Too much of a good thing? Disney company officially acquires Fox

Castle-3-DPSBy now you’ve probably seen the meme of Mickey Mouse wearing Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet from “Infinity War,” with the Infinity Stones symbolizing the different franchises/studios Disney has acquired thus far — Star Wars, Marvel, etc.

Last week, the Walt Disney Company officially added another “Infinity Stone” to the gauntlet; the company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox was finalized March 20.

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I’ve seen a variety of responses to this news. For some fans, it’s a positive move. Disney can now integrate the X-Men and the Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, should they choose to do so (they’re definitely going to choose to do so). However, there are also concerns about Disney becoming a creative and economic monopoly. Will they drown out competitors and stifle creativity?

I’m still not sure how I feel about the acquisition overall, but I’m leaning more towards the negative. I’d like to see a really good Fantastic Four movie, and I believe Disney will make that happen. On the other hand, while “Infinity Gauntlet Mickey” is a funny joke, I don’t know that I like the idea of Disney exercising that much control over content. Disney is already an entertainment powerhouse, and we’ve seen some examples of Disney strong-arming movie theaters.

My hope is that Disney continues to allow for diversity of content. Fox has some great films in its recent repertoire: “Logan,” the Planet of the Apes reboot series, “The Martian,” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (the sequel…not so much). Not to mention classics like “Alien” and the original Star Wars trilogy.

Some of these are family oriented, some are not. It’s important to have great movies for all ages, and I appreciate Disney’s history of kid-friendly films. However, it’s also important to allow for darker, more serious content for adults that covers deeper themes. I want films like “Logan” to still exist.

The Fantastic Four will fold nicely into the MCU, but I’d not actually super keen on adding the X-Men into that cinematic universe. I love the Marvel movies and the way they tie together and have a common feel/overarching narrative. But I don’t want all superhero movies to feel the same, and I appreciate that the X-Men franchise was its own thing.

I feel like Disney has done a great job letting Lucasfilm be creatively independent, so I don’t think we have to worry about all new Disney/Fox films having the exact same feel. And Pixar has produced a number of excellent animated films after their Disney acquisition in 2006 (though there’s definitely a lot more sequels).

I also have mixed feelings about Disney’s new streaming service. As a consumer, it is a bit frustrating to have to keep signing up for different streaming services in order to access all the content you want to watch. Despite my protests about this trend, I’ve already decided to cave and sign up for the Disney streaming service (I’ll admit it, exclusive Star Wars content always gets me).

But I worry about Netflix’s future without access to the Disney or (presumably) Fox catalogs, and I don’t want strong original projects like “Stranger Things” to go away if Netflix were to one day fold. (“Daredevil” and the other Marvel TV shows already have.)

In short, I don’t have insider expertise about how the entertainment industry works behind the scenes, so I don’t really know how the Fox acquisition will impact what films we will (or won’t) be seeing. Maybe we won’t really see much change in content, though we should still be concerned about Disney using its bargaining power to force movie theaters into agreements that are more in Disney’s best interest than the theater’s (i.e. making them show a certain film for a minimum number of weeks and provide a certain percentage of ticket prices).

This particular paragraph from a Wikipedia article particularly concerns me:

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As a film fan, what do you think? What are the positives and negatives of this deal? What are you excited about and concerned about? How will this impact the entertainment industry?

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Super-powered success: The future of the MCU and the DCEU

MCUDCEUI’m sure many geeks would agree that this is a pretty good time to be a superhero fan. Superhero films seem to be breaking box office records left and right, and we’re seeing a diverse array of superhero stories portrayed on both the big screen and on TV.

If all this somehow stopped right now, and we never got another superhero film or TV show, we still would have a wonderful wealth of content to look back on. I’d keep watching “Wonder Woman” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” over and over and over again (which is pretty much what I already do right now).

However, of course superhero films aren’t going away anytime soon, because they continue to make a boatload of money. So, what does the future look like for the two big franchises, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe (and outliers like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four)?

For the MCU, I’m very curious to see what happens (or doesn’t happen) in “Endgame,” and if this film really will serve as a reset of sorts.

Before I say what I’m going to say next, I feel like I have to repeat that I am a big MCU fan and I love all these characters. That being said, I do feel it’s time for “Endgame” to drop a big, shocking twist and send the MCU in a new direction.

Maybe that means retiring certain characters — or even killing them off, as long as it’s done in a narratively satisfying way. I love Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, etc., but I’m curious to see some movies with a new line-up of heroes, like Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange. I really loved the character of Carol Danvers, and I can definitely see her as the new head of the Avengers.

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I’ve mentioned this before but going forward, I’d like the MCU to steer the narrative in a more cosmic direction. We’ve seen plenty of Earth-based superhero films; I want to see heroes like Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange adventuring into space or other dimensions. I want to the MCU to really blend the sci-fi and superhero genres.

I’d also like to see character-driven, smaller-scale adventures like “Spider-Man: Homecoming” that feature lower-stakes villains. “Spider-Man: Far from Home” looks like a ton of fun, and I want more of that.

It will be interesting to see if the MCU remains a box office powerhouse after “Endgame” or if interest will level off a bit. Historically, there really hasn’t been a franchise quite like the MCU, so I don’t know that we can make a prediction.

My personal guess? It’s going to take a while to build up to “Endgame”-level hype again, but I think that’s okay. Like I said, I’d love to see some smaller or more creatively risky films (like “Guardians of the Galaxy” initially was). And hey, if these films *only* make $1 billion at the box office instead of $2 billion, that’s still pretty darn good.

I do want to see an MCU Fantastic Four film eventually; there’s a ton of possibility there, and quite a bit of demand from fans to see these characters again (in a film that serves their story better). As for the X-Men, I’d actually prefer that they let that franchise rest for a while. I enjoyed the originals with Hugh Jackman, and I have also enjoyed the prequels with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. I don’t really want to see an X-Men reboot for a while, regardless of how “Dark Phoenix” turns out. Maybe they should take a break for a decade or so and then come back and revisit the characters (although Disney will probably not want to wait that long after acquiring Fox).

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While the DC Extended Universe has had a more troubled trajectory than the MCU, I feel like they’re finally starting to find their footing. I loved “Wonder Woman,” and it’s one of my all-time favorite movies. I’m already hyped for the sequel. And even though “Aquaman” had its flaws, it was a lot of fun. I’m hearing good initial buzz about “Shazam!” and if it’s a hit, the DCEU is going to be in a pretty good position.

I actually don’t mind if the DCEU steers away from big team-ups like “Justice League.” The MCU does great team-up movies, but the DCEU doesn’t have to copy that or necessarily have this expansive, interconnected universe where every film is intricately tied into one overarching narrative.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of 2016’s “Suicide Squad” but I am intrigued by the notion of former “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn taking on possible writing and directing duties. Apparently he’s been rehired for the Guardians franchise, which is good news, but I also don’t want him to abandon the Suicide Squad reboot because I think he’d be a really great fit for that project. Especially if the rumors are true and Idris Elba will be joining the film.

It does sound like Ben Affleck is officially out as Batman, which makes me sad because I thought he was one of the best things about the early DCEU and is actually my favorite cinematic Batman. His solo film could have been something truly special, but Hollywood projects don’t always work out. I’ll always remember you, Batfleck!

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I’m not really excited about the solo “Joker” film coming later this year; one of my geek confessions is that I’ve never really been a fan of the Joker as a character, so a standalone movie doesn’t interest me much. However, it does look like an interesting concept (it’s also separate from the DCEU), and I’m excited for those who are big fans of the character.

Finally, “Birds of Prey” looks pretty cool. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was probably the best performance in “Suicide Squad,” and a female supervillain/anti-hero team-up sounds like tons of fun.

In short, there’s a lot of superhero stuff to look forward to in the coming months and years. I guess my biggest hope is that these franchises don’t get stuck in a rut. They need to keep innovating and finding ways to make the material feel fresh. Even though “Thor: Ragnarok” wasn’t my personal favorite MCU film, I want to see these studios continue to experiment with styles and tones.

Movie review: ‘Captain Marvel’ takes the MCU ‘higher, further, faster’

Captain-Marvel-Character-PostersIn the coming days and weeks, I’m sure there will be plenty of articles addressing the impact of “Captain Marvel,” from the movie’s massive $150 million opening weekend, to the implications this character will have on the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (if anyone has a shot at taking out Thanos, it’s definitely Carol Danvers).

However, to me the most important impact this film is making, is on a much smaller, more personal scale: all the photos and stories I’ve been seeing on social media highlighting what this character means to young girls.

After 10 years and 20 movies, “Captain Marvel” is the MCU’s first female-led superhero film. It’s an exciting milestone, hopefully paving the way for more female Marvel superheroes to get stories of their own.

Before she fully becomes Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers is a Kree warrior with no memory of her past. She helps keep the peace across the galaxy as part of a special ops team, fighting against the shape-shifting Skrulls. That’s until one mission unexpectedly goes awry, and Carol finds herself stranded on planet Earth…a place with some rather important ties to her past. As Carol begins to question who (and what) she is, she learns how to fully embrace her powers and become who she was meant to be.

“Captain Marvel” will probably end up landing somewhere in the middle of my MCU ranking (probably upper middle, though I’ll need to see the movie again to say for sure). It actually feels rather like a phase 1 MCU film, and it would have felt at home next to the first Iron Man and Thor movies. In fact, watching “Captain Marvel” made me sad that we didn’t get to see Carol in the Avengers line-up as part of the first Avengers team-up movie in 2012, but at least she will be part of the team for “Endgame.”

“Captain Marvel” is a fairly standard origin story, though there are a couple unexpected twists. A superhero origin story fails or succeeds based on the performance of the lead actor, and I loved seeing Brie Larson join the MCU as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. I didn’t know a lot about the character or her personality ahead of time, and I wanted to purposely keep it that way so I could walk into the film and be surprised.

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I loved the character’s brash recklessness and sense of humor (I’m imagining a fun fanfic involving Carol Danvers, Han Solo, and Captain Kirk going on an intergalactic adventure together). She brings a unique flavor to the MCU, and it will be fun to see her with more established characters like Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. I do wish the script had dived just a *little* deeper into the character’s feelings regarding the revelation of her true backstory, and the film could have done more to explore her past relationships with some of her fellow Kree warriors. But maybe we’ll get more of that material in the sequel.

Another highlight of the film was seeing Samuel L. Jackson return as Nick Fury. His appearance is far more than a cameo this time, and it was so fun to see the dynamic between him and Carol. Parts of the film almost have a “buddy cop movie” vibe. I was initially a little worried about the de-aging technology (the movie takes place in the ’90s) and feared the character would cross over into uncanny valley. However, the CGI looked incredibly realistic to me and never distracted from the story.

There are some other fun side characters to round out the cast. It’s always good to see Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, and I loved that Carol’s best friend from Earth, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), got to play a role in the film. We don’t get to see enough female friendships in action/genre films, and this was a welcome addition to the film. Also, Goose the Cat totally steals the show. I cannot say more, but just…don’t underestimate the cat.

Some things I would have changed about the film: I really enjoyed the beginning and ending of the film, but there are parts of the middle that dragged a little, at least for me. Maybe my opinion on that will change on second viewing, now that I know where the story was going. Also, this is probably another personal thing, but I wished more of the movie had taken place in space. I’m really hoping to see more of the cosmic side of the MCU as the franchise moves forward, and I would love if the Captain Marvel sequel primarily took place in space.

I also felt Jude Law’s character was a little underused, and I think more depth for this character (and screen time) would have boosted the film’s lagging middle section.

However, all that aside, there’s a lot to enjoy about this film, and it’s wonderful to see a female superhero starring in her own Marvel movie. I don’t think Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman will have to stand on their own for long.

Anyone can be a hero: Why female superheroes matter

MV5BMTE0YWFmOTMtYTU2ZS00ZTIxLWE3OTEtYTNiYzBkZjViZThiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODMzMzQ4OTI@._V1_You’ve probably heard by now that Rotten Tomatoes recently made some changes to the layout of their website. This is because trolls decided to bombard the site with negative early ratings for “Captain Marvel,” even before they’d seen the film.

It’s disheartening to see people trying to create negative buzz surrounding Marvel’s first female-led film, simply because the film stars a woman. And even though I’m glad Rotten Tomatoes is making changes, I fear those same trolls will be bombing the site with negative reviews as soon as the film releases, not unlike what happened with “The Last Jedi.”

I love being a geek, but sometimes I just feel…tired. I’m tired of the negative discourse that takes place online surrounding my favorite fandoms. I’m tired of the anger, and I’m tired of the controversy.

And yet, I also know that ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Sometimes, we have to talk about it — to pull this discourse into the light and examine what is really happening, so that we can all grow better together.

As a female geek, I feel like many of my favorite franchises are making a real effort to help women feel more included, and that means a lot to me. Yet when I see trolls complaining about female superheroes like Captain Marvel, it steals some of that joy away. It makes me feel sad and invalid as a fan; if female lead characters aren’t welcome, am I unwelcome in the fandom also?

I’m not sure what we can do about the situation, and sometimes that makes me feel discouraged.

I’m blessed to be a part of many wonderful geek discussion communities online, including WordPress bloggers; the ESO Network and the Story Geeks podcasts; the Star Wars Cantina group on Reddit; to name a few. I love the people involved with these groups, and I’m proud to call them my friends.

Yet how do we stop the trolls hiding behind their computer screens, who are complaining about women in geek films and acting as gatekeepers as they try to keep out the influx of new fans? Do we call them out on social media when they make an inflammatory post, or does that only fuel their fire? How can you teach someone that their behavior is hurtful, when they’re so entrenched in their own opinions that they can’t see beyond their own point of view?

Change takes time, and we may never completely wipe out this negative undercurrent from fandom. But I do believe that change is possible, and I think it starts by sharing our stories. Stories have power — we know this because we’re all passionate geeks, and stories are what bring us into these fandoms in the first place. We have to keep sharing why female heroes matter, on a personal level.

Here’s why they matter to me.

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When I think about the impact of female heroes in film, the first movie that comes to mind is “Wonder Woman.” I wasn’t prepared for how deeply this film was going to move me. Walking into the theater, I was excited to see a female-led superhero film, but when it came to the part where Wonder Woman climbs up the ladder and starts walking across No Man’s Land, tears actually filled my eyes.

I hadn’t realized how long I’d been waiting to see a female superhero have a big, badass moment in her own movie. Wonder Woman was out there in the line of fire, unapologetically fighting for justice and freedom and saving the day with her courage and compassion. Not just as a member of a larger ensemble, and not relegated to the role of “love interest” — it was just her, burning as a bright beacon of hope in a desolate war zone.

About a week after I watched “Wonder Woman,” I received a life-changing medical diagnosis. Even though “Wonder Woman” was just a movie, this story gave me hope in a difficult time. And as I struggled to adapt to my new reality, that scene from “Wonder Woman” became an important metaphor for me, inspiring me to keep persevering. Wonder Woman was strong, and I could be too.

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I felt something similar when watching “The Force Awakens” for the first time. There are many things I enjoyed about “The Force Awakens” — seeing Han, Chewie, and the Millennium Falcon again; hearing John Williams’ famous Star Wars theme and watching the opening crawl; and so many other special moments. But the scene that stood out to me the most is the lightsaber fight between Rey and Kylo in the snowy forest on Starkiller Base.

Kylo reaches out through the Force, trying to call Anakin’s old lightsaber to him, but it doesn’t respond…until Rey reaches out through the Force and it snaps into her hands, the music swelling.

I got a little teary-eyed then too. Star Wars has had great female characters in the past, but there was something especially moving about seeing a young female Force user as a main character in a saga film for the first time. Rey is a character that continues to inspire me, and cosplaying as her at geek conventions brings me so much joy.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, either. About a year ago, I went to a Star Wars cosplay panel at a con, featuring one of the major Star Wars costuming groups. The speaker commented that they’d seen an increase in interest in their costuming group as part of the Disney Star Wars era — and a lot of that had to do with people wanting to dress up as Rey.

Rey, Wonder Woman, and now Captain Marvel as well mean a lot to female fans, regardless of age, but I think it’s especially important for young girls. I can’t wait to introduce my 2-year-old niece to characters like Rey and Wonder Woman. I want to share these stories with her and show her that yes, she can be a hero too.

However, sometimes I fear what my niece may experience in the fandom. I hope that some of the things that have happened to me will not happen to her, and I don’t want online trolls to take away the joy she could experience.

It hurt when someone I didn’t even know found my tweet on Twitter about why Leia and Rey mean a lot to me and then “explained” to me in a very condescending way why I shouldn’t like Rey because she “was not a good character.” It hurt when a stranger walked up to me in an amusement park because he saw my Star Wars jacket and eventually ended up lecturing me on why I shouldn’t like “The Last Jedi,” not even letting me speak for myself or share why I thought the way I did. It hurt when I saw people complain about “SJWs” in “Captain Marvel” or the new female “Doctor Who,” because I felt like what they were really saying was “I just don’t want women as main characters in my favorite movies. You are not welcome in this fandom.”

Fellow female geeks, don’t let the negative discourse stop you from being involved in fandom. Keep sharing about why characters like Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman matter to you. Leave positive comments and reviews, and share your stories. These female-led movies are clearly resonating with audiences — just look at the box office results for films like “Wonder Woman,” the Hunger Games series, the new Star Wars films, and the projected $100 million+ opening for “Captain Marvel.”

We are not alone, and we CAN change tone of the discourse. Whoever or wherever you are — you have a voice and a place in fandom. When my niece reaches the age I am now, I hope she’ll find a fandom that is even more welcoming and full of rich female characters that she can look up to.

Like Captain Marvel, let’s reach “higher, further, faster” together.

TV review: You really should be watching ‘The Umbrella Academy’ on Netflix

1280-umbrellaacademy-1550093190191_1280wNormally I’m not much of a binge-watcher when it comes to TV. But last week I was stuck home sick for two days straight, and my only options were A) Spend all day lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, and feeling sorry for myself or B) Try to distract myself from feeling miserable by finding something interesting to watch on Netflix. I’d seen a trailer a while back for “The Umbrella Academy” that intrigued me, so I thought, “Why not give it a try?”

I ended up finishing the first season in a day and half, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. While “The Umbrella Academy” might not be for everyone, it certainly grabbed my attention, and I found the story and the characters so compelling that I couldn’t stop watching until I found out how it ended.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show quite like “The Umbrella Academy.” Perhaps the best way to wrap one’s mind around it is to think of it as a delightfully eccentric combination of the X-Men movies, “Stranger Things,” “Harry Potter,” “The X-Files,” and a dash of “Arrested Development.” It has some funny, wacky moments, but also some incredibly dark and heartbreaking twists.

To quickly summarize the plot: in 1989, approximately 43 women around the world become pregnant and immediately give birth on the exact same day. A mysterious billionaire named Sir Reginald Hargreeves adopts seven of these children and establishes “The Umbrella Academy,” a school for training superheroes.

Both aloof and exacting, Hargreeves gives the children numbers instead of names and doesn’t hesitate to put them in harm’s way (even though it’s apparently for a good cause, such as stopping bank robberies). He reveals that the children’s strange origins have given them all unique powers…except for Number Seven, who appears perfectly ordinary and is often left out of her siblings’ adventures.

Naturally, this dysfunctional upbringing doesn’t exactly create a warm sense of camaraderie between the siblings, and they eventually go their separate ways. It’s not until the unexpected death of their father that they are reunited and begin to work through some of their past issues. Oh, and they also have to find a way to stop the impending apocalypse.

“The Umbrella Academy” is the perfect sort of project for Netflix to take on. This concept probably would have felt too rushed and unsatisfying as a two-hour film, and I just can’t see it working as a standard TV network drama with 20+ episodes a season. The 10-episode first season feels just right; you get to dive deeply into the characters but the plot keeps clipping along without unnecessary filler.

There’s some really weird/crazy stuff that happens in “The Umbrella Academy,” but what anchors it are the performances. I feel that everybody’s going to come away with a different favorite character, but I actually really liked all the adopted Hargreeves children. They each had a distinct personality, a unique power, and (of course) some secrets they are not necessarily keen to share.

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Luther/Number One tries to be the responsible one, attempting to carry on the mission of the Umbrella Academy long after everyone else has given up and become disillusioned with their father’s original vision. Diego/Number Two is a crime-fighting vigilante with anger issues, while Allison/Number Three is a famous actress with a sunny smile and a good heart…and the power to command people to do anything she wants by whispering the words, “I heard a rumor…”

Klaus/Number Four is a shameless addict who pretends not to care about anyone or anything, but is really just terrified of his power to speak to the dead. Number Five (who’s never given another name) is a world-weary adult stuck in a teenager’s body, and Ben/Number Six once commanded monsters but is now absent, presumably dying in the line of duty.

And finally, there is Vanya/Number Seven, who is unlike her siblings in many ways and was apparently born without a special gift. She has trained to become a violinist and is trying to make peace with her past. Of course, there is far more lurking beneath the surface than the audience (and even Vanya herself) realizes.

These short descriptions don’t really do the characters justice, but I don’t want to give away much of the plot. I loved each of these characters and the journeys that they went on. Even though I did see most of the plot twists coming, that didn’t take away from the impact of the story.

While the Hargreeves siblings are the stars of the show, there are some fun side characters as well, particularly the time-traveling assassins Hazel and Cha-Cha. But to say more about them would, unfortunately, also involve spoilers.

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Another feature that really elevates this series is the cinematography. There are a number of shots that really leaped off the screen; the camera angles, lighting, and even musical choices really made this series stand out to me. I don’t really have any criticisms of the show, though perhaps I might have found a couple if I wasn’t watching it while sleep deprived and running a fever. 😉

I’ve seen a variety of responses to “The Umbrella Academy” pop up online; I’ve heard other people gushing about it, and others say they quit without finishing it. As I mentioned before, this series may not work for everyone, but I think that’s okay.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I really like movies and TV shows that inspire a range of strong responses. Some people may really love it, and some people may really hate it. Yet “The Umbrella Academy” is definitely a distinctive story, and it really worked for me. The dysfunctional characters and the contrast between the quirky humor and the darker plot twists felt like a perfect combination.

While the story is definitely going to continue in a second season, it has an ending that is satisfying enough that I won’t be going crazy for a year until the next chapter in the story is released. I highly recommend giving “The Umbrella Academy” a try!

Movie review: ‘Alita: Battle Angel’

17010I wasn’t really sure what to expect from “Alita: Battle Angel.” I remember seeing a trailer for it all the way back when I watched “The Last Jedi” in theaters in December 2017, so I’m assuming somewhere along the line it got delayed or pushed back.

The film was finally released in theaters Valentine’s Day weekend. Despite a decent marketing push, it opened to under $30 million over the weekend…not quite what the studio was hoping for from a potential franchise-launcher.

The film is based on a manga series about a young woman named Alita who is haunted by her past as a cyborg super-warrior. She’s torn between wanting to live as a regular girl and to also use her unique powers to help people. Of course, there are some who don’t care about her as a person and merely want to weaponize her, and she has to fight to protect herself, her family, and her friends.

If you’ve seen the ads, you’ve probably figured out that the character of Alita is brought to life via CGI, with large eyes and a mechanical body. At first I experienced a bit of “uncanny valley” but I got used to it as the film went on. You can sense the performance of real-life actress Rosa Salazar driving the character.

I enjoyed this film more than I anticipated, and my favorite part was actually the world-building. The story takes place in a sort of post-apocalyptic/steampunk city called “Iron City,” where there are many people with cyborg parts walking down the streets. In the sky above you can see the more prosperous, floating city of Zalem; many people trapped down on the ground in Iron City dream of someday traveling upwards and finding a better life.

Iron City felt lived-in, with a distinctive design and its own unique culture. I thought the population mix of humans and cyborgs was fascinating; some cyborgs have just one robot arm while others appear to have almost completely robotic bodies. Licensed vigilantes called Hunter-Warriors help keep the streets safe from crime.

I thought the story was pretty good as well, although the dialogue isn’t particularly strong (and some of the actors’ delivery of this dialogue is a little flat). Of the side characters, my favorite was definitely Christoph Waltz’s Dr. Ido. I loved watching he and Alita’s relationship develop, as she starts looking up to him as the father she never had.

You’ll see several other famous faces pop up throughout the film — notably, Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly, although I wish the script had given them more to do. I also thought the character of Hugo, Alita’s love interest, came across as a little bland, which is a shame because there’s some really interesting twists with this character towards the end of the film.

My biggest disappointment with the film is that it introduces some thought-provoking themes but never really dives into them too deeply. Whenever cyborgs show up as part of a story, it’s a great opportunity to examine the question “what makes us truly ‘human’?” How does it feel to be a cyborg: part human and part machine? At what point would a cyborg stop being human and simply become a robot? In the film, there is one character who is saved from death by being converted to a cyborg in an emergency operation. Was that ethical? How much say did this character really get in what happened to them?

Again, the film does look at some of these issues, but not with the level of complexity I was hoping for. Like the dialogue, it remains on more of a surface level.

While “Alita: Battle Angel” doesn’t achieve cinematic greatness per se, I still enjoyed watching it and would like to see more of the story. I am disappointed to see it stumble at the box office, because this probably means we won’t get to experience the rest of Alita’s journey. Maybe it was just a hard film to market? Maybe it would have worked better as a Netflix miniseries?

Regardless, I would like to return to the world of Iron City and maybe even see other stories involving different characters in this setting.

Movie review: ‘The Lego Movie 2’ is more okay than awesome

hero_lego-movie-2Even though lovable minifigure Emmet saved the day in “The Lego Movie,” life in Bricksburg is most definitely no longer awesome.

The Lego world that Emmet and his friends live in has become a grim, post-apocalyptic wasteland, that not even Emmet’s eternal optimism can fix. When his best friend Lucy is kidnapped by an invader from outer space, Emmet has to find the courage to venture into strange new worlds and face a mysterious and dangerous new villain.

When “The Lego Movie” arrived in theaters in 2014, it was an unexpected hit. It could have easily come across as a cash grab or a really long toy commercial, but instead it managed to be wonderfully zany, surprisingly heartfelt, and a ton of fun. Chris Pratt voiced everyman minifigure Emmet, who sincerely believes that everything is, indeed, awesome (let’s admit it — even five years later, we all still have that song stuck in our heads). Will Arnett’s Lego Batman was a breakout star who eventually got his own spinoff, and the movie also had a nice message about rediscovering your childhood.

Right or wrong, “The Lego Movie 2” hasn’t quite captured that same level of buzz, boasting a lower-than-expected box office haul. Sometimes, it’s hard to replicate that same sense of magic with a sequel.

On the surface, “The Lego Movie 2” has everything the first movie had: wacky jokes, some fun cameos (my favorite was definitely the Bruce Willis “Die Hard” reference), and a surprising twist that shifts the way you think the story is going to go. But overall it doesn’t feel as fresh or fun as the original.

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Maybe it’s because the script isn’t quite as strong, or maybe it’s because we know what to expect now; the concept no longer feels like an exciting novelty. Also, maybe five years was too long to wait to release the sequel, and audiences have moved on to other franchises.

However, I did still enjoy watching this movie. It’s fun to see famous characters like the Justice League pop up in the story, and there are some funny new songs. My favorite involved Batman performing a duet with another character, but to say more would be a spoiler (just know that it’s a fun play on the Batman vs. Superman rivalry).

I loved the Mad Max aesthetic of the washed-up Bricksburg in the beginning of the film, and there’s an entertaining new character (also voiced by Chris Pratt) named Rex Dangervest. He’s a space-traveling raptor trainer/cowboy/action hero etc., etc., etc. — a fun play on some of Pratt’s previous live-action roles. I loved all the scenes with the Lego raptors, especially when their squeaks and growls were translated via captions on screen.

This is turning out to be a shorter than normal review, but I really don’t have a lot else to say. As mentioned previously, I had fun watching the movie, and it was nice to get out of the house on a cold, dreary winter afternoon. Yet I probably won’t be rushing out to watch this movie again, and I don’t plan to add it to my personal DVD collection, like I did with the first one.

If you’re a fan of the first “Lego Movie,” then part 2 is still worth seeing…just go into the theater knowing that it’s more “okay” than “awesome.”

There and back again: Revisiting Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy

the-lord-of-the-rings-hd-wallpapers-33796-6112247This year, the first Lord of the Rings movie, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” turns 18 — if you can believe that. It doesn’t seem like it’s been nearly 20 years since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy first arrived in theaters, making an impact on film and pop culture that continues to be felt today.

The trilogy is now so well-regarded by critics and fans that it’s weird to think back and remember what a gamble these films initially were. Three films (all 3 or more hours long) filmed simultaneously by a relatively unknown director, drawing from beloved but complicated (and lengthy!) source material? Many studios might have feared a potentially catastrophic flop, but Jackson stuck to his creative vision, and fans were rewarded with one of the best film trilogies ever made.

It’s been a number of years since I last sat down to watch the Lord of the Rings movies, and I was curious to see how well the films held up over time, especially since special effects technology has continued to evolve since the early 2000s.

My husband and I recently re-watched these movies, and I was happy to find that, yes, the LOTR trilogy is still awesome. The few special effects that did feel dated by no means lessened our enjoyment of the film.

I’d forgotten just how good these movies were, and re-watching them made me fall in love with them all over again. Here are some of the reasons why I think this trilogy has aged so well.

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The journey begins…

It doesn’t matter how good a film’s special effects are — or even how cool the plot is — if the audience doesn’t connect with the characters. While Jackson already had plenty of great characters to work with, thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien’s original text, the casting for this film was spot-on, and remains one of the best ensemble casts I’ve ever seen.

It’s a shame that some of the actors who appeared in this movie have fallen off Hollywood’s radar over the years, but I’m glad new generations of fans will be able to discover their performances here. The acting, costumes, and makeup truly bring these characters to life, and I feel like if I tried to start listing out my favorite performances, I’d end up just listing the entire cast.

Another feature that really helps this film is the fact that Jackson chose to shoot so many scenes on location. These films came out around the same time as “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones,” but Episode II feels more dated because of its over-reliance on special effects. Jackson took the time to build lots of props and sets, and he showed off the breathtaking beauty of his native New Zealand, which truly is a real-life Middle Earth. Even after another 20 years, the cinematography is still going to look amazing.

Now, there are a few scenes where you go, “yeah, I can tell that’s some early-2000s CGI,” but this doesn’t happen a lot. I’m so glad they decided to use makeup and costumes for the Orcs, and took time to build all those props, armor, and models. They add so much texture and realism to the film.

Speaking of CGI, Gollum still looks great, and it just amazes me that they were able to make him appear so lifelike. A lot of that has to do with Andy Serkis’ performance; Hollywood owes him a lot for his pioneering motion-capture work. Gollum is also a wonderfully complex character, the kind you love to hate but also, in certain moments, catch yourself feeling just a little bit sorry for.

And I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention the music in this movie. Howard Shore’s score for this film not only fits with the story perfectly, it’s a beautiful musical work all on its own. The epic, sweeping pieces match the grand scale of the story being told.

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The road goes ever on and on…

Although Star Wars is my all-time favorite franchise (and the one I find myself returning to most often), the Lord of the Rings has a special place in my heart because it was the franchise that first got me into geek culture. It sparked my interest in film and cosplay, and it introduced me to the concept that there were a number of fans across the world who were also super passionate about fictional worlds. Even though we didn’t know each other, I could connect with another fan just by saying, “Hey, do you love the Lord of the Rings as much as I do?”

My favorite characters when I was a teenager were Sam and Éowyn, and re-watching the film reminded me of how much they meant to me. Sam might not be a badass warrior, but to me he’s possibly the biggest hero in the whole story. His selfless dedication to helping Frodo takes him to horrifying places, but he doesn’t give up and is willing to sacrifice his life to help his friend. We need more people in the world like Sam, and I still look up to him and try to follow his example.

Éowyn is also a character who was a positive role model for me as a teenager. Despite the restrictions her world tries to place upon her, she rides into battle and ends up accomplishing the impossible — defeating the Witch-King. Watching the movies now, I do wish there were more female characters overall, and that these female characters actually got a chance to interact with each other. But that doesn’t take away from how amazing Éowyn is, and I love that she’s eventually able to find healing and peace after the war.

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It’s impossible to sum up the impact of the Lord of the Rings in just one article, but I think one of the main reasons these books and movies have experienced such enduring popularity is their message of hope and light.

Humanity has lived through some very dark times, some of which Tolkien experienced firsthand as a soldier during World War I. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost, and it’s tempting to look around at all the pain and suffering and simply give in to despair.

Yet there’s a scene in “The Two Towers” that I find myself returning to, where Sam encourages Frodo not to give up, despite the impossible odds. “Even darkness must pass. A new day will come,” he says. “And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. … There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

That’s the sort of message our world so desperately needs — and always will need. There’s still good in the world, and it’s up to us to not let the light of hope die. We don’t have to be powerful warriors; we can be like the ordinary hobbits, whose kindness, compassion, and courage have the power to save the world.

The Box Office Buzz 2019 Oscar nominations rundown

nullI don’t always do a post-Oscar nomination rundown for my blog, but this year there were enough surprises that I couldn’t resist jotting down my thoughts!

Of course, the biggest headline (at least in terms of geek news) is that “Black Panther” has made history as the first superhero film to be nominated for best picture. This is a huge deal, not just for Marvel Cinematic Studios, but for geek films in general.

I actually don’t mind that the Oscars don’t always recognize blockbusters. Those films get a lot of media attention (and cash at the box office), and the Academy Awards can be a chance to nominate some smaller-scale films that might otherwise be looked over by general audiences. But I also feel that sometimes, truly great geek films have been glossed over simply due to the fact that they were sci-fi, superhero, or fantasy based. (Case in point: Mark Hamill should have received an acting nod for his work in “The Last Jedi.” This is a hill that I will gladly fight and die on.)

“Black Panther” was a groundbreaking film in many ways, and it’s exciting to see the MCU’s work recognized on a prestigious platform like this one. I also hope this opens the door for other genre films to be recognized in the future. (As a side note, “Black Panther” is also the only “best picture” nom that I’ve seen so far; I need to get on that!)

Also of importance is the fact that a Netflix film received a nomination for best picture: “Roma” is the story of director Alfonso Cuarón’s experiences growing up in Mexico. We’ve watched streaming services become more and more of a powerhouse in the world of entertainment, and I’m glad that they’re being taken seriously. Understandably, this might make some of the bigger, more traditional studios a little nervous, but I believe that the more avenues for creative storytelling, the better. Netflix has produced some top-level material, and I can’t wait to see what else they’ll come up with.

Although the work he is being honored for is not a genre film, I’m also very excited to see Adam Driver get a nom for best supporting actor for his work in “BlackKKlansman” (a movie I still need to see). His portrayal of Kylo Ren is, hands down, my favorite part of Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy, and he’s given us one of the most fascinating and nuanced characters in the saga. Driver definitely has a bright future ahead of him, and I’m grateful the Star Wars saga was able to nab him for a role.

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I’m very happy that “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” received a nomination for best animated feature film, and I really hope it wins. It’s still my favorite movie from 2018. Everything about it is perfect, from the colorful and creative animation to a coming-of-age origin story that managed to feel fresh and exciting, despite the many times we’ve already seen Spidey’s story onscreen.

One of my disappointments about the list of nominations is that I wish there was more recognition for the film “First Man.” This was a wonderful, gorgeously shot movie about Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, and for whatever reason, it just didn’t seem to get as much attention as it deserved.

Another omission is the score for “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” John Powell did a great job adapting the musical themes of the Star Wars franchise while still giving the score his own flair. I love listening to that soundtrack while I write, and I wish it had been recognized.

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“Best visual effects” is the category where my personal favorite flicks of the year tend to get recognized, and it’s always interesting to see what shows up here (and what doesn’t).

“Avengers: Infinity War,” “Christopher Robin, “First Man,” “Ready Player One,” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” were all films that I enjoyed, so I can’t complain too much. Still, it would have been nice to see “Annihilation” show up as well.

So, what are your thoughts? What nominations are you most excited about? What snubs are the most frustrating? What’s YOUR personal best picture of the year?

Looking ahead: Most anticipated movies of 2019

2019previewAttempting to peer into the future and trying to pick the best movies of the coming year is always an interesting challenge. I know there’s always going to be a Star Wars and a Marvel movie on my most anticipated list (no surprise there, I’m sure!), and then I inevitably pick a few films that end up being flops and/or stinkers. (Yes, I did put “Pacific Rim: Uprising” on my most anticipated list at the beginning of 2018. No, it did not make the “best of the year” list at the end.)

Then, there are always some really good smaller movies that aren’t on my most anticipated list but do pop up on my radar throughout the year — and turn out to be really wonderful surprises. In light of that, even though my most anticipated of 2019 list is weighted to the bigger franchise films, if there are some smaller, more off-the-beaten path movies that you are excited about, please let me know!

Since I ended 2018 with a list of my seven favorite films, here are my seven most anticipated of 2019. As Thanos himself would say, perfectly balanced…as all things should be!

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7. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (June 7)

I don’t actually know if this movie will turn out to be good or not (it’s been delayed a number of times). But the concept intrigues me, and I love, love, LOVE James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor X and Magneto. I’m definitely going to give this a try.

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6. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31)

I didn’t love the 2014 “Godzilla” film but the trailer for this one looks intriguing (plus, that unexpected but fantastic use of “Clair de Lune” in the trailer was a stroke of marketing genius). I’m excited to see all the big-screen monsters, and to watch Millie Bobby Brown in one of her first major roles outside of “Stranger Things.”

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5. Knives Out (Nov. 27)

This is my pick for potential breakout hit. As anyone who knows me knows, I haven’t stopped talking about how much I loved “The Last Jedi” since December 2017, and I’m super excited to see more from director Rian Johnson. While I’m most intrigued by his potential spin-off Star Wars films, I’m also really looking forward to his mystery crime thriller “Knives Out.” Plus, check out that amazing cast — Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon…and that’s just a few!

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4. Aladdin (May 24)

The chatter online about Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake hasn’t necessarily been positive, but I am looking forward to it because I’ve really enjoyed some of Disney’s other live action films, particularly 2015’s “Cinderella” and 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast.” “Aladdin” is one of my favorite Disney animated movies, and I hope they are able to do it justice. I’m a fan of director Guy Ritchie, but I have a feeling the portrayal of the Genie is going to be what makes or breaks this film.

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3. Downton Abbey (Sept. 20)

“Downton Abbey” is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and while I loved how the series ended, I can’t resist an opportunity to revisit these characters! I am curious to see how this works as a film, since it was previously in a TV format. However, just seeing all my favorite characters again will be worth a ticket for me.

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2. Avengers: Endgame (April 26) – plus Captain Marvel! (March 8)

While I have some theories about what may (or may not) happen in “Endgame,” I’m excited to see how this story wraps up after a decade of anticipation. I hope it’s surprising, challenging, and thrilling, providing a satisfying end to the character arcs we’ve been following. I’m also excited for Marvel’s first solo female superhero film, “Captain Marvel,” and to see how she will play a role in the events of “Endgame.”

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1. Star Wars Episode IX (Dec. 20)

If you know me well, you probably already guessed what was going to show up at No. 1 on this list. As I mentioned before, I haven’t stopped buzzing about “The Last Jedi” since I saw it, and I can’t wait to see how the story concludes. I loved the way “The Last Jedi” both deconstructed and reaffirmed the Star Wars mythos, challenging our favorite characters in unexpected ways and forcing them to confront their past and present failures. While J.J. Abrams has a difficult task before him, I trust that he’s going to wrap up the story in a satisfying way that will make me fall in love with the franchise all over again.