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About me

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 at The Newton Kansan newspaper as a reporter, and I'm an aspiring novelist. - Ashley Marie Bergner

Latest

Versatile Blogger Award

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

Here’s the requirements for the Versatile Blogger Award:

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

Here’s some facts about myself:

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

Here are my nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award:

Tim’s Film Reviews

Mel Rook & The 7 Deadly Sins

Sidekick Reviews

Buddy2Blogger

Ian the Cool’s Reviews

Vinnieh

Bradscribe

Dan the Man’s Movie Reviews

Movierob

Gareth Rhodes Film Reviews

The Cinematic Frontier

Polar Bears Watch TV

Lasers, Monsters and Barbarians, Oh My! 

Cinema Parrot Disco

Silver Screen Serenade 

Thanks again, Drew!

Movie review: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Warning: Major spoilers ahead!*

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

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

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

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

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

2015 summer movie preview

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

Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1)

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

Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15)

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

Tomorrowland (May 22)

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

Jurassic World (June 12)

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

Terminator Genisys (July 1)

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

Ant-Man (July 17)

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

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (July 31)

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

Fantastic Four (Aug. 7)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel countdown: Ranking the best of the Marvel Studios movies

age-of-ultron-empire-cover-feature-1200x520It’s now less than a month to go until “Age of Ultron,” Marvel’s follow-up to its major 2012 blockbuster “The Avengers.” While the film firmly established Marvel Studios’ dominance of superhero cinema, the studio released a number of successful superhero films leading up to “The Avengers.” Before “Age of Ultron” hits theaters, I thought it might be fun to revisit Marvel’s previous films. Here is a ranking of my favorites, ending with my all-time favorite Marvel film. I’d love to hear your favorites, as well!

10. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

While I like some of the Marvel films better than others, all of them — at least for me — have never failed to be entertaining. I enjoyed “The Incredible Hulk” movie, but do have to admit it’s not Marvel’s best. The acting and overall plot are fine; perhaps what’s missing is that familiar shot of adrenalin and fun that always seems to fill Marvel movies — it’s here, but isn’t at the same level of the other films. The Hulk character was definitely one of the highlights of “The Avengers” film, but his solo run didn’t work quite as well.

9. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

It was a blast seeing the banter between Thor and Loki in this movie (Tom Hiddleston is a Marvel treasure). It was definitely an entertaining film, but for me the story wasn’t quite as strong as the Thor origin film. Although there’s a lot of witty lines and funny moments, the villain isn’t as well defined.

8. Iron Man 2 (2010)

I actually kind of liked the much-maligned Iron Man sequel (don’t judge me!) ;) Yes, it’s not as strong a story as the first Iron Man, but it’s always fun to watch Robert Downey Jr. play this character. Then again, Iron Man is my favorite of the Avengers superheroes, so maybe I’m a little biased…

7. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Chris Evans was a perfect choice to play Steve Rogers/Captain America; the character easily could have come across as cheesy or too earnest, but Evans brought genuine heart to the role. Overall, I think “Thor” was a stronger film, but I loved the retro World War II setting, and the poignant ending still gets me.

6. Thor (2011)

Thor and Captain America both had strong, well-cast origin stories, and “Thor” was a fun blend of sci-fi and fantasy. However, perhaps the best find was Tom Hiddleston as Loki, arguably the best (and definitely the most fun and well-developed) villain to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

5. Iron Man 3 (2013)

This film also was a little more polarizing among fans, due to the villain switch-up, but I thought it did a nice job of proving Marvel wouldn’t be falling into a post-Avengers slump. “Iron Man 3″ felt gutsy and fresh, and Robert Downey Jr.’s snark was as sharp and entertaining as ever.

4. The Avengers (2012)

“The Avengers” was, hands-down, one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had in the theater. It was great to see the team up of famous Marvel characters, and how their personalities clashed but they eventually learned to work together. I was a little surprised to find it ended up just No. 4 on my list, but I think “The Avengers,” more so than any of the other Marvel films, is a movie that begs to be watched in the theater, on as large a screen as possible, with a crowd of other enthusiastic fans. It’s an “experience movie,” which means it’s not *quite* as much fun to watch it solo at home.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

While I put it at No. 3, I think there’s a case to be made — from a purely objective standpoint — that this may actually be the best of the Marvel movies. It combines the superhero and political thriller genres into a story that is suspenseful, relevant and all-too timely. The unexpected chemistry between Captain America and Black Widow was another bonus.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Technically this isn’t a superhero or “Avengers” tie-in film, but I couldn’t resist including it because it’s one of my favorites, and it’s conceivable there could be an Avengers cross-over someday (please make this happen, Marvel!). No one expected a movie about a trigger-happy raccoon and a talking tree to be a huge summer blockbuster, but it turned out to be my favorite movie of 2014 and almost my all-time favorite Marvel movie. It was great to see an old-fashioned space opera with a great sense of humor and an awesome soundtrack. This movie perfectly captures Marvel’s winning formula of action, heart and humor.

1. Iron Man (2008)

My favorite Marvel film is actually its first. It probably has something to do with the fact Iron Man is my favorite Marvel character and Robert Downey Jr. is my favorite actor, so I’m not pretending this is an objective choice. ;) However, Downey is a blast to watch in this role, and it’s fun to see Marvel start putting together the building blocks of its Cinematic Universe.

Movie review: ‘Cinderella’ a charming, old-fashioned fairy tale

rs_1024x759-141119042502-1024.Cinderella-JR-111914In recent years, Hollywood has become quite adept at transforming well-known fairy tales into something creative and unexpected. “Snow White and the Huntsmen” brought a sense of gothic grit to a famous children’s story. “Maleficent” turned a seemingly irredeemable Disney villain into a more sympathetic figure (and switched up the classic fairy tale cliche of “true love’s kiss”). The TV show “Once Upon a Time” featured a split narrative that had fairy tale characters living in a small American town under a curse.

However, Disney’s new live action “Cinderella” is a surprisingly straightforward and traditional retelling, sticking fairly close to the storyline of Disney’s own 1950s animated version. While I like many of the revisionist fairy tales we’ve seen, in this instance, the traditional tone works perfectly, and “Cinderella” is a charming, beautifully-shot family film.

I won’t spend much time describing the plot, because most of you probably know the story by heart already — the cruel stepmother, the fairy godmother, the royal ball, the glass slipper, the “happily ever after.” The film stars Lily James, best known as the character Rose from “Downton Abbey.” James gives the character a sense of sweetness and kindness without being artificially earnest; her gentle spirit is genuine. She has a nice sense of chemistry with “Game of Thrones'” Richard Madden, who plays the prince. Although technically they don’t really have much time to get to know each other (and we learned from “Frozen” that you really shouldn’t marry someone you’ve just known for a day!) ;) the romance is sweetly portrayed. Cate Blanchett is icy and elegant as the “evil stepmother; she thankfully doesn’t overplay the role, giving the character a few sympathetic touches. Holliday Grainger and fellow “Downton” alum Sophie McShera are great fun as the two over-the-top stepsisters, with entertainingly hideous costumes and constant bickering. And Helena Bonham Carter has a brief appearance as the quirky fairy godmother.

Another highlight of the film is the gorgeous set design and elaborate costumes. Bright colors pop off the screen, and Patrick Doyle’s lovely score fits perfectly with the film.

As I mentioned before, director Kenneth Branagh keeps the story fairly traditional, and in this case, it works, because while it is traditional, it certainly doesn’t feel stale. The lively performances bring a freshness to the well-known tale. Although this Cinderella doesn’t immediately come across as empowered a heroine as perhaps some of the other princesses in recent fairy tale retellings, she’s more than just a helpless damsel-in-distress pining away in a tower. She’s not a warrior but she does have courage, and determines not to give up, even when it looks like her story won’t have a happy ending. She doesn’t rely on fancy dresses, expensive carriages, or even necessarily the prince to make her happy; she finds that inside.

As much as I like some of the grittier fairy tale retellings, sometimes it’s nice to have a straightforward “happily ever after.” “Cinderella” is rather like a finely-crafted piece of cake — sweet but still with substance.

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Shout-out of the week: This week’s shout-out goes to the blog “Mel Rook & The 7 Deadly Sins.” Mel has been a loyal, long-time follower and writes reviews on movies, TV and more. Check out the new feature “Spared or Spoiled” film reviews, telling you what you may have missed (and what’s better to skip!). https://melrook.wordpress.com

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