Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Retro Movie Review: Elf (2003- PG – 97 minutes)

Because I don't go to the theater as often in December (Oscar-bait movies are things I wait to see), I decided to review a holiday movie I enjoy every week this December. It worked pretty well for horror movies for October!

Back in 2003, Jon Favreau was still the dude from the Swingers movie, and had not yet become the director who would launch the MCU with Iron Man.  Will Ferrell had just left Saturday Night Live, and was ready to begin his movie career.  The two of them teamed up to create what I would call a really fun Christmas movie that would then go on to spawn a Broadway musical.

Elf begins with a baby crawling into Santa’s bag while he is delivering gifts at an orphanage. He gets taken back up to the North Pole, and is raised by Papa Elf as an elf called Buddy and works in Santa’s workshop.  Buddy grows up at the north pole, thinking he is an elf, but because he’s actually human sized, inevitably Papa Elf has to tell him the truth.  He’s actually the son of Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells.  Susan has died, but Walter is alive and well, and working for a children’s book publisher, having no idea that Buddy exists. After learning from Santa that Walter is on the naughty list, Buddy heads to New York to attempt to meet and redeem his father.

Buddy gets into the building where his father works, but the meeting goes about as well as you would expect between an uptight New Yorker and a nearly six-and-a-half foot man dressed as an elf, and Buddy gets kicked out by security. He then goes to Gimbel’s department store and gets mistaken for an employee due to his elf outfit.  While ‘working’, he meets Jovie, who is not thrilled about Christmas, or Buddy, or anything really.  When Buddy learns from the manager that Santa will be at the store tomorrow – Buddy uses his elf skills to decorate the store overnight.

Buddy gets into it with the ‘fake’ Santa, because he is used to the real Santa, and ends up in jail where Walter does come to bail him out after having run a DNA test to find out that Buddy is his son.  Walter takes him back home where he meets his stepmother (Emily) and half-brother (Michael). Everyone finds Buddy really annoying and weird, but Emily insists that he stay until he can get back on his feet.

Michael pretty quickly befriends Michael, since they act the same age, and Buddy can make and throw snowballs faster than anyone else. Michael encourages Buddy to go on a date with Jovie, which actually goes pretty well.  Meanwhile, Walter is struggling at work, and needs to deliver a brand new book.  He attempts to bring Buddy to work with him, which goes very poorly, costing Walter a book deal, and causing him to kick Buddy out.  Buddy, depressed, is going to head back home and Michael goes to tell Walter, who suddenly and conveniently realizes the importance of family over profit (hey, it’s a Christmas movie, that’s how these things go), and goes to help Michael find Buddy. 

Santa’s sleigh crashes in Central Park (hey, again, it’s a Christmas movie, these things happen) due to a shortage of Christmas spirit (because that is what powers the sleigh). Buddy is helping him fix it when Michael and Walter find him and realize everything he’s been telling him about his upbringing is true.  Jovie leads the slowly assembling crowd in singing, which raises enough Christmas spirit to get the sleigh in the air just in time to evade capture.  This leads to a happy ending for everyone as Walter starts his own business, and Buddy and Jovie get married and have a baby.

Jon Favreau has a wonderful touch with this movie, really letting Ferrell shine with this character.  Sure, it’s over the top with the super-sugary holiday cheeriness, but honestly, that’s what you want from this type of flick. It’s short enough to not wear out its welcome and has become one of my newer holiday favorites.  The cast is just about perfect, and really helps to sell the story.

  • Will Ferrell is often just a bit too much for me, but here, that ‘too muchness’ works perfectly for this character, and he is the heart and soul of the movie. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in his love of Christmas.

  • James Caan plays Walter Hobbs – and is the perfect old grump to play an old grump.

  • Zooey Deschanel plays Jovie, and her bland flatness actually pairs perfectly with Ferrell’s outrageous joy.

  • Mary Steenburgen plays Emily, Michael’s mother and Buddy’s new stepmother.  She does what she can to be patient and kind even when Buddy is really annoying everyone else.

  • Ed Asner plays Santa, who keeps the kid he accidentally picked up at an orphanage?!?  I guess that’s okay? Hey, people are a resource and he needs folks to staff the workshop, I suppose.

  • Bob Newhart plays Papa Elf, who raises Buddy and has near-infinite levels of patience with him.

  • Faizon Love is the manager of Gimbel’s and is there to attempt to tolerate Buddy’s overflowing Christmas spirit.

  • Peter Dinklage has basically a cameo as Miles Finch, a best-selling children’s author who Buddy mistakes for an elf.

  • Amy Sedaris plays Deb, Walter’s secretary, and works some hilarity out of the couple of scenes she has.

  • Andy Richter and Kyle Gass play Walter’s co-workers.
  • Artie Lange plays the fake Gimbel’s Santa who Buddy claims “sits on a throne of lies!”


Overall, it’s charming, sweet and fun, and if you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while – I’m sure it will be on TV several times this season, go ahead and check it out.  It’s sure to elevate your Christmas spirit levels – maybe not enough to fly a sleigh – but certainly higher than they were.

8 out of 10 – It’s not perfect, some of it is just way too much, and watching Buddy eat makes me a little nauseous.  But it is really super fun.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Movie Review: Justice League (PG13 – 120 minutes)


My preferred version of the Justice League is the 90s animated series. Coming off the spectacular Batman the Animated Series, and the decent Superman animated series, the Justice League combined several heroes together to take on the dangers none of them could face alone. Eventually the show turned into Justice League Unlimited, adding an almost infinite number of heroes. The storylines were interesting, the characters were well developed, and the show did tackle some difficult issues. 

In terms of DC live action movies, Zack Snyder has so far been in charge, resulting in a dark, gloomy, morose version of the characters you thought you knew.  Some liked it, more didn’t, and now – after one Superman movie, one Batman/Superman movie, one Wonder Woman movie, and one horrifically terrible Suicide Squad movie, we are given the Snyder-verse version of Justice League.
The movie opens with an odd choice – which will not be the last one – of Superman (previous to his “death” in BvS) being “interviewed” by what sounds like two preschoolers for their podcast.  He takes a ridiculously long time to answer a couple of questions, and then looks hopefully out to the distance. 

We then pop back to present day, and see that the entire world is mourning the “death” of Superman.  There are black flags with his logo on all the world’s biggest monuments.  This overwhelming sense of sorrow causes three long-hidden ‘Mother Boxes’ to awaken and reactivate – they are basically alien super-computers.  The Mother Boxes awakening lead to the arrival of Steppenwolf, who comes to earth with the goal of gathering the three Mother Boxes, uniting them, and using them to terraform Earth into Apokolips. 

Batman is batmanning in Gotham, using random thieves and punks to elicit enough fear to summon Parademons, which he has started to notice are gathering.  Apparently they feed on fear – and when you explode them, their inside goo leaves a three-box pattern on the wall where they were (what?).  Batman decides it’s time to get some help. 

Meanwhile, Steppenwolf heads to Themyscira, for the Mother Box that the Amazons are hiding.  The Amazons put up an amazing fight, but lose the box.  They then decide to light the ancient warning fire in the Parthenon, so that Wonder Woman will be aware the invasion is underway.  With their timeline moved up – Bruce and Diana agree to talk to the other ‘meta-humans’ on their list (Arthur Curry, Victor Stone, and Barry Allen).  Bruce heads to Iceland to talk with Curry, who is perfectly happy just rescuing local fisherman and drinking a lot.  He’s not interested in helping, and tells Batman such. 

Diana reaches out to Victor Stone, and since he’s recently been turned into a Cyborg by his father’s tampering with the technology of one of the Mother Boxes, he’s hesitant to join up – after all, everyone thinks he’s dead.  He agrees to help Diana electronically, since he can hack anything anywhere. Of course, once Steppenwolf kidnaps his father to find the Mother Box, Victor is in. Bruce is far more successful with Barry Allen, who practically jumps at the chance to join them.
Steppenwolf heads to Atlantis – and in a battle with Mera and the other Atlanteans, he takes the Mother Box from them.  Mera tells Arthur it is his duty to find Steppenwolf to return the box, so he goes, after requesting an armor and weapons upgrade from her.

Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Cyborg get information from Commissioner Gordon that Steppenwolf is hiding in the sewers, so they head down there to rescue the kidnapees, and battle him.  Aquaman shows up to help them not drown, and they end up losing Steppenwolf, but saving the Box and the kidnapees.  This leads some of them to reason that they will need Superman to continue this fight, and that they can revive him with the combined action of the Mother Box and the Kryptonian ship that is still on the ground in Metropolis from when Zod crashed there and Jesse Eisenberg used it to create a monster.  They dig up his body, take it into the ship, and float it in the water while Flash electrifies the box.

This leads to a confused Superman bursting out and taking on the team for a few minutes until Batman busts out the ‘big guns’ and brings in Lois. Superman flies her away to Smallville to quietly contemplate things, and decide he’s actually happy to be back, and will help the League.  While all this is happening, Steppenwolf gets the last box, takes it to Russia, and begins combining the three to change earth to Apokolips. The League heads to Russia to face him and prevent his plan.  Afterward (spoiler alert – they win), Steppenwolf gets banished back to whence he came (I imagine Darkseid is displeased), and the heroes set out doing more heroing. Aquaman sets out for Atlantis to face the responsibilities he’s been shirking; Cyborg decides to help his father, Flash gets a job with Central City PD, Wonder Woman steps into the spotlight as a hero, Clark Kent goes back to work, and Bruce and Alfred talk about renovating Wayne Manor with enough room for a group of heroes to meet.

Honestly, it’s better than just about anything else in this universe – except for Wonder Woman – but that’s a really low bar.  Let’s start with the positives:

  • For the first time, the movie is mostly lighter and colorful; not just literally but figuratively as well, there is much more humor in this one. 
  • The action scenes are pretty great, in particular the fight with the Amazons at the beginning, as well as the flashback to the first battle Steppenwolf had here on earth thousands of years ago.  
  • The cast is wonderful, and I really enjoyed all the scenes of them interacting, which creates hope for future movies. 
  • The score is wonderful because some of the traditional themes of the heroes return.  
  • There was one moment I really loved – Bruce tells Alfred he needs Superman because Superman is more human than he is.  This speaks to the core difference between the two (which I’ve always attributed to the love and care of Ma and Pa Kent in most versions – rewatch Smallville to see this done in a beautiful way), that Superman is the light and the hope; whereas Batman is the fear and the darkness. 
  • I also really appreciated that once Superman joins the final fight, he doesn't solve everything on his own, he works together with the rest of the team to win. 


Now, some of the many negatives:

  • Zack Snyder is listed as the director of the movie – but he did have to step out due to the death of his daughter, and Joss Whedon stepped in.  There really could not be two more different directors in tone and style, so the differences in the Snyder portions and the Whedon reshoots are pretty obvious.  In particular because in the reshoots, Superman has a digital upper lip.  If you haven’t heard about this yet – Cavill is working on Mission Impossible 6 for Paramount, and Paramount refused to let him shave the mustache to do Justice League reshoots for Warner Brothers. So they had to digitally remove the mustache – and it looks terrible.  It's the first shot of this movie, and it looks terrible. 
  • Also - the entire world is mourning the loss of Superman, however, with the timelines of the previous two movies with him in it - he seems to only have been supermanning for about a year, maybe less - why would the whole world be mourning him?  Unless I missed some montage of him saving people all over the world in BvS.  
  • Steppenwolf is a weak villain, mainly because he is entirely CGI, and that still causes me to tune out a bit.  I don’t see why he couldn’t have been a dude in a suit.  
  • The plot is a struggle.  The entire process of reviving Superman was total and complete nonsense. If the real Ma Kent was around, she would have known that you just leave him in the sunlight for a while. But here - there is a scene in which they dig up his grave, and then have to dip him in the weird water inside the ship. 
  • Steppenwolf's plan, I get that he needed to bring the Mother Boxes together, but the convoluted way the heroes get around to figuring it out and battling it is just ridiculous.  
  • The fight sequence at the end of the movie is interesting, but it is way too much CGI, and the ‘terraforming’ bits make almost no sense: What are those tendrils? Why is there a bubble? Why, when it stops, are there alien flowers blooming?  
  • I appreciate the shorter run time, but honestly, there were still a few things that could have been cut – we didn’t need nearly as much time with the one Russian family, which I sure was supposed to humanize the peril, but didn’t work.  
  • A minor thing, but everyone played just a bit fast and loose with the secret identities - calling each other by their real names in front of all kinds of bystanders.


  • Ben Affleck plays Bruce Wayne; and either by choice or happenstance, seems far less interested this time around.  Like I said, I really appreciated the moments of him understanding his own inabilities, and that could be an interesting direction going forward.

  • Henry Cavill plays Clark Kent and he is actually better in the second half of this movie than he has been in any other movie – he’s finally getting to the Superman we are all used to, light, bright, a symbol of justice and hope, with far less brooding.

  • Amy Adams plays Lois Lane, and she’s just fine.  I did enjoy that she was the thing that brought Superman back to focus.

  • Gal Gadot plays Diana Prince, and again – she’s wonderful, but has a bit less to do here than in previous movies. I did get a little tired of other members of the team focusing on her looks.  That would be some Synder influence.

  • Ezra Miller plays Barry Allen and he does provide the most humor and lightness in the movie.  The running looked awful, I don’t know if that’s because the TV show does it so much better, or if Miller’s running style is just odd.

  • Jason Momoa plays Arthur Curry, and again – he’s just fine, a little annoying, but I think that plays well to the character. The Aquaman standalone movie is finished and should be out next year some time, and I am looking forward to it.

  • Ray Fisher plays Victor Stone, and had some of the most interesting bits in the movie, terrified of his new powers, and feeling lost and alone.  I look forward to more of him as well.  And yes, he does get to say Booyah, which Cyborg says often in other versions.

  • Jeremy Irons plays Alfred, and while the care and paternal relationship is still there, Irons brings in more of the partnership aspect than some previous Alfreds.  He’s even casually wearing military pants on one sequence.

  • Diane Lane plays MAAARRRTHHHAAAAAA, and really has next to nothing to do in this one. At least she’s not giving even more terrible advice to Clark.
  • Connie Nielsen reprises her role of Queen Hippolyta just enough to battle Steppenwolf and light a fire to warn Diana.
  • J.K. Simmons plays J.Jonah Jameson, I mean Commissioner Gordon, who had a wonderful little scene next to the bat signal to give the heroes some information.

  • Ciaran Hinds plays Steppenwolf, and the voice was wonderful and some of the lines were great.  Still not sure why he couldn’t have been in amazing prosthetics and costuming instead of being entirely CGI. 

  • Amber Heard plays Mera, and will have more to do in the Aquaman movie. Here, she just made a bubble to talk to Arthur, and reminded him that his mother was queen, so maybe he should stop bumming around the ocean and step up.
  • Joe Morton plays Miles Dyson, I mean Silas Stone, and he’s still messing around creating Cyborgs even though he should know better.

  • Billy Crudup plays Henry Allen, who is around long enough to tell Barry not to come see him, and then get really proud of him when he gets a job.


Overall, it is fine – it really is.  It’s not terrible, and it certainly has some entertaining parts.  It’s not fair to compare it to Marvel movies, it really isn’t – but if you asked me the main difference, I would say that this movie lacks heart.  You just don’t care enough about any of the characters to be invested in the story, because it feels like no one behind the scenes cares enough about them either.  It certainly is a step in the right direction, and gave me some hope for their upcoming movies.


5 out of 10.  It’s better, but still not great.  Simultaneously gained and lost points for the post-credits sequence.  That Eisenberg performance was better than the previous movie – but still not Luthor. Also, not sure Deathstroke would be interested in forming a League – or more accurately, a Legion.  I wanted Black Manta and Cheetah to step up behind Eisenberg as he was talking.
Bonus - here's the LAMBcast review of Justice League that I joined to discuss the movie with other LAMB reviewers!   https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/lambcast/episodes/2017-11-21T23_33_19-08_00

Monday, November 27, 2017

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express (PG13 – 114 minutes)

Agatha Christie was a British crime novelist who was born in 1890 and died in 1976. Even if you think you are not familiar with her work – chances are you have heard of or seen at least one adaptation of her materials – possibly on PBS on a Saturday afternoon - especially any of the Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot mysteries.  Once of those is Murder on the Orient Express – a story starring her star detective Hercule Poirot.  It was first published in 1934, and there are currently five versions listed on IMDB.  The original Orient Express train in 1883 ran from Paris to Giurgiu (Romania), and Christie’s story has Poirot solving a murder while on board as the train is stuck in the snow.

In this version, we meet Poirot as he finishes up solving a case in Jerusalem in 1934.  Eager for a vacation and rest in Istanbul – his friend Bouc offers him a room on the Orient Express, as he is the director of the train.   While on the train, Poirot meets several other characters and is offered a job by one of them – Samuel Ratchett, as more or less a bodyguard for him.  Poirot refuses, and during that night, hears strange noises from Ratchett’s compartment, and sees a woman in a red kimono running away.

The next morning, the train is stuck in the snow as the result of an avalanche, and Ratchett is found murdered in his room. Poirot reluctantly takes on the case at the request of Bouc, since no one is going anywhere, and he knows the murderer is still on the train.  He then has to work his way through the odd group of characters to determine what happened.  Poirot learns that Ratchett was actually John Cassetti, a man who had kidnapped and attempted to ransom a child named Daisy Armstrong.  Even after the ransom was paid, Daisy was found murdered, with Cassetti never prosecuted. Poirot continues to uncover evidence and details connecting the various strangers on the train, uncovering a story that causes him to question pieces of his own stark morality.

I am not going to say anything else about the plot, in case – like me – you have not read this story, or seen one of the other several versions of the movie.  There is a bit of a twist in the investigation as Poirot finally discovers the killer.  Because this one is directed by Kenneth Branagh - and he is playing Poirot – Poirot really becomes the center of the story, even more than the murder and the suspects.  This is both good and bad.  On the negative side, it really takes the focus off the various suspects, their stories, and what they had to do with the murder if anything.  Honestly, there are a couple of the characters whose names I did not know until I looked them up on IMDB because they were skimmed over so quickly.  That could be a side-effect of having twelve suspects and less than two hours of movie to develop each of them.  On the positive side, the story then becomes about how Poirot, previously obsessed with balance, and right and wrong, must learn to deal with various shades of gray in morality.   It’s an interesting take, and one I really enjoyed.  Something that helps is Branagh’s collection of actors – several of which have worked with him before.
  • Kenneth Branagh plays Hercule Poirot as obsessive compulsive and a bit burdened by his exceptional detective skills. I have always been a fan, and really enjoyed the shift of this story to center on him – which could be seen as a very egotistical move.  In theory, there will be a sequel – Death on the Nile – with Branagh reprising the role.

  • Johnny Depp plays Samuel Ratchett, a creep from the word go. He’s slimy, he’s sketchy, and he’s really paranoid, but as it turns out – correctly paranoid – because someone is really out to get him.

  • Penelope Cruz plays Pilar Estravados, a name changed from the original story Swedish character to a Spanish character. She is a missionary, and seems innocent, until Poirot notices the boxing scars on her knuckles.

  • Willem Dafoe plays Gerhard Hardman, a German scientist seems innocent, until Poirot learns that he is not actually a german scientist, but an undercover American detective.

  • Judi Dench plays Princess Dragomiroff, an old rich lady who seems innocent until Poirot uncovers some of her family connections.

  • Olivia Colman plays Hildegarde Schmidt, the assistant/handmaiden to the Princess who seems innocent, until Poirot starts talking with her in German, which her boss cannot understand.
  • Josh Gad plays Hector MacQueen, a lawyer working for Ratchett who seems innocent until Poirot uncovers some interesting information about his father.

  • Derek Jacobi plays Edward Henry Masterman, a butler working for Ratchett who seems innocent until Poirot learns that he really doesn’t care for his employer.

  • Leslie Odom Jr. plays Dr. Arbuthnot, a doctor who seems innocent until Poirot learns he was a sniper in the military.

  • Michelle Pfeiffer plays Caroline Hubbard, what I would call a prowling cougar on the train, who seems innocent until Poirot starts digging into her story of someone breaking into her room.

  • Daisy Ridley plays Mary Debenham, a governess who seems innocent until Poirot realizes something she said about raising children was repeated by someone else.

  • Lucy Boynton plays Countess Helena Andrenyi, and Sergei Polunin as Count Rudolph Andrenyi.  I’m sure both of them seem innocent too – but I’ll be honest with you – I forgot they were on the train, as they stay in their compartment and really don’t interact with anyone else until the plot demands it – which is almost never.

  • Manuel Garcia-Rulfo plays Biniamino Marquez, who I believe was a car salesman who seemed innocent until Poirot learns just how much he was making selling cars?  Maybe?  Not going to lie, he’s another one who gets almost no development.

  • Tom Bateman plays Bouc, and of all the people, he seems the least innocent and is certainly someone I suspected.  Because he’s Poirot’s friend, he gets a pass, I guess. 

  • Marwan Kenzari plays Pierre Michel, a conductor on the train who seems innocent and confused most of the time.


Overall, I really enjoyed the movie.  It looked beautiful, especially the details on the train, the lushness of the compartments and the luxury for the time of high-class train travel.  The characters were very interesting, and I did want more development on them, until I realized that they really were not the focus.  Poirot is the focus.  I really hope that Branagh does get to make Death on the Nile, because that should be more of a case, and less a Poirot character study.

7 out of 10 – Lost some points for that mustache – I know it’s key to the character, but it was almost distracting.  On the other hand, gained points for the mustache, and the sleep-protector that it gets.

Bonus – Cast interviews: