Avengers assemble: A tribute to Stan Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like the man himself.

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

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

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

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

The Man with No Name

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

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

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

The western deconstructed

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

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

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

Enduring legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First impressions

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

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

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

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

A typical Hitchcock film?

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

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

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

All about Eve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcing the ‘Better Late than Never’ blog series!

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

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

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

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

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

Box Office Buzz is back!

Howdy, friends! I decided to take a break from my personal blog about a month ago; I was feeling a little swamped with other projects and wanted to take some time away to refocus. But now I’m feeling refreshed and ready to drive back in! Here’s a little of what I’ve been up to in the past month…

At the end of August/beginning of September, I went to Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia, for the first time. And it was awesome! I’ve recently started going to more geek conventions, and now I am addicted and want to go to even more cons next year. 😉 ha ha I heard about Dragon Con from some friends I got to know through the Earth Station One podcast, and I’m so thankful I finally got a chance to go this year. I got to attend some fun panels and also meet up with some of my podcasting friends. And of course, I had to take lots of cosplay pictures!

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I also got to do several interviews with a friend of mine for the ESO podcast, including talking to one of my favorite Star Wars authors, Timothy Zahn! It was hard not to geek out, but I am proud of myself for holding back my fangirl squeal when Zahn said he wouldn’t mind seeing Benedict Cumberbatch or Jason Isaacs play Grand Admiral Thrawn in a live action movie. 😉

Anyway, here are the four interviews we got to do at the con!

Timothy Zahn: https://esopodcast.com/star-wars-legends-eso-network-chats-with-author-timothy-zahn/
Disney animator Tom Bancroft: https://esopodcast.com/tale-as-old-as-time-eso-network-chats-with-disney-animator-tom-bancroft/
Star Wars artist Robert Hendrickson: https://esopodcast.com/illustrating-the-galaxy-discovering-the-artwork-of-robert-hendrickson/
NASA engineer Kim Steadman: https://esopodcast.com/to-boldly-go-nasa-engineer-kim-steadman-helps-humanity-explore-the-stars/

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading and re-watching some of my favorite movies at home. Sometimes I get caught up in new movies and doing reviews of those, so it’s been nice to re-watch some old favorites just for fun. (Of course that included some Star Wars movies, but you probably guessed that!) Although I love blogging and I’ve found that writing reviews has really deepened my love of film, sometimes I do miss watching a movie and just casually enjoying the experience, without having to worry about analyzing it for a review afterwards.

On a more serious note, I’ve also been struggling a bit this year in terms of fandom and how I relate to it. As you all well know, Star Wars is my favorite franchise, and the past year the Star Wars community has been a bit…“unsettled,” is perhaps the best way to put it. 😉 And Star Wars is not the only fandom struggling right now; I’ve seen some fans getting angry and saying terrible things to each other within the Doctor Who and Star Trek fandoms too. I’ve had to abandon some fan discussions on social media because people have started making sexist comments or talked down to me for liking things that I love.

However, I’m not giving up! As much as I used to rant about Twitter being a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” 😉 I’ve actually found a pretty fun community of film lovers there (though I’m very careful about who I follow because there’s still some pretty toxic stuff on Twitter). And I’ve started listening to some great podcasts too; I might have to do a write-up of my favorite geek podcasts eventually!

I still don’t know what the balance should be within fandom between promoting positivity and also allowing for thoughtful, honest (and sometimes negative) critique, but I’m going to keep exploring that! I want to have fun within my fandoms, yet I also don’t want to get caught in an echo chamber and surround myself only with voices that are very similar to mine. People shouldn’t be shamed for liking something, and people also shouldn’t be shamed for having a negative reaction.

I’m also going to try to be a little braver about sharing my opinion. A lot of times in the past, I’ve been afraid to share my opinion if it goes outside the “geek norm.” But I’m going to try to be better about standing up for my opinions; I definitely believe it’s possible to do that in a kind, respectful way. I’m going to keep working on gaining self-confidence as a reviewer/blogger; getting involved with the WordPress community has definitely helped with that!

In light of all that, I’ve been re-watching a lot of the Star Wars movies during my hiatus, and I think I have some major shifts in my ranking of the films (including a new #1 and #2). I’m planning to update my Star Wars ranking blog post fairly soon; I have a feeling it may be somewhat controversial 😉 ha ha but I love a rousing debate! I’m also planning to bring back the “movie bucket list” series I did a while back — i.e. famous films that I’m embarrassed I haven’t seen yet and want to get caught up on. If all goes well, a blog post about that should be going up next week!

Anyway, thanks to all of my lovely WordPress friends; I love discussing films with you, and thanks for being a fun, safe place on this often wild and wacky world of the Internet! May the Force be with you all — or, if you prefer, live long and prosper! 🙂

Taking a break from Box Office Buzz…

Hello, friends! Since I started blogging back in 2011, I’ve tried to do at least one post per week. While I’m definitely not planning to disappear from here on WordPress, I am going to take a little break for a month or so. I’ve got some other projects I’m working on, and September can kinda be a dead time at the movies anyway. 😉

So don’t worry, I won’t be gone forever, but it will probably be a little quiet around here for the next month or so. I look forward to seeing everyone else’s blogs, though, and I’m hoping to be back soon!

An outside perspective: I finally got my non-Star Wars loving husband to watch ‘The Last Jedi’

star-wars-the-last-jediIt’s been about eight months now since “The Last Jedi” was released in theaters, and while the controversy surrounding the most recent Star Wars saga film has died down, it certainly hasn’t gone away. “The Last Jedi” proved to be surprisingly divisive amongst the core fanbase, launching numerous debates and discussions. I personally don’t quite trust the often-cited Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 50 percent; I still believe more people had a positive reaction to this film than a negative one (especially when considering the high critics’ rating), although I’m definitely willing to acknowledge that my own biases could be coming into play here.

As of a couple weeks ago, my husband Aaron still had not seen the film, though he’d heard it was controversial. I always have to chuckle a bit when I tell people that my husband isn’t really a fan of Star Wars, because he’s married to the biggest Star Wars fan in our circle of family and friends. 😉 He’s not really a movie buff; he geeks out more over board games and video games. However, since I haven’t shut up about how much I loved “The Last Jedi” since I saw it last December, I finally convinced him to watch it. I thought it would be interesting to share his response, since he’s not really a fan of the franchise and could offer an outside perspective.

Some quick background information, for context: Although Aaron is not really into movies as much as I am, his favorite films are anything by Christopher Nolan (particularly “Interstellar”) and the new movie “Annihilation.” “Rogue One” is his favorite Star Wars movie, even though he’s not super excited about the others. I told my husband I didn’t want to watch “The Last Jedi” with him, because I didn’t want my own opinions to color his response (or to interrupt his viewing experience by exclaiming “Ooo, that’s my favorite part!” too many times or quoting lines of dialogue along with the film). He knew the portrayal of Luke was controversial, but I tried not to go into a lot of detail about common complaints regarding the film; I wanted to see what observations he would come up with on his own.

So, what was his verdict? He actually liked “The Last Jedi”! Not as much as “Rogue One” (he likes the grittier war movie feel of that one), but he said he would add “The Last Jedi” to the list of Star Wars movies he likes (sadly, that list has only two items as of now, but I still love him). 😉 I’ll bring him over to the light side someday!

Before I go further, I do want to clarify that this blog is not designed to shame anyone who didn’t like “The Last Jedi.” Everyone should be free to either like or dislike a movie, based on their own personal preference. I’ve just heard a lot of conversations about this movie from die-hard Star Wars fans, and I thought it would be interesting to hear from someone who’s not necessarily a part of the fandom. And even though Aaron liked many of the same things about this film that I did, he had some criticisms I didn’t share.

Interestingly, Aaron said his most favorite part of the film was what he and I jokingly call “Grumpy Luke.” “I liked that he didn’t do what the Star Wars film formula dictated that he should do, which is train the new Jedi, see them on their way, etc.,” my husband told me. “He did things that made sense with his character. I liked his sass. I liked the character.” Aaron said he particularly enjoyed Luke’s final appearance trolling Kylo and the First Order, appearing via Force projection versus in person. And, of course, that epic shoulder brush.

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For the other characters, he liked that the film gave Rey some flaws and darkness. He thought Rey was too powerful in “The Force Awakens”; I personally don’t agree with that take, as I really liked Rey from the beginning and her character makes a lot of sense to me. But he said enjoyed this take on the character more.

He liked Kylo tricking Snoke in the famous throne room scene. He said he didn’t mind it that Snoke died abruptly; he thought it was a clever twist in the story. He also liked the Kylo and Hux power struggle, and he liked Hux as a character.

Aaron appreciated that Poe was taken to task for his reckless decision-making and insubordination and then learned from the experience. The “hotshot flyboy” archetype in films (i.e. the “Top Gun” Maverick type) usually gets away with reckless behavior with a wink and nod, but “The Last Jedi” taught Poe an important lesson about humility. Aaron liked Vice Admiral Holdo, which I thought was really interesting. I’m a fan of Holdo as well, but she is one of the characters I see the most complaints about from fans. He didn’t like her as much at first, but then he said he enjoyed her character more as he realized she had a plan and cared more about doing the right thing than just protecting her own reputation.

Aaron did have some things he would like to change about the film. He didn’t like the animation on the Porgs (which hurts to hear, as I love everything about the Porgs). 😉 He also thought that Finn and Rose surviving the explosion in Snoke’s flagship was a little unrealistic (he likes to point out “plot armor” in films a lot more than I do). 😛 He would have cut out the casino scene, which is another common complaint about the movie. He also would have liked to see even more flaws built into Rey’s character, and he thought Leia’s character should have either died in space or not gotten sucked out into the vacuum in the first place. I don’t share all of those criticisms, but I think it’s always important to share alternate takes!

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So after Aaron watched the film and enjoyed it overall, I asked him why he thought the film had proved to be so controversial. He felt Luke’s portrayal was probably a deal-breaker for some fans, especially if they were expecting something closer to his portrayal in the old Expanded Universe. He also thought maybe some fans would have preferred a more traditional master/padawan relationship between Rey and Luke.

“I’m honestly a little surprised that it provoked as much controversy as it did,” he said of the movie. “It’s kind of a departure from the tone of the previous movies, but it’s not that much of a departure. It’s still Star Wars.”

The humor, the lack of a time jump, and Snoke’s lack of backstory were some other complaints that I have seen from fans, but Aaron didn’t bring those up. None of those three things bothered me, so maybe I’ve just indoctrinated him at this point. 😉

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So again, if you didn’t enjoy “The Last Jedi,” I definitely respect that, and I don’t want anyone to feel that I’m trying to pressure everyone into having the same opinion as I do. But it’s always interesting to me to hear from more casual fans who don’t have the same stake in these franchises as I do. I don’t think I’ve convinced Aaron to come watch Episode IX with me on opening night, but he said he’d watch it later if I thought he’d like it, so that’s something, at least!

If you have family members or friends who aren’t die-hard Star Wars fans, I’d love to hear what they thought of “The Last Jedi” as well! I’d like to keep the conversation going. At least to me, it’s more fun when we don’t all agree but can share our different opinions in a safe space. May the Force be with you all!

Box office breakdown: Summer 2018 in review

InfinityWar5aa86b6fdaeb5.0It’s hard to believe it, but another summer movie season has already come and gone at the box office. Although this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, the biggest winner of the summer was “Avengers: Infinity War,” wrapping up a decade of buildup and letting the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ultimate villain, Thanos, take center stage.

“Infinity War” made a boatload of money — over $2 billion worldwide, to be precise. Domestically, though, it couldn’t *quite* touch “Black Panther’s” insanely impressive $700 million. “Black Panther’s” exciting reign at the box office is a topic worthy of an article all on its own, and the film clearly resonated with audiences.

“Infinity War” is my personal favorite movie of the year so far, simply because it was such a joy to see all these characters we’ve fallen in love with in one big movie together. I figure most people have heard about the ending already, but just in case, spoiler alert! I loved that they actually let Thanos snap with the gauntlet, even if I’m 100 percent sure that those characters who disappeared are coming back. In fact, that’s my one little gripe about the film; the deaths are well-acted, particularly the scene with Spider-Man and Tony. But I know these deaths aren’t going to stick, which guts their impact just a little. However, I’m waiting to pass judgement on that until I see part 2 next year, because I have a feeling some of the original Avengers will be called to make some devastating sacrifices in order to bring back the characters who crumbled into dust.

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While “Infinity War” was the biggest film of the summer, there were quite a few nice, smaller surprises along the way. I actually enjoyed “Deadpool 2” a lot more than the original; I liked the story more, I laughed at the jokes more, and Josh Brolin was awesome as time-traveling soldier Cable (Brolin wins the award for this summer’s biggest overachiever, as he also did an awesome job playing Thanos). And speaking of awesome, “Mission Impossible – Fallout” was fantastic, and is one of the best action flicks I’ve seen in a long time. I always forget about that franchise, and then it always comes back and amazes me. It was definitely a must-see this summer.

I was sad to see “Solo: A Star Wars Story” under-perform, because it really was a fun movie, despite all the drama behind the scenes. Sure, it didn’t carry the same narrative weight or emotion as “The Last Jedi,” but it’s an entertaining heist flick, and it deserved to make more money than it did. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with what Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise, and now it seems like an insanely long wait until Episode IX. I still think Disney should have held “Solo” until late fall this year, but we’ll never know how that might have played out differently at the box office.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” didn’t receive glowing reviews from critics, but I had a lot of fun watching that movie. Dinosaurs on the big screen always make me smile.

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Although I didn’t see any films this summer that I disliked, I was a bit disappointed in a couple of films I was really looking forward to: “Incredibles 2” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Granted, I still had fun watching these movies, and I was glad I saw them in the theater. But at least for me, neither one of them *quite* lived up to their predecessors. I know others who really loved them, though, and I’d still recommend them.

The last film I saw this summer was “Christopher Robin,” and I thought it was a perfect note to end on. Disney’s live-action Winnie the Pooh adaptation was a lovely little tale about rediscovering joy in life, and it felt like an incredibly relevant and timely message. The importance of kindness, friendship, and compassion is a lesson that needs to be shared as often as possible.

And…that’s it! There are a couple other films that were released this summer that I’d like to catch on DVD but I probably won’t be back at the theater until late fall. I hope everyone had a great time at the movies this summer, and I’d love to hear your favorites and least favorites! Here’s my quick list — what’s yours?

Favorite movie: Avengers: Infinity War
Least favorite movie: Incredibles 2 (I’m really sorry, Pixar! I promise, I didn’t hate this movie!)
Best scene: Thor arriving on the battlefield in Wakanda
Best soundtrack: Solo: A Star Wars Story
Best laughs: Deadpool 2
Best special effects: Infinity War
Best character: Thanos
Least favorite character: The villain in Incredibles 2
Most suspenseful: Mission Impossible – Fallout
Best surprise: Christopher Robin