of the snarky comeback. Judging by the article in Entertainment Weekly, the Deadpool movie will be dark, edgy and violent (and funny), which is what comic book fans want from this movie. It should play well after Netflix’s “Daredevil” success, which also pushed the boundaries of mainstream superhero media.

So, what film from Comic Con are you most excited about?

Sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes: When they work—and when they don’t

hr_Terminator_Genisys_4Although we’re still only halfway through July, it’s probably safe to say “Jurassic World” will likely end the summer as king of this year’s blockbuster season. It’s about a month since the movie’s release, and Chris Pratt and his team of dinosaurs don’t appear to be slowing down. In fact, the movie still topped the holiday weekend box office, which was good news for Universal but bad news for the high-profile new releases that weren’t able to break past it.

“Terminator Genisys” pulled in a little less than $45 million its opening week and only scored about 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Both are continuations of well-loved franchises, but were received very differently. “Genisys” also received less critical praise than its fellow 1980s action reboot of the summer, “Mad Max: Fury Road.” So, what’s the magic formula that determines what sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes succeed, and which ones flop?

First off, I did enjoy watching “Terminator Genisys” in theaters. While it won’t make my “best in 2015” list at the end of the year, I thought it was a fun summer popcorn flick. I liked seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger back in action as the Terminator, and it was good to see Emilia Clarke in a strong female action role. The Rotten Tomatoes score of 27 percent seems a bit too harsh (audiences scored it 68 percent). However, I did enjoy “Jurassic World” more, and perhaps “Terminator Genisys” just wasn’t able to build up as much buzz.

There’s no one magic formula that guarantees box office success—sometimes great films slip under the radar, and sometimes so-so films pull in hundreds of millions of dollars. While critical reviews don’t always make or break a movie, they can help—or hurt. The negative reviews for “Terminator Genisys” probably hurt the film’s box office take, while the glowing reviews for “Mad Max: Fury Road” resulted in some valuable word of mouth advertising (the movie’s 98 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating made me extra motivated to catch this in theaters).

Second, when it comes to reboots, which “Jurassic World” essentially is, don’t underestimate the power of nostalgia. This movie, more than any of the other sequels in the franchise, threw nods to fans of the original film. You have to be careful that these nods are seen as a tribute to, rather than a rip-off of a previous movie. Audiences don’t want a rehash of the original; they want to see something new that still makes them feel the same way the old movie felt.

Third, the wider your appeal, the more money you’ll probably make. “Jurassic World” appeals more to families, and parents + kids equals more ticket sales. Though both “Jurassic World” and “Terminator Genisys” were rated PG-13, the original Terminator films were rated R and aren’t as known to kids who are pressuring their parents to take them to the theater. “Jurassic World” also has plenty of tie-in toys to offer.

Sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes are tricky. In May, “Age of Ultron” took some flak from fans for not living up to its potential. Later on this summer, “Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation” and “Fantastic Four” will be tested, the former to see if it can top its very solid predecessor “Ghost Protocol” and the latter to see if it can breathe new life into an ailing franchise. People sometimes look down on sequels and remakes, but “Mad Max: Fury Road” and others like it prove these types of films don’t have to be bad.

So, what’s your favorite sequel/reboot of the summer? What are your thoughts on sequels, remakes, etc. in general?

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!

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