TV review: So long, ‘Sherlock’? Thoughts on the fourth (and maybe final) season of the BBC show

nintchdbpict000284501699I’ve been a huge fan of “Sherlock” — and its star, Benedict Cumberbatch — since the beginning. I joke that it’s the only time in my life that I discovered something before it was cool. 😉 During my post-college graduation trip to the United Kingdom in 2010, my friends and I were staying at a hotel in London and were channel surfing when we stumbled across the very first episode of “Sherlock.” Something about it caught our attention, and we were hooked (and, of course, we had to come home and tell all our other American friends about it). It took a risky premise — updating Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes detective stories to modern-day London — and turning them into a thrilling, clever, and buzz-worthy show.

We’ve only gotten four seasons of the show in the past seven years, due to the hectic schedules and ever-increasing star power of its lead actors. Although the season four finale that aired Sunday isn’t the official final episode, a fifth season hasn’t been formally announced yet and the last episode has enough closure to serve as a series ender if more episodes can’t be filmed. So, is season four a fitting send-off for this iconic show?

Seasons one and two of “Sherlock” were generally well-received by fans and critics, sending consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his best friend, Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman), off to solve puzzling cases. Season three was a little more polarizing, and season four hasn’t quite won back the fans who were skeptical. I personally had mixed feelings about it. I’ll always enjoy seeing Cumberbatch and Freeman take on these characters, and the acting continues to be top-notch. However, I feel the show has strayed a bit farther than it should from its roots, which is Holmes’ impressive detective work and his friendship with Dr. Watson.

Interestingly, this whole season had a rather “Bond” feel to it, which isn’t in itself a bad thing but the tonal shift felt a bit jarring. The character of Sherlock actually felt more like James Bond than Sherlock Holmes at times, getting into fist fights in a finely tailored suit, escaping explosions, and visiting a top-secret island prison. It was thrilling to watch, but it didn’t quite feel like the “Sherlock” fans are used to.

Perhaps the problem with an event show like “Sherlock” is that the show runners feel an increasing pressure to up the ante; I think perhaps they introduced (and killed off) Moriarty too soon in season two. It’s tough to know exactly where to go after such a dynamic and intriguing villain who’s such a game changer for your main characters. Although there are some really big plot twists — and I mean, REALLY big plot twists — in season four, they were almost a bit too over-the-top.

I will say that while I had some issues with the plots in the first and third episodes of the fourth season, the second episode was to me one of the highlights of the whole show. Without giving too much away, this episode felt like a return to form for the series, with a truly terrifying villain and some nail-biting final moments. I don’t know how much I’ll rewatch this episode, just because it was so creepy, but the writing was excellent and Toby Jones was a great guest star.

sherlock-season-4-sherlock-with-dog

Regardless of how I felt about some of the storylines this season and the fact that at the end of it Dr. Watson felt a bit underused, this series has given us a really fascinating character arc for Sherlock Holmes. When we first meet him, he seems cold and analytical without the ability to form attachments, though we see hints of deeper feelings. By the final episode of season four, we’ve learned some of the reasons why he is the way he is and that he really does care — deeply — about the people around him, far more than he likes to let on. This season also managed to humanize Mycroft and featured some very nice moments between the brothers, particularly in the final episode.

So whether we get anymore episodes of “Sherlock” or not, I think it’s been a good ride. Part of me would like to see one more smaller-scale season with Holmes and Watson solving regular cases, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what other projects Cumberbatch and Freeman decide to take on, and, of course, their further appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 

My top five most anticipated movies for 2017

rs-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-10e673f6-3a1a-4983-826a-e5235aa79986Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe 2016 is already behind us and it’s time to start looking ahead to 2017. It’s always fun to put together a list of “most anticipated” films for the coming year and then to look back and see how many of my most anticipated actually end up on my annual “best of the year” post. Four out of the five movies I said I was most looking forward to in 2016 ended up on my best of the year list, although only one movie from 2015’s most anticipated ranked in my top 5 for the year, so my average isn’t that great. 😉

It was tough to nail down my list for 2017 to just five films, but here goes!

5. Dunkirk (July 21)

Christopher Nolan has a distinctive and unique filmography, covering magicians bent on revenge, secret agents who control peoples’ dreams, astronauts who venture to the stars to save humanity, and, of course, a certain famous caped crusader. The announcement of Nolan’s newest film, a World War II action thriller called “Dunkirk,” surprised me a little because it didn’t seem like a topic he’d normally select. However, as a director I think Nolan is drawn to projects that challenge him and push him in a new direction, and I’m excited to see how he adapts this true story of a daring rescue of Allied troops trapped during a World War II battle.

4. Beauty and the Beast (March 17)

I loved Disney’s 2015 live action adaptation of “Cinderella” and I’m looking forward to watching them bring a live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” to the big screen. “Beauty and the Beast” is one of my favorite animated Disney films and it will be interesting to see how they handle the story’s magical elements, like talking (and singing!) household objects. Plus, this film has a great cast, including Emma Watson, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, and Ian McKellen.

wonder-woman-gal-gadot

3. Wonder Woman (June 2)

Wonder Woman stole the show in last year’s “Batman v. Superman,” so it’s fitting that she (finally!) gets a solo film this summer. DC has struggled a bit with their new cinematic universe, trying to capture the feel of the Dark Knight trilogy while also borrowing a bit from Marvel’s playbook. That vision hasn’t fully coalesced, and it may be too late to fully save “Justice League” (Nov. 17). However, I have really, really high hopes for “Wonder Woman,” and the trailer shows a lot of promise.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5)

The original “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a delightful late summer surprise in 2014, with its band of dysfunctional heroes, colorful visuals, and awesome soundtrack. While there may have been plenty of funny moments to laugh at, at the film’s heart was a surprisingly touching message about family and “losers” (i.e. people who have lost stuff) banding together when the rest of the galaxy rejected them. Even though sometimes it’s difficult to capture the same magic in a sequel, Marvel has had very few missteps in its cinematic universe and the trailers so far for “Vol. 2” have made me smile as much as the original movie did. I’m also looking forward to the other Marvel films in 2017: “Thor: Ragnarok” (Nov. 3), “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (July 7), and “Logan” (March 3).

dd2136507ee67d7a5e6494796e514f1b73f89d4ed7f861ffd5f1d4fe04d78a27

1. Star Wars: Episode VIII (Dec. 15)

“Episode VII: The Force Awakens” hit all the right buttons for me. It felt like a return to classic Star Wars and brought back some beloved characters — Han, Leia, Luke, and Chewy — while also introducing some new ones. I loved it (as I’m sure you know from my way-too-many posts about it last year). 😉 Although “The Force Awakens” didn’t feel like a mere rehash of “A New Hope” to me, I do agree it was a fairly safe movie. With Episode VIII, I think the film makers will be able to veer in a new direction and take more chances with the story.

Who is Rey and where did she come from? I’m feeling less confident in my original theory that she’s Luke’s daughter. Is Kylo Ren going to be the series’ main bad guy after all? I’d love to see him as a complicated character who continues to be torn between the dark and the light. It would be even more fascinating if he turned to the light and Rey went dark (read some excellent pieces on this topic from blogger J.Q. Ronan). Who is Benicio Del Toro playing, and now apparently Tom Hardy is in the movie too? (I just noticed this on IMDB.) And I’m also curious to see what post-“Return of the Jedi” Luke has been up to and how he will train Rey. Regardless of what happens, Episode VIII will be bittersweet due to the recent loss of Carrie Fisher. I am glad we’ll get to see her one last time, but I’m saddened that she won’t be involved in the franchise going forward. 😦

***

So, what do you think? What movies are you most excited for in 2017?

Year in review: My top movies of 2016

rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-2560x1600-poster-hd-27572016 was quite a year — good in some ways, rough in others. I was actually in the process of putting together my annual entertainment year in review post when I saw the news that Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher had passed away. Although there have been many (too many) notable celebrity deaths this year, hers hit me the hardest. While I’ll miss performers like her and Alan Rickman — another celebrity we lost too soon — I’m thankful we can still return to their bodies of work. Princess Leia and Snape will live on for many new generations of fans!

Here are the movies that meant the most to me in 2016; I’d love to hear which ones meant the most to you this year!

Honorable mention: Arrival

Although I love a big budget, action-packed space opera, I also enjoy seeing smaller-scale films in the sci-fi genre. “Arrival” is a surprisingly intimate, personal viewing experience despite being a film about a worldwide alien invasion. It centers on a linguist (Amy Adams) who tries to speak to the aliens and decipher their language so humanity can figure out whether the aliens are peaceful or threatening. She actually ends up learning a lesson about the power of communication and the importance of embracing life to the fullest, with all its moments of joy and heartbreak.

5. Kubo and the Two Strings

This movie wasn’t really on my radar at the beginning of 2016, and I certainly didn’t anticipate it would end up on my “best of the year” list. However, this beautifully animated tale about a boy and his magical Japanese instrument deeply moved me. While this movie didn’t make a huge splash at the box office, I’m glad I had a chance to see it on the big screen. It might have performed better with a less puzzling title, but after watching the movie, the title makes perfect sense. The ending is poignant and powerful, and it feels particularly timely after this year.

4. Doctor Strange

Marvel keeps pushing the boundaries of its cinematic universe, and it began to delve into the magical realm with “Doctor Strange.” Benedict Cumberbatch joins the MCU as Dr. Stephen Strange, who loses his career as a surgeon after a devastating car accident. When modern medicine fails him, he overcomes his skepticism and discovers a world of magic, where he learns to wield an ancient power beyond understanding. The film has some trippy, psychedelic visuals that take the “Inception” concept to a new level, and Strange will be a welcome addition to the Avengers lineup in future films.

3. Star Trek: Beyond

While not everyone loves the Star Trek reboot films, I have personally really enjoyed them. I think they’ve found a way to capture the magic of the Original Series while also saying something new. “Star Trek: Beyond” feels, in many ways, like a jumbo episode of the Original Series, stranding the crew on a hostile planet and forcing them to figure out how to escape and save the day. While there’s plenty of action, the film makers never forget that the heart of the story is the interactions between the characters. This may or may not be the final reboot film we get, and while I hope it’s not, at least the series will end on a very good note.

NEHltLvz2UuBLJ_3_b

2. Captain America: Civil War

Although this technically wasn’t an Avengers film, for all intents and purposes it was an Avengers film, and it’s actually the best one yet. “Civil War” finally turns the Avengers against each other, as they debate how and to what extent superheroes should be held accountable. Whether you ended up on #TeamStark or #TeamCap, this film took the MCU in an exciting new direction by delving into tricky ethical issues and resisting the temptation to give us a perfectly wrapped-up ending. It also introduced some fantastic characters to the MCU, including Black Panther and a new Spider-Man.

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As you know, Star Wars is my all-time favorite film franchise, so of course the No. 1 slot was always “Rogue One’s” to lose. Thankfully, it lived up to the hopes I had for it. “Rogue One” is, at its heart, a war movie, and it shows us how hard the Rebellion had to struggle to defeat the oppressive Empire. It gave us a band of ordinary heroes without any special powers, and none of them were the “chosen one” destined to single-handedly save the galaxy. Yet without their sacrifice to steal the plans to the Death Star, there would be no Rebellion. “Rogue One” has the most thrilling (and emotional) final act I’ve seen on screen in a long time. After last year’s success with “The Force Awakens” and now “Rogue One,” the Force is indeed with Disney.

A legacy of hope: In memory of Carrie Fisher

24879e7b7b009dd621586a912b8dc98aI really didn’t want to have to write this post. When I heard late last week that actress and author Carrie Fisher, best known as Princess Leia from the Star Wars saga, went into cardiac arrest during a flight, I prayed she’d get better and that she wouldn’t join the list of the many icons who have passed away in 2016. I’d heard some reports she was in stable condition, but she must have taken a turn for the worse. She passed away today at the age of 60.

Princess Leia is one of the most iconic film characters of our time, and Fisher brought her to life with spunk, determination, and courage. As a young girl, it was exciting for me to see a princess who was no damsel in distress and didn’t need rescuing. She was a respected leader in the Rebellion and never backed down from a fight, even though the odds were stacked against her. Luke Skywalker may have been the main character of the original trilogy, but Princess Leia was just as important. Although the character has taken on a life of its own in countless spin-off novels, none of that would have been possible without Fisher’s original performance.

One of the details I appreciated most about “The Force Awakens” was how J.J. Abrams brought the original trilogy’s primary players — Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford — back to the saga. It was like reuniting with old friends, and it took us back to the franchise’s roots. Leia didn’t necessarily get her happily ever after: by the time we met up with her in the film, her relationship with Han had fallen apart and their son had been seduced by the dark side. But Leia was still leading, still fighting — she was unwilling to give up on the cause she had sacrificed so much for.

The real-life Carrie Fisher battled her fair share of demons, which she spoke publicly and frankly about. Years of substance abuse took their toll. Yet she was also a passionate advocate raising awareness about issues like addiction and mental illness and, like her character, she spread the message that there will always be hope.

That galaxy long, long ago and far, far away is a lot lonelier today, but Fisher’s legacy will live on as new generations of fans discover the films. She will always be Princess Leia, a beacon of hope to those whose backs are up against the wall but keep on fighting despite the odds.

May the Force be with you, Carrie.

The ‘Rogue’ rewatch: A more spoiler-filled discussion of ‘Rogue One’

rogue-one-movie-review-f947f0c3-1417-400e-b0a6-2525a3301f73I hope everyone had a merry Christmas! Over the holiday weekend, I had a chance to watch “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” for a second time. Since my initial review was spoiler-free, I thought it might be fun to go back and dive into more detail about the film. If you haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet, definitely don’t read any further! Here are some of the main points that stood out to me after a week to mull over the film and my second viewing:

The darker tone

I love the classical feeling of the main Star Wars saga (i.e. the “episodes”) and how it focuses on a more traditional battle between good and evil, where the lines between hero and villain are very clearly drawn. However, I would love for the standalone Star Wars “side stories” to follow “Rogue One’s” example and show us a less black and white version of the Star Wars universe. Although the Star Wars universe has gone dark places before — “Revenge of the Sith” — it’s never been as gritty as “Rogue One.” I love how it adds more nuance to the Rebellion and shows how everyone is not a spotless hero. The very first scene with Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor shows him killing an injured informant so he can’t be captured and reveal sensitive information. Agents like Cassian have to get their hands dirty so higher-ups like Bail Organa and Mon Mothma can lead the Rebellion from the moral high ground.

The villains

I realized I actually didn’t talk a lot about the villains of “Rogue One” in my initial review. I thought Ben Mendelsohn was great as Orson Krennic, the officer commanding the development of the Death Star, and I enjoyed his power struggle with Tarkin. I know some have already noted that you can tell Tarkin is a CGI recreation, since the original actor has passed away, but I thought they did a pretty good job and it would have been odd if this character hadn’t appeared in a film about the Death Star. I also appreciated that this film showed off the full might of the Empire and how ruthless their military machine was (plus, stormtroopers actually hit stuff!) And of course that Darth Vader cameo — the final scene where he tears through a corridor of Rebels was worth the price of admission and gives us a minute of pure horror. We see what a mysterious and terrifying threat Vader was in the eyes of the Rebels.

The heroes

I have heard some say the film could have used more character development, and I think more character development is always a good thing. However, I think that here “less is more” actually worked because this isn’t really a story about an individual or “chosen one.” It’s about a group of ordinary people who band together to do something heroic; all of them contribute to the cause but none of them could have done it on their own. While my favorite new characters from the film are still the droid K-2SO and the blind warrior, Chirrut Îmwe, this time it was Cassian Andor’s story arc that stood out to me. Although he’s not immediately a likable character, I’m glad they resisted the temptation to make him a charming, Han Solo type. He’s a hardened soldier who’s had to do a lot of bad things for a good cause, and he’s probably lost quite a bit of his soul along the way. The ending with him and Jyn embracing on the beach is incredibly sad, because these are two characters who haven’t really experienced any happiness in their lives and here they are dying without knowing 100 percent if their desperate gambit worked. Yet “A New Hope” never would have happened without their sacrifice.

rogue-one-jyn-ersa-geared-up

The music

This is the first Star Wars movie without a score by John Williams, and during my first viewing, I wasn’t completely blown away by the music. However, I did buy the soundtrack and as I’ve been listening to it I’ve found the music is actually rather moving, particularly the themes for Jyn and the Rebels. The music is sad and haunting, and makes my eyes a bit misty as I think back on the film and the sacrifices of the Rebels. The Imperials also have a cool new theme.

The reshoots

Fans were initially a little concerned when they heard reports about reshoots for “Rogue One.” I’ve heard various rumors about how much of the film was reshot and how significant the changes to the plot were. We may never know what the original cut of the film looked like, but having watched “Rogue One” a second time, I’m very pleased with what we got. The final mission on Scarif will go down as one of my all-time favorite movie endings — space battle! AT-ATs on a tropical beach! — and despite knowing how the film would ultimately end (i.e. with the events of “A New Hope”) I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. A happy ending just wouldn’t have worked for this movie, and kudos to Disney for fully committing to the tragic ending.

Final ranking

So where does “Rogue One” sit on my ranking of the Star Wars films? “The Empire Strikes Back” is my all-time favorite movie, period, so that one will always be hard to top. 😉 “Return of the Jedi” — with its poignant ending and the redemption of Darth Vader — has risen over the years and is now my second favorite Star Wars film. I’d put “Rogue One” at No. 3 on the list and “The Force Awakens” at No. 4; I feel both these movies have helped to bring the magic back to Star Wars, albeit in different ways. “A New Hope,” “Revenge of the Sith,” “The Phantom Menance,” and “Attack of the Clones” round out my current ranking. I’m very excited to see where Disney takes this franchise in the future!

Movie review: ‘Arrival’ offers thought-provoking, insightful sci-fi

arrival-movie-reviewsOne day without warning, 12 strangely-shaped alien ships appear on the Earth’s surface, landing at various sites around the globe. Humanity’s natural reaction to these vessels is to panic, especially since the aliens’ purpose remains unclear. Are they here to investigate or invade? Do they actually want to communicate with the humans or do they merely want to gather information to use later on in an attack?

The U.S. government recruits linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to help them attempt to communicate with the aliens. Although Louise has done difficult translation work before, this will be the greatest challenge of her career. The aliens speak in a series of unintelligible sounds no one can seem to understand. However, Louise has a breakthrough when she convinces the aliens to start writing down their language — although their version of “writing down” is actually squirting circular inky shapes into the air. As Louise begins to decipher their language and communicate in return, the aliens send her what could be a threatening message…or perhaps she’s just misinterpreting it. She’ll need to decipher it quickly before other countries around the world respond with violence to the mysterious aliens and perhaps trigger a doomsday event.

Although “Arrival” was actually released in theaters back in November, my plans to see it never managed to work out and then I got caught up in all the buzz about “Rogue One.” However, I’m glad I made the time to catch this film while it was still in theaters. Science fiction comes in many varieties, and “Arrival” is of the smaller scale, more intimate type. While I do love big space battles and action sequences, sometimes it’s also nice to dial things back a bit. Even though there’s not a lot of “action” in this film, “Arrival” is still very suspenseful as Louise and her team try to figure out the aliens’ purpose in coming to Earth.

arrival_logogram_1-jpg-crop-promovar-mediumlarge

The music and special effects are sparse but used very effectively, serving to increase the sense of mystery. I won’t say much about the design of the aliens, because I think discovering what the aliens look like adds to the suspense, but I appreciated how eerie and otherworldly they looked (of course, the humans probably looked eerie and otherworldly to them). I loved the aliens’ method of communicating; I thought it was a creative departure from what we’ve seen from “alien languages” previously in films.

The film does have a major twist in the final act, sending the movie in a direction I didn’t suspect. I had some questions about the aliens that weren’t ultimately answered but I think the ambiguity was necessary, even though I really wanted to know more. While “Arrival” is a very different type of movie from “Rogue One,” both movies had the same central theme: hope. And it’s a theme that feels very relevant in a challenging year.

“Arrival” highlights the importance of working together for a common goal and the dangers of letting our differences divide us (many countries in the film are reluctant to share their alien intel even though everyone on Earth is facing the same threat). “Arrival” also contains an unexpected but moving reflection on the need to embrace life, with both its joy and its tragedy.

Movie review: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (spoiler free!)

phhh1bdlpljzlh_1_lThe destruction of the first Death Star was the beginning of the end for the Empire. Not only was it a huge tactical setback, it was also a major morale booster for the Rebellion. Without that key moment, the Death Star would have kept terrorizing and destroying worlds, and the Rebellion likely would have been crushed.

The destruction of the Death Star wouldn’t have been possible without a brave band of rebels stealing the plans, and until now that particular event has been a mere footnote in the Star Wars franchise. “Rogue One” finally tells that story, giving us a glimpse into the birth of the Rebellion and the brave sacrifices that were made to end the tyranny of the Empire.

The story is told through the eyes of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of an Imperial scientist who helped design the Death Star and may or may not still sympathize with the Rebellion. Jyn doesn’t have a lot of love for either side, but when a group of rebels rescue her from an Imperial labor camp, she finds herself caught up in the conflict. Gradually, she comes to believe in the cause and eventually decides to stage a daring break-in at an Imperial records facility. Supposedly, Jyn’s father built a weakness into the Imperials’ super weapon, and if the rebels can steal the plans for the Death Star, they have a shot at bringing the Empire to its knees.

“Rogue One” is a risky Star Wars film. It’s darker and grittier than we’re used to seeing from the franchise, and some of the hallmarks of the series — like lightsabers, Jedi and the Force — play little to no role in the film. Although it definitely still has a Star Wars feel, it’s really more of a traditional war movie, with characters from both sides operating in a moral gray zone. However, it’s a gamble that absolutely pays off, and “Rogue One” ends up being a fresh and exciting addition to the classic franchise. Even though we all know how the story ends (i.e. “A New Hope”), there are still plenty of surprises along the way.

While there are a few familiar faces that show up in this film, the narrative primarily focuses on a new group of characters. It was great to see such a diverse cast, and I wish we had gotten even more background and maybe even a few flashbacks for these characters. For me, the standout characters were the droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and the blind warrior, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen). K-2SO is very much a fighter in his own right, and I loved his sense of sarcasm (he gets some of the movie’s best lines). He also has an act of heroism in the film’s final act that is very moving. I also really liked the uniqueness of Chirrut’s character. Although he isn’t a Jedi and doesn’t have traditional Force powers, he remains a devoted follower of the Force and the Jedi teachings. I just thought it was really fascinating that a person who didn’t have the power of the Force himself still believed in it enough to dedicate his life to following it. Even though his official bio says he isn’t Force sensitive, there’s a scene towards the end of the movie that makes me believe the Force actually was guiding him.

an1-183025r_0

The film is a bit of a slow burn at first, and it takes its time to set up the story, gradually raising the stakes. But when you get to the third act — wow. The finale is packed with suspense, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. The thrilling battle sequence that takes place on a beach — the one featured so heavily in the trailers — does not disappoint, and there’s also an exciting starship battle taking place above the planet at the same time.

The challenging part of “Rogue One” was always going to be the ending, and I’m sure it’s something the filmmakers spent a long time mulling over. They knew fans were going to be watching the movie and rooting for the rebels. However, a happy ending would have cheapened the film and wouldn’t have communicated the gravity of the sacrifices made by the Rebellion. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I’ll just say that the ending was gut-wrenching and perfect. There are so many emotional moments, and the ending really contributes to the overall poignancy of the franchise.

Finally, no review of “Rogue One” would be complete without mentioning the film’s most anticipated cameo: Darth Vader. I felt they used just the right amount of Vader — not too much and not too little. You’ll see him once, and then the movie will go on. But don’t forget about him, because his second scene — wow (I’m using that word again). I really want to spoil this scene but I won’t; the surprise adds to the whole horror and amazement of his final appearance.

In short, this Star Wars fan left the theater feeling pleased and excited. I want to see “Rogue One” again so I can decide where it ranks in terms of my favorite Star Wars films, but overall I’m very happy and looking forward to more of these Star Wars standalone movies. The Force really does seem to be with Disney!

Preview: Five things I want to see in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

(Donnie Yen)

Ph: Film Frame

©Lucasfilm LFLIt’s almost here! “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” opens in theaters this Friday, with some sneak preview showings on Thursday. I’ve got my ticket (I’m excited to check out my town’s brand-new IMAX theater!), and now it’s time to sit back and wait for early reviews to roll in.

“Rogue One” will tell the story of how a daring band of rebels stole the plans for the Death Star, making the events of “A New Hope” possible. While good trailers don’t always guarantee a good final film (I’m still mourning your lost potential, “Suicide Squad”!), the trailers for “Rogue One” have been amazing, promising an exciting and emotional journey. Here are the top five things I’m hoping to see in the movie:

1. Strong new characters

Until now, the Star Wars film franchise has focused primarily on the Skywalker family — from Anakin’s fall to the dark side to Luke’s rise as a Jedi. “The Force Awakens” continued that saga, with Anakin’s grandson Kylo Ren betraying the light and Anakin’s (maybe?) granddaughter Rey following in Luke’s footsteps. However, even though I do love me some Skywalker family drama, the Star Wars universe is a pretty big place with a lot of potential (the now non-canon Expanded Universe is evidence of that). I’m glad “Rogue One” will be focusing on a brand-new cast of characters, with some cameo appearances from a few favorites (more on that later). I’m excited to meet these new characters and explore some new corners of the Star Wars universe. I’m most looking forward to seeing Felicity Jones’ character Jyn Erso, who appears to be a somewhat reluctant hero, and Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, a blind warrior who is devoted to the Jedi way but cannot use the Force himself.

2. Epic battle sequences…not involving lightsabers

I love lightsabers and I really love lightsaber duels. However, I’m excited to see some really epic, more traditional style battle scenes that don’t involve Force users. It appears one of the film’s main set pieces will be a battle on a tropical planet (AT-ATs on the beach!). I’m looking forward to watching a large-scale battle like the battle of Hoth in “The Empire Strikes Back” and Endor in “Return of the Jedi.” Also, I’m really hoping this movie will show off the full might of the Empire and just how powerful its military was.

3. An iconic soundtrack

John Williams’ scores for the Star Wars saga are arguably the best film soundtracks ever composed (or at least I think so!). So even though I was initially a little disappointed he wouldn’t be composing for “Rogue One,” Michael Giacchino is one of my favorites of the new generation of film composers, and I love what he did with the Star Trek reboot franchise. Like the film itself, I hope the music can remind us of what’s come before while also covering fresh ground and pushing the franchise in an unexpected direction.

4. A great cameo from Darth Vader

Darth Vader is one of my all-time favorite film characters, so naturally his cameo is one of the things I’m most looking forward to about “Rogue One.” While I don’t want it to take over too much of the film (I want the movie to focus primarily on the new characters), I don’t want it to be too short, either. I’d like to see more than just a few snatches of dialogue; I want this movie to capture just how terrifying a presence Darth Vader must have been for both the rebels and his own troops. It would be great if he could confront the group of rebel characters at the end. Which leads me to point No. 5…

5. A tragic ending

I love a happy ending, where good triumphs over evil and the heroes get to celebrate. However, I think “Rogue One” will have a much greater emotional impact if it ends on a very bittersweet note, with many of the main characters dying. I think this will drive home the point of how great a sacrifice the rebels had to make when they decided to oppose the Empire. Star Wars movies often end poignantly, such as Qui-Gon’s death in “The Phantom Menace” and Darth Vader sacrificing his life to save his son in “Return of the Jedi.”

So, what are you most looking forward to in “Rogue One”? What are your hopes for the movie?

Adventures in board gaming: Best board games for sci-fi and superhero fans

imperial_assault_by_michalivan-d8m7fatAlthough I grew up playing board games, I was mostly just familiar with common childhood games like Clue, Monopoly, and Sorry. I didn’t realize the sheer volume and variety of board games that existed until I started dating my husband, who is a big board game fan. Naturally, I got pretty excited when he introduced me to board games that also appealed to my love for science fiction and superheroes. 🙂 I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of these board games from the Star Wars and Marvel universes. A special shout-out to Bradscribe for giving me the idea to do this post!

Marvel Dice Masters
Players: 2
Difficulty level: Medium

img_1527
Marvel Dice Masters is, as you might have guessed, a game involving dice. 😉 You put together a team of various Marvel characters and then battle the other player. You can put together themed teams, such as the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy, or you can just put together a team of random characters that you like. My husband teases me because I can never seem to put together a team that doesn’t involve Captain America.

img_1528

The game is a bit complicated to explain, but each character card has corresponding dice. You roll the dice on your turn to see what your attack value will be. You can see a more detailed explanation of how to play the game here.

To get started, purchase one of the many starter sets, like Age of Ultron or Civil War, then you will probably want to buy singles to flesh out your collection. It’s a fun game to play, and I love collecting the cards with my favorite characters. You can also find Dice Masters sets featuring DC Comics and Dungeons and Dragons characters.

Marvel Legendary
Players: 2-5 (a solo mode is also available)
Difficulty level: Challenging

img_1530
Marvel Legendary is a cooperative deck building game. This means you start the game with a basic set of cards and expand your deck over the course of the game. You select what Marvel heroes you’d like to play, then you battle an adversary, such as Magneto, Loki, etc. If you’re feeling villainous, you can buy the Legendary: Villains set, where you can play as the villains and make superheroes, such as the Avengers, your adversaries.

IMG_1531.JPG

Legendary was a little overwhelming for me at first, but the more you play it, the more you’ll get the hang of how the cards combo off each other. You can see a more detailed explanation of how to play the game here. In order to get started, you’ll need either the regular Legendary or villain base set, then you can add cool expansions, like Guardians of the Galaxy.

Star Wars: X-Wing
Players: 2
Difficulty level: Easy

IMG_1534.JPG
Star Wars: X-Wing is basically a dogfight in board game form, and it comes with really cool miniatures. Seriously, the detail on the Millennium Falcon model is just amazing! (Sadly, it’s not included in the base set; you have to buy it as an expansion.)

IMG_1533.JPG

Each player puts together their fleet, and then you take turns moving your ships and attacking. Even if you end up not liking the game, it’s fun to display the miniatures, which include X-Wings, TIE fighters, and more. While you can technically play this game with just the simple base set, you’ll definitely want to add expansions to improve the flavor of the game.

IMG_1532.JPG

Learn how to play the game here.

Star Wars: Imperial Assault 
Players: 2-5
Difficulty level: Medium

IMG_1535.JPG
Star Wars: Imperial Assault is the crown jewel of my board game collection. 🙂 One player controls the Imperial army, and the other players play four Rebel characters (there are a variety of original characters to choose from). I recommend you get four players to play the four Rebels, although one person can play all four of these characters. Using tiles, you create a map for your characters to battle on. While you can play one-off skirmishes, I recommend using the campaign setting, where you play through a story and both sides upgrade their forces over the course of multiple linked games.

img_1536

The miniatures are detailed and well-designed, and the map tiles offer endless variety: forest, space station, desert, etc. Below you can see an example of one of the heroes that came with the Bespin expansion pack.

img_1537

This is a really fun game that makes you feel like you’re experiencing an adventure in the Star Wars universe. Although there are some really cool expansions available, you can have plenty of fun with just the base set. The campaign alone will take you weeks to finish. You can find a more detailed explanation of the game here.

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

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

1. Iron Man (2008)

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

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

4. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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

5. The Avengers (2012)

6. Doctor Strange (2016)

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

7. Ant-Man (2015)

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

8. Iron Man 3 (2013)

9. Thor (2011)

10. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

11. Iron Man 2 (2010)

12. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

13. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

14. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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

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