Endgame: What’s ahead for the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

A journey that started a decade ago will come to an end next April, with the follow-up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Infinity War.” We now know the sequel will be titled “Endgame,” though what sort of ending the film will have is still anybody’s guess.

How many of the original Avengers will we have to say goodbye to forever? And will “Endgame” truly serve as an ending for the MCU as we know it, or will it be more of a springboard for future storytelling opportunities (or both)? I guess we’ll all have to stay tuned to find out!

Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve watched the “Endgame” trailer multiple times by now. It’s a somber and emotional trailer, and I thought it did a great job hinting at the sort of movie we’ll be getting, without giving away too much. The tone is definitely going to be darker here, and appropriately so. Half of the universe has vanished, thanks to Thanos’ snap, and the Avengers’ failure to stop him is weighing heavily on them.

I appreciated that Marvel was willing to actually let Thanos use the Infinity Gauntlet at the end of “Infinity War.” It’s a gut-punch of a scene…with one caveat. Others have pointed out that as the year has gone by, that scene has been robbed of some of its emotional impact by the fact that all the Avengers who disappeared are almost 100 percent guaranteed to come back. We know their deaths — as well acted as they were — are not going to stick, because many of them are going to appear in sequels of their own.

Still, I can understand why certain characters were chosen for the snap, and certain ones were left alive. “Endgame” will give us what may very well be our final chance to see all the original Avengers in action together, before some of them retire or possibly even die.

Captain America has been one of my favorite Avengers characters. Will “Endgame” be his final film? Will someone else take up the shield?

I love all these characters. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them on screen over the past decade, and one of them dying would break my heart. But… (and please don’t hate me here!) at least one of them NEEDS to die in “Endgame.” Thanos is one of the most serious threats the Avengers have ever — or possibly ever will — face, and defeating him needs to come with serious consequences. “Endgame” will be the culmination of 10 years of franchise building. A major character death will give this film emotional weight.

When it comes to character deaths, I think the most likely candidates are Captain America and/or Iron Man, which is hard because they’re two of my favorites. The MCU began with Tony Stark, and him sacrificing himself in “Endgame” to save the entire universe would be such a poignant and powerful moment for the character. But, I also really love the idea of him and Pepper finally tying the knot and then him retiring, serving as a consultant to the new Avengers team and a continued mentor to Peter Parker.

Cap is the most logical choice to make a sacrifice, and it would be interesting to see what could happen in future films with either Bucky or Falcon picking up the shield. Chris Evans has done such a great job in the role, and I’d love for his story arc, however it ends, to be epic and emotional.

As for the overall plot of this film, I’m trying hard not to speculate too much. I’ve heard rumors about time travel (which would be a cool twist to add to the MCU) or everybody who disappeared being trapped inside the Soul Stone. I’m really curious to see what role Scott Lang/Ant-Man plays in this story, partly because I just adore Paul Rudd and also because I’m really intrigued by what could happen with the Quantum Realm.

How much of an ending will “Endgame” be?

Beyond that, I really just want to be surprised by this movie. I want “Endgame” to do for the MCU what “The Last Jedi” did for Star Wars. I know that’s a slightly controversial thought, because Episode VIII sparked a lot of debate within the fanbase. However, one of the things I appreciated most about “The Last Jedi” was the way it dared to shake up its fictional universe and make us ask tough questions about characters we love.

I’d love for “Endgame” to be a challenging film that digs deep into who the characters are and forces them to make sacrifices with lasting consequences. I’m hoping for a darker film that balances tragedy and hope, and provides some sort of definitive ending to the first decade of the MCU. I want the impact of “Endgame” to be felt in all the MCU films that come after it.

It will be really interesting to see what the MCU looks like post-“Endgame.” There’s still lots of potential with Tom Holland as Spider-Man, and there’s a wealth of untapped material with Black Panther and the world of Wakanda. And, of course, I can’t wait to meet Captain Marvel and see how she ties into “Endgame.”

Years down the road, maybe we’ll look back and see “Infinity War” and “Endgame” as the peak of the MCU, and the films that follow will be smaller in terms of both scope and box office. I’d be okay with that, actually. I’d love to have more films focused in on individual characters, with smaller stakes (similar to the excellent “Spider-Man: Homecoming”). Someday I want to see a live action Miles Morales, and I’d be game for a Guardians/Thor team-up.


So, what are your hopes for the future of the MCU? What do you think will happen in “Endgame”? What are some of your theories, hopes and fears?

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‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ – a (slightly!) belated review

ralph-breaks-the-internet-3600x1771-wreck-it-ralph-2-animation-2018-4k-12053Time always seems to go by quickly, but it goes by even MORE quickly during the holiday season. It always feels like there are lots of movies in theaters between Thanksgiving and Christmas that I want to see, but I never quite make it to all of them.

However, even though this is a bit belated, I did eventually make it to “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” the sequel to the 2012 animated hit “Wreck-It Ralph,” which opened in theaters Nov. 21. I’ve only seen “Wreck-It Ralph” once, when it came out on DVD (almost six years ago!), but I remembered enjoying it, enough so that I wanted to check out the sequel.

In the original, we meet video game “villain” Wreck-It Ralph, who’s spent 30 years inside an arcade smashing pixels, trying to destroy a high-rise building until Fix-It Felix arrives to save the day. However, he’s tired of being labeled as “the bad guy,” and he wants something more out of life. He breaks the rules and starts exploring other video games, hoping to make friends and become a hero.

Ralph does find a happy ending, and at the start of “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” he’s living a pretty good life. He’s got lots of friends now, including Vanellope von Schweetz, a character from a dessert-themed racing game called “Sugar Rush.” He’s pretty content with his circumstances…but Vanellope isn’t. She’s bored with the status quo and wishes she could live inside a more exciting game.

When Ralph tries to manufacture some excitement for her, he accidentally ends up breaking her game. Feeling guilty, he volunteers to venture into the mysterious world of the Internet to find a part that can fix “Sugar Rush.” Needless to say, Ralph isn’t fully prepared to face the exciting, confusing, and (potentially) dangerous World Wide Web, and the increasing conflict between him and Vanellope threatens to ruin their friendship forever.

There are two ways to look at “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” In the slightly more cynical way, you’ll notice that there is a LOT of product placement. Once Ralph and Vanellope arrive, you’ll see lots of websites that you recognize, like Twitter and eBay. They also spend time on a Disney fansite, with references to many other Disney properties, including Star Wars and Marvel (“Ralph Breaks the Internet” is also a Disney film). Is this product placement distracting and gimmicky, or is it charming and fun?

ralph-breaks-the-internet-11-e1537802393883-700x367.jpg

Which side you fall on will undoubtedly impact your enjoyment of this movie. Personally, I didn’t mind the “product placement,” and it felt a lot more natural than the similar product placement I saw in marketing for “The Emoji Movie” (the less said about that movie, the better). I loved the scenes on the eBay website, and I’m a sucker for Disney franchise references — it was great to see Iron Man and stormtroopers show up in “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”

Overall, this was a fun movie; it made me laugh, and I enjoyed seeing it in theaters. I have heard some comments from other viewers that it feels more like a series of shorts strung together vs. a more streamlined narrative, and I think that’s a fair criticism, even though it didn’t really bother me.

There are some really funny vignettes in this film, including a running gag about “pop up” ads, a frustration anyone who’s surfed the Internet can relate to. And the scene with Vanellope meeting the Disney princesses was just as charming as I’d hoped. There’s a really hilarious moment where Vanellope gets her standard “Disney princess ballad.”

On a more serious note, I found I actually really appreciated the movie’s themes of friendship and letting go. At times, the delivery of these themes was a bit heavy-handed, and sure, it could have been done in a more natural, subtle way.

But the main lesson to be found in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is that sometimes friendships change, even the really close ones. Friends may develop new dreams that take them in different directions. You may become different people, and that requires the maturity of letting go and realizing that even though you may no longer have the same priorities or live in the same place, you can still be friends. The more Ralph tries to hold onto/control his friendship with Vanellope, the more he starts to lose her. In the end, they find a bittersweet balance; their friendship looks a lot different, but it’s still just as strong.

If you enjoyed the original “Wreck-It Ralph,” I’d recommend checking out the sequel. While it won’t end up on my “best of the year” list, it’s a fun film that’s good for families and kids of all ages.

Better Late than Never blog series: The Dude abides in ‘The Big Lebowski’

big-lebowski-re-release-promo.jpgAll Jeffrey Lebowski really wants is to get his rug back.

The easygoing slacker (better known as “the Dude”) is just minding his own business one night, when two crooks show up at his Los Angeles home and demand the money his wife owes their boss. The catch: the Dude isn’t married, and the crooks eventually figure out that they’ve got the wrong “Jeffrey Lebowski.” That doesn’t stop them from, well, ruining his rug and spoiling his night, and this incident leads to a somewhat bizarre, rather madcap adventure that involves our hero (in no particular order) bowling, serving as a courier for ransom money, and getting into a fight with a group of German nihilists.

Now regarded as a cult classic, “The Big Lebowski” was actually a box office flop when it was released in 1998 and received mixed reviews. Audiences and critics both seemed to warm up to it, though, and according to Wikipedia, in 2014 the movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film. I wonder what the Dude would make of that?

I had never seen “The Big Lebowski” before starting this blog series, and I realized I’d actually never seen a Coen brothers film, either. The writing/producing/directing duo have a fairly distinguished Hollywood resume, including films like “Fargo” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Both those films should probably be added to my movie bucket list, actually. 😉

I watched “The Big Lebowski” a couple weeks ago, and I’m actually still not sure how I feel about it. I know that seems like a bit of a cop-out, because in a review you’re supposed to say whether you liked or disliked a film and why. 😉 It’s interesting because with the other three “Better Late than Never” blog series films — “Jaws,” “North by Northwest,” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” — I knew within the first 20 minutes what kind of films they were going to be, and I knew I was going to love them.

I don’t think that I’ve ever watched a movie quite like “The Big Lebowski,” and that’s really part of the movie’s charm. I’ve seen quirky comedies before (Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy is one of my favorites); however, “The Big Lebowski” has a style all its own. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t sure what to think of it at first — I didn’t really have anything to compare it to.

Here’s what I liked: Jeff Bridges is obviously having a blast playing the Dude, and it’s hard not to love the character. He’s pretty lazy but is good-natured and well-meaning, and I loved his friendship with John Goodman’s much more intense Walter Sobchak. I’d watch more movies featuring the misadventures of these two, even if it was just them sitting in a bowling alley and having conversations.

I also enjoyed the complicated plot; the Coen brothers do a great job drawing comedy out of the Dude’s somewhat bumbling efforts to stay ahead of everything going on (he’s often pretty much clueless). The soundtrack is great, and there’s some great cinematography. I particularly enjoyed the creative ways the bowling scenes were shot.

I did feel that Steve Buscemi was a little under-used in this movie, but maybe that’s just because I love Steve Buscemi and wanted to see more from his character. I also thought Julianne Moore’s character, Maude Lebowski, was interesting, and I would have liked to see her more involved in the plot, as well.

In short, I feel like “The Big Lebowski” is a film I need to see again to fully develop my thoughts on it. It was a weirder movie than I was expecting; that’s not a bad thing, but it did take me a bit to adjust to the narrative style. I think I might enjoy it more the next time I watch it.

And regardless of whether it ends up being in line with my personal tastes or not, it is a very creative film, and I can see why it’s become a cult classic with a devoted fanbase.

With the “Better Late than Never” blog series, it has been really fun getting out of my “cinematic comfort zone” and watching some movies that don’t necessarily have a superhero or a spaceship in them. 😉 There’s definitely value in watching something with a fresh perspective. I do also want to watch more Coen brothers films, to see how “The Big Lebowski” compares to their other work.

Movie review: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ receives mixed response

fantastic-beasts-the-crimes-of-grindelwald-lbI don’t blame J.K. Rowling for wanting to return to the fictional universe she created.

The Harry Potter series has sold millions of copies, launched a theme park, inspired a blockbuster film series, and become a beloved literary classic. It’s a rich world full of numerous storytelling possibilities, and the spin-off prequel series, “Fantastic Beasts,” seemed like it had the perfect recipe for success: an exciting new setting, adorable magic creatures, and the backstory of mysterious dark wizard Grindelwald.

However, despite the fact the script was written by Rowling herself, the latest film set in the Wizarding World — “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” — has received a rather mixed response from both fans and critics.

I don’t want to give away the plot of “The Crimes of Grindelwald” for those who have not yet seen it, but it basically revolves around Newt receiving a special mission from Albus Dumbledore (played by the perfectly cast Jude Law). Dark wizard Grindelwald has escaped and is growing more powerful, and is seeking a gifted but troubled boy named Credence, believed dead at the end of the last film but somehow survived. Grindelwald wants to use Credence for his own dark purposes, while Newt wants to save him.

While I didn’t enjoy the original “Fantastic Beasts” film as much as the Harry Potter series, I thought it was a fun adventure with some really endearing characters. As a Hufflepuff myself, I liked seeing Hufflepuff hero Newt Scamander and his case full of magical creatures, and I appreciated his compassion and desire to protect these creatures. My favorite character, though, was actually a non-magical one: Jacob Kowalski, an aspiring baker who falls in love with the mind-reading wizard Queenie Goldstein.

As for “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” I liked parts of it but did not love the film. While there are some really powerful moments in the movie, I don’t think it was as good as the original “Fantastic Beasts.” I saw “The Crimes of Grindelwald” on Saturday, and already I’ve kinda stopped thinking about it. It hasn’t lingered with me in the same way that other recent game-changing franchise entries (such as “The Last Jedi” and “Infinity War”) have.

Part of the problem with “The Crimes of Grindelwald” is that it is a messy film. There are a LOT of characters and plot lines going on at the same time. I loved the characters, and I found the plot lines intriguing, but none of them seemed to get enough screen time. It feels like the Fantastic Beasts spin-off franchise almost needed to be split into two different series: one that focuses on Newt and his magical beasts, and one that focuses on Grindelwald’s plottings.

I wish we had seen more of Dumbledore, though I’m sure that will come in later films. His past relationship with Grindelwald is both an emotional one and one bound by a literal blood pact (important life lesson for would-be wizards: don’t make a blood pact with someone who might turn out to be a psychotic villain. Just…don’t.) I also wanted more screen time for Jacob and Queenie; their relationship takes an interesting and incredibly tragic turn (which was the most powerful and emotional twist in the film, I thought). The fact there’s a law forbidding relationships between wizards and No-Majs has some chilling parallels to the kind of elitism and racism seen throughout the course of real-world human history. I think the film needed to delve deeper into this issue.

I also feel that Credence is a fascinating character, and I was looking forward to seeing more of him in this film. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get enough screen time, and the film doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with Queenie’s sister, Tina Goldstein, either (her relationship with Newt feels a bit forced).

As for Grindelwald himself, I still feel that Johnny Depp was miscast in the role. Colin Farrell played a disguised Grindelwald in the last film, and I wish they’d just kept Farrell in the role. Grindelwald is a character who needs to feel dangerously charismatic, but Depp’s performance felt a little detached and disinterested, at least to me. If they really had to change actors at the end of the previous film, I could see an actor more like Michael Fassbender bringing some needed intensity to the role.

I feel like I’ve been negative so far in this review, so I’d like to end on a more positive note. I’m definitely still planning to see the next “Fantastic Beasts” film, and I really do care about these characters. I want to see what happens to Newt, Jacob, and Queenie. Newt’s fantastic beasts continue to be charming, even if they do feel a little tacked on to the plot. The film is best when these three characters are on screen, and I can’t wait to see more of Jude Law as Dumbledore in the next one.

Hopefully next time, these wonderful characters will have a stronger script to back them up.

Avengers assemble: A tribute to Stan Lee

Stan-Lee.jpgThis week for my scheduled blog post, I was planning to post the final review in my Better Late than Never blog series. However, with the passing of comic book legend Stan Lee yesterday, at the age of 95, I felt it was more appropriate to spend some time reflecting on Lee’s legacy and his impact on the superhero genre.

Even though I’m a proud geek, I have not read many comic books yet. It’s still something I’d like to get into, because I’d really like to learn more about the origins of the superheroes in some of my favorite films.

However, while I haven’t read many comics yet, I greatly appreciate the influence they’ve had on pop culture. The Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it today would not exist without those original comics stories. As much as I love the performances of actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, they didn’t create those superheroes — Marvel Comics did.

Wikipedia summarizes Stan Lee’s career as “an American comic book writer, editor and publisher. He was the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, and later its publisher and chairman, leading its expansion from a small division of a publishing house to a large multimedia corporation.”

But what Stan Lee means to the world is so, so much more. He helped create beloved characters like Spider-Man, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Black Panther, the X-Men, Ant-Man, Iron Man and Thor. That’s one heck of a resume.

What stands out to me about all these heroes is that despite their powers, they still manage to feel relatable. I’m going more off the movies and TV series, of course, but when you strip away these superheroes’ powers and/or armor, you find their vulnerabilities and a very real sense of humanity underneath.

The best example, perhaps, is Spider-Man. He is capable of feats I could never dream of — I’ll never shoot spider webs out of my hands or swing between skyscrapers. And yet, as a formerly awkward teenager myself, I can totally relate to Peter Parker. His uncertainty, personal struggles, and need to belong is something we’ve all experienced.

I’m so glad Stan Lee lived to see many of his characters come to life on the big screen. I’m saddened he will not see the culmination of all the MCU movies thus far with next year’s still-untitled Avengers 4. However, I’m thankful that he did get to see so many of his characters come together in “Infinity War.” Even 10 years ago, who would have imagined that film would even be possible?

I never got a chance to meet Stan Lee in person at a convention, but I’ve seen the outpouring of love for him from both celebrities and fans on social media. It seems like he is just as beloved in real life as his fictional characters are.

Although he lived to be 95, that time still seems so short. The Marvel films just won’t feel the same without those classic Stan Lee cameos, which were always full of humor, warmth, and humanity.

Just like the man himself.

Better Late than Never blog series: ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’

618000For whatever reason, I’ve never really enjoyed westerns as a film genre. I’m not quite sure why. Especially since some of my favorite films and TV shows have been influenced by westerns, some more overtly — like “Firefly” — and some more subtly — like the Star Wars original trilogy.

I’ve watched a number of different westerns over the years, but none of them really managed to capture my imagination. Yet I’ve kept trying, wondering if it was simply a case of not watching the “right western.” My husband told me I might like “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” and even though I was skeptical, I decided to add it to the “Better Late than Never” blog series and watch it with an open mind.

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is quite different from the films I normally watch. It’s not a “fun” film, and it is, at times, bleak, violent, and depressing. And yet, I can absolutely see why it’s labeled as a masterpiece, and considered by many critics to be one of the greatest westerns ever made. And though I wasn’t necessarily expecting to, I really loved watching it.

The Man with No Name

Clint Eastwood stars as “The Man with No Name,” a bounty hunter and con man who wanders across the wild west. He pretends to turn over a criminal named Tuco to law enforcement and then collects the reward money. Except, on the day Tuco is scheduled for execution, Eastwood shows up to rescue him, and then repeats this stunt in another town. It’s a rather ingenious scheme (though not exactly a morally praiseworthy one), and it seems to work pretty well for the two men, who always split the reward money afterwards.

However, they inevitably reach a point where they try to double-cross each other, and they end up chasing each other across the desert. They switch back and forth between allies and antagonists as they get caught up in a scheme to steal some buried Confederate gold. They try to avoid both the Civil War battles going on around them, and the mysterious man in black — known as “Angel Eyes” — who is also searching for the gold.

If you’re looking for a western with noble lawmen in bright white Stetsons or good-natured cowboys with hearts of gold, you won’t find them in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Although Eastwood’s character is “the good” character referred to in the title, he’s not a spotless hero. The film is gritty and full of shades of grey, with Eastwood starring as an anti-hero who sometimes does the right thing but is mostly looking out for himself.

The western deconstructed

Although “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is still stylized, it most definitely does not present a glamorized version of the west, like many of the other westerns I’ve seen. After watching the movie, I did some research about the background of the film, and learned that director Sergio Leone actually intended this to be somewhat of a critique of the standard western.

I was surprised to learn that this movie was released in 1966; it seemed more like a late 70s/early 80s-style movie to me, and it feels ahead of its time. There’s some really great camera work in this film. I particularly loved the standoff between Eastwood, Tuco, and Angel Eyes at the end of the movie. I love how Leone builds suspense by quickly switching between camera angles: a wide shot showing the standoff, then a close-up of the guns, then a close-up of the characters’ eyes, and so on.

The scenery is stark and sometimes drab, but it works with the tone of the film. There was also less music in the film than I was expecting, but the music that is used is fantastic. Even though I’d never seen the movie, I’d definitely heard some of Ennio Morricone’s famous themes before, which are as iconic as the film itself (or, even more likely, part of the reason why the film IS iconic).

Enduring legacy

I’ve often heard “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” referred to as one of the greatest westerns of all time, so I found it super fascinating that it wasn’t an immediate critical success. It had a far more mixed reception than I would have guessed. I’m wondering if maybe it deconstructed “the western” at a time some viewers weren’t quite ready for that (or the violence it depicted). However, it’s certainly well regarded today, and I think it does manage to capture some of that “western mystique” while also feeling more authentic than some of its peers.

I don’t know if I’ll rewatch “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” a bunch of times, just because it is a rather bleak movie (and it is also fairly long). My response to it was a lot like my response to Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs”; sometimes it’s hard to watch, and the characters aren’t always sympathetic, but it’s definitely a cinematic achievement.

And despite its violence and cast of anti-heroes and villains, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” isn’t completely devoid of humanity. Although Eastwood’s character probably has his own wanted poster hanging up in a sheriff’s office somewhere, you can see flashes of the better man he could have been (and perhaps still is deep inside). At one moment, he stops beside a dying soldier; he can’t really do anything for the soldier at this point, but he lays his coat over him to comfort him and lets him smoke his cigar. It’s a small spot of kindness and an unexpectedly emotional moment in the film.

Based on what I saw in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” I definitely want to watch more of Sergio Leone’s westerns in the future. I think, perhaps, I have finally found the “right western” for me! 🙂

Better Late than Never blog series: Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’

north-by-northwest-watching-recommendation-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600Roger Thornhill is an impeccably dressed but seemingly ordinary advertising executive in late 1950s New York. His life isn’t particularly exciting or adventurous…until he is unexpectedly kidnapped by two very suspicious-looking henchmen in a hotel. They think he’s someone (apparently significant) named “George Kaplan.” He swears he isn’t, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Thornhill is taken to a Long Island estate and questioned, where he becomes still more confused. Despite his protests, no one believes him, and he narrowly escapes an attempt on his life.

What follows is a Bond-esque adventure as Thornhill scrambles to stay ahead of the people who are attempting to kill him AND law enforcement, who are trying to apprehend him after he’s framed for a murder. He may not be a secret agent, but he’ll have to think like one if he’s going to survive.

Alfred Hitchcock is one of Hollywood’s most iconic directors, immortalized as the “Master of Suspense.” To my knowledge, I’d never seen a Hitchcock movie, so I decided that, as a self-described “film buff,” I had probably better fix that. 😉 There are many iconic Hitchcock films to choose from, but when a friend mentioned “North by Northwest” — which stars Cary Grant as an “American James Bond” — I was sold.

First impressions

Like the previous film I watched for the “Better Late than Never” blog series (“Jaws”), I feel “North by Northwest” has aged very well (with one exception, but I’ll get to that later). It’s a stylish, suspenseful thriller, and thankfully I hadn’t heard much about the plot beforehand, so I was able to enjoy all the twists and turns.

Although Cary Grant is far more charming and stylish than I’ll ever hope to be, 😉 his character was relatable in this movie because he’s not a well-trained secret agent (even though he’s mistaken for one). He’s just a regular guy, and we can empathize with the terror he feels when he realizes just what a nightmare he’s landed in. He goes to the authorities and tries to tell the truth about what happened, but his story sounds so crazy that no one really believes him (even his mother).

However, even though Thornhill is most definitely in over his head, he’s not completely defenseless. It was cool to watch him adapt to his new situation and learn to survive; by the end, I thought he’d actually make a pretty good secret agent! People are capable of more than they sometimes give themselves credit for.

The first half of the film is probably my favorite, because it feels the most mysterious and suspenseful. Thornhill is still trying to figure out what’s going on (and so are we). My favorite sequence was probably the iconic scene with the crop duster; I thought it was very well done. I live in an agriculturally-based state, and so I’ve seen crop dusters before and probably wouldn’t think anything of it if I saw one flying towards me. But then there’s that horrifying moment where both Thornhill and the audience realize just who the crop duster is gunning for. It was also cool to see the action sequence on the face of Mount Rushmore. “North by Northwest” really does feel like an American James Bond film.

A typical Hitchcock film?

So, what makes “North by Northwest” a distinctly Hitchcock film?

Having never seen a Hitchcock film before, I was curious to see whether “North by Northwest” was in line with his typical style. I looked up some classic Hitchcockian elements (thanks, Google!), and it looks like this film has plenty: an innocent person being accused; characters who switch sides or cannot be trusted; average people who end up in bizarre situations; etc. I’m really curious to watch more Hitchcock films to get a better feel for his overall style. Even though “North by Northwest” does feel like an American Bond film, as mentioned before, it very much has its own unique flair.

I also appreciated the cinematography; it felt fairly modern to me, with some interesting camera angles. I also loved the Saul Bass opening credits sequence (which reminded me of when I learned about Saul Bass in my graphic design course in college, and it’s amazing to see his impact on the film industry and advertising in general; he’s responsible for a lot of iconic logos and movie posters).

All about Eve

I ended up having just one complaint about “North by Northwest,” and that’s the way Eva Marie Saint’s character, Eve Kendall, was developed. When she’s first introduced on the train, she immediately caught my attention because she seemed like a really strong, intriguing female character. During her initial interactions with Thornhill, I wondered if she was a double agent or maybe even a villain, and I was really curious to find out more about her.

In the end, however, I was disappointed that the film treated her as more of a stereotypical “damsel in distress” type character who had to be rescued by Thornhill. I would have preferred if she’d been portrayed as a more nuanced femme fatale type character, like Eva Green’s character in the Bond film “Casino Royale” or Qi’ra in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” The film’s second half strips away too much of Kendall’s agency, and I think the movie’s conclusion would have been more interesting if she and Thornhill had ended up as antagonists. The film’s neatly wrapped-up ending — Thornhill and Kendall get married and live happily ever after! — didn’t quite work for me.

I feel like the movie’s treatment of Eve is part of a larger conversation about roles for women in Hollywood, both past and present. I’m curious to see how others felt about the portrayal of the character.

However, I still feel like “North by Northwest” is a really good film, and I loved watching it and would definitely recommend it. I just think it’s important to have conversations about how films may be products of their time, and what the impact of that is. To me it’s encouraging that Hollywood has made some great strides in the portrayal of women in films.

As I mentioned before, I definitely want to watch more Hitchcock movies. This one was more suspenseful than scary, which was fine by me since I have a hard time handling horror films. 😉 Next time, though, I think I’ll try to be brave and attempt one of Hitchcock’s scarier flicks, like “Psycho.”

Quick review: ‘First Man’ – the story of Neil Armstrong

FirstManI don’t have time to write a full review this week, but I had a chance to go to the theater and watch “First Man” last night and I REALLY loved it. It’s the story of famous Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong — the first man on the moon. I’ve been interested in space exploration ever since I was a little kid, and I have fond memories of doing a report when I was in school on the Apollo 11 moon landing. So as soon as I saw the trailer for “First Man,” I knew I had to watch this movie.

Although “First Man” is technically a biopic, it feels different than a lot of other biographical films I’ve seen, which I actually found refreshing. Some biopics feel like they’re just checking off items on a list — i.e. this thing happened, and then this happened, and so on. In “First Man,” director Damien Chazelle is more interested in capturing feelings and creating a certain mood. He uses the “shaky cam” technique a lot, which I’m not always a fan of; however, it works really well here, particularly during the rocket launch scenes. You really feel like you’re blasting off right alongside the astronauts.

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Ryan Gosling stars as Neil Armstrong. Gosling is always great, I feel, so I wasn’t surprised that he turned in another solid performance here. It’s a very restrained performance, actually, and it’s an interesting contrast to the hotshot flyboy stereotype that you think of when you think of the early astronauts. But that restraint just makes the moments Gosling does show emotion all the more powerful.

Speaking of emotion, I wasn’t expecting to get teary-eyed in this movie as often as I did, but there were a number of moments that really got me. There’s some stunningly gorgeous cinematography in this film. My favorite part was watching Armstrong and the other astronauts walking to the Apollo 11 rocket and then blasting off into space; all the scenes on the moon were also beautiful. I kinda wish I’d splurged to see this in IMAX.

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This movie was definitely worth catching on the big screen. I could write a lot more about it, but I definitely recommend it! I’m pretty sure it’s going to end up on my “best of the year” list when I rank my favorite 2018 films.

Better Late than Never blog series: ‘Jaws’ review (‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat…’)

jaws-1200x707Few film scores are as immediately recognizable — and as immediately terrifying — as John Williams’ theme for “Jaws.” Instantly iconic, the slowly building duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum increases in speed and intensity; even before you spot the infamous shark, you know it’s on its way.

Although I’m a big fan of Steven Spielberg, I had actually never seen “Jaws” before. It’s one of those movies I just never got around to watching, and — admittedly — I was also probably a bit squeamish. But after successfully surviving some other scary movies this year like “A Quiet Place” and “Get Out” (and really enjoying them!), I decided it was time to give “Jaws” a try.

Even though I hadn’t seen the movie, I was already fairly familiar with the plot of “Jaws”: the seemingly quaint and quiet summer resort town of Amity Island, New England, is plunged into chaos after a series of violent shark attacks. Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) becomes increasingly frustrated, due to the fact that no one seems to take his warnings seriously until there have been multiple fatalities. He convinces the mayor to hire shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), and together with oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), the three men set out on a quest to kill the shark before it harms another swimmer.

“Jaws” originally came out in the summer of 1975 and is looked on as a definitive summer blockbuster (and has been making people think twice about stepping into the ocean ever since). Yet how does the film hold up for first-time viewers 40 years after its original release?

While films are always going to be a product of their time to a certain extent, the movies that become classics do so because they also manage to transcend their era and provide just as much enjoyment to modern viewers. I think “Jaws” still works well because it’s a simple, timeless concept executed with top-notch practical effects. While “The Meg” will probably look a little dated in 10 years based on its CGI, “Jaws” will still feel real.

Spielberg starts off the film with a gruesome shark attack, putting the viewer on edge right from the beginning — and keeping them there throughout the film. You never forget that first scene, and every time a character goes into the water afterwards, you’re terrified the shark is going to return.

I think Spielberg was also smart to keep the suspense building and wait to fully reveal the shark until later in the film. In horror films, I feel that what you don’t see is always scarier than what you do see. When Spielberg finally does allow the shark to pop up out of the water, it’s terrifying. (Yes, I actually did scream out loud a few times!) There were a few moments where I noticed the shark was a puppet, but overall it was very realistic. I don’t know that I could have been in the water filming those scenes, because the shark looks too real and probably would have made me jump every time I saw it. 😉

It’s interesting that this film came out before the PG-13 rating was established (partially thanks to another Spielberg film, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”). Now I think of PG-rated movies as fairly safe, family films, but “Jaws” is rather traumatizing and gory at certain moments. In fact, it’s way bloodier than the Marvel and Star Wars PG-13 films today. Anyway, it’s interesting to see how film ratings and our perception of them have changed over time.

I thought the characters were cool, although I didn’t connect with them on an emotional level like I did with the characters from some of Spielberg’s other films, like the Indiana Jones series, “E.T.,” or “Jurassic Park.” In fact, that’s probably why “Jaws” won’t top my list of favorite Spielberg films, even though I did enjoy watching it. Just as a matter of personal taste, I prefer those three previously mentioned films because I feel like that’s where Spielberg best displays his trademark sense of wonder, fun, and adventure.

Still, like I said before, I did enjoy watching “Jaws,” and it’s definitely a must-see Spielberg film. It’s a great beginning to Spielberg’s legendary career.

Announcing the ‘Better Late than Never’ blog series!

CinemaBackground2I love movies — that’s something that pretty much everyone who knows me knows. But I actually didn’t get really serious about film until college. I’ve seen plenty of movies that were released post-2010, but there’s a number of classic films I haven’t seen yet.

In 2014, I actually sat down and created a “movie bucket list” of well-known films I hadn’t watched. I’ve watched several films from that list since then and blogged about them too, including my first Quentin Tarantino film and “The Godfather.” But then I kinda forgot about the list until this past summer.

And so, I decided it’s time to dive back into my movie bucket list with the “Better Late than Never” blog series! I’m going to start off with four movies from the list:

Jaws
The Big Lebowski
An Alfred Hitchcock film (haven’t seen any yet, to my knowledge, so I’m open to recommendations!)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I’d also like to turn “Better Late than Never” into a continuing blog series, so be sure to let me know if you have any “must see” films that you’d like to add to my list. They can be new, old, popular, or off the beaten path — send me your suggestions! 🙂