Movie review: DC’s ‘Wonder Woman’ movie worth the wait

Wonder-Woman-Movie-ArtworkIt’s fair to say that DC Comics and Warner Bros. have had their struggles as they’ve launched the DC Cinematic Universe. Their first few movies in the DCCU have received decidedly mixed reactions from fans and critics, and they’ve struggled to escape from the shadow cast by Christopher Nolan’s Batman masterpiece, the Dark Knight trilogy, and from Marvel’s own cinematic universe. However, a certain superhero has come to the rescue, and her name is Wonder Woman.

First appearing in comics 75 years ago, Wonder Woman is long overdue for a solo film. However, the wait was absolutely worth it. With glowing reviews from critics and fans, the film is a much-needed shot of adrenaline to the DCCU. Freed from some of the issues that have plagued the other recent DC movies, “Wonder Woman” is an action-packed, heartfelt, and ultimately inspiring superhero film.

Future Wonder Woman and Amazon princess Diana (Gal Gadot) grows up on the island paradise of Themyscira as part of an ancient race of warrior women protected from the outside world. That protective barrier is breached by a plane carrying a World War I spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), his arrival inadvertently triggering an attack by German soldiers. Although Diana’s mother wants nothing to do with Steve or the worldwide conflict he is a part of, Diana feels compassion for him and the outside world oppressed by war (she’s convinced the Greek god Ares is responsible for this conflict). She follows Steve back to the frontlines of WWI and becomes part of a mission to stop Ares and end the work of General Erich Ludendorff and “Doctor Poison,” who are developing a deadly form of weaponized gas. Diana’s strength, skills, and beliefs will all be tested as she learns some of the dark truths about humanity, but she also decides the future of humankind is still worth fighting for.

After seeing some of the previous DCCU films, I was a little worried about Wonder Woman’s solo outing. My opinion of “Suicide Squad” keeps dropping as more time passes, and while I enjoyed “Batman v. Superman” more than many seemed to, it had several major issues. The previous DCCU films have felt choppily edited with plots that are a little half-baked; they have great ingredients, but the final product never quite comes together as well as it could. However, “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins breaks that trend. “Wonder Woman” has a focused narrative without confusing sideplots. The film isn’t rushed or forced and is willing to dedicate time to character development. I genuinely cared about the characters in this film, and it’s the DCCU film I’ve felt the most emotionally invested in while watching.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the highlight of “Batman v. Superman” for me, and I loved seeing her in her own film. I loved how she was a strong, badass warrior but was also an intelligent, kind, and compassionate person with a heart for helping people. My favorite scene in the movie is the moment where Diana defies the odds and climbs up out of the trench into No Man’s Land, breaking a stalemate so she can save innocent civilians (it’s now one of my all-time favorite scenes in a superhero movie, period). She is unafraid to take risks in order to fight for what she believes in, and it was so cool to see how her presence inspired the other soldiers to follow her up out of the trench.

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I also really liked Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. I’ve been a fan of Pine’s since the first Star Trek reboot film, and I think sometimes he’s underappreciated as an actor. I appreciated how he let Gadot’s Wonder Woman have the spotlight in this movie but perfectly complemented her character. Sometimes romantic subplots can feel forced or unnecessary in action films, but I thought their relationship was lovely and understated.

While there’s a lot to love about this film, I think what moved it from “good” to “great” for me was the collection of smaller moments sprinkled throughout the movie that made it more than just a CGI-filled special effects bonanza, such as Diana and Steve dancing in the snow, or Diana’s curiosity about the outside world (I loved watching her try ice cream for the first time). There’s also a moment that Steve shares with Doctor Poison that shifts her from being a one-dimensional villain to letting us catch just a glimpse of her humanity.

Although I think the main reason the film makers shifted the movie’s action from World War II to World War I was to avoid copying “Captain America: The First Avenger,” it’s a change that ultimately works in the film’s favor. WWI was the first global war of the modern era; countries introduced new, terrifying weapons and the issues continued to fester for decades, eventually leading to WWII. It was a bleak, uncertain time, and it’s far from the idealized conflict that Diana grew up learning about through her mother’s legends.

If there’s one thing I might have tweaked about the movies, it’s the ending. ***Warning: Spoilers ahead!*** I didn’t mind the final “boss battle,” where Diana learns that Ares has been masquerading as a British politician (she believed Ares was pretending to be General Ludendorff). It’s cool to see Diana fully use her powers for the first time, and I felt the film “earned” its final fight more than some of the showdowns in the other DCCU films (I’m looking at you, “Suicide Squad”). But I might have actually preferred an ending where Wonder Woman kills General Ludendorff, only to find he isn’t Ares and the war doesn’t stop. The real “bad guy” is actually just the dark side of humanity. Then Steve’s sacrifice convinces her that humanity is still worth saving, and she helps bring an end to the war. Then maybe, at the very end of the film, we get a reveal that Ares is still in hiding as a British politician, only he’s playing the long game because he knows the conflict won’t just stop with WWI, and WWII will happen years later. Part of me also wishes Diana could have found a way to rescue Steve because I’d really like to see Pine in more DC films, but I don’t think the ending would have had the same impact without his sacrifice. ***End spoilers.***

I still have my concerns about the upcoming Justice League movie, and it may be too late for them to course correct based on the flaws of “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad.” But you can bet I’ll still be there on opening weekend, and I’ll be there because of Wonder Woman. Hopefully that film will leave me as pumped and inspired as I felt walking out of the theater after “Wonder Woman”; so far it’s my favorite movie of the year.

Movie review: Fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie sails into theaters with ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’

landscape-1488452253-pirates-of-the-caribbean-posterIt’s been almost 15 years (if you can believe it!) since fans first set sail with Captain Jack Sparrow and the crew of the Black Pearl in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The first movie was a thrilling, swashbuckling adventure that was far better than a movie based on an amusement park ride had any right to be. While the franchise has seen some diminishing returns over the years, Captain Jack heads for the high seas once again in “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” out Memorial Day weekend.

The Pirates franchise has always had a lot of nostalgic pull for me. I was in high school and early college when the first three movies came out, at a time when I was really starting to get into movies as a hobby. “The Curse of the Black Pearl” was one of the very first DVDs I purchased to add to my personal movie collection. So, I’m definitely a bit biased when it comes to this franchise. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” hasn’t been welcomed by critics (about 32 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), though the 73 percent audience rating indicates I’m not the only fan with nostalgia! 😉 Here’s a breakdown of my thoughts on the film:

What works

  • Returning to its roots: The fourth Pirates movie, “On Stranger Tides,” is widely regarded as the low point in the series. Although it has some fun moments, it’s ultimately rather forgettable. Say what you will about the polarizing Pirates 2 and 3 “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” (I’m personally a fan), but those movies had more memorable flair and some eye-popping, over-the-top set pieces. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” feels more like a return to form for the series. It’s on a smaller scale than Pirates 2 and 3 and captures some of the feel of the original (though “The Curse of the Black Pearl” remains the crown jewel of the franchise).
  • Reflecting on legacy: Disney apparently didn’t listen to my feedback when they announced the fourth movie but didn’t center the story on Will and Elizabeth’s son, Henry Turner. 😉 I felt that was a missed opportunity. However, I’m glad they did it this time! I really liked the film’s opening, where a young Henry goes looking for his father, who was cursed during “At World’s End” to set foot on land only one day every ten years. Henry’s innocence and idealism reminded me a lot of Will from the first Pirates movie. The movie even touches on the legacy of fan favorite Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). The surprise reveal involving Barbossa’s family seemed a bit sudden but I just went with it. I thought it was interesting that in this movie, Barbossa is as prosperous and living as luxuriant a life as he’s ever been, but he’s not really happy. After all he’s been through, perhaps he’s finding the pirate life and constant fighting over riches a bit empty? He finally gets some closure at the end of this film, though I still wouldn’t bet on him never returning for a future adventure. The film has some nice bit of closure for Will and Elizabeth as well.
  • Swashbuckling stuntwork: As referenced earlier, the Pirates movies are known for their over-the-top stunts and set pieces, and the fifth movie is no exception. The film’s opening sequence involves Captain Jack and Co. literally stealing an entire bank; not just robbing it — they literally drag the entire building through the streets, though they end up losing all the money inside along the way. While I have heard some comments that this scene came off as too “ridiculous,” I feel like these fun, crazy sequences are just par for the course in this franchise. I also thought the spinning guillotine scene was pretty funny, with Captain Jack once again narrowly avoiding disaster.
  • Flashbacks: I already mentioned the scene of young Henry looking for his father, but I also really liked the flashback of young Jack Sparrow outwitting Captain Salazar. CGI de-aging techniques are getting pretty realistic, and it was fun to get a peek at Jack’s origin.
  • Cool effects: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, no one can really fault the Pirates movies for having half-hearted special effects. There were some pretty cool effects used on Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew, who sort of look like they’re floating through water with embers falling around them (it sounds weird but I promise, it does look cool). I loved the island that reflects starlight, the reappearance of the Black Pearl after being trapped in a bottle, as well as the final sequence where the sea parts and they find Poseidon’s Trident, which is supposed to break curses at sea.
  • Ghost/zombie sharks: I know they aren’t realistic, but the ghost/zombie sharks looked super cool. Please bring them back for the next movie!

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What still needs work

  • Music: Although I love the music for the original Pirates movies, it felt like the music wasn’t quite as epic here. The best musical moments were actually themes that were pulled from the previous movies.
  • Captain Salazar and his crew: I loved the visual effects used for Salazar and his cursed crew, but I wish the film had devoted more time to fleshing out these characters. I know sometimes people complain about movies getting too long, but I wouldn’t have minded an extra half hour tacked onto this film to expand a few concepts. Some more time for Barbossa and Will and Elizabeth would have been welcome, also.
  • The humor: There are some pretty funny moments in this movie, but it’s not as quotable as some of the past films.
  • The finale: I really liked the setting for the finale, which takes place on the bottom of the ocean with the water parted on both sides. However, I wish there had been a lengthier, more epic sword fight (the Pirates movies have featured some great swordplay). The final sequence felt like it was over a little too quickly.
  • Captain Jack Sparrow: I’m still trying to decide how I felt about the film’s use of its main character. Johnny Depp’s star power had faded somewhat over the past decade, after some big budget misses at the box office. However, his performance in the first movie was a revelation (I’d even forgotten about that Oscar nom). Captain Jack had the appearance of being a bumbling idiot, but he was actually far cleverer than he seemed. His character worked well with Will Turner acting as his more straight-laced foil. In the fifth movie he almost comes across as too bumbling, and I’m not sure he fully earns his crew back at the end of the film. It also seems like maybe Depp’s heart wasn’t fully in this performance. Still, I think this movie fixed one of the main issues with “On Stranger Tides,” which over-relied on Depp’s character to carry the movie. Captain Jack is always best when he’s part of an ensemble, adding a bit of quirkiness to the mix.

Bottom line: Overall I enjoyed this movie and thought it was a much stronger outing than “On Stranger Tides,” though it did have its issues. I’m also planning to re-watch the other movies in the franchise, so I may end up posting about those eventually too.

TV review: ‘Arrow’ shines again with thrilling season finale

MjJlOTg1Yzg4ZiMvejJmOXZjTnBtRmpwU3AwaHVNU0FMTmFYWUVNPS8weDM1OjI5Mzh4MTU1Mi8xNjAweDkwMC9maWx0ZXJzOmZvcm1hdChqcGVnKTpxdWFsaXR5KDgwKS9odHRwczovL3MzLmFtYXpvbmF3cy5jb20vcG9saWN5bWljLWltYWdlcyThe CW’s flagship superhero show, “Arrow,” wasn’t in the best shape this time last year. The fourth season was widely regarded as the weakest in the series’ run, following a third season that received some mixed reviews as well. However, fans who persevered were rewarded for their patience with a thrilling, much-improved fifth season that ended with a high-stakes finale earlier this week.

I’ve been a fan of “Arrow” since the first season, when I stared watching it after reading a preview article in Entertainment Weekly. The show stars Stephen Amell as a Batman-esque vigilante archer named Oliver Queen who wears a green hood and tries to right his city’s wrongs after he’s rescued from the island where he was stranded for five years. I felt the show really hit its stride midway through the first season, and the second season — which had Oliver facing off against one-time ally Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) — ranks among my top favorite TV shows.

But the third and fourth seasons couldn’t rise to quite those same heights, and fans have been especially critical of the fourth season. The show’s flashback segments — which were genuinely intriguing in the first two seasons — started wearing a little thin. While Neal McDonough turned in a strong performance as Damien Darhk, looking back I think the show pushed the supernatural element too far (it just doesn’t work as well in the more grounded “Arrow” than in some of the CW’s other superhero shows). And Oliver and Felicity’s on-again-off-again relationship grew frustrating and weighed the show down with unnecessary relationship drama.

Yet all was not lost! “Arrow” showrunners fixed some of the issues with past seasons, and there were definite improvements in terms of acting, fight choreography, character story arcs, and more. Overall I was extremely pleased with the fifth season and I can’t wait for season 6.

***Warning: Spoilers ahead!***

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Amell is a great fit for the lead role in “Arrow,” and I felt he stepped up his acting game even further in the fifth season. The writers explored some really dark and emotional moments for his character, and Amell was definitely up to the challenge. One of the season’s strongest episodes involved the main villain, Prometheus (more on him later), torturing Oliver to get him to reveal his darkest secret. Amell gave a really powerful, angry, and ultimately broken performance in this episode.

And speaking of Prometheus…he made for a fascinating villain this season and a worthy foil for Oliver. The twist revealing that Prometheus was actually Adrian Chase (Josh Segarra), the Star City district attorney, definitely caught me off guard. Adrian Chase had become one of my favorite new characters this season, and I was really looking forward to him working with Oliver and maybe joining the Arrow team, only to find he was the villain all along. Although Prometheus didn’t have actual superpowers, his psychological manipulation made him a terrifying adversary for Oliver and Team Arrow. Sometimes villains end up getting “nerfed” after a big build-up, so the hero can defeat them in the finale, but Prometheus rigged his final plan so that he’d win and achieve a psychological victory over Oliver, no matter what Oliver decided to do.

Although there were a few “filler” episodes and some side plots I wasn’t as much a fan of (and I still miss you, Ragman!), overall the story arc was strong and satisfying this season. I also thought they breathed new life into the flashback sequences by sending Oliver to Russia and having him team up with Anatoly and join the Bratva. They did a great job bringing the flashbacks full circle and wrapping up Oliver’s time on the island.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the sixth season. As much as I enjoyed the flashbacks in Russia this season, I think it’s time to reduce the flashbacks going forward and focus more on the present. I’m glad Wild Dog and the new Black Canary have been upped to series regulars. Wild Dog has really grown on me as a character (I love his interactions with Quentin Lance), and the new Black Canary has some cool powers. I know the show’s former Black Canary is a polarizing topic (should she have been killed off in season four?), but I actually like that the show is bringing actress Katie Cassidy back as the alternate universe, dark side version of the character, the Black Siren.

I’m not sure where the show will head going forward, but after a great fifth season, I’m looking forward to finding out!

‘I am one with the Force, the Force is with me…’ My first official Star Wars cosplay!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I worked on some sewing projects back in my high school days. But recently I got the urge to sew again, and I decided to create my own Star Wars Jedi costume (I think I was inspired by watching the Clone Wars animated series last fall).

I haven’t been brave enough to take my cosplay to a convention yet 😉 but my husband helped me snap a few photos in our backyard. I chose a maroon color for the tunic and tabards, and gray and black for the accents. I didn’t want to look too “dark side” but I already had black boots and pants and wanted to utilize those.

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I made the lightsaber hilt at one of those build-your-own lightsaber booths at Disney World last summer. I think it was mainly meant for kids but there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to make my own lightsaber. 😉

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I also decided to make up an original Jedi character to go with the costume and wrote a short story: Star Wars: Ghosts of Memory. I hadn’t really delved into fan fiction too much before but had a lot of fun with it. I may try to write some more short stories about my character eventually. 🙂

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I’ve also definitely caught the sewing/cosplay bug again and I’m working on a “Force Awakens” Rey costume now that I’ll hopefully get done in time so I can wear it for Episode VIII. Now I’m also trying to convince my husband to let me make him a Kylo Ren costume… 😉

Movie review: ‘Alien: Covenant’ returns to familiar ground

IMG_2017If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

We all probably heard that piece of advice as kids, and while it may be an old cliche, it usually turns out to be accurate. Unfortunately, characters in movies often seem to disregard this bit of wisdom, and such is the case with the crew in the new movie “Alien: Covenant.”

Continuing the famous “Alien” sci-fi/horror franchise, “Alien: Covenant” takes place after the prequel “Prometheus” but before the original “Alien” movie that officially killed any desire I had to actually go to space. 😉 The Covenant is a colony ship bound for the distant planet Origae-6 when it encounters a rogue neutrino burst in deep space. The crew is awakened from stasis to deal with this emergency, and while they’re awake, they encounter a strange transmission from a nearby planet.

This is, of course, the “too good to be true” planet; it appears capable of sustaining life and is a whole lot closer than Origae-6. Although crew member Daniels (Katherine Waterston) protests, everyone else thinks it’s a great idea to deviate from the mission to explore this new planet. As anyone who has seen another Alien movie already knows, they really should have listened to Daniels. The apparent paradise planet quickly turns into a nightmare, as crew members begin falling ill due to a strange virus or are attacked by a vicious alien predator. As the crew members get picked off one by one, they encounter a mysterious resident on the planet who offers to help them survive…only he may be too good to be true also.

If you’re looking to escape to the theater for an afternoon of summer blockbuster thrills and scares, “Alien: Covenant” is a decent ride. However, it doesn’t really add anything new to the franchise, and people probably won’t still be talking about it by the summer’s end.

“Covenant” feels like a stylistic blend of the first Alien film and the prequel “Prometheus.” Although “Prometheus” proved to be somewhat polarizing among fans, I actually really liked it, and I prefer it to “Covenant.”

“Covenant” starts off slowly, but things get scary rather quickly as soon as the crew starts exploring the “paradise” planet. Director Ridley Scott is good at establishing a creeping sense of dread, and he never lets you lose that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. At no point are you allowed to completely relax and believe the crew members are safe.

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Like in “Prometheus,” the standout character is an android played by Michael Fassbender. Fassbender’s character in “Prometheus” was a disturbing and fascinating life-like android named David who had an agenda of his own that didn’t necessarily include saving the human crew he was created to assist. Fassbender actually plays two roles in “Covenant”; I won’t say more due to spoilers, but I thought both roles he played were equally fascinating, for different reasons. At times his performance was just as scary as the alien creatures on the planet — which is definitely saying something.

While the parts with Fassbender are intriguing and the action is intense and gripping, as I mentioned before “Covenant” doesn’t really bring anything new to the franchise and ultimately feels a bit too familiar. Sometimes you can only stretch a franchise so far, and I felt the film tried a little too hard to remind us of the original Alien movie.

You’ll also have to overlook some gaps in logic. I found it a little surprising that Daniels was the only crew member protesting the decision to deviate from their mission to Origae-6 to explore this new planet, which didn’t turn up in their original research. The Covenant is a civilian spacecraft, not military, but I still found it unusual the crew would almost flippantly disregard the original plan in order to venture off into uncharted space and land on what could be a hostile planet. I wish there had been at least a few more protesters besides just Daniels; maybe it could have been put to a contentious vote.

You’ll also notice many of the crew members are married couples, which struck me as an unusual decision. Having that many people with close relationships in the chain of command creates opportunities for emotionally compromised decisions (which happens quite a bit in this movie). Again, it just seemed strange the ship’s crew would have been structured this way.

In short, longtime fans of the Alien franchise will probably still want to catch “Covenant” in theaters, but it can’t quite compete with the original two films.

Soundtrack review: Guardians of the Galaxy ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 2’ brings more intergalactic groove

guardians-vol-2-206127The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was a colorful, quirky, and hilarious shot of adrenaline to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the film owes part of its success to its soundtrack full of fun retro tunes, called, appropriately enough, the “Awesome Mix.” The film kicked things off with “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone, and also included favorites like “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

So of course, the soundtrack for the sequel — the “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” — was one of the most anticipated parts of the second movie. How did it measure up to the hype?

Although I love listening to music, I’m definitely more of a movie buff than a music buff, so I actually encountered many of the tunes from the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” for the first time while watching the 2014 Guardians film. The soundtracks for the Guardians movies really are just as much a character as Star-Lord, Rocket, Groot, and the rest of the gang, so I thought it would be fun to dive a little deeper into Vol. 2 after posting my initial review of the movie.

On the whole, the “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” is a lot of fun; I’ve been listening to it as I drive to work in the mornings, and it always puts a smile on my face as I start my day. However, it is fair to say that it doesn’t feel quite as cool as the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1.” Maybe that’s because the first soundtrack was such a surprise. These retro tunes may have seemed like an unusual soundtrack for a Marvel movie set in space, but they worked perfectly. They never sounded like a gimmick, due to the emotional revelation that all the songs came from a cassette tape that Peter Quill’s mother gave to him before her death.

Only now, we are expecting the retro soundtrack, so it doesn’t feel quite as fresh, even though many of the songs are used well and don’t feel forced (unlike the soundtrack to “Suicide Squad”). It’s also perhaps not as upbeat as Vol. 1, which is perhaps because the second movie has more somber moments.

Here’s a list of all the tracks on the album:

1. “Mr. Blue Sky” – Electric Light Orchestra
This is one of the main standout songs in Vol. 2. It starts off the film and provides music for Baby Groot to dance to. It’s a fun, upbeat song that always makes me want to start dancing too whenever I listen to it.

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2. “Fox on the Run” – Sweet
“Fox on the Run” by Sweet was used for a trailer and is included on the soundtrack, although it wasn’t in the final film. Which is a shame, because this is one of my favorite tracks from the album and I think it really captures the Guardians outlaw spirit.

3. “Lake Shore Drive” – Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah
I don’t actually remember what scene this song was playing in, even though I’ve seen the movie twice. So maybe that means it didn’t have the strongest placement? But I do enjoy listening to it whenever the CD cycles around to this song!

4. “The Chain” – Fleetwood Mac
The Guardians spirit is also captured by “The Chain,” which is one of the best-placed songs in the film. The lyrics “you’ll never break the chain” symbolize the strong bond between the surrogate family members in the Guardians team, even though their relationship is pretty dysfunctional.

5. “Bring It On Home to Me” – Sam Cooke
Nothing wrong with this track, which underscores a quieter moment between Peter and Gamora. However, I preferred their similar moment in the first movie, which is soundtracked to “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop.

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6. “Southern Nights” – Glen Campbell
I was a fan of this song before but never thought I’d hear it as the soundtrack to a Home Alone-esque action sequence in a sci-fi comedy. 😉 I thought this was a great, unexpected use of this song.

7. “My Sweet Lord” – George Harrison
This song works really well as Peter and the gang first arrive at Ego’s planet, a psychedelic, colorful world that appears to be full of magic and wonder…at least at first.

8. “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” – Looking Glass
Not my favorite track on the album, but it’s used really well in the film to reveal some key points about Ego, Peter’s father.

9. “Come a Little Bit Closer” – Jay and the Americans
This one falls in the middle of my ranking of the Vol. 2 songs, though I also thought it was used really well thematically as Yondu and Rocket break out of captivity.

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10. “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang” – Silver
Wasn’t as much a fan of this track or its placement in the film.

11. “Surrender” – Cheap Trick
Not as much a fan of this one either, though it’s more of a personal preference.

12. “Father and Son” – Cat Stevens
One of the quieter songs on the soundtrack, it also highlights the theme of family, as well as the film’s most emotional moment, where Peter recognizes who his real father figure is.

13. “Flash Light” – Parliament
This is another favorite track of mine, which ends the credits on a funky note.

14. “Guardians Inferno” – The Sneepers featuring David Hasselhoff
This disco remix of the Guardians theme is probably going to be the most polarizing song on the album. I actually rather like it (it reminds me of the lovably cheesy Star Wars disco remix), although I wasn’t as much a fan of the David Hasselhoff voice-over.

All in all, this soundtrack is worth a purchase for Guardians of the Galaxy and music fans. I’m excited to see what tracks Peter Quill will find on his “Zune” for Vol. 3. 😉

What were your favorite and least favorite tracks from the “Awesome Mix Vol. 2”?

Movie review: The Guardians ride again in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’

LevelUp_EW_TOR_Spread_Finou.JPGAlthough “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” will likely end up as the biggest money-maker of the summer, it’s interesting to look back and remember that the first Guardians movie was actually an underdog at the box office. There was real concern it might be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first flop. How would audiences respond to a Marvel movie set in space featuring that guy from “Parks and Recreation” playing a character who calls himself “Star-Lord”; a wisecracking raccoon; and a walking, talking tree whose vocabulary consists only of the words “I am Groot” (voiced by Vin Diesel, of all people)? Yet somehow, it all came together magically, and audiences fell in love with this band of misfit heroes and their soundtrack of retro tunes. Now, they’re back for a second adventure — does it live up to the first?

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” dumps viewers right in the middle of the action, as Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, and crew have been hired to fight off an inter-dimensional monster. The job doesn’t quite go as planned, and the Guardians end up on the run. They’re saved by an unlikely rescuer: a man who claims to be Quill’s long-lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell). Ego takes the Guardians back to his planet, a beautiful paradise that hides a dark secret.

And that’s all I’ll say about the plot for now, because I don’t want to spoil any of the film’s surprises. Overall, I loved the movie and had a blast watching it, although right now I feel the first movie was a little better. I can’t quite put my finger on why; re-watching the first movie and going back to see “Vol. 2” a second time might help me clear up my thoughts. I think part of the reason is simply that the first movie was such a surprise and it was a joy to watch this wacky and unexpectedly moving story play out on the big screen. Now, we know to expect quirky characters, zany humor, and a retro soundtrack, so the whole concept doesn’t feel quite as fresh, even though it’s still a ton of fun. It’s probably inevitable that the sequel wasn’t going to feel as clever.

That being said, I have to emphasize that watching this movie really is going to be a blast for Marvel fans. This is possibly Marvel’s most beautiful cinematography yet; the colors are bright and literally burst off the screen, even if you’re not even watching it in 3D. Director James Gunn has created a vibrant intergalactic playground for his characters.

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The Guardians are, once again, a great bunch of characters, and this film captures their dysfunctional family dynamic. I felt they all got some standout moments. Drax (Dave Bautista) wins the award for best comic relief this time; they almost focused TOO much on the humorous aspects of his character, but I really liked that they addressed the tragedy of his past, particularly in the scene where Mantis (Pom Klementieff) begins weeping after using her empathic powers to read his emotions. I enjoyed the back-and-forth between these characters. Maybe it’s a budding romance or maybe it’s simply a powerful friendship; either way, it was touching to see these characters who struggle with social interaction forming a special bond.

At first I was a little disappointed to see the Guardians divided up for most of the film’s middle, as Groot and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) stay behind to repair the ship. I was worried they’d get sidelined by the plot, but this actually provided a nice opportunity for some great character interaction between Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker). I never would have thought of pairing those two up, but it works perfectly and produces some genuinely emotional moments.

And speaking of emotional moments, I thought Yondu was another standout character in this film. Again, I can’t say much because of spoilers, but Yondu not only gets some awesome combat scenes, he also he has some really touching moments with both Rocket and Quill.

No discussion of a Guardians movie would be complete without talking about the soundtrack. After my first listen, the “Awesome Mix Vol. 2” doesn’t feel *quite* as awesome as “Vol. 1,” but that may simply be because “Vol. 1” was such a surprise. I’m planning to download the soundtrack and listen to it more on its own. Right now, the songs that are sticking with me are “Mr. Blue Sky” by the Electric Light Orchestra, which opens the film, and “Southern Nights” by Glen Campbell and “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay and the Americans. I never would have thought to use those latter two songs to soundtrack fight sequences, but the juxtaposition between what we’re hearing in the songs and seeing on screen really makes these tracks stand out.

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***Warning: Spoilers ahead!!!***

For those who have seen the film and want to discuss further, I really enjoyed Kurt Russell as the villain in this film. A common criticism of the Marvel films is that the villain is often the weak link in these movies, but that isn’t the case here. I was worried about how they would pull off the concept of a “living planet,” but I thought it really worked. Russell does a good job making Ego feel fatherly and warm at the beginning of the film; you know there’s probably going to be a twist with his character, but it’s hard not to like him. I was surprised by just how dark that twist really was — that Ego has been creating children all over the galaxy and then killing them since they didn’t share his Celestial powers, and that he actually gave Quill’s mother the cancer that killed her.

I also wasn’t expecting them to kill off a major character — Yondu — or for this death to affect me as much as it did. In the first movie, Yondu is neither a hero nor a villain, though he appears to lean more to the villain side. “Vol. 2” completely switches that up, and we realize he was the father figure for Quill that Ego never could have been. His sacrifice at the end really did make me tear up.

***End spoilers!!!***

Overall, this is a fun and surprisingly emotional movie that is a worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m glad Marvel was willing to give James Gunn a lot of free rein to make these Guardians movies so strange, creative, and wonderful. It’s not often you find films with this many laughs and a whole lot of heart in the same package. Sign me up for “Vol. 3”!

Movie Love Tag: A fun post idea for film bloggers

Thanks to fellow movie blogger samoliver1123 over at Sollie Film and TV Reviews for giving me the idea to do this post! The “movie love tag” encourages film bloggers to talk about some of their favorite films and then pass it on to someone else. If you’ve done a movie love tag post in the past or would like to join in the fun, feel free to post a link in the comments section!

A movie you could not live without

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I’m sure this comes as no surprise, but I’m going to have to pick Star Wars. Although my interests have shifted and changed over the years, I’ve always loved Star Wars and I just keep coming back to this franchise. “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” are my favorites, but “Rogue One” is up there too. I can’t wait to see what else Disney does with this franchise.

A movie you hate

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The Twilight saga. I did have to pay to see several of these movies in theaters (don’t ask). I’ll never fault somebody for loving a film (we all have our different tastes), but please don’t make me see this one again! 😉

A movie you found meaningful and prolific

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I’ll tear up occasionally in movies, but the movie that made me weep so hard I had to leave the room is “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.” It’s about a dog who continues to wait for his owner, even after the owner dies. It’s a heartbreaking and beautiful story that illustrates the old saying that it’s “better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”

A movie that you’d like to possibly revisit because it’s been so long since you last saw it

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I’d like to re-watch all the films in Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto trilogy.” I watch “Hot Fuzz” the most frequently but would like to sit down and watch them all in a row sometime.

Your favorite horror movie

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I actually don’t watch horror movies (too scary for me!) but I do like suspense. It’s more of a sci-fi thriller than horror and it’s also not a movie but I’d have to go with “Stranger Things” as my pick in this category.

A movie you thought would be a lot better than it actually was

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“The Dark Knight.” I saw this movie after it was released on DVD (I missed it in theaters), and I had heard about the hype for months. It’s a great movie, but it didn’t end up clicking for me as much as others seemed to love it.

The last good movie you saw

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I re-watched “Star Trek: Beyond” on Friday. I really love the Trek reboot franchise and I thought this was a really fun movie that captured the essence of the Original Series (but with a jumbo budget!)

A movie you really want to see

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I’ve got my ticket for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” tomorrow – I can’t wait! 🙂

A popular movie that you’ve never seen, but everyone else has

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I’ve never seen an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I feel like that’s something I need to do someday.

Your favorite Christmas movie

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I have a soft spot for “Elf” and “Christmas Vacation.”

 

Guardians of the box office: My most anticipated movies for summer 2017

636214970366849896-LUP-14842-R (1)Summer has long been the prime season for studios to release their biggest and best special-effects bonanzas. Which is why it’s been interesting to see spring and late fall also emerging as key times to release massive hits (such as last year’s “Doctor Strange” and this year’s live action “Beauty and the Beast”). Although we may continue to see this balance shift in the years ahead, summer is still a big time for blockbusters, with a major movie coming out pretty much every weekend between now and August. Here are the ones I’m most looking forward to this year:

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5)

It’s hard to believe that when the first Guardians movie came out in 2014, it was an underdog and rumored to be Marvel’s first potential flop. Now, the sequel is the headliner for the summer movie season and likely the biggest blockbuster of the year, aside from Star Wars: Episode VIII. I don’t know a lot about the plot of this one (I want to be surprised), but I couldn’t resist peeking at Rotten Tomatoes to see what its score was. It sounds like this one is really fun, zany, and humorous, although it’s lacking that special surprise factor the first one had, since nobody knew what to expect that time around. It’s my most anticipated movie of the summer, and I’m hoping Star-Lord and crew won’t let me down (and will bring along another awesome soundtrack of retro tunes).

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26)

I have a soft spot for the first three Pirates movies, even though the second and third movies were rather polarizing. But the fourth just didn’t have the same magic, and it felt like more of a cash-grab than a film that needed to be made. Perhaps I’m simply falling for the hype again, but I’m actually pretty excited about the fifth one. The trailers have been fun, and it looks like they actually are trying to do something different, by pulling in Will and Elizabeth Turner’s now grown-up son. I’m actually hoping Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow will be more of a supporting character in this one, which could help avoid the feeling that Disney is just retreading old ground.

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Wonder Woman (June 2)

The DC Cinematic Universe has struggled to escape from the shadow cast by Marvel’s own cinematic universe and Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, the Dark Knight trilogy. But I am really, really rooting for “Wonder Woman” to succeed. We’re overdue for a female superhero movie (Marvel, please green-light that Black Widow solo film!), and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman stole all the scenes she appeared in during last year’s “Batman v. Superman.” “Wonder Woman” has all the right ingredients — great story, great cast, great concept (traveling back to World War I) — I just hope all those elements come together onscreen.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7)

Spider-Man will return to the big screen this summer, this time as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (sort of). While I think Sony has rebooted Spider-Man far too many times in too short a time frame, I loved Tom Holland’s cameo as the character in “Captain America: Civil War.” I also think getting Robert Downey Jr. to appear as Iron Man in an extended cameo was a smart move. I hope this film sticks to a smaller scale and highlights the character’s high school experience; at least it appears to be skipping the origin story we’ve already seen twice!

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War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14)

I always kind of forget about this franchise, which makes me feel bad because the past two installments have been excellent, thought-provoking films. They’re great examples of action films that also work on a deeper philosophical level. This next chapter will see the balance of power shift even more towards the apes in their battle against the humans. Plus, having Woody Harrelson join the crew is always a bonus!

Dunkirk (July 21)

After just wrapping up the Christopher Nolan movie blog-a-thon, I’m definitely in the mood for a new Nolan movie! I’m especially curious as this World War II drama is such a departure from what Nolan has done in the past. One of the things I appreciate most about him is that he always seems to want to challenge himself as a director and take on new subject matter. This should be a really intense movie to see on the big screen.

I’m also keeping these other movies on my radar for the summer: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” (May 12); “Alien: Covenant” (May 19); “The Mummy” (June 9); “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (July 21); and “The Dark Tower” (Aug. 4).

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

Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon: ‘Interstellar’ (Week 7)

558717Well folks, we’ve come to the final week of the Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon! We’ll be wrapping things up with his most recent film, “Interstellar.” Thank you again to my husband, Aaron, for joining me on this blog-a-thon; I might have to invite him back to talk about Nolan’s new movie, “Dunkirk,” which is coming out this summer. 😉

“Interstellar” takes place at some point in the not-so-distant future, as humanity faces a global crisis and the threat of extinction from disease and famine. NASA has been operating off the grid and recruits a farmer and former pilot named Joseph “Coop” Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to join a top-secret mission. Coop and several other explorers will venture into a mysterious wormhole that could transport them to other planets capable of sustaining life. It’s a dangerous gamble, and also a mission that requires extreme sacrifice: due to the altered passage of time in the wormhole and on these other worlds, Coop’s children could be elderly by the time he returns to Earth — if he ever returns at all.

“Interstellar” is actually my husband’s all-time favorite film, so I’ll let him go first! Also fair warning: spoilers ahead!

Aaron’s thoughts

I’ll just say right now that “Interstellar” is my favorite movie bar none. I remember the first time I watched it. It was right after the wife and I got married. We hadn’t moved into our new place yet and were sleeping on a mattress on the floor. We Red Boxed the movie one of those nights and watched it on my laptop. It blew me away. My opinion of it has held firm through multiple viewings.

So why is it my favorite? First, I’ve always been fascinated with space travel. “Interstellar” tackled that subject without being A.) a war movie (“Starship Troopers”), B.) a survival movie (“Apollo 13”), C.) an extraterrestrial movie (“Alien”), or D.) a love story (“Passengers”) — which is impressive. No aliens, no guns, few action scenes, and no budding romances. Just a story of endurance and determination through adversity.

I love that the story is cosmic in scope, but really focuses mostly on human relations through the whole thing. You’ve got the tension between Cooper and fellow crew member Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway). The abandonment grief that Coop’s daughter Murphy bears. The resignation of his son Tom. There’s the cold scientism of Professor Brand (Michael Cain) and Dr. Mann (Matt Damon). Plus you’ve got two robots that have more personality than most persons in other films.

It was also refreshing to see a movie take space physics seriously for once. I almost put “Gravity” in this category, but each time I do I remember the ridiculousness of George Clooney’s death scene and repent. The most obvious example of this is how they portray time dilation. I like how that was not only accounted for, but how the movie was built around it. Nolan did a great job creating powerful scenes showcasing what effects relative time could have on people. The scene where Cooper visits his daughter as she dies of old age while he isn’t even 50 is a tearjerker every time. Her sobbing line where she says she knew he’d come back “because my daddy told me so” is powerful and on the nose without being unduly milked. The scene is short, and benefits from its own brevity.

This probably isn’t bantered around as much, but I also really like how the movie takes on scientism. Who are the only villains in the film? It’s not nature. The black hole is powerful and dangerous but the protagonist’s struggle isn’t really against it. Their struggle is against Mann and Cain’s Brand. Both of them are out to “save the species” but are willing do all kinds of violence against the ones they claim to be saving. Throughout the movie Mann talks about the human race as if it were anything other than itself. He might as easily be talking about saving a certain species of tree or an endangered molerat. Mann displays all sorts of knowledge about basic human drives but is clueless about what makes a good person. The people who end up saving the day are not those who are willing to lie and kill in order to “save the species” but those whose profound love for other specific humans makes them unwilling to make that sacrifice.

I’ll talk briefly about the ending, because that’s always a point of contention. I’m okay with it. I think it’s ambitious, like the rest of the movie, but maybe not what I would have done. In general, I’m okay with protagonists sacrificing themselves to complete an objective (i.e. how “Passengers” should have ended and no, I’m not going to forgive it). If there were another way to get the data to Murphy, I’d probably have picked that. That being said, the idea that Coop is Murphy’s ghost is pretty cool and the ending stays true to the theme throughout the movie that, once past the event horizon, nothing inside a black hole can get out and that it requires something that can transcend dimensions to relay a message outside of a black hole. I definitely don’t think the five-dimensional beings have to be humans, as Coop says more often than I’m comfortable with. I also don’t necessarily like this whole “my love is quantifiable” junk. That whole “love transcends dimensions” line sounds more like straw grasping than anything else. All that being said, I’m okay with the ending

“Interstellar” is so cool. No movie is perfect, but most movies don’t even try. I really think Nolan tried to make a perfect space exploration movie, and he came real close. Kudos to him.

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Ashley’s thoughts

One of the things I admire most about Nolan as a director is how he constantly seems to be challenging himself and pushing himself in new creative directions. “Interstellar” — a sprawling epic about space travel — is one of his most ambitious films so far. It’s not a flawless film, but it is breathtaking and moving and beautiful.

One of the criticisms I’ve seen about Nolan in the past is that some say his movies come across as too cool and emotionless. That isn’t really a problem I have with his movies; his films have a certain aesthetic, and that’s what makes him distinctive as a director. Still, this is probably one of his most emotional films, highlighting Cooper’s sacrifice — basically giving up a normal life with his children so he can save the human race. The scene where Cooper watches through years’ worth of videos from his children is always heartbreaking; while he’s barely aged, many years have passed for them, and he’s missed important milestones, like the birth of his first grandchild. He breaks down in tears, and McConaughey completely sells this scene.

And speaking of McConaughey, I really like him in this role. His drawl and everyman portrayal make him easy to relate to, and this helps ground the movie as it ventures into the far reaches of speculative science. He is the heart and soul of this movie.

“Interstellar’s” cinematography is simply gorgeous; I love the wide, sweeping shots of deep space, the mystery and wonder of the black hole, and the other worlds that Cooper and his crew members explore. These other planets share some elements of Earth geography, so they don’t feel too unrealistic, yet they’re also clearly “otherworldy.” Although it might have been kind of interesting to see hints of extraterrestrial life on some of these worlds, I think that would have added too much complexity to a film that is already fairly long and complex.

Clocking in at almost 170 minutes, I think “Interstellar” could have been trimmed down some, although in Nolan’s defense none of the scenes feel like fluff or filler added merely to pad the film’s runtime. And I also have to agree with Aaron’s statement about the “love transcends dimensions” conversation in the film. Normally I’m a pretty sentimental person who enjoys themes about love and friendship in movies (I secretly tear up in that scene from “Guardians of the Galaxy” where they all become a surrogate family and join hands to save Peter Quill from being consumed by the Infinity Stone). But the speech that Dr. Brand makes about the power of love and how it can be a quantifiable force is just too much. The events of the film already express this concept without it needing to be spelled out in the dialogue.

I actually don’t mind the ending either, and I’ve appreciated it more as time goes on. The film seems pretty scientifically plausible up until the point where Cooper ejects from his ship and drifts through the wormhole, falling into a mysterious “tesseract” that allows him to communicate with his daughter in the past. While Nolan could have easily gone with a more grounded ending, I appreciate that he was willing to take a risk and try for something outside the box. It does highlight that we still don’t know a lot about the mysteries of the universe — or what could be hiding inside a black hole.

“Interstellar” is a powerful, thought-provoking movie that took Nolan to a new frontier as a film maker. I didn’t get a chance to see it in IMAX when it was running in theaters, but I really wish I would have. Hopefully humanity will continue to be inspired to keep exploring the stars!