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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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Star Wars prequel blog-a-thon: ‘Attack of the Clones’ (Week 2)

Attack-of-the-ClonesThe middle film in a trilogy is often a turning point. The characters haven’t yet reached the final battle or conflict, but this is usually the moment where they start making significant choices that will impact their ultimate fate. Although Anakin Skywalker has not yet become Darth Vader, in “Attack of the Clones” we see him take his first steps towards the dark side.

“Attack of the Clones” was better reviewed than “The Phantom Menace,” though it still scores well below “Revenge of the Sith,” which is often regarded as the best of the prequel trilogy. Here are my thoughts on what works/doesn’t work in this film.

What works

  • Obi-Wan Kenobi. I know I already talked about Ewan McGregor in my review of “The Phantom Menace,” but I really do believe he deserves some praise, so I’m going to mention him again. ;) He definitely stands out amongst the cast; although he’s not always helped by the wooden dialogue, he gives a sincere performance and still manages to come across as witty. He’s also a great Jedi, and I’d even dare to argue maybe the greatest Jedi. He senses things other, supposedly more powerful Jedi Masters seem to gloss over, like the fact that sending Anakin on a solo mission to protect Padmé is dangerous and that Chancellor Palpatine may not be as trustworthy as he seems. I’ve heard a rumor that Disney might be looking at a spin-off film for Obi-Wan, and I’m definitely on board with this idea. Ewan McGregor deserves a chance to really shine as this character in his own film.
  • The clone army. In “Attack of the Clones,” we get to witness the birth of the Empire, a moment the Jedi Council is tragically unaware of, and we see the rise of the stormtroopers, who start out as clones of the bounty hunter Jango Fett. The creation of the clone army presents the Republic and the Jedi with a fascinating moral dilemma. I think most of us would agree that creating an army of clones stripped of freewill and designed to serve as cannon fodder is not ethical, but the Jedi and the Republic find themselves desperately in need of this army to fight the Trade Federation-backed Separatist movement. I wish the film had taken more time to delve into this ethical issue, but thankfully the Expanded Universe novels and the animated “Clone Wars” series cover this in more depth, and also show that the clones do have individual personalities.
  • New (and old) villains. Although we always cheer for the heroes, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the villains in the Star Wars universe are pretty darn cool. The late Christopher Lee brings an air of sinister elegance to the film as the fallen Jedi Count Dooku, and we also get to see the origin of the famous bounty hunter Boba Fett, who we learn is actually a clone that Jango Fett is raising as his son. While I think the film could have done more with Jango and Boba Fett, it’s cool to watch these two in action. Ian McDiarmid also continues to prove fascinating as Chancellor Palpatine, subtly manipulating his way up through the ranks on his way to becoming the Emperor. He’s pretending to serve as the father figure Anakin never had but is really just pushing the young Jedi towards the dark side.
  • The battle of Geonosis. This is the first time we get to see the clone army in action, and it’s also the first time we get to see a whole bunch of Jedi with lightsabers drawn, participating in a battle together. However you feel about the rest of the movie, this is a great action set piece, starting with Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padmé fighting for their lives in a gladiator-style arena, and ending with a lightsaber battle between Yoda and Count Dooku. Yoda may be small, but he proves he can more than hold his own in a fight.

What doesn’t work

  • The acting. The original Star Wars films may have had a few faults, but they’re easily forgivable thanks to the fun and extremely likable cast. It’s hard to top Mark Hamill’s idealistic Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher’s spirited Princess Leia, and Harrison Ford’s lovably roguish Han Solo. So it’s a shame the prequel trilogy just can’t seem to recapture that magic with its own cast. Natalie Portman is an Oscar-winning actress, but sadly, her performance as Padmé is very flat. Sometimes I’ve wondered what these films would have been like if she and Keira Knightley had switched roles (Knightley actually plays one of Padmé’s handmaidens in Episode I). Could Knightley have brought some much-needed fire to the film? Or would the script have caused her to stumble too? The script also doesn’t help Hayden Christensen, who has a hard time carrying the film. I feel really bad for Christensen, whose career may have been hurt by these films. But it’s really hard to buy the idea of the Anakin in these films becoming the terrifying Sith lord Darth Vader. He comes across as more of an angsty, brooding teenager (even though he looks like he’s in his twenties), and too much of his dialogue is spent on complaining. Adam Driver plays a similar role as ex-Jedi Kylo Ren in “The Force Awakens,” but he does it much better. I think it would have been better if Anakin had been a teenager instead of a kid in Episode I; then, you can work through the teenage angst in the first film, and progress onto more mature issues as the trilogy moves towards the rise of Darth Vader. If memory serves me correctly, Christensen does a better job in “Revenge of the Sith,” which is a better film overall.
  • The romance. I don’t want to keep picking on Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen, because I don’t want to be too negative. So I’ll just keep this short. The romance between Anakin and Padmé is a key part of this film, but Portman and Christensen don’t share much chemistry. The film can’t quite sell their doomed love story. However, it’s worth noting that the characters’ love theme (called “Across the Stars” and composed by John Williams) is achingly beautiful and is a wonderful piece of music, regardless.
  • The CGI. Special effects, if used correctly, can be an incredible asset for film makers. However, George Lucas relies too much on CGI for this film, and it actually takes away from the film’s realism. “The Force Awakens” does a better job of blending real, physical set locations and CGI, and the result is a film that feels more grounded.

Up next is “Revenge of the Sith,” the final film in the prequel trilogy! What are your thoughts on “Attack of the Clones,” and what did you like/dislike about the film?

My Fave Five Star Wars Characters (with Drew’s Movie Reviews)

etab-hans-solo_ford-4_3_r560_c560x380A big thank you to Drew’s Movie Reviews for inviting me to participate in his “Fave Five” series. In the post, we take a look at our all-time favorite Star Wars characters (it was really hard to narrow it down to five!) Also be sure to check out the rest of Drew’s blog, he has a lot of other awesome movie-related content on his site!

My Fave Five Star Wars Characters (Featuring Box Office Buzz)

Star Wars prequel blog-a-thon: ‘The Phantom Menace’ (Week 1)

DotfIt was supposed to mark the grand return of Star Wars, premiering close to 20 years after “Return of the Jedi.” Instead, “The Phantom Menace” — the first film in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy — is often criticized as the worst of the Star Wars films and did not seem to live up to the hopes fans had for it. I think the last time I watched this movie was back in early 2012, when they re-released “The Phantom Menace” in theaters in 3D. I went to see it because I really wanted to see a Star Wars movie on the big screen, and at the time, I wasn’t sure if we would get anymore new Star Wars movies. Now that I’ve seen “The Force Awakens,” will my thoughts on “The Phantom Menace” be the same?

Last week, I bravely popped in the DVD and rewatched this movie, and I found that my thoughts on this movie have remained pretty much the same. It’s still my least favorite Star Wars movie, but I also do feel there are some positive features that are sometimes overlooked. Despite the criticism it has received, it’s definitely not the worst movie ever made. Instead of doing a regular review, I’ve divided up my thoughts on this movie into two sections: what works and what doesn’t.

What works

  • Obi-Wan Kenobi. Although some of the acting in the prequels is not Oscar-worthy, I think Ewan McGregor does deserve praise for his work in these movies. I’d even argue that he pretty much carries the trilogy on his shoulders. He gives a convincing portrayal of the young Obi-Wan Kenobi, capturing the spirit of Alec Guinness’ older Obi-Wan but also bringing his own touches to the role. I also like some of the new Jedi, such as Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn and Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu.
  • Lightsaber battles. In the prequel trilogy, we get to see the Jedi Order in its prime, and the lightsaber battles in these films are slick, polished, and exhilarating. My favorite lightsaber fight in the whole saga may actually be the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan/Darth Maul duel in Episode I. It’s super intense, and it foreshadows the great Jedi Obi-Wan will become.
  • Darth Maul. Speaking of Darth Maul… Although he has only a few lines of dialogue, Darth Maul is one of the most intriguing villains in the prequel trilogy. Enigmatic and deadly, Darth Maul demonstrates the terrifying power of the Sith. While I do like the fact Darth Maul doesn’t say much, because I think it heightens the air of mystery surrounding his character and the Sith, I think he could have been given way more screen time, and I would have liked to see him play a larger role in the plot. On another note, it’s also really creepy and interesting to see the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) back when he was a seemingly innocent Senator, subtly manipulating events behind the scenes.
  • Podracing. Although the wacky commentators and attempts at humor during this scene are distracting, the podrace itself is a great action set piece that shows off the rugged terrain of Tatooine.
  • Music. John Williams is one of the best film score composers of our time, and “The Phantom Menace” is no exception. His music brings the Star Wars saga to life, and he introduces some fantastic new themes here. “Anakin’s Theme” is both hopeful and sad, hinting at the character’s promise and ultimately tragic destiny. Then there’s the epic choral piece “Duel of the Fates,” which plays during the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan/Darth Maul lightsaber battle. It’s a great soundtrack, regardless of your feelings on the rest of the movie.

What doesn’t work

  • Acting/dialogue. Even though George Lucas is given a lot of flak for the prequel trilogy, I do think he’s great at big picture ideas: coming up with the Star Wars universe and the characters who live in it. Unfortunately, when serving as both the creator and director, he doesn’t seem to be as skilled in pulling convincing performances from his actors. A lot of the characters introduced in “The Phantom Menace” are actually pretty interesting; however, too many of the performances are flat, and they’re not helped by the wooden dialogue.
  • Too much focus on politics/economics. I actually think Star Wars politics are pretty interesting (no joke — a friend and I once spent about an hour on a train ride during our trip to the U.K. discussing Star Wars politics in depth). ;) Still, I think Star Wars politics and government are a topic better served in the Expanded Universe novels, where there’s more time and space to explore them. In the movie, they just end up bogging down and confusing the plot. I’m a Star Wars super fan, and even I have trouble explaining the trade dispute and the invasion of Naboo and how these are connected to the Sith’s overarching plot.
  • Young Anakin. I don’t have anything against Jake Lloyd, who played the young Anakin Skywalker. However, I think the story would have worked better if Anakin was a young teenager instead of a child in this movie. He’d be the same age as Padmé, making their future romance a little less creepy, and his skills might be a little more believable.
  • Jar Jar Binks. I feel like poor Jar Jar has received enough flak over the years, so I’m hesitant to pick on him again. ;) I actually don’t think he single-handedly ruins the movie. Yes, he’s annoying, but little kids really do like him. I don’t believe you have to take him completely out of the movie, either, just (significantly) reduce his screen time. There really isn’t a compelling reason for him to follow the Jedi off Naboo; they could have gone on their Tatooine adventure without him, and this would have given more screen time to Ewan McGregor, who’s actually absent for a lot of the action on Tatooine.

Up next, “Attack of the Clones”! I’m planning to keep using the “what works/what doesn’t” format for these blogs on the prequels, then sum up my thoughts on the trilogy with a post at the end. Let me know your thoughts on “The Phantom Menace,” and thanks for following along on the blog-a-thon! Also, be sure to check out Bradscribe on WordPress, who is also participating in the prequel blog-a-thon.

To boldly go: Re-watching the Star Wars prequels

Star-Wars-Episode-I-The-Phantom-Menace-WallpapersThe Star Wars prequels are undoubtedly the most contentious topic among fans of George Lucas’ sci-fi saga. Pretty much everybody who calls themselves a Star Wars fan will sing the praises of “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Bringing up the prequels, however, is a different story.

I was 11 years old when “The Phantom Menace” was released, so I encountered all the Star Wars movies at relatively the same time. I grew up thinking of “Star Wars” as all six movies; it wasn’t until I got older that I realized that while the original trilogy was almost universally loved, the prequel trilogy certainly wasn’t.

I’ve actually blogged about my thoughts on the prequel trilogy before, back in 2012. It was about a year after I first started blogging and putting together reviews, and at the time I enjoyed the prequels even though I didn’t think they were as strong as the original trilogy. Although Episodes I, II, and III had weaknesses, they still had some redeeming values, such as the music, the lightsaber fights, and some cool characters (young Obi-Wan, Darth Maul, etc.).

My overall film tastes probably haven’t changed a lot in the past several years, but they have changed a little. It’s actually been some time since I’ve watched the prequels, and after the release of “The Force Awakens,” I found myself reflecting on whether my thoughts on the prequel trilogy would change if I were to re-watch them now.

I’ve now seen “The Force Awakens” three times, and repeat viewings have confirmed my initial impression: I think “The Force Awakens” is a great blend of new and nostalgia. It brings back the characters we loved and introduces some equally compelling new players in the saga. It echoes the original trilogy but also takes the story in a new direction. It’s definitely at least No. 4 on my list of favorite Star Wars movies, and might even be No. 3 (behind “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” which has moved up higher on my list over the years). My question is, after seeing it, will I still like the prequels?

I’ve hesitated to do a prequels blog-a-thon for a while, because it is a contentious topic. If I watch them and find I do still enjoy them, I don’t want to make people who don’t like them feel bad. Or if I watch them and don’t like them anymore, I don’t want people who still like them to feel bad. ;) My hope is simply to watch them with fresh eyes, and blog about the experience along the way. I’m also curious to know all of your thoughts on the prequels, whether you like/dislike them, and if your thoughts have changed over time. Also let me know if you’re interested in joining the blog-a-thon and discussing the prequels, and I’ll include a link to your blog!

Resolutions 2016: The Back to the Future Trilogy

A big thank you to Cara over at Silver Screen Serenade for letting me participate in her “Resolutions” blog-a-thon, where she challenges bloggers to pick a film from their movie bucket list, watch it, and review it. After realizing I’d never actually seen the “Back to the Future” trilogy, I decided it was definitely time to remedy that. :) Here’s the post over on her blog, and make sure you check out some of her other great content, such as her own “Resolutions” review of the movie “Rocky.”

Resolutions 2016: The Back to the Future Trilogy

2016 movie preview: My top five most anticipated films

Captain-America-Civil-War-TeamsIt’s going to be hard to top “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” from 2015, but there are still a number of interesting movies coming in 2016 (hey, I’m going to need something to tide me over until Episode VIII in 2017!). ;) Here’s the top five movies I’m most looking forward to this year, in order of their release dates:

Captain America: Civil War (May 6)

I feel like I’ve already spent enough time writing about my thoughts on “Age of Ultron,” and I don’t want to keep picking at it. However, I still do feel a bit disappointed, because I don’t think the film lived up to its full potential. The good news is, “Captain America: Civil War” has the potential to deliver what we all hoped “Age of Ultron” would be: a darker, thought-provoking look at the superheroes we know and love. This is a tough one for me: Iron Man and Captain America are my two favorite Avengers (with Tony sneaking past Steve to claim my No. 1 favorite), so it’s sad to see them at odds in the trailer. The trailer raises some interesting thoughts about duty and friendship, and how to do the right thing when the issues aren’t black and white. I do have a better feeling about this one than “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” I really want that film to be good but am a little nervous about it. Of the two superhero vs. superhero films, I think “Dawn of Justice” is more likely to be a flop.

X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27)

After time-traveling to change history in “Days of Future Past,” the X-Men face an even more serious threat this time around: the world’s first mutant, known as Apocalypse. Now immortal and seemingly invincible, Apocalypse has brainwashed a team of mutants (including Michael Fassbender’s Magneto) and intends to do what supervillains do best: destroy the world. I enjoyed “Days of Future Past,” which combined the cast from the original X-Men trilogy and the newer prequel series. While I’m sad that the original Magneto and Professor X (Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart) don’t appear to be returning, I loved Fassbender and James McAvoy’s portrayals as the younger versions of those characters. I’m curious to see what happens with Magneto’s character in this film and if he actually betrays his friends in the end or decides to help them.

Star Trek: Beyond (July 22)

Some fans weren’t as pleased with the first trailer for “Star Trek: Beyond,” saying it looks too much like “Fast and Furious” in space (director Justin Lin has worked on the “Fast and Furious” franchise). However, I like the hints that this trailer gives us. The previous two Trek films drew heavily on Star Trek lore, but I think this film will take us to someplace new. Although J.J. Abrams isn’t returning as the director, some of the crew members who worked on his previous Trek films are. Actor Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) also helped write the script. I really love the cast in these rebooted Star Trek films; they manage to capture the spirit of the characters from the Original Series while also bringing something new to the roles. I’m excited to see where this franchise is headed in the future.

Doctor Strange (Nov. 4)

While “Doctor Strange” will take the Marvel franchise into newer, more mystical territory, I’m not really worried about this one. Marvel has shown many times they can successfully translate tricky concepts; after “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man,” I think they are capable of creating a good movie starring just about any character. Benedict Cumberbatch is one of my favorite actors, and I believe the role of Doctor Strange will be a good fit for him. I’m also excited to see how this character will fit into the overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline.

Star Wars: Rogue One (Dec. 16)

Part of me wishes this was actually “Star Wars: Episode VIII,” because I’m very eager to find out what happens next in the saga, but this could still be an interesting spin-off adventure. “Rogue One” follows a band of Rebels who set out to steal the plans for the Death Star before the events of “A New Hope.” This movie will start to test how far Disney can take the Star Wars brand; will people still go to see this even though it (presumably) does not have any familiar characters? The cast is solid, with Oscar-nominated Felicity Jones and cult favorite/former “Firefly” star Alan Tudyk. I don’t think this will come close to making the same amount of money as “The Force Awakens,” but I hope this works, because I would like to see more spin-off films, especially a Han Solo prequel or a standalone Boba Fett story.

So, what movies are you most excited about in 2016? What will be the biggest hit? What will be the biggest flop?

Entertainment year in review: My top five of 2015

Force-Awakens-Kylo-RenAt the end of year, I normally put together a top 10 list of my favorite entertainment items. When I first started blogging, I just did five items, mostly because I was still figuring this whole blogging thing out, ;) but I later bumped it up to 10 because I had a hard time narrowing my list down. This year, however, I decided to drop it back down to five again. It wasn’t necessarily that I couldn’t find 10 things I liked; it was just that unlike the past couple years, there weren’t 10 items that clearly stood out.

I felt like this year, there were several franchise continuations that didn’t quite live up to their predecessors. “Age of Ultron,” “Spectre,” and “Mockingjay – Part 2” were all fun in their own ways (“Spectre” was probably my favorite of the three), but they didn’t achieve the heights of “The Avengers,” “Skyfall,” and “Catching Fire,” respectively. Interestingly, this might be the first year that only one of the movies from my beginning of 2015 “most anticipated” list ended up on my actual “best of the year” list (I bet you can’t guess what that movie is…). ;) This year, there were several fun surprise break-out hits, and one highly anticipated movie that definitely lived up to the hype. So, here goes my list, counting down to my favorite film of the year…

Honorable mentions: Jurassic World and Cinderella

I know I’m already breaking my own rule to stick to just five. ;) However, while these two movies didn’t make the top five, I still wanted to give them a shout-out. “Jurassic World” was a fun addition to the franchise and tried to recapture the spirit of the original 1993 film. Chris Pratt and his team of raptors were the highlight of the movie for me, though a stronger script probably would have landed this film higher on the list. I thought this year’s live action “Cinderella” was a sweet, charming fairy tale that managed to feel both fresh and traditional, updating a classic while not straying too far from the source material. I added both these to my movie collection this year.

5. The Martian

“The Martian” may be based on a fictional novel, but this film — which is a blend of “Gravity” and “Apollo 13” — feels all-too-real. Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is abandoned on Mars after his crew mistakenly assumes he has died during an emergency evacuation. Watney has to figure out how to survive alone on Mars, unable to even communicate with Earth to let them know he is alive. While this is an inspiring survival story with gorgeous cinematography, it’s also surprisingly funny. Watney maintains his sense of humor and determination to survive even though the odds are stacked against him. I’ve read the book, and it’s really good too.

4. Daredevil

While most of the items on my end of the year round-up tend to be movies, I couldn’t leave off Netflix and Marvel’s excellent new superhero show “Daredevil.” This show was darker and grittier than we’re used to seeing from Marvel, but the character development and plot were excellent. Charlie Cox shines as blind lawyer Matt Murdock, who moonlights as a vigilante known as Daredevil. Vincent D’Onofrio also was great as the show’s surprisingly nuanced villain Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. the Kingpin). The character was capable of terrible cruelty towards those who betrayed him, but he also expressed a sense of sacrificial tenderness towards the woman he loved.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

This film definitely wasn’t on my radar at the beginning of 2015, and I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that it would end up on my highlights of the year list. However, this turned out to be a rousing, thought-provoking action film. The plot is deceptively simple — it is, essentially, a two-hour post-apocalyptic car chase — and the title is deceptive, too. While it’s called “Mad Max,” the movie essentially belongs to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who dares to defy a dangerous warlord. It’s a dark, violent film, but there’s also plenty of hope.

2. Ant-Man

Technically, I think “Mad Max: Fury Road” is probably a better film than “Ant-Man,” but Marvel gets the sentimental vote here (I do love my Marvel movies). ;) I didn’t initially have very high hopes for “Ant-Man”; a superhero who runs with ants seemed like a hard concept to pull off onscreen. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie and found I actually liked it better than “Age of Ultron.” Paul Rudd is likeable as everyman hero Scott Lang, who dons the Ant-Man suit after receiving training from the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). The film has some great touches of humor, my favorite being the fight on the trainset, and Michael Peña provided some excellent comic relief as Lang’s best friend.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This comes, I’m sure, as a surprise to no one. ;) It was my most anticipated film of the year, and I’m so happy I also get to list it as my favorite. There was so much pressure riding on this film, and I was very excited but also very nervous. Thankfully, the movie lived up to the hype, and it turned out to be the perfect blend of old and new, paying homage to the original trilogy while also introducing great new characters. I had a chance to watch it in IMAX over the holidays, and I liked it even more after a second viewing. Sitting in that darkened theater, watching the space battles and lightsaber fights play out on screen, I felt like a little kid again. It was magical.

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