Movie review: ‘Bumblebee’ is the Transformers movie we’ve been waiting for

This is a sentence I never thought I’d write, but here it is: yes, a Transformers movie really is one of the best movies of the year.

The films in Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise haven’t exactly been beloved by critics, or by a lot of geeks. Though they’ve collectively made $4.3 billion(!) at the box office, their highest achieved Rotten Tomatoes score is a still-rotten 57 percent. The performance of the previous film, “The Last Knight,” indicated possible waning interest in the franchise.

If you feel burned out after the previous five Transformers movies, I hear you. And while you might not want to give the franchise one more chance, I’d really encourage you to do so. “Bumblebee” is a wonderful, surprisingly heart-felt and character-driven movie, and I absolutely loved it.

I know “heart-felt” and “character-driven” aren’t the typical words that come to mind when you think of the Transformers franchise, but “Bumblebee” has a very different feel than the films that have come before it. Set in the 1980s, the film follows the lovable, bright-yellow robot as he flees to Earth to find a safe haven for Optimus Prime and his allies after a devastating Decepticon attack. Bumblebee befriends Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a lonely teenage girl who’s been struggling since the death of her father.

Although Charlie copes with her grief by shutting out everyone who tries to get close to her, Bumblebee slowly wins her trust, and their friendship helps her begin to heal. When two Decepticons come to Earth to track Bumblebee down, Charlie and her new robot friend work together to save the day.

I really don’t have anything to criticize about this movie, because it pretty much fixed all the problems I had with the other Transformers films.

One of the common complaints about the franchise is that the action scenes were always a little too over-the-top; I love a good explosion in an action film, but the Transformers movies relied too much on special effects over substance.

While there are some cool action sequences in “Bumblebee,” they are refreshingly smaller-scale, and the emphasis of the film is on the characters. Sometimes it’s nice to have a stripped-down blockbuster like this, where there aren’t a million and one things flying at the screen at any given moment.

And speaking of the characters…I REALLY loved the character arcs in this movie. My biggest frustration with the past Transformers movies has been the treatment of the female characters, who have, for the most part, been over-sexualized, objectified, and basically relegated to the role of “eye candy.” I never felt like the past Transformers movies respected their female characters, and as a female geek, that was hard to watch.

By contrast, Charlie feels like a real teenager. She’s given hopes, dreams, fears, and struggles. I loved seeing her friendship with Bumblebee develop, and when they had to say goodbye at the end of the film, yes, I did get a little misty-eyed.

I’m not crying – you’re crying! (Okay, I’m crying.)

The cast of characters is actually rather small, which was also refreshing. This allows the film to really focus on the interactions between Charlie and Bumblebee, which form the heart of the movie. Another character I liked was Charlie’s neighbor and co-worker, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). I thought his crush on Charlie was adorably awkward, and their relationship felt like an authentic “teenagers falling in love for the first time” experience. It reminded me a little of “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” one of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

Like I said before, I really can’t think of anything to criticize about this movie. I appreciated that they got rid of the cringe-y humor (the less we say about “Transformers 2,” the better). There are some laughs in “Bumblebee,” but they’re sweet moments, rather than eye-roll inducing.

Anyway, I had no idea that I’d end the year by gushing about a Transformers movie, of all things, but here I am! 😉 I’m glad I held off making my “best of 2018” movie list until after I saw “Bumblebee.” I wasn’t even originally planning to see it, but when I saw it receiving really glowing reviews, I decided I had to check it out. I’m glad I did, because it’s definitely in my top five this year. It’s the perfect way to close out my 2018 at the box office.


Movie review: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is a charming, old-fashioned musical

My favorite moment from “Mary Poppins Returns” actually wasn’t a moment in the film itself.

I went to see the movie with my mom on Christmas Eve, and there was a little kid sitting several seats down from us. After one particular song and dance number (involving a magical bubble bath), the little kid proclaimed, “That was fun!”

That childlike sense of joy and wonder was exactly what I felt while watching “Mary Poppins Returns.” It’s a charming, old-fashioned musical that reminded me of the classic Disney films I watched as a kid.

Although the original “Mary Poppins” premiered 50 years ago, the sequel is set 25 years after the events of the first film. Michael and Jane Banks are grown up now; Michael, who has three children of his own, is grieving the recent loss of his wife and is also about to lose his home. The Banks’ childhood nanny Mary Poppins arrives at precisely the right time to lend a helping hand — and restore a little magic to the Banks’ lives.

While I haven’t watched the original “Mary Poppins” since childhood, I have seen the stage play a couple times in recent years. I’m sure other reviewers have spent time comparing the original “Mary Poppins” to its brand-new sequel, but I’ve found that isn’t something I’m really in the mood to do. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how nostalgia impacts the way I view new and old films, and I just wanted to enjoy “Mary Poppins Returns” on its own merits.

The structure of the sequel reminded me a lot of the first film, but the familiarity felt comforting rather than derivative, at least to me. I saw someone on Twitter compare “Mary Poppins Returns” to “The Force Awakens,” and I feel that’s a pretty good analogy, actually.

While some have argued that “The Force Awakens” is just a remake of “A New Hope,” I personally never agreed with that. “The Force Awakens” does have some of the same story beats as “A New Hope”; however, it uses these familiar settings, themes, and character types to tell a new story that very much stands on its own. “Mary Poppins Returns” does the same sort of thing. Some may find it reminds them too much of the original, but I thought it had its own unique charm.

I enjoyed all the song and dance numbers in “Mary Poppins Returns,” and I particularly loved the 2D hand-drawn animation sequence. Emily Blunt is “practically perfect in every way” as the new Mary Poppins. Although Julie Andrews’ classic portrayal will always be wonderful, I loved Blunt’s performance as well. She’s the perfect mixture of stern, proper, imaginative, and kind.

I also really enjoyed seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda as the lamplighter Jack. He was grinning every moment he was onscreen, and I could tell he was having a blast just being in this movie. It’s always fun to see performers who are passionate about what they’re doing.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is the perfect sort of movie to watch around the holidays. Just like after watching “Christopher Robin” earlier this year, I left the theater with a smile on my face and a wonderfully “warm, fuzzy” feeling.

Movie review: ‘Aquaman’ is a wild and wacky dive into the DC Cinematic Universe

It’s fair to say that DC Comics has sailed through some choppy waters as it seeks to build its own cinematic universe. (As a quick aside, I feel like I need to apologize for all the water-related puns that I’m going to be dropping in this review. Since I’m writing about “Aquaman,” I just couldn’t help myself. I’m sorry.) 😉

“Wonder Woman” remains the crown jewel in the DC cinematic universe, and while I don’t think “Batman v. Superman” received enough praise for the things it did well, for me at least “Justice League” was a letdown. As a direct follow-up to that film, “Aquaman” needed to make a splash at the box office and get the franchise back on track.

While an argument could be made that “Aquaman” could’ve been a stronger film overall, it is a fun ride, and is a step in the right direction for the DC cinematic universe.

“Aquaman” is sitting at a respectable 68 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and the “critics consensus” blurb is actually a fairly accurate summary of what you can expect from this film: “‘Aquaman’ swims with its entertainingly ludicrous tide, offering up CGI superhero spectacle that delivers energetic action with an emphasis on good old-fashioned fun.”

To quickly summarize the plot: Although Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) has decided to embrace his superpowers and help those in danger on the high seas, he doesn’t really want anything to do with his Atlantean heritage. His mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) originally fled the underwater paradise and fell in love with Arthur’s human father (Temuera Morrison), but was eventually forced to return to the ocean’s depths.

Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) has become king in his place, and Orm’s dangerous obsession with power threatens to bring war to both land and sea. Thanks to a push from Princess Mera (Amber Heard) — and the help of a powerful, mythical trident — Arthur decides to finally claim his destiny.

There are parts of “Aquaman” that are really great, and some parts that are more just “okay.” I actually really liked the mini arc that featured the love story between Arthur’s Atlantean mother and human father. I enjoyed seeing Temuera Morrison’s performance in Star Wars (Jango Fett and voices of the clone troopers), and I’d love to see him in more big-budget films.

I also really enjoyed Jason Momoa’s performance as Aquaman. He’s clearly having a fun time playing this character, and that in turn makes him fun to watch. I might not have predicted it originally, but the “super-bro” take on the character actually works really well. I also enjoyed Mera’s character. I feel like Hollywood has been doing much better with its portrayal of female characters in big-budget movies; Mera is Aquaman’s love interest, but she’s also an important part of the plot and gets plenty of her own action scenes. It’s cool to see her and Aquaman working together and mutually respecting each other.

The villain character is one of the film’s weaker spots. I felt Patrick Wilson was chewing the scenery a little too much (although the final scene with this character was an interesting twist I wasn’t necessarily expecting). The more interesting villain was Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). His story felt somewhat shoehorned into the plot, but I really loved the character and the performance, and I definitely want to see more of him in the DC cinematic universe. I would have liked to see him play an even bigger role in the events of “Aquaman.”

The film’s special effects did vary a little in quality. There were some moments where the underwater scenery really blew me away; it was gorgeous and strange and otherworldly. I saw some things I had genuinely never seen on screen before, and I loved being immersed in that world. At other moments, though, the CGI was applied a little too heavily, and the scenery ended up looking a little fake (similar to what happened in the Star Wars prequels).

Also, there’s some genuinely bonkers stuff in this movie — and I do mean that as a compliment. At one moment, Arthur shows up in this big underwater battle between a bunch of crabs and sharks, and he himself is riding this giant kaiju-like monster. Was it over the top and a bit ridiculous? Yes. Was it fun to see? Most definitely yes. “Aquaman” doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the film is better for it.

In short, the film does have spots where the plot drags a little, and some concepts could have been executed more strongly. There’s also a lot of little side-plots that could have been connected more seamlessly (Black Manta, the quest for the trident, etc.).

But in the end, I did have fun watching this movie, and I was definitely never bored. I wouldn’t mind diving into this part of the DC universe again (final water pun, I promise!).

‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ – a (slightly!) belated review

ralph-breaks-the-internet-3600x1771-wreck-it-ralph-2-animation-2018-4k-12053Time always seems to go by quickly, but it goes by even MORE quickly during the holiday season. It always feels like there are lots of movies in theaters between Thanksgiving and Christmas that I want to see, but I never quite make it to all of them.

However, even though this is a bit belated, I did eventually make it to “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” the sequel to the 2012 animated hit “Wreck-It Ralph,” which opened in theaters Nov. 21. I’ve only seen “Wreck-It Ralph” once, when it came out on DVD (almost six years ago!), but I remembered enjoying it, enough so that I wanted to check out the sequel.

In the original, we meet video game “villain” Wreck-It Ralph, who’s spent 30 years inside an arcade smashing pixels, trying to destroy a high-rise building until Fix-It Felix arrives to save the day. However, he’s tired of being labeled as “the bad guy,” and he wants something more out of life. He breaks the rules and starts exploring other video games, hoping to make friends and become a hero.

Ralph does find a happy ending, and at the start of “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” he’s living a pretty good life. He’s got lots of friends now, including Vanellope von Schweetz, a character from a dessert-themed racing game called “Sugar Rush.” He’s pretty content with his circumstances…but Vanellope isn’t. She’s bored with the status quo and wishes she could live inside a more exciting game.

When Ralph tries to manufacture some excitement for her, he accidentally ends up breaking her game. Feeling guilty, he volunteers to venture into the mysterious world of the Internet to find a part that can fix “Sugar Rush.” Needless to say, Ralph isn’t fully prepared to face the exciting, confusing, and (potentially) dangerous World Wide Web, and the increasing conflict between him and Vanellope threatens to ruin their friendship forever.

There are two ways to look at “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” In the slightly more cynical way, you’ll notice that there is a LOT of product placement. Once Ralph and Vanellope arrive, you’ll see lots of websites that you recognize, like Twitter and eBay. They also spend time on a Disney fansite, with references to many other Disney properties, including Star Wars and Marvel (“Ralph Breaks the Internet” is also a Disney film). Is this product placement distracting and gimmicky, or is it charming and fun?


Which side you fall on will undoubtedly impact your enjoyment of this movie. Personally, I didn’t mind the “product placement,” and it felt a lot more natural than the similar product placement I saw in marketing for “The Emoji Movie” (the less said about that movie, the better). I loved the scenes on the eBay website, and I’m a sucker for Disney franchise references — it was great to see Iron Man and stormtroopers show up in “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”

Overall, this was a fun movie; it made me laugh, and I enjoyed seeing it in theaters. I have heard some comments from other viewers that it feels more like a series of shorts strung together vs. a more streamlined narrative, and I think that’s a fair criticism, even though it didn’t really bother me.

There are some really funny vignettes in this film, including a running gag about “pop up” ads, a frustration anyone who’s surfed the Internet can relate to. And the scene with Vanellope meeting the Disney princesses was just as charming as I’d hoped. There’s a really hilarious moment where Vanellope gets her standard “Disney princess ballad.”

On a more serious note, I found I actually really appreciated the movie’s themes of friendship and letting go. At times, the delivery of these themes was a bit heavy-handed, and sure, it could have been done in a more natural, subtle way.

But the main lesson to be found in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is that sometimes friendships change, even the really close ones. Friends may develop new dreams that take them in different directions. You may become different people, and that requires the maturity of letting go and realizing that even though you may no longer have the same priorities or live in the same place, you can still be friends. The more Ralph tries to hold onto/control his friendship with Vanellope, the more he starts to lose her. In the end, they find a bittersweet balance; their friendship looks a lot different, but it’s still just as strong.

If you enjoyed the original “Wreck-It Ralph,” I’d recommend checking out the sequel. While it won’t end up on my “best of the year” list, it’s a fun film that’s good for families and kids of all ages.

Better Late than Never blog series: The Dude abides in ‘The Big Lebowski’

big-lebowski-re-release-promo.jpgAll Jeffrey Lebowski really wants is to get his rug back.

The easygoing slacker (better known as “the Dude”) is just minding his own business one night, when two crooks show up at his Los Angeles home and demand the money his wife owes their boss. The catch: the Dude isn’t married, and the crooks eventually figure out that they’ve got the wrong “Jeffrey Lebowski.” That doesn’t stop them from, well, ruining his rug and spoiling his night, and this incident leads to a somewhat bizarre, rather madcap adventure that involves our hero (in no particular order) bowling, serving as a courier for ransom money, and getting into a fight with a group of German nihilists.

Now regarded as a cult classic, “The Big Lebowski” was actually a box office flop when it was released in 1998 and received mixed reviews. Audiences and critics both seemed to warm up to it, though, and according to Wikipedia, in 2014 the movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film. I wonder what the Dude would make of that?

I had never seen “The Big Lebowski” before starting this blog series, and I realized I’d actually never seen a Coen brothers film, either. The writing/producing/directing duo have a fairly distinguished Hollywood resume, including films like “Fargo” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Both those films should probably be added to my movie bucket list, actually. 😉

I watched “The Big Lebowski” a couple weeks ago, and I’m actually still not sure how I feel about it. I know that seems like a bit of a cop-out, because in a review you’re supposed to say whether you liked or disliked a film and why. 😉 It’s interesting because with the other three “Better Late than Never” blog series films — “Jaws,” “North by Northwest,” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” — I knew within the first 20 minutes what kind of films they were going to be, and I knew I was going to love them.

I don’t think that I’ve ever watched a movie quite like “The Big Lebowski,” and that’s really part of the movie’s charm. I’ve seen quirky comedies before (Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy is one of my favorites); however, “The Big Lebowski” has a style all its own. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t sure what to think of it at first — I didn’t really have anything to compare it to.

Here’s what I liked: Jeff Bridges is obviously having a blast playing the Dude, and it’s hard not to love the character. He’s pretty lazy but is good-natured and well-meaning, and I loved his friendship with John Goodman’s much more intense Walter Sobchak. I’d watch more movies featuring the misadventures of these two, even if it was just them sitting in a bowling alley and having conversations.

I also enjoyed the complicated plot; the Coen brothers do a great job drawing comedy out of the Dude’s somewhat bumbling efforts to stay ahead of everything going on (he’s often pretty much clueless). The soundtrack is great, and there’s some great cinematography. I particularly enjoyed the creative ways the bowling scenes were shot.

I did feel that Steve Buscemi was a little under-used in this movie, but maybe that’s just because I love Steve Buscemi and wanted to see more from his character. I also thought Julianne Moore’s character, Maude Lebowski, was interesting, and I would have liked to see her more involved in the plot, as well.

In short, I feel like “The Big Lebowski” is a film I need to see again to fully develop my thoughts on it. It was a weirder movie than I was expecting; that’s not a bad thing, but it did take me a bit to adjust to the narrative style. I think I might enjoy it more the next time I watch it.

And regardless of whether it ends up being in line with my personal tastes or not, it is a very creative film, and I can see why it’s become a cult classic with a devoted fanbase.

With the “Better Late than Never” blog series, it has been really fun getting out of my “cinematic comfort zone” and watching some movies that don’t necessarily have a superhero or a spaceship in them. 😉 There’s definitely value in watching something with a fresh perspective. I do also want to watch more Coen brothers films, to see how “The Big Lebowski” compares to their other work.

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

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

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

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

The Man with No Name

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

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

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

The western deconstructed

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

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

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

Enduring legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

‘Solo’ takes flight: Disney’s ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ a surprisingly fun galactic heist movie

nullWhen I walked out of the theater after watching “Solo: A Star Wars Story” last night, I breathed a quiet sigh of relief. I was originally concerned about this film, considering it had such a bumpy ride to the box office. With behind-the-scenes drama that included fan backlash to casting choices, a director shake-up, and major reshoots, this movie could have easily turned into a cinematic dumpster fire.

Against the odds, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” turns out to be a very enjoyable movie — and it actually feels more like a heist film than an origin story (another positive, in my book). While it’s fair to say I enjoyed the other three Disney Star Wars flicks — “The Force Awakens,” “Rogue One,” and “The Last Jedi” more — don’t let the negative prerelease buzz scare you away. “Solo” is still well worth a trip to the theater.

We meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich) as a scrappy survivor on the streets of Corellia, where he’s hatching a plan to escape to a better life and become a pilot. He wants to take his childhood friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) with him, but they’re separated when she’s captured and detained. Although he swears he’ll come back to free her, he signs up for the Imperial Navy and becomes, for all intents and purposes, a prisoner as well. Still, Han never stops scheming and hoping, and he eventually joins a group of criminals on a job that could earn him enough money to get back to Corellia. However, things naturally don’t go as well as he plans, and the Qi’ra he returns to may not be the same person he left.


As mentioned before, “Solo” technically qualifies as an origin story but feels like a fun heist adventure. Like “Rogue One,” this movie has a grittier, grimier aesthetic than the main Star Wars saga, and for me, that really works. I felt like I was stepping into the Star Wars criminal underworld, and I enjoyed seeing a new side of that famous galaxy far, far away. There are some really cool action set pieces, including that train heist we caught glimpses of in the trailers, and the Millennium Falcon’s famous “Kessel Run.”

I feared the final film might be a little choppy, due to the behind-the-scenes drama, but it actually flows fairly smoothly. We’ll probably never know what the original “Solo” film was going to be like, before original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired. My gut feeling is that Lucasfilm made the right decision; supposedly, Lord and Miller were trying a lot of improvisation, and it just wasn’t working. “Thor: Ragnarok” also used a lot of improvisation, and it’s actually one of my least favorite Marvel films because of that (even though I still enjoyed watching it). That technique doesn’t work as well in these types of films, at least for me. Ron Howard did a good job salvaging the film (supposedly reshooting about 70 percent of it), and I REALLY hope this movie does well enough to get a sequel. I’d love to see what Howard could do with full creative control over a “Solo” film from the beginning of the process.

There was a lot of skepticism when Alden Ehrenreich was cast as Han Solo, and the fan concern was understandable. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is such an iconic performance, and you just can’t replicate that. However, I hope that skeptical fans are willing to give Ehrenreich a chance. Once you get used to the fact someone besides Ford is playing Han, Ehrenreich does a good job capturing the spirit of Han Solo while also making the role his own. The Han we meet in this film isn’t the same Han we meet in “A New Hope”; here he’s younger, cockier, and a little more idealistic. I can see how this Han becomes the more cynical, jaded Han in the Original Trilogy.


I appreciated how this film emphasized just how important “family” is to Han, even if he doesn’t admit it. Han likes to pretend he’s a tough, “too cool for the room” outlaw, but he’ll risk everything to help the people he cares about. This character trait shines through the whole franchise, from Han going back to help Luke blow up the Death Star to finally facing his son, Kylo Ren, and giving him one last chance to turn back to the light.

As expected, Donald Glover steals every scene he’s in as Lando Calrissian. With a smooth charm and a killer sense of style, Glover’s Lando is just about perfect. It’s great to see Chewbacca get some action scenes, and it’s also fun to see Woody Harrelson in a Star Wars film. I also really liked Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra; I won’t give away any spoilers, but there are some interesting layers to this character that are revealed throughout the film.

This film has a lot of nostalgic fan moments; again, I don’t want to give away all of them, but there’s a fun play on Han’s famous “I love you — I know” moment, and Lando mispronounces “Han,” just as he does in “The Empire Strikes Back.” And fans also get some closure for the “Han shot first” debate.


There are a few of these fan service moments that are a little too over-the-top, such the explanation of how Han got the last name “Solo” (we really didn’t need a backstory for that). And overall the film doesn’t feel as “epic” as Episodes VII and VIII, or “Rogue One.” Still, “Solo” is way better than a film with this much prerelease turmoil had any right to be. We may not have really needed a Han Solo origin film, but now that we have it, I’m really glad it’s part of the Star Wars universe.