‘This is not going to go the way you think’: Decoding the latest trailer for ‘The Last Jedi’

9ec782340f75ed65a331672fb5d218d2When I heard rumors that the new trailer for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” might contain some spoilers, I really did consider not watching it, just so I could go into the movie with as few expectations and assumptions as possible. However, my resolve lasted all of two seconds when I saw the new trailer pop up on one of my social media newsfeeds. I watched it, squealed so loud I scared my cat, and then watched it again.

There’s a lot to unpack from this trailer, and I’d love to hear all of your theories as well. The first thing that stands out to me is the darker, more ominous tone. I really hope the whole movie has this sort of tone, unlike “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” which had a really cool, dark trailer but then the movie we got wasn’t quite as cool and dark as I hoped. I think this movie could get even darker than “The Empire Strikes Back.”

I love Supreme Leader Snoke’s ominous voiceover at the beginning of the trailer. He very well could be speaking about Kylo Ren, but I think it’s actually Rey. He’s impressed by her raw power, and he wants to recruit her to the dark side. It’s possible he’s looking to dump Kylo Ren as his apprentice just like Palpatine dumped Count Dooku for Anakin in “Revenge of the Sith.”

And speaking of raw power, this line from Luke absolutely gave me chills: “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.” Not only is it wonderful to see Mark Hamill returning as an older, more world-weary Luke, I’m now dying to know just who Luke is so afraid of. Again, he could be talking about his failed pupil, Kylo, but I think he’s talking about Rey. We watched how quickly her powers spiked in “The Force Awakens,” and I think Luke is afraid she could turn into another Vader if her power isn’t very carefully molded. Maybe he doesn’t trust himself to do the job, especially after he failed with Kylo.

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I know some aren’t huge fans of Kylo Ren, but I actually really like his character. I think he’s what Anakin Skywalker should have been in the prequels — what he could have been with better direction and a better script. We see some very emotional acting from Adam Driver in this trailer, particularly as he (apparently) lines up a shot to kill his mother, Princess Leia. This is one of the moments of possible misdirection in the trailer — I think Kylo will decide not to press that trigger, and his choice will have far-reaching repercussions and pull him back to the light (or at least back to the middle, but more on that later). It’s very bittersweet to see Carrie Fisher again as General Leia Organa, and I hope she’s given a meaty role in the story here.

Other random moments that stood out to me: I’m super excited to see the big spaceship battle, as well as the battle on that cool planet with the red dust. The Millennium Falcon flying through that crystal cave is also super cool. And I may regret saying this later, but I think the Porgs are very adorable and I need a stuffed Porg toy right now. I think they’ll be a fun touch, as long as they don’t take over the story (I’m looking at you, Jar Jar Binks). I’m really looking forward to the showdown between Finn and Phasma; I’m not really sure where they’ll be taking Finn’s story in “The Last Jedi,” and at least from the trailers, it looks like his path may not cross with Rey’s a lot. It would be cool if the Resistance sends him undercover to infiltrate the First Order.

Finally, the scene that most had me buzzing was the final few seconds with Rey (possibly) asking Kylo to help her find her way, and Kylo (possibly) reaching out his hand to her. This may be a controversial thought, but I’d really like to see them subvert expectations and send Rey to the dark side and redeem Kylo to the light. I think it would be really fascinating to see a twist like that, or even to have Kylo reject both the light and dark and find balance as a “grey Jedi” who seeks a balanced path in the Force. Whatever happens, I’d love for “The Last Jedi” to end with a really big, shocking moment on the level of Darth Vader’s “I am your father” from “The Empire Strikes Back.” Turning Rey to the dark side would be a powerful, unexpected twist.

So, what do you think? What are your theories about “The Last Jedi”?

 

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Movie review: ‘Blade Runner 2049’ a worthy sequel to a sci-fi classic

Blade_Runner_2049_2040.0I love being surprised by a movie. A couple times a year, I’ll walk into a theater to see a film, either not quite sure what to expect or not feeling particularly hyped, and then I’ll end up walking out afterwards completely blown away. That was my experience watching “Blade Runner 2049,” a film that wasn’t on my “most anticipated” list this year but has definitely earned a spot on my “best of 2017” ranking.

I’ve only seen the original “Blade Runner” once, several years ago. Although I enjoyed it and recognized how important it was to the science fiction genre, I happened to watch it when I was going through a period of really bad insomnia. I didn’t feel like I was fully engaged with the film and the story didn’t stick with me (I had to re-read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia before seeing the sequel). I also had some skepticism about a sequel being released more than 30 years after the original. Did we really need a sequel? Was this just a cash grab?

The answers are yes, we did need this sequel, and no, this feels like far more than a cash grab. Director Denis Villeneuve has crafted a haunting, thought-provoking film with absolutely gorgeous cinematography that stands proudly alongside the original.

Like its predecessor, “Blade Runner 2049” is a sci-fi noir that takes place in Earth’s dystopian future. In the first movie, Harrison Ford played Rick Deckard, a “blade runner” or sort of bounty hunter who “retires” renegade androids called “replicants.” “Blade Runner 2049” takes place 30 years later, after Deckard has gone off the grid. Ryan Gosling plays an LAPD blade runner known simply as “K,” one of the newer model replicants designed to be more obedient to humans. The film begins with what appears to be a fairly standard mission for K, eliminating a replicant who has been hiding out on a farm. However, an unusual object buried deep underground tips off K to a larger conspiracy and leads him to question his own existence.

I’ll delve more deeply into the story in the spoiler section below, because I’m dying to discuss some of the plot points, but for those who haven’t seen this yet, I’d highly recommend it. Denis Villeneuve is definitely going on my list of directors to watch (he also directed last year’s excellent “Arrival”). Normally my local IMAX theater only offers 3D movies in IMAX (I’m still not a huge fan of 3D), but when I saw “Blade Runner 2049” was showing in IMAX 2D I decided to splurge. I’m so glad I did. “Blade Runner 2049” is probably the most visually stunning movie I’ve seen this year. Every shot feels lovingly and painstakingly crafted, and it was breathtaking to see these visuals on an IMAX screen (especially without the clunky 3D glasses). The film overall has a lonely, melancholy tone that make the few flashes of genuine hope all the more impactful. It works as both a sci-fi action/detective film and a more thought-provoking meditation on what it means to be human and what gives life its meaning.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

I managed to avoid pretty much all spoilers ahead of time, and I really enjoyed following along with the film’s central mystery, which involves K trying to hunt down the seemingly impossible: a child born to a replicant. K uncovers evidence that leads him to believe he is actually the replicant child, a fact that causes him to start thinking more independently. Although he does become more human, he later learns that he was actually just a decoy created to help hide the real replicant child, the daughter of Rick Deckard and the replicant Rachael. It’s heartbreaking to see how much this crushes him. He’s now caught in a dangerous limbo: he’s not the chosen one, but he can’t just go back to being an obedient replicant.

I thought the film used just the right amount of Harrison Ford; his appearance is more substantial than a cameo, but Rick Deckard doesn’t take over the plot, allowing the new characters plenty of time to shine. I appreciated how many layers they added to the characters; there’s more to them than you assume after first encountering them.

The movie is ultimately a fascinating study of humanity and explores the murky area of ethics and artificial intelligence. We as the audience can identify with K and want him to be treated as a human because he looks like a human. And even though he’s supposed to be an obedient android, we see he has real thoughts and emotions. He may not be the real replicant child but that makes his journey of self-discovery no less meaningful. I was also left wondering just how “real” his holographic girlfriend Joi was. She’s obviously a computer program but are her feelings for K genuine? Does she really care about him, or is this just a part of her programming? The film doesn’t fully answer this, leaving us with something to think about after the credits start rolling.

End spoilers!

“Blade Runner 2049” didn’t make a huge splash at the box office, especially considering its sizable budget. But I hope positive word of mouth will motive more people to check this out, along with the original. This is definitely one of my favorite movies of the year.

TV review: Star Trek returns to small screen with new series, ‘Discovery’

star-trek-discoveryAfter an absence of more than a decade, Star Trek is returning to the small screen…well, sort of. Although CBS has launched a new series in the long-running science fiction franchise — titled “Star Trek: Discovery” — the series is only available on the network’s new streaming service, CBS All Access.

CBS is offering a free trial period to entice fans to its new service, and I took advantage of this to watch the first three episodes of “Discovery.” I definitely have opinions about how CBS has decided to market and release this show, but first let’s take a look at the show itself.

Also, full-disclosure — while I am a proud Star Trek fan, I am actually more familiar with the movies than the TV shows. The 2009 reboot film was my first real entry point into the franchise, the moment when Star Trek really connected with me. Since then I’ve gone back and watched a number of the Original Series episodes and the movies featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the rest of the original cast. I’ve seen a handful of episodes from the other Trek series and would like to watch more, and I’m a bit ashamed I haven’t gotten to them yet. The Original Series characters remain my favorites, at least from what I’ve seen.

To me, “Discovery” feels like a blend of the past TV shows and the new Kelvin timeline movies. The special effects and cinematography are slick and quite good for a TV budget — I’d say nearly film quality. The show runners made the interesting decision to set the show back in time, before the Original Series (I know some fans had hoped the show would keep with Trek’s typically forward-looking theme and set this new series at a point in the future, beyond what we’ve seen before). This new series also feels more serialized, with apparently one overarching storyline this season, as opposed to the more episodic feel of some of the other series.

The main character is First Officer Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green. Burnham is the first human to have been educated at the Vulcan Science Academy. At first I wasn’t sure about this plot point, since it seemed like it could become a bit gimmicky, but I actually really like how the show highlights Burnham’s inner war between human emotion and Vulcan logic, yet in a different way than Spock. I hope the show continues to delve more deeply into this. Martin-Green is definitely an actress to watch, and I hope they give her character some meaty material to work with this season.

It’s difficult to talk plot without delving into major spoilers, but the events in the first three episodes involve Burnham making a costly mistake that has huge ramifications for the future of Starfleet. She becomes an outcast but might find her shot at redemption on board the mysterious U.S.S. Discovery.

The pilot felt solid but not groundbreaking, with a mix of action and discussion between characters. The Klingon redesign felt a bit “off,” at least to me. However, the story definitely got stronger in the second and third episodes. “Discovery” feels a little different than some of the Star Trek shows that have come before, but I’m intrigued enough by the new characters and the top secret mission of the U.S.S. Discovery to want to learn more. Another character that stood out to me is Saru (Doug Jones). He comes from a species that is hunted as prey on their home world, and I think it’s really interesting how his background influences his interactions with other crew members. I’m also liking what I’m seeing from Jason Isaac’s Captain Gabriel Lorca, who seems more than willing to bend a few rules.

However, I decided that I won’t be signing up for CBS All Access. I really want to support this show because it’s Star Trek; with the future of the films perhaps in limbo, I have a feeling if this series doesn’t fly, it’s going to be a long time before we get new Trek. I’d like this show to be a success, and to pave the way for another Trek series that is set in the future. Still, I don’t like the fact CBS has decided to restrict “Discovery” to their streaming service. My fear is that more and more networks will begin pulling their content off aggregate sites like Netflix and Hulu, and people will end up having to subscribe to a dozen streaming services, just to access the one show on each service that they actually want to watch. Right now I’m planning to wait until all the episodes have aired, and then either buy a one month subscription to All Access so I can binge all the episodes at once or just buy the show on DVD. I’ve heard from many fans who are planning to do the same.

So, what did you think? Have you been watching “Discovery?” How do you feel about CBS’ streaming service?

Movie review: Kingsmen saddle up for sequel, ‘The Golden Circle’

Kingsman-The-Golden-Circle-1st-Day-Box-Office-CollectionOn paper, the Kingsman sequel, “The Golden Circle,” looks like it has all the right elements. It features the same details we loved about the first film, “The Secret Service,” such as over-the-top action, quirky humor, lots of unrealistic but super fun spy gadgets, and a sense of British charm. Then, to keep things fresh, the sequel adds in a new wonderfully cheesy super-villain and the Kingsmen’s American counterparts, the Statesmen. However, even though “The Golden Circle” is a fun, entertaining movie, the final product doesn’t live up to its predecessor.

In “The Golden Circle,” Eggsy, a.k.a. “Agent Galahad” (Taron Egerton), is now a full-fledged spy and proud member of the Kingsman secret service, though he still mourns the loss of his mentor, former Agent Galahad Harry Hart (Colin Firth). His latest mission is investigating an unlikely drug lord, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). In order to stop Poppy’s nefarious plans, he’ll have to team up with the Kingsmen’s partner organization from the U.S., the Statesmen.

At first it was a little tough for me to pinpoint why I didn’t enjoy the sequel quite as much as the first film (kind of similar to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” earlier this summer, actually). As a viewing experience overall, it just didn’t feel as funny or clever as the first. Perhaps that’s a symptom of the first movie being such a surprise; it felt like a treat to discover “The Secret Service,” a quirky spy flick that almost slipped under my radar.

Here’s the parts I did like: Taron Egerton is great as Agent Galahad, and I love how he brings a different perspective to the very formal Kingsmen, since he’s not an aristocrat. I also like how he really wears his heart on his sleeve; we’ve seen plenty of spies who are cool, calm, and collected, always keeping their emotions locked behind a bulletproof shield. But Eggsy isn’t ashamed of his more sensitive side, and there’s a quite lovely moment towards the beginning of the film where he gets a little choked up as he remembers his mentor, Harry Hart.

And speaking of Harry Hart… Although I know it’s a common complaint that franchise films kill off and then miraculously bring back their main characters a little too flippantly, I don’t mind that “The Golden Circle” brought back Hart after a seemingly point-of-no-return in “The Secret Service.” These Kingsman movies are designed to be over-the-top and crazy, so why not bring back Hart? It’s a pleasure to see the always-dapper Colin Firth in some of these delightfully cheesy scenes.

I also enjoyed how they sent up American stereotypes with the cowboy-esque Statesmen agents, named after different types of alcohol. I wished they found a way to work Jeff Bridges’ Agent Champagne into the plot more, but perhaps an extended cameo was all that time/budget allowed. Same goes for Channing Tatum’s Agent Tequila, although the film’s closing scenes indicate we haven’t seen the last of him. I also thought Pedro Pascal did a good job as Agent Whiskey, and it was fun to see Halle Berry as Ginger Ale, the American counterpart to Mark Strong’s Merlin, the Kingsmen’s tech guru.

I loved that the first Kingsman movie had such as fun, cheesy villain (played with relish by Samuel L. Jackson), and Julianne Moore also seems to be having a good time as a sort of dark, would-be “Martha Stewart.” I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about her villain plan, though. Sort-of spoiler alert — Poppy poisons the world’s supply of recreational drugs and then holds the antidote hostage. I couldn’t figure out whether the movie was intending to make a statement about the war on drugs or if it was just a plot point. If the former, what was that message? Stop the war on drugs? Just have people stop taking these drugs? To me it just felt odd to work this very serious issue into what’s supposed to be an action comedy. Maybe it didn’t bother others, but it was one of the things that felt “off” to me. I won’t go into more details, but the meat grinder scene was also a little too much for me (and really, that’s all I want to say about that!)

Even though the sequel isn’t as good as the first, I still had a fun time at the theater and there are some really good moments here. I felt like the Elton John cameo was worth the price of admission, all on its own. John Denver’s “Country Roads” will also bring a tear to my eye the next time I hear it.

So, what did you think? Did you like the sequel? What worked, and what didn’t?

Flashback review: ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ (2015)

kingsman-hollywood-film-6-14-6-movies-you-need-to-watch-before-you-watch-kingsman-the-secret-service“Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2015) is one of those love it or hate it movies — you’ll know within a few minutes whether it’s a movie for you. The British action-comedy both celebrates and sends-up spy movie tropes, with lots of wacky, over-the-top action sequences and gadgets, as well as Samuel L. Jackson as a decidedly unique villain. In the middle of it all, Colin Firth maintains his classic, debonair poise as a spy who serves as a mentor to a young man with a chip on his shoulder but lots of promise (Taron Egerton).

Although I sadly missed the first Kingsman movie when it was in theaters in 2015 (the sequel is out this weekend), a friend got me the DVD for my birthday that year, saying it was something I’d probably love. She was right — I did. After watching it, my first thought was, “That was crazy. I’m not sure what I just watched, but I have to see it again.” It’s now one of my favorite movies.

As mentioned earlier, Colin Firth plays Agent Galahad, a member of Britain’s highly secretive espionage organization the Kingsmen. He’s been keeping an eye on young Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the son of a former Kingsman who saved his life. While Eggsy does have a knack for getting into trouble, he also has a good heart, something Agent Galahad recognizes. He recruits Eggsy to the Kingsman training program, hoping to give him a brighter future. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson’s eccentric tech genius Richmond Valentine announces a plan to implant chips in people and give them unlimited free cellular and internet service. Galahad suspects he has nefarious motives.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is directed by Matthew Vaughn, who also directed my favorite X-Men film, “First Class.” “Kingsman” has a few similar elements to “First Class” — a group of talented young adults (or in the case of “First Class,” mutants) who are recruited to join a secretive organization protecting the world from outside threats. Both have a stylish production design and a great cast of actors who genuinely appear to be having fun on set. It’s a blast to watch the always-dapper Colin Firth in such a fun (and funny) movie, and Taron Egerton does a good job showing his character’s progression from juvenile delinquent to junior James Bond. The often-underappreciated Mark Strong is also great as the movie’s “Q”-esque character.

One of the things I love most about “Kingsman” is the way it simply embraces how over-the-top it is. I love a good, gritty spy film with a darker tone (Daniel Craig’s “Casino Royale” is one of my all-time favorites). However, sometimes it’s fun to just willingly suspend disbelief and let a movie take you on a wild ride. And there definitely are some crazy moments in this movie, including one of the strangest, most violent fight scenes I’ve ever seen on film (if you’ve watched “Kingsman,” you know which one I’m talking about). Even when this movie veers a little too far into the ridiculous, you just have to smile and go along for the ride. Because this genuinely is a fun movie.

If you missed out on “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” I would highly recommend it, especially since the upcoming sequel looks like tons of fun. Although I’m not sure how they’ll top some of the set pieces in the last movie, I’m looking forward to watching them try. Especially since they’ve add the fun touch of bringing on the Kingsmen’s American equivalent, the Statesmen.

Musical (director) chairs: Why the recent shakeups at Lucasfilm aren’t necessarily a bad thing

gallery-1487697013-han-solo-cast-photo-1So far, I’ve been very pleased with the way Disney has handled the Star Wars universe since they purchased Lucasfilm back in 2012. I loved “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” I’m still a little bummed Disney made the old Star Wars Expanded Universe novels go away, but the new canon novels are getting better (the “Rogue One” novelization is excellent, by the way).

However, there have been a few road bumps in Star Wars land this year. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller — directors of the upcoming Han Solo prequel film, perhaps best known for their work on “The Lego Movie” — were fired in June over alleged creative differences regarding the project, and Ron Howard was asked to step in. Most recently, Colin Trevorrow was ousted as the director of Episode IX. “The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams will take over.

It’s easy to feel concern over something as major to a project as a director shakeup, and wonder if the studio is being too controlling or lacking a cohesive vision. Especially when, in the case of the Han Solo movie, months of filming had already taken place when the directors were fired. However, based on Disney’s handling of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the previous Star Wars films, I’m going to side with them on this one. Of course I’ll have to wait until I see the finished product, but I think they likely made the right call.

I loved Lord and Miller’s Lego movie — it was one of the funniest and most creative movies I’d seen in a long time. But an overly comedic tone is not really what I want from a Star Wars movie. According to rumors, the directing duo was trying to make the Han Solo movie into a comedy with supposedly too much improvisation. Although I do think it’s good for directors have some room to bring a fresh vision to these well-established franchises, you don’t want to veer too far off course from that classic “Star Wars feel.” Gareth Edwards did a great job bringing a gritty war movie tone to “Rogue One” while still having it feel like a Star Wars movie. The Wikipedia page for the Han Solo movie calls it a “space western” and I really hope that’s the tone Ron Howard is able to draw out.

I also feel it was ultimately a good decision to part ways with Colin Trevorrow, at least for now. His “Jurassic World” was a fun movie but not a flawless one; nostalgia, dinosaurs, and Chris Pratt carried the film more than the plot. Trevorrow’s recent “The Book of Henry” was not well received by critics, and I have a feeling his removal from the Episode IX project had at least something to do with this.

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Not everyone has been thrilled J.J. Abrams is returning to the Star Wars universe, but I’m personally really excited. Abrams is actually one of my favorite directors. I think he approaches filmmaking with a lovely sense of childlike wonder, and I believe he will bring an epic closure to the Star Wars sequel trilogy. I liked all the elements of nostalgia in “The Force Awakens”; after the prequel trilogy, a lot of fans felt burned, and it was probably best to take a safer approach with Episode VII. I think Episode VIII will push into some newer, darker territory, and Abrams will (hopefully!) be able to blend all that together in the final film.

As I was chatting with my husband about the Star Wars director shakeups, I did have to admit that Abrams and Howard are fairly “safe” choices for the franchise, and Disney doesn’t seem keen to take a whole lot of risks at this point. At least for now I want the Star Wars movies — at least the main ones — to keep having that similar, classic feel. However, in the future I think Disney should feel confident enough to take a few risks with the anthology films, venturing out beyond the template they’re comfortable with. We may never see a gritty, R-rated Star Wars bounty hunter/gangster movie set in the seedy underbelly of Coruscant or the back alleys of Mos Eisley, but wouldn’t that be awesome?

TV review: Thoughts on the complete season of Marvel’s ‘The Defenders’

defenders_marvelThe Marvel/Netflix partnership has, so far, been a winning one. With only one real miss (sorry, “Iron First”), the hype was definitely high when Marvel and Netflix announced a team-up series featuring characters from all the individual superhero shows. Together, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron First would take on the Hand, a shadowy criminal organization hiding supernatural secrets.

Although I posted my thoughts when I was about halfway through the series, I wanted to circle back around now that I’ve finished all the episodes, for a final verdict. As much fun as it was to see all the characters together (the chemistry between the actors was great!), I still feel the parts were better than the whole. It’s probably my least favorite of the Marvel/Netflix shows, aside from “Iron Fist,” which I still haven’t finished.

For whatever reason, the individual Marvel/Netflix shows didn’t blend together as well as the individual Marvel Cinematic Universe films blended into “The Avengers.” Because the separate MCU films have a more homogeneous tone, perhaps it’s easier to pick and choose characters to throw together. “The Defenders” wasn’t able to reflect much on the individual themes that made the solo shows so powerful and relevant, such as the way “Jessica Jones” raised awareness about the trauma caused by abuse and domestic violence. “The Defenders” doesn’t have as much weight to it as the past Marvel/Netflix offerings. Which is a shame, because I think several plot points could have been teased out to have a greater philosophical impact. The show could have reflected more on the concept of immortality and whether vigilantes have the right to operate outside the law if they’re committed to doing good.

As for length, I think the show’s eight episodes were the right amount, even if the time could have been used a little more efficiently. By the end of “The Defenders,” the limited TV-sized budget showed through a little more than in the individual shows, which did an excellent job presenting a polished, stylish product without blockbuster dollars.

I also thought the main villain, Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, was underused. Since Weaver is such a strong actress, I feel she could have been given a little meatier material to work with. The revelation that she *spoiler alert!!!* is the immortal leader of the Hand was fascinating, but I found myself wanting to know a lot more about her as a person and about her history/background. She isn’t as richly layered a villain as, for example, “Daredevil’s” Kingpin. I also thought she was killed off too soon; I really would have liked to see her present for the final showdown with the Defenders. *end spoiler*

However, I don’t mean to dwell too much on the negative, because it really was fun to see the heroes together. I loved all of Jessica Jones’ wisecracks, particular her jabs about the fact Daredevil is the only one in costume. The portrayal of Danny Rand is also much stronger than in his individual show; this made me interested in the character again and will probably motivate me to watch the second “Iron First” series, even though I’ll probably never finish the first. My favorite Defender is tied between Daredevil and Luke Cage; between the two, I think Daredevil had better storylines in “The Defenders” — I wish Luke Cage had been given more to do.

The Hand made for an intriguing adversary, and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of them in these shows. I’d like to see even more about the inner workings of their organization and their past, although perhaps some of that was covered in “Iron Fist” and I just missed it. I’d also like to see the Defenders continue to make cameo appearances in each other’s shows, like Luke Cage in “Jessica Jones.”

“The Defenders” was an entertaining team-up, although hopefully the next group outing will be even stronger. I’m also definitely looking forward to more of the solo shows, and especially “The Punisher” spin-off.

Fall/winter 2017 movie preview

thelastjedi-1280-1487278502126_1280wLate August to early September can be a pretty “blah” time at the box office — in fact, this past weekend, the box office hit its lowest point in 16 years. However, help is on the way! There are plenty of great movies scheduled for fall and winter this year — perhaps an even stronger group of films than the summer blockbuster season. It’s tough to narrow it down, but here are the ones I’m most looking forward to:

Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Sept. 22

The first “Kingsman” was a love it or hate it movie — it’s a quirky, violent, very British spy action/comedy that features a wacky villain played by Samuel L. Jackson and one of the most off-the-wall fight scenes I’ve ever seen on film. After I finished the movie, my first thought was, “I’m not entirely sure what I just watched, but I loved it and I need to see it again.” While sequels tend to have trouble recapturing the same magic, this one at least looks like it’s doing things right, bringing in the U.S. counterpart to the Kingsmen, called the Statesmen. I’m looking forward to seeing Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges join the crew as American agents.

Blade Runner 2049
Oct. 6

Revivals/reboots of classic films can vary a lot at the box office. They range from excellent — “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the new “Planet of the Apes” trilogy — to bad/forgettable — remember the 2012 “Total Recall” remake? Yeah, me neither. We’ll have to wait to see which category the new Blade Runner film will fit into, but it does have a talented director (Denis Villeneuve also directed the much buzzed-about “Arrival”) and a good cast, with Ryan Gosling joining Harrison Ford, who is reprising his role as Rick Deckard.

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Thor: Ragnarok
Nov. 3

I’m not entirely sure what to expect from “Thor: Ragnarok,” but that’s actually a good thing. The colorful trailers have been packed with humor and intergalactic action, and I’m really looking forward to seeing Cate Blanchett as the villain (hopefully she’ll rank as one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s stronger adversaries). The Thor films provide a unique opportunity within the MCU to mash up a variety of styles: the mix of sci-fi and Norse mythology elements create a unique blend of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Game of Thrones,” with even a little “Gladiator” thrown in this time. Hopefully the movie will be just as fun as it looks!

Murder on the Orient Express
Nov. 10

This period murder mystery based on the book by Agatha Christie is arguably the most star-studded flick this fall (the cast is almost too large to list, but know you’ll be seeing lots of famous faces). Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as detective Hercule Poirot, who must solve a whodunit on a snowbound train. I’ll be interested to see how much traction this film gets, but the large cast should generate buzz.

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Justice League
Nov. 17

Ah, “Justice League.” I worry about you after seeing “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” but I won’t count you out of the fight just yet. This summer’s “Wonder Woman” was a triumph for the struggling DC Cinematic Universe, and it’s my favorite movie of the year so far. Hopefully “Justice League” will feature some of the same elements that made that film a success. Geek icon Joss Whedon’s involvement in the project also may help smooth over some of the film’s rougher edges and make the final movie more relatable.

The Disaster Artist
Dec. 1

“The Room” is perhaps the greatest worst movie ever made. Written, directed by, and starring one man — Tommy Wiseau — this film is a masterpiece of bad filmmaking, with performances, dialogue, and a script so awful you can’t help but watch, horrified yet transfixed. “The Disaster Artist” tells the story of how that film was made, based on the memoir by Wiseau’s friend/co-star Greg Sestero. “The Disaster Artist” is one of the funniest, most fascinating books I’ve ever read, and I hope the film version does it justice.

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Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Dec. 15

Although some fans felt “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” played it too safe and echoed “A New Hope” more than it should, I thought the film did exactly what it needed to do: put the Star Wars franchise back on firm footing and celebrate the original trilogy while also subtly moving in a new direction. And now that the franchise is in better shape, I’m hoping “The Last Jedi” can take a few more risks. Rumors abound, and I’m really looking forward to seeing Mark Hamill return to the role of Luke Skywalker. When he calls for the Jedi to end, what does he mean? Will he lead Rey on a different path, learning to use the Force but breaking free of the Jedi and Sith codes? Will Kylo Ren turn back to the light? And just who is Supreme Leader Snoke? The film will (hopefully!) answer at least some of these questions.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Dec. 20

As mentioned earlier, rebooting/revisiting a well-loved film is always a gamble. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” could either turn out to be a cash-grab gimmick — swapping the original film’s board game premise for a video game — or it could turn out to be a clever twist that brings in a new generation of fans. In the trailer it was funny to see Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan playing the avatars of four teenagers. Will that premise hold up over a whole film? I guess we’ll find out!

So, what fall or winter movies are you most looking forward to? What will be the biggest hit, or the biggest flop?

TV review: It’s team-up time for Marvel’s ‘The Defenders’

defendersposter3We’ve watched Matt Murdock try to balance working his regular day job as an attorney with moonlighting as the vigilante Daredevil. We’ve seen Jessica Jones show off her detective skills and outsmart the mind-controlling villain Kilgrave. We’ve cheered for Luke Cage as he used his courage and bullet-proof skin to become a protector of his city. And we’ve watched Danny Rand fulfill his destiny as the immortal Iron Fist.

Now, it’s time for all those characters to team up in the Marvel/Netflix series “The Defenders,” which unites these four very different superheroes for a common cause. The eight-episode miniseries premiered Aug. 18 on Netflix. Although I was at Gen Con in Indianapolis this past weekend and didn’t get to watch it right when it came out, I’m about halfway through the series and enjoying it so far.

“The Defenders” starts out a little slow — perhaps slower than an event series with only eight episodes should. The first couple episodes focus on the Defenders’ individual storylines and begin introducing us to the series’ main villain, the mysterious Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). Although it was good to get caught up on what all the heroes were doing, I think the series took a little too long to team them up, especially since, as mentioned earlier, there are only eight episodes. Still, it’s a genuine thrill when the Defenders’ paths finally converge for a big fight scene that shows off their individual powers, and they have great chemistry as a group.

While it’s tough to delve into the plot without veering into spoiler territory, the story kicks off with the Defenders chasing different threads that lead them all back to the Hand, a shadowy criminal organization that dabbles in the supernatural. Daredevil’s former associate Elektra has been resurrected as a living weapon known as the Black Sky and now plays a key role in the Hand’s ultimate plot.

“The Defenders” may not have the same budget for epic special effects as “The Avengers,” but I think the show uses its smaller scale to its advantage. This isn’t a battle for the survival of the universe, and that’s actually refreshing. These Netflix shows excel at telling taut, gritty stories within the confines of New York City. The well-choreographed fight scenes provide plenty of action, and the mystery surrounding the Hand and Alexandra kept me intrigued.

Alexandra almost remains too much of a cipher early on in the series, and isn’t as immediately compelling a character as Kingpin, Kilgrave, and Cottonmouth. That air of mystery could pay off in the end, though. I also wasn’t a huge fan of Elektra in “Daredevil” Season 2 (I thought the relationship drama weighed down the show), but I like how she’s used in “The Defenders.” I also love that Rosario Dawson, as nurse Claire Temple, has become the Nick Fury of this series, her story interweaving with all the Defenders.

At the halfway point, I feel that as fun as “The Defenders” is, it’s not necessarily greater than the sum of its parts. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage’s individual seasons are stronger than the team-up, at least based on the episodes I’ve seen. Perhaps because these shows have such distinctive styles/themes, it’s tough to blend them all together (even though I did really like the use of color in the cinematography to signify character POV). Yet maybe the show will continue to build as I keep watching — and I’m definitely going to keep watching.

It’s also worth noting that Iron Fist is used better here than in his individual show. Although I had intended to watch all of “Iron Fist,” I got sidetracked after the first few episodes and as more time passes I haven’t felt too motivated to go back. That series is the weak link in the Marvel/Netflix partnership, so I was glad to see the character used better here and (hopefully!) better in his second individual season.

So, what are your thoughts? Did you enjoy the team-up series? Who’s your favorite Defender?

Adventures at Gen Con 2017

gencon2017Before I met my husband Aaron, I had no idea there was a huge world of board games beyond the family games I was aware of, like Clue and Monopoly. He and his family love attending Gen Con, a tabletop game convention here in the U.S., and this year I got to go for the first time!

I think Gen Con is the largest game convention of its kind in the U.S., and sometimes the crowds of people got a little overwhelming, but overall I had a blast trying some new board games and watching cosplayers. It was also the 50th anniversary of the convention, which was pretty cool.

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My favorite new game that I played is called The Captain is Dead, by AEG. The volunteer running a demo of the game said that they can’t legally call it a Star Trek game…but it’s pretty much a Star Trek game. 😉 It’s a cooperative game where all the players are crew members trying to save a ship after the captain dies. You have to go around repairing parts of the ship and fighting enemies that beam aboard, before the time runs out. It was really fun and got pretty intense towards the end, but we managed (just barely!) to survive.

I was also able to pick up a copy of Legendary Encounters: Firefly, which I’ve been wanting for a while. It’s similar to the Marvel Legendary deck-building game, but set in the Firefly universe. I haven’t gotten to play it yet but I’m looking forward to trying it.

We also got to meet Tom Vassal with the The Dice Tower, which runs reviews of board games. We always like to watch reviews from The Dice Tower before purchasing a game, so it was cool to meet Tom in person. He was really nice!

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Although the focus was definitely more on gaming, there were quite a few cosplayers at Gen Con, including many Star Wars costumes.

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I also wore my Jedi costume in public for the first time! After watching other cosplayers, I think I definitely want to add a Jedi robe to the ensemble and maybe experiment with a little facepaint to give my character more of an “alien” look. But it was fun to wear my costume, and I’m excited to finish up the Rey costume that I’ve been working on as well. I’m still working on trying to convince my husband that he should cosplay with me, though. 😉

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Overall, I had a great time at Gen Con and would definitely like to attend again in the future.