‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Movie Review

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‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ (2018)
20th Century Fox

Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton & Paul Bettany

Solo: A Star Wars Story‘, the newest entry into the Star Wars franchise, hits theaters this weekend. For those of you keeping score, this is the 10th movie in the film’s 41 year franchise, the 4th since Disney bought Lucasfilm but only the 2nd “non-trilogy” film in the group. Disney purchased George Lucas’ company in 2012 for $4 billion and has already made over $4 billion back just from the worldwide box office takes of ‘The Force Awakens‘, ‘Rogue One‘ and ‘The Last Jedi.’ Anything ‘Solo’ does is now just icing on the cake or extra feathers in the cap, depending on whether you prefer cakes or caps, I suppose.

From what I saw, it seems that they will more or less have yet another hit on their hands. For the two or three of you out there who somehow don’t know who Han Solo is, we were first introduced to the character in 1977’s original ‘Star Wars‘ (now known as ‘Star Wars IV ‘or simply as ‘A New Hope’). He’s a lovable smuggler who ends up helping Luke Skywalker and The Rebels rescue Princess Leia and destroy The Death Star. There have been novels and comics devoted to some of Han’s back story but now that Disney owns the rights, all things previously thought to have been known about Han are no longer canon. THIS is now his origin story and, for the most part, I feel like director Ron Howard and writers Jonathan & Lawrence Kasdan did right by us.

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As the movie opens, we see Han and his friend Qi’ra attempting to escape their hardscrabble life on Corellia and the events that led to Han enlisting in the Imperial Navy to be a pilot as well as his getting kicked out of the academy for “having a mind of his own.” These aren’t spoilers, but pieces of the back story we’d all previously known and that the writers correctly decided to keep in play. We also see how he meets his sidekick and stalwart co-pilot Chewbacca (also first seen in the original film). From this point on, the writers do a great job of weaving a brand new story for our reluctant heroes while also including necessary parts of what we all hoped would be present in this tale along with several clever Easter Eggs for those of us who live and breathe all things Star Wars (anyone still have their original PlayStation “Star Wars Masters of Teras Kasivideo game?).

We truly have an all-star cast in this film including Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Emilia Clarke & Jon Favreau. The two stand out performances for me were Donald Glover who was able to perfectly capture the essence of Billy Dee William‘s smooth but shady Lando Calrissian and Woody Harrelson who portrayed the new character of mastermind / thief / smuggler Beckett with a world-weary determination that commanded attention. As for Alden Ehrenreich‘s Han Solo, he gave us a young, hungry and energetic rendering of our favorite scruffy-looking nerf herder, but he never seemed to be able to muster the easy, roguish charm that Harrison Ford gave us throughout his run in the franchise. He tried…. but it just fell slightly short of the mark, for me.

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For my money, ‘Solo’ does a rather solid job of navigating between what hard core Star Wars fans will expect and what newcomers and younger generations will enjoy with fresh eyes. The cast is sharp, the story is clean and the action is never too slow nor too far outside of what we have seen from previous Star Wars films. My biggest complaint was the attempt at giving us a similar-ish droid character to ‘Rogue One‘s stand out K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) in the form of Lando’s co-pilot L3 and not pulling it off as well (through no fault of voice actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Nothing more can be said there without spoiling a few things, so I’ll just leave it at that. I have no doubt that this movie will be successful for Disney and, given the movie’s ending, I definitely see the need for either a sequel or a direct spinoff for at least 2 or 3 of the characters involved in this film. On a scale of 1 – 10, I give ‘Solo’ a respectable 7.5. Get out and see it in a movie theater near you!!

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‘Deadpool 2’ Movie Review

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‘Deadpool 2’ (2018)
20th Century Fox

Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick & Ryan Reynolds
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, Brianna Hildebrand & Julian Dennison

Describing ‘Deadpool‘ to someone unfamiliar with the character can sometimes be… difficult. Yes, it’s a comic book movie, but it’s unlike any other comic book movie out there. The titular character is a katana-wielding, mass-murdering, 4th wall-breaking, joke-cracking anti-hero. The original film brought in over $780 million at the world wide box office and if reaction at the press screening last week was any indication, the sequel which hits theaters this weekend will far surpass it. Yes, Wade Wilson is back in ‘Deadpool 2‘ and, once again, Ryan Reynolds is the perfect embodiment of “The Merc With A Mouth”. This time around, he’s trying to protect a young mutant named Russell Collins from a time traveler Cable who is hell-bent on killing Rusty at all costs. Along the way, Deadpool must learn how to be a team-player as he assembles his X-Force to stop Cable and save Russell while also redeeming himself in the process.

The introduction of Cable is an interesting one because the vast majority of comic book fans know the character who first appeared in “New Mutants #87” (co-created by the same Rob Liefeld who also co-created Deadpool himself in the same title just 12 issues later!) and Josh Brolin does a fantastic job of portraying the no-nonsense, time-traveling mutant. This film, however, provides virtually no character development for him. We don’t know why he has come back in time to kill Russell until over half way through the movie. Honestly though, due to the nature of Deadpool both as a character and a film franchise, it’s very hard to let that little hiccup stop one’s enjoyment of the film. The other new cast members including Zazie Beetz as Domino, Terry Crews as Bedlam, Lewis Tan as Shatterstar, Bill Skarsgard as Zeitgeist, Rob Delaney as Peter and Julian Dennison as Russell all make for fresh and welcome additions along side returning actors such as Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Stefan Kapicic as Colossus, Karan Soni as Dopinder and TJ Miller as Weasel. The stand out for me was definitely Zazie Beetz whose performance here as Domino merits that she gets her own spinoff movie and soon!

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The plot, even involving the idea of time travel, is not overly complex at all but again, I wasn’t expecting a deep story line from a Deadpool film. I went in expecting more of what I saw in the original movie and I got it in spades! ‘Deadpool 2’ was exciting, irreverent, action-packed, hilarious and definitely not for children. That’s a hard ‘R’ rating, people!! I can’t say too much more without spoiling certain aspects of the movie, but I will say that the writers get huge credit from me for finally doing one of my very favorite Marvel Comics characters proper justice AND also for having the BEST post credits scenes of any comic book movie. Ever. Period! So if you enjoyed the original, if you’re a huge comic book fan, if you can’t get enough Ryan Reynolds OR you just want to go laugh harder than you thought possible, see ‘Deadpool 2’ in theaters this weekend! On a scale of 1 – 10, I’d have to give this film a solid 9 for “maximum effort”!! (But good luck getting that Air Supply song out of your head.)

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‘Life Of The Party’ Movie Review

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‘Life Of The Party’ (2018)
New Line Cinema

Directed by: Ben Falcone
Written by: Melissa McCarthy & Ben Falcone
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Gillian Jacobs, Debby Ryan, Adria Arjona & Stephen Root

Certain actors make certain kind of movies. That’s something we can all count on and something that, for me, is comforting. We more or less know what we are going to get when we go see a Julia Roberts movie or if we go see a Tom Cruise film. The same holds true with Melissa McCarthy. She has a style of humor and a type of movie that she makes. ‘Life Of The Party‘ is definitely a Melissa McCarthy movie and that’s a good thing. In my humble opinion, her movies are always funny, albeit in varying degrees, and her supporting cast is always strong. Her current offering is no exception! McCarthy plays Deanna who, just after sending her only daughter off to her senior year of college (and I mean literally JUST after dropping her off and hasn’t even left the parking lot) is told by her husband that he wants a divorce. Unsure as to what to do with her life, her parents (played by Jacki Weaver & Stephen Root) suggest that she should start by finishing college. Now, heading back to her former college to finish her last year (the same school from which her daughter is also set to graduate), Deanna is determined to “make lemons out of lemonade” (you’ll get that one once you see the movie).

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McCarthy not only stars in this film but she also co-wrote it along with her real-life husband Ben Falcone (who makes a delightful cameo). As I mentioned, it is ripe with her brand of humor in the vein of ‘Tammy‘ and ‘The Boss‘, but with flavors of ‘Old School‘ and ‘Animal House‘ mixed in along the way. I mentioned her supporting cast which includes her best friend (Maya Rudolph), her daughter (Molly Gordon), her daughter’s friends (Gillian Jacobs, Adria Arjona & Jessie Ennis), her ex-husband (Matt Walsh) and his new wife (Julie Bowen), all of which demonstrate impeccable comedic timing in their various roles. The comedy snowballs as the film progresses from just a few light giggles in the opening to full-on belly laughs by the middle of the picture. It’s fun, if slightly predictable, but mostly… it’s fun! I find that people who don’t like Melissa McCarthy generally don’t like her movies based on that single premise alone. I, however, am a fan of her style and this particular film ranks right up there with the likes of ‘Bridesmaids‘ and ‘Spy‘ as far as laughs delivered. I would have to give this movie as solid passing grade of 7 out of 10 and recommend that, if you’re in the mood to laugh, you go see it in theaters this weekend!!

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‘Bad Samaritan’ Movie Review

‘Bad Samaritan’ (2018)
Electric Entertainment

Directed by: Dean Devlin
Written by: Brandon Boyce
Starring: David Tennant, Kerry Condon, Robert Sheenhan, Carlito Olivero & Jacqueline Byers

There are certain movies that have stand-out moments to everyone. Every genre of film has these moments from rom-coms to action flicks to animated features. Thrillers & horror films, for me anyway, have those moments even more so. This weekend, writer Brandon Boyce and director Dean Devlin will serve up several of those moments to you on a silver platter in their new movie ‘Bad Samaritan‘. Robert Sheehan & Carlito Olivero play valets (Sean & Derek, respectively) at an upscale Portland restaurant who use their access to customers’ cars to gain access to their homes and rob them. On this particular evening, they find more than just valuables when they break into the home of Mr. Cale Erendreich (played with sociopathic aplomb by David Tennant) to find a woman chained to the wall of his private home office and a “kill room” in his garage. Sean decides he has to alert the police even though it means admitting to his own crimes. But Erendreich is already ahead of him and has moved his prisoner to another location. Desperately, Sean goes to the FBI for help but even they seem to be unable to stop this mad man from killing his prisoner and systematically destroying Sean’s life piece by-piece in the process.

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Dean Devlin is a masterful director and does a fantastic job of slowly and mercilessly building tension scene-by-scene. The entire cast give strong performances including Kerry Condon as Erendreich’s prisoner Katie (who delivers what is probably my favorite line of the film). David Tennant is unrelentingly intense and razor sharp as Cale Ehrendreich. His portrayal of this sociopath ranks right up there with  greats like Robert De Niro‘s Max Cady and Anthony HopkinsHannibal Lecter. This is one of those films that you’ll be thinking about days after you’ve seen it. We had a great talk with Dean Devlin about the film if you’d like to hear his thoughts on the film, the casting and more. Movies like this that are original ideas and driven by a strong cast are few and far between in today’s age of the Hollywood blockbuster where it’s all big names, special effects and barely plausible plotlines. To that end, ‘Bad Samaritan’ is a breath of fresh air that will leave you holding your breath until the pulse-pounding finale. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give this film a blood-chilling 9! Don’t see it alone!!

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Top 5 Thanos Stories to Read Before You See ‘Infinity War’

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The character of Thanos was created by Mike Friedrich and Jim Starlin back in 1973. Immediately he showed himself as a force to be reckoned with taking on Iron Man, The Avengers and Captain Marvel trying to make himself even more powerful by obtaining the Cosmic Cube and the Infinity Stones. Soon, he will be taking center stage in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in ‘Avengers: Infinity War‘ as he takes on the combined might of The Avengers & The Guardians of the Galaxy. But before that epicness begins, here are the Top 5 Thanos Stories that you may want to read to either brush up on your familiarity with The Mad Titan OR that you may need to read if you are unsure as to just who this purple faced villain is that keeps appearing in the end credits of these Marvel films. Let’s begin, shall we?
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#5.) Thanos Rising (2013)

This series, written by Jason Aaron with art by Simone Bianchi, explores the origin of Thanos from his birth to his growth to adulthood and provides some startling insights as to his obsession with Death and to what ends he will go to attain her affection. Aaron does a masterful job of matching details of Thanos’ previously unknown past that fits smartly in with each story we’ve read featuring him for the past four decades and it needs to be a part of anyone’s collection in order to gain a better understanding of this dark character.

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#4.) Avengers Vs Thanos (1973 – 1977)

This collection covers Thanos’ first appearance from “Iron Man” issue 55 and his battle with Captain Marvel (issues 25 – 33) and The Avengers (issue 125 & Annual 7) as well as encounters with Daredevil (issue 107), Spider-Man (Marvel Team-Up 55) and The Thing (“Marvel Two-In-One” Annual 2) among several other related issues from other comics. In many ways, these early stories written and drawn by legends of the comic industry (Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart, Don Heck, John Buscema & Mike Zeck just to name a few) are the framework of what we’l be treated to when ‘Infinity War’ hits the big screen. Not only is it a truly entertaining read, but it’s a primer on how things were done at the dawn of the Bronze Age of comic books!

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#3.) Thanos series (2016)

The Mad Titan’s current titular series, which is brilliantly written by Jeff Lemire, starts out by showing us a side of Thanos we’ve yet to see – weak. The series starts with Thanos dying and travelling the universe trying to find someone to cure him. It features his own son, Thane, the Phoenix Force, Nebula, Starfox and many others. This story arc also demonstrates that even without his full power and in a weakened state, the things that truly makes Thanos dangerous are his cunning and sheer force of will. (BTW: stay tuned for the ‘Thanos Wins” story arc that immediately follows this one beginning with issue 13 written by Donny Cates.)

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#2.) Silver Surfer: The Rebirth Of Thanos (1993)

Following the events in “Avengers VS Thanos”, the character was thought to have died. It wasn’t until nearly 10 years later that his creator, Jim Starlin, brought him back in the pages of “Silver Surfer” beginning with issue 34. His rebirth took the comic world by storm and he continued appearing in the book over the next year culminating in the events of “Infinity War”. Having Thanos show up and take on one of the most powerful cosmic heroes in the Marvel Universe is a great reintroduction to this character and, in the hands of Starlin with art by the incomparable Ron Lim, makes this collection and instant classic!

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#1.) The Thanos Quest and The Infinity Gauntlet (1990 & 1991)

While all of the other series mentioned on this list are great, if I was pressed to pick one definitive story, it would definitely be the one-two punch of “The Thanos Quest” and “The Infinity Gauntlet“. I almost listed these stories as two separate entries but they are so inextricably linked that it’s almost impossible to do so. “The Thanos Quest” tells the origin of the Infinity Gems and how Thanos sought out and acquired them from the various Elders of the Universe who possessed them. This leads immediately and directly into “The Infinity Gauntlet” which, for my money, is still to this day one of the greatest crossover event mini-series in the entire history of Marvel Comics. Using all six of the gems in concert, Thanos immediately wipes half of the universe out of existence. Naturally this catches the notice of Earth’s heroes (the ones still alive, anyway) and culminates in a massive battle at the edge of space. It also would lays the groundwork for the current incarnation of Thanos that we know today and gave way to several spin-off series and mini-series.

So there you have it! Now you’ll be able to impress your friends with all of your comic knowledge while you are waiting in line to see this culmination of the past 10 years of Marvel films at your local movie theater. If nothing else, at least you’ll have a better appreciation of the magnitude of threat that Thanos poses to the MCU after this required reading list is complete. Will Josh Brolin live up to the hype and be the perfect choice to bring Jim Starlin’s creation to life? Even if he isn’t, at least he’ll get to bring Rob Liefeld‘s creation to life in ‘Deadpool 2‘ in another month. Don’t worry… that list of required reading is next. You’re welcome!

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‘Rampage’ Movie Review

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‘Rampage’ (2018)
New Line Cinema

Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal & Adam Sztykiel
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan & Joe Manganiello

SO… before I begin this review, let me preface for all who are unaware: This movie is based on a video game. I’ve seen critics picking it apart like they tried to do with ‘Tomb Raider‘ last month (yes, also based on a video game) and it needs to stop. People overthinking it or over-analyzing these films need to stop and just enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is! Dwayne Johnson stars as primatologist Davis Okoye who works with primates at the San Diego Zoo. Years ago, while on an anti-poaching trip to Africa, he rescued an albino silverback gorilla named George with whom he has developed a bond. When a genetic experiment in space goes wrong and re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, George is affected by one of the canisters containing gas that causes his cells to mutate. He begins to grow abnormally large and exhibit aggressive behavior. Desperate to cover their tracks AND reclaim their genetic material, Claire & Brett Wyden (the sibling team who head the company responsible for the experimentation gone awry) send out a radio signal to call the creatures who are affected back to their headquarters. Mass destruction follows as George, a mutated wolf (that the media have dubbed “Ralph”) along with an altered & alarmingly large alligator creature begin converging on Chicago. Luckily, Davis along with former researcher Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) and Agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) have a plan to seize the antidote from the Caldwell’s and put an end to the creatures’… rampage… before the military wipes out the city to stop them.

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Rampage‘ is equal parts fun and outright action. As I mentioned in the beginning, it IS based on a video game where YOU play as one of the 3 monsters and try to destroy each city. What is one to expect? Dwayne Johnson is his usual self and, regardless of the script or the film, always is a great lead for a film. Naomie Harris is very relatable and solid as the former researcher out to help take down the company she blames for causing the death of her brother. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is… Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Always. He plays his role with charm and enthusiasm which makes for all of his scenes to be a sheer delight. Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy are outright ridiculous in the best way possible as the maniacal corporate and nearly over-the-top villains out to make money at any cost. While this film won’t be winning any Oscars, it certainly is an enjoyable kick-off to “movie season” and might even steal the #1 spot at the box office from ‘A Quiet Place‘ for it’s debut weekend. Grab your popcorn and soda, hunker down in your chairs and just turn off your brain for a very fast 1 hr and 47 minutes. I would give ‘Rampage’ a 6.5 overall and recommend it be seen in IMAX if you can for maximum destructive enjoyment!rampage_06

“Normandy Gold” Graphic Novel

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Titan Comics
Written by: Megan Abbott & Alison Gaylin
Art by: Steve Scott
Colors by: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters by: Rodney Ramos
Release date: April 10th 2018
“Normandy Gold” is a different sort of graphic novel than I am used to reading. Far removed from the normal super hero fare, this is a hard-edged, gritty and visceral crime thriller set against the turbulent backdrop of Washington, D.C. in the 1970’s. The story immediately draws you in and the relentlessness of the plot and depth of the protagonist insist that you stick around until the end. Calling it a “page-turner” doesn’t do it justice! I was fortunate enough to be able to probe the minds of the writers behind this whirlwind of a tale, Megan Abbott & Alison Gaylin and here is what they had to say about “Normandy Gold”:
**THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T HAD THE CHANCE TO READ THE GRAPHIC NOVEL YET!!**

ME: You say this was born out of your mutual love of 70s movies. Was this a culmination of various plot threads you saw in the movies or was this a story that you always wanted to tell and the movies just prompted you to go ahead and tell it?

GWW: I think it was more the world of these movies rather than specific plot threads that inspired us. We wanted to create a story with the same, gritty, paranoid feel as films like Hardcore, Taxi Driver and Parallax View, with a single-minded, revenge-consumed protagonist like Charles Bronson in the Death Wish movies, or Lee Marvin in Point Blank. And we wanted her to be a woman.

MA: Yeah, we really just wanted to enter the world of those films, but with a character you likely wouldn’t find in them. Normandy became our avatar to enter the seamy 70s cinemascape.

GWW: When I first saw the image of Johnny Deeper, I immediately thought of Sam Elliott from ‘Roadhouse’. Was I imagining this? Or was that intentional?

AG: Good eye! We actually included a lot of visuals in our script – and many of those visuals happened to be movie stills and headshots…

MA: Certain characters, especially the secondary ones, were directly inspired by actors (Nancy Allen, for instance, and PJ Soles—how’s that for an obscure 70s reference?) or certain scenes (like the diner one in Taxi Driver, which influenced a scene with Normandy and Charity).

GWW: Modern technology (I.E. cell phones, text messages, internet) takes away some of the “allure” of mysteries such as this one. Did you find it simpler and more rewarding telling a period piece for that reason? AG: Yes, I think the thing that sets these 70s thrillers apart from their modern counterparts is that feeling of isolation on the part of the protagonist. That’s a lot harder to achieve in a world in which everyone is connected. Also, there is something about reel-to-reel tape as an image that I find incredibly foreboding. It could be a Watergate thing.

MA: The analog nature of the 70s—there’s a weird nostalgia in it now, for me as much as anyone. And yet that nostalgia doesn’t strip these objects of their power. On the contrary, because it makes us think now we can’t even the mechanisms of surveillance. They’re invisible.

GWW: While the story certainly has a tangible grit to it, is it a story that necessarily had to be told in the 70’s era or would it have worked just as well in, say, the 80’s or 90’s and, if you were to update it to one of those decades, what do you think would have fundamentally changed about the story?

AG: I imagine it could have been told in either of those eras, but I think the 70s was a uniquely cynical time, in which distrust for all institutions – the government, the police – was pervasive. I think if we’d updated it to the Reagan Era or the Clinton Era, that distrust might have been subtler. Sexual politics too were darker back then… Interestingly, I think it’s a story we could have set in the present day easier than in the 80s or 90s.

MA: The disillusionment of the 70s—I guess that only comes once. After that, there’s not a strong enough faith in traditional institutions to experience disillusionment on that scale again.

GWW: Are there any plans for a sequel or even a possible on-going “Normandy Gold” series? If so, where would you envision her going from here?

AG: No definite plans, but we have discussed it, and I’d love to work with Megan – and Normandy – again. We did come up with another story for her, in which she did some work for the government and became emmeshed in a plot that had a bit of an Apocalypse Now feel.

MA: Yes, we got a story up our sleeves!

GWW: If this were to be made into a movie in the next year or so, who would you envision playing the main parts? AG: Well, we did envision Mark Ruffalo as Sturgis when we wrote the script, but I also think Ryan Gosling would do in a pinch. And Eva Mendes would be great as Normandy. I could also see Margot Robbie in the part. Or Beyonce. (Ah, to dream…) How about you, Megan?

MA: Those sound good to me! Maybe Eiza Gonzalez from Baby Driver as Normandy?

GWW: You obviously had a lot of inspiration that you mentioned from various films and this story flows so incredibly well. Were there any moments of Writer’s Block during the process or did it flow seamlessly from conceptualization to printing? AG: I feel like that’s where collaborating worked to our advantage. We did a lot of brainstorming. If one of us got tripped up, we’d get on the phone and hash out ideas. We were so much on the same wavelength throughout the writing process. For me, it was the most fun and least amount of torture I’ve ever experienced writing.

MA: Whenever one of us would slow down, the other’s enthusiasm would spark us again. The ideal collaborative spirit!

GWW: What would be the most important element of this graphic novel to you? What would you tell the average reader about it to encourage them to go out and buy it?

AG: When we wrote it, we’d never seen a thriller that was driven by female rage. And I still think it’s rather unique in that way. Normandy isn’t victim, a superhero or a femme fatale. She’s just very pissed off. I find that very compelling.

MA: Normandy really speaks to this moment in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. And she’s also kind of eternal. A force for justice for women. That’s evergreen!

“Normandy Gold” completely blew me away and I, for one, am sincerely hoping that we get a sequel to this gripping tale! Make sure you pick it up for YOUR collection this week at your LCS!!

‘Ready Player One’ Movie Review

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Last night was the press screening of the new Steven Spielberg film ‘Ready Player One‘ based on the book by author Ernie Cline. This movie has been highly anticipated ever since it was announced that it was being made and if ever a director was a good fit for helming a film, it’s definitely Spielberg and it’s definitely for this film! For those unfamiliar with the premise, the story takes place in the future (the year 2045 to be exact) where the entire population engages in a virtual reality world called The Oasis in order to escape the drudge of real life with it’s overpopulation, pollution, poverty, etc. When the creator of The Oasis, James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance) dies, he reveals that he has hidden an Easter Egg in the game that, when discovered, will grant the winner his entire fortune as well as full control of The Oasis! The race is on (literally!) as everyone seeks to find clues that will lead them to this Easter Egg. A corporation known as IOI headed by Nolan Sorrento (portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn) wants control of The Oasis  for themselves in order to complete their stranglehold on the populace. However, the first person to break on to the leader board is not one of IOI’s “sixer” workers, but lone player & Halliday super-fan Wade Watts (actor Tye Sheridan) who goes by the avatar Parzival. Now with the 1st of 3 keys in his possession, he becomes the target of IOI who will stop at nothing to make sure that they are the ones to win “Anorak’s Quest” (Halliday’s in-game avatar) and gain complete control of The Oasis.

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Full disclosure: I may be a bit biased as this movie was made for someone like me. I’m in my early 40’s, I love video games, I grew up seeing the movies that are referenced in this film (and there are a LOT of them), I am an 80’s fan so, yes, this movie hit on everything I love and hold dear. Even with that being said, this movie is outstanding and would be enjoyed by anyone! Older people will appreciate the nods to items like King Kong and the Batmobile from the ’66 Batman series, younger fans will love the action and VR aspect of the movie which will seem as incredible & futuristic to them as the notion of ‘Knight Rider‘ seemed to those of us who grew up in the 80’s and those who are right around my age will love seeing the Delorean from ‘Back To The Future‘ and hearing “Jump” by Van Halen. The run time of 2 hours 20 minutes flew by before I knew what had happened as my brain struggled to catch all of the visual gems which were replete throughout the film.

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As a fellow reviewer pointed out as we discussed the film after last night’s screening – It’s almost mind-boggling to think that the same director responsible for the very serious and almost academic film ‘The Post‘ which came out earlier this year, is also the man who directed a mind-blowingly fantastical joyride of a film like ‘Ready Player One’. This only further proves beyond doubt that Steven Spielberg is deservedly one of Hollywood’s greatest directors! I found myself grinning profusely during the opening race sequence, at the “Staying Alive” dance scene, during the cast’s VR exploration of ‘The Shining‘ world and every part in between! Through the magic of Spielberg’s movie making, I was once again that little 7 year old boy watching Elliott and his friends fly in front of the moon with E.T. , filled with the same wonder and excitement I felt watching Indiana Jones escape The Temple Of Doom and cheering on the hero like I did when Peter Pan finally realized who he was as he battled Hook! Steven Spielberg has a unique style of directing that can be tangibly felt in much the same way other truly great directors like Hitchcock, Soderbergh & del Toro have with their work and this film was almost like a love letter from Spielberg to his fans. The showing that I went to was standard format but I am very excited to see how it looks in a 3D setting (something I will be undertaking this weekend when the film is released.). It bears mentioning that the entire cast never missed a beat and was totally up to the task of selling this film with vigor and conviction! Olivia Cooke (aka: Art3mis), Lena Waithe (aka: Aech), Simon Pegg (Ogden Morrow) & Hannah john-Kamen (F’nale) were all outstanding while never being over-the-top which, in a movie like this one, could have possibly happened. A solid story, great cast and rock-steady directing allows this film to LEVEL UP and become the very first movie which I have ever scored as a perfect 10 out of 10!!! This is one that you will need to see in theaters and, if you want to try to catch all of the Easter Eggs, that you’ll need to see at least 2 or 3 times!!!

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‘A Wrinkle In Time’ Movie Review

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Disney’s newest film ‘A Wrinkle In Time‘ will hit theaters this weekend. The spectacular cast includes Oprah Winfrey, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, Deric McCabe, Levi Miller, Zach Galifianakis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Michael Pena. This film is based on the novel by Madeleine L’Engle which was also adapted into a TV movie back in 2003 with a completely different cast. It follows a young girl named Meg Murray (Reid) & her younger adopted brother Charles Wallace Murray (McCabe) who, with the help of their friend Calvin (Miller) and three mysterious beings (Winfrey, Witherspoon & Kaling), seek to find their scientist father (Pine) who disappeared 4 years ago while searching for a way to traverse the galaxy using only the power of the human mind. The visuals are beautiful and quite stunning! The acting by the entire cast is absolutely fantastic! Sadly, these elements only barely manage to lift the film beyond the status of the TV movie that preceded it.

A Wrinkle In Time - Golden Globes TV Spot (screen grab) CR: Disney

As I was watching it, the acting drew me in and allowed me to overlook the rather simplistic and trite script which is a huge credit to the actors in the film. Great actors are able to do great things with even very mediocre writing and that was certainly the case here. I also found the movie to be very predictable and the plot to be very generic. Obviously the effects and the visuals employed were gorgeous and, again, that helped keep an otherwise dull movie afloat longer than it would have without them. However, I left the film feeling as though I had just watched a “Made-For-TV movie” that had been somehow forced into existence by someone with a nearly unlimited budget. I was excited by the idea of the movie and the previews certainly make you think you’re getting ready to see an epic film, but this is definitely a picture where it’s reach far exceeds it’s grasp. If you’re a fan of the players in this piece and are looking for a diversion on a rainy Saturday afternoon this month, then by all means you should see this movie. Otherwise, I’d say that some movies currently playing in theaters are a better bet and you can save this one for viewing from the comfort of your home. On your TV… like it was originally intended to be seen. On a scale of 1 – 10, I’m sorry to say ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ only manages to “tesser” it’s way to a 6.5.

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‘Annihilation’ Movie Review

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I got to see the film ‘Annihilation‘ last night. While I loved the movie, I find myself having a hard time telling you succinctly why I loved the movie. What I find most interesting about that is that my inability to describe the movie with great clarity and relative ease perfectly mirrors the protagonist’s (Lena, played with a voracious intensity by Natalie Portman) inability to describe what she encountered during her journey into what the characters call “The Shimmer”. Let me begin there: Portman plays a former soldier and current John Hopkins biologist named Lena who, at the start of the film, is in an isolation chamber describing what she just witnessed to several scientists who have been studying and probing “The Shimmer” – an ever-expanding area of energy radiating out from a lighthouse that was struck by a small meteor a few years back. Attempts to send in probes, animals, even teams of researchers have proven futile as nothing ever comes back out after going inside of its field. Lena’s husband Kane, a soldier in the army (a haunting performance by Oscar Isaac), is the only person to ever come out of “The Shimmer” and he doesn’t appear to have come back quite the same. Soon, Lena finds herself at a secret research base on the edge of the phenomenon and, in an effort to save her husband, volunteers to go along with a group of researchers who plan to make their way to the lighthouse and discover the source of whatever is happening in an attempt to understand and stop it.

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The cast and their performances are nothing short of brilliant. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny are all riveting to watch as the group of explorers each with a different field of expertise and each driven by their own distinct purposes for being there. The pace of the movie never falters and there is constant sense of unease that I got while viewing it that I don’t recall feeling from any other movie since last year’s ‘Split’. As the team pushes ahead, they encounter images and sights that range from surreal, to spectacular to downright horrifying until the film’s climactic end which truly defies description. Director Alex Garland, who gave us 2014’s ‘Ex Machina‘, once again delivers an incredible spectacle of cinema that is as thought-provoking as it is breathtaking. I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person but even I was perplexed by what exactly the ending signified and that made me like the film even more. There are a few “Gotcha!” type scares but there are also plenty of horrific images that will stick with you long after you’ve left the theater. For a movie to be so brilliant and gorgeous and frightening all at the same time is quite the achievement. ‘Annihilation’ is the first movie of 2018 that I am already planning to see again at the first available opportunity and that kind of immediate rewatchability on a film forces me to score it as a solid 9.5. Get out there and see it in a theater near you THIS WEEKEND!!

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