May the 4th Be With You – 2021 Plan

It’s almost May which means May the 4th is rapidly approaching. Every May, I devote my entire month to all things Star Wars. Last year, I re-watched all the movies and read a few Star Wars books throughout the month. This year, I wanted to share my May the 4th plan and hold myself accountable throughout the month. I genuinely look forward to May to dive into all things Star Wars.

Books and Comics

The first book I plan on reading is Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed. I received this book for free at Del Rey’s booth at C2E2 I was planning on reading this book last year, but the book was a lot longer than I had anticipated. I’m going to start reading Alphabet Squadron this week leading into May to give myself a greater chance of finishing the book in May.

To prepare for May the 4th, I bought books from my local bookstore, Cream and Amber. I purchased Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston. This is the first book in a Padme book series. This has been on my TBR for a while, so I’m excited to finally read it. Padme is one of the most fearless characters in the Star Wars franchise. I hope this book lives up to my expectations.

As far as comics, I bought The Rise of Kylo Ren, Lando Double or Nothing, Star Wars Adventures Vol #1 Heroes of the Galaxy, and Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Captain Phasma. My goal is to read all of these along with Alphabet Squadron and Queen’s Shadow.

Movies & TV

Instead of re-watching the films, I’m going to watch The Clone Wars. I’m halfway through season #1 and I started to lose interest. Everyone I talk to who has watched The Clone Wars cannot stop raving about it and I don’t want to be missing out. I don’t think I will finish all the seasons in a month, but I hope to at least get through most of the show and get the motivation to finish the whole show.

Gaming

Last year, I put so many hours into Star Wars Battlefront II and it was a blast. I decided to try out Star Wars The Old Republic. I’m not sure if my laptop will be able to run the game, so as a backup, I found LEGO Star Wars The Complete Saga on Steam as well. Another option I have is to finish playing Jedi Fallen Order which I still have not completed the main campaign.

I am going to have a jam packed Star Wars themed month and I’m thrilled! I would love any Star Wars themed reading suggestions or podcasts, feel free to add those in the comments below.

Invested in Critical Role

The first time I heard Critical Role mentioned was at Gen Con in 2019. The cast of Critical Role was appearing and my friend was thrilled. He had tickets to go and he said it was the highlight of his convention. Earlier this year, I figured I’d watch the first episode on Youtube because why not? I was still at home and wasn’t sure when I was going to be vaccinated. I can’t believe how easily I have become invested in their campaign. For the past month, all I have been watching is Critical Role.

For those completely new to Critical Role like I was, it’s a D&D campaign show hosted by voice actor, Matthew Mercer, and his other voice actor friends. Every show is streamed live on Thursday nights Pacific Standard Time and uploaded to their Youtube channel. Originally, Critical Role was a private campaign Mercer had, but they decided to partner with Geek & Sundry and start airing their episodes on their channel in 2015. All of the episodes of Critical Role can be watched on Youtube.

When I started watching Critical Role, I went back to the beginning with episode #1 of their first campaign, Vox Machina. There were some recommendations to start with campaign #2 Mighty Nein since it was more refined with better video quality, however, I wanted to start from the beginning. From my watching experience, I would recommend watching Critical Role from the start. It’s fun to witness the chemistry the players have with each other. It’s tough to pick a favorite character because all the characters serve a role in the story.

Another reason I’m enjoying Critical Role is that it’s easy to follow along. I have listened to other D&D podcasts where I couldn’t quite keep up with the game. It helps that Critical Role has a recap told by Mercer and story introductions narrated by each cast member. I usually skip over their backstories, but every ten episodes or so, I will listen to them in full just to keep their stories fresh in my mind. I also prefer watching Critical Role on their Youtube channel versus listening to the podcast.

Additionally, I love how Critical Role gives back to their community. In the beginning, Critical Role was taking donations for 826LA which focused on creating opportunities for younger kids. Now, they have their non-profit that’s launched. I think it’s admirable since they have gotten so popular to start giving back to the community.

I wish I started watching Critical Role sooner than I am now. It’s such a fun group to watch and they all seem to get along with and care for each other. Critical Role has gotten me through some hectic workweeks along with making me look forward to the end of the workday. It’s been a true escape to leave the stresses of work in my office and come aboard Vox Machina and their adventures through Tal’Dorei.

Justice League Snyder Cut

My fiance took off work on the release date of the Justice League: Snyder Cut. My fiance is a big DC fan. While I didn’t hate the original Justice League, the movie felt like a mess. There were rumors of a “Snyder Cut” however, with DC’s movie track record, I didn’t get my hopes up. After my fiance finished watching the movie, he came into the office where I was working and couldn’t stop talking about how good this film was. I was still skeptical, but I agreed to watch it with him the following weekend. I was pleasantly surprised because Justice League: Snyder Cut was amazing. It was way better than WW84.

My expectations into watching the Snyder Cut was Joss Whedon’s movie with more scenes. To be blunt, this was a completely different movie. Cyborg (aka Victor Stone) in this full version had much more of a character arc than in the theatrical release. In this film, Cyborg’s origin story is told on screen. The relationship Victor has with his parents, how Victor’s father ends up helping the League, and Victor listening to a recording from his father saying how proud he is and how he is fortunate to be given a second chance. Ray Fisher (who plays Cyborg) has been the most vocal about Joss Whedon and his abuse of power behind the scenes. I can understand Fisher being upset after the theatrical release because his character’s backstory was erased. Cyborg is easily the MVP and his role in splitting the mother boxes was crucial to prevent Darkseid from coming to Earth.

The return of Superman is so much more satisfying in the Snyder Cut. As Cyborg is pulling apart the mother boxes, Steppenwolf comes up behind him about to deliver a devastating blow when Superman appears blocking the attack in his black suit. Superman pummels Steppenwolf buying more time to assist Cyborg. I could feel myself getting amped at seeing Henry Cavill back in action at just the right moment.

Another surprising moment for me was the role of the Flash (aka Barry Allen). In the theatrical release, Barry seems a bit incompetent and immature. In the Snyder Cut, Barry is much more aware of his powers and the speed force. In the final battle, Cyborg isn’t able to pull the mother boxes apart in time leading to the Justice League losing. However, Barry notices this and can run back in time to produce the energy needed to split the mother boxes. This moment was special to watch because, without Barry’s help, Darkseid and Steppenwolf would have won. In this version of the Justice League movie, each member of the League has a role. Without one of them, they would have failed at various steps of their plan. In the theatrical version, this wasn’t laid out.

If I would have been told months ago that I would have liked the Snyder Cut better than WW84, I would have laughed. The Snyder Cut was everything I would have hoped for from a film adaptation of the Justice League. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. was trying to control Zach Snyder’s vision leading to the theatrical version. Justice League Synder Cut was amazing and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was my favorite movie of 2021.

Harley Quinn – Animated Series

With the discontinuation of DC Universe, HBO Max has collected all the DC content and is now available to stream. As a DC fan, I prefer the DC animated series to the live-action movies. As someone who was disappointed by Wonder Woman 1984, I wanted to watch a DC title with promise. One series that has been highly rated was the Harley Quinn animated series. This series centers on Harley Quinn getting away from the Joker and building a strong friendship with Poison Ivy. I loved every minute of this show! It’s raunchy, hilarious, gory, and showcases Harley as being the complex villain that she is.

In the first season, Harley (voiced by Kaley Cuoco) finally dumps Joker and tries to establish her credit as a villain. Always living in Joker’s shadow, Harley creates her supervillain team consisting of Poison Ivy (voiced by Lake Bell), Clayface, Doctor Psycho, King Shark, and Sy Borgman. As Harley performs more villainous acts, she’s invited to join the Legion of Doom which infuriates Joker. Throughout the season, Harley has to reckon with how Joker treated her and how her life can’t solely be about getting back at him. She needs to move on and her team helps her do this.

At the heart of this show is Harley Quinn’s friendship with Poison Ivy. In the comics, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy end up in a romantic relationship. The show develops this as a slow burn with the season #2 finale leading into Harley and Poison Ivy confessing their feelings for each other. Harley needs Poison Ivy as she tells Harley the truth. The Joker doesn’t love her and she deserves better. Poison Ivy needs Harley in season #2 to help her realize she’s getting married to the wrong person. Their friendship is fun to watch.

This show is hilarious! The witty one-liners and subtle references to pop culture are well written. Any show that can make me laugh until I cry is much needed during this time. Watching Harley Quinn provided an outlet to get away from the fact that I’m living through a pandemic. Adding to the comical relief was the way the villains were given personalities. King Shark is a big shark teddy bear. Clayface loves theater and improv, and Doctor Psycho called Wonder Woman a slur which led to him getting kicked out of the Legion of Doom. It’s the hypocrisy of using a slur that gets Doctor Psycho banned even though the Legion kill people regularly.

While DC’s film universe has been mediocre, their animated series is a huge hit. Harley Quinn is no exception. With only two seasons, it won’t take long to finish the series. The Harley Quinn animated series can be streamed on HBO Max.

Women of Bond – From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love was the first Bond film to feature a villainess. Rosa Klebb and her poisonous dagger hidden in her shoe became a totem to the Bond franchise. Tatiana Romanova was a beautiful cipher clerk who was a pawn in SPECTRE’s plans. Both women have specific roles in the progression of this movie. In my Dr. No post, I didn’t touch on women’s rights in 1962. This was due to the fact that there was only a year between Dr. No and From Russia With Love’s release dates. 1963 was a big year in the feminist movie which coincided with From Russia with Love’s release. For my From Russia with Love Women of Bond series, I will discuss the Bond women and major moments for women’s rights in 1963.

Rosa Klebb was played by Austrian-American actress Lotte Lenya. Lenya was a classically trained dancer and had experience performing in Opera. (1) Lenya later in her life won a Tony Award for her role in The Threepenny Opera. (1) Lenya won her Tony before she began filming From Russia With Love (FRWL) After the release of FRWL, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the movie, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. (1) Lenya lived an incredible life with her natural talents as a dancer, singing in various opera performances, and as a badass female villain who almost took Bond out with a shoe.

Tatiana Romanova was played by Italian actress, Daniela Bianchi. Bianchi was a model winning the Miss Rome pageant in 1960. (2) Bianchi was in numerous Italian films before appearing in FRWL. (2) For her audition, she was too sick to leave her bed, so director Terence Young came to see her and have her perform her audition at her home. (2) After filming FRWL, Bianchi retired from acting to raise her son. Bianchi’s role in FRWL is timeless.

As far as the misogyny in Bond films, Romanova deserved better. Bond slaps Romanova because he thinks she’s hiding information from him only to be proven incorrect. He doesn’t apologize to her. It’s uncomfortable re-watching this scene. It shows how Bond treats women and establishes how he is seen as the dominant world spy who can get away with whatever he wants.

While FRWL had some icky moments for the female characters, 1963 was a big year for women’s rights. Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique which discussed women and their unhappiness being in the home. (3) This was unheard of at the time and it was assumed women liked being at home. Friedan’s book led to the creation of the National Organisation of Women. (3) All Friedan did was write about experiences women were having during this time including the research supporting her statements. I think about my grandma and the expectations she had versus what I have for myself today. I’m happy to be a woman during this time, and Friedan is one to thank for that.

If I can summarize the Connery era thus far, I find these Bond films are more difficult to watch. I’m trying to separate them from the period they were made, but I find Bond’s misogyny comes out more in these films. That’s why I find this portion of my Bond series crucial. The women have helped make the Bond films as memorable as they are although I find the men portraying Bond get most of the credit. If I thought FRWL was bad for women, Goldfinger will take the cake, I mean who names a female character Pussy? Ian Fleming thought it was fine.

Sources:

https://www.kwf.org/pages/lotte-lenya.html (1)

https://web.archive.org/web/20081202192338/http://www.mi6.co.uk//sections/girls/bianchi.php3 (2)

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/may/07/1963-beginning-feminist-movement (3)

Just Mercy (2019)

If I have extra time at work, I like to listen to TED talks. One TED talk I recently watched was lawyer Bryan Stevenson who talks about racial injustice within our legal system. Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to those arrested illegally and those who are innocent of the crimes they have supposedly committed. The Equal Justice Initiative fights back against the use of capital punishment in certain states. Stevenson wrote a book about this injustice titled Just Mercy where a subsequent movie adaptation was made. I watched Just Mercy and it left me feeling broken and infuriated.

Just Mercy follows Stevenson (played by Michael B. Jordan) as he is beginning to establish the Equal Justice Initiative. While reviewing cases in Alabama, he’s introduced to Walter “Johnny D” McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx) who’s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Walter has lost hope in his case due to several lawyers offering their assistance and then declining the case. After Stevenson meets with Johnny’s family does Johnny realizes Stevenson’s intentions are pure. Stevenson faces several roadblocks in the case such as being physically intimidated by the police, the blatant refusal by the judge of a retrial even though the evidence is shady, and the reluctant town who is convinced Johnny is guilty. Stevenson barrels through the obstacles and ultimately, Johnny is released from prison.

The whole cast of this movie shined in replicating Stevenson’s story. Michael B. Jordan has quickly become one of my favorite actors on screen. I wasn’t expecting to see Brie Larson in this. She plays Stevenson’s partner. I’m a fan of Brie Larson despite what her haters feel about her. Jamie Foxx of course does a great job. The best performance in this film comes from Rob Morgan who plays another death row inmate, Herbert Richardson. While Stevenson does everything in his power to rescue him, Richardson is executed. Morgan’s emotional performance as he awaits to be escorted to the electric chair was powerful. Where was Morgan’s Oscar Nomination??

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this movie infuriated me. After watching the film, I read more about Johnny D’s story, Richardson’s story, and another inmate featured in the film. The movie is accurate based on these real events. Our justice system is broken and Stevenson is one of the passionate fighters who is fighting the just cause. Racism is responsible for putting Black men in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. As a reminder, this story took place in Alabama in the 80s. This only occurred 30 years ago. I’m against the death penalty and this movie reminded me of why I hold this stance.

Just Mercy was a heartwrenching story about how racism destroys lives. It’s a film that’s uncomfortable to watch, although that’s part of the importance of the film. I have added Stevenson’s book to my TBR on Goodreads to continue the education of racism and how it seeps into our justice system.

Code Breaking in From Russia With Love – Science Behind Bond

This is my second “Science Behind Bond” post. While I’m trying to post once a week for my James Bond blog series, I find these posts require more research. I enjoy researching and learning new things, but it’s also extremely time-consuming. I wrote this post on Superbowl Sunday, so while everyone is watching Football, here I am writing about code breaking foreign intelligence. In this “Science Behind Bond” post, I’m going to discuss code breaking and the Lektor in From Russia With Love.

The fight scene between Bond (played by Sean Connery) and Red Grant (played by Robert Shaw).

In From Russia With Love, Bond is sent to steal a Lektor cryptography device from the Soviet Union in Istanbul. In the From Russia With Love book by Ian Fleming, Fleming based this device similar to an Enigma machine used in WWII (1). The Enigma machine would encode messages with delicate information such as military plans or other forms of foreign intelligence (2). As the user would type a message, the rotor on the machine would take the message and put it into other letters or numbers, therefore encoding the message (2). For the message to be viewed, the receiving machine would also need an enigma to be able to translate the message (2). The device itself looks like a standard typewriter. The Germans used this in WWII where the Allies would have to break the code. There’s a cool video in the Smithsonian article listed in my sources that I’d recommend watching to discover how the Allies broke the German code.

In the above picture, this is how From Russia With Love portrays the Lektor. This looks like a fancy movie prop than anything else. Based on the information provided, I’m not sure how valuable this would be to the British government. In the previous paragraph, I stated how in order to receive communications and translate them, an enigma would be needed. If the British government was able to deconstruct the machine and figure out what messages were sent, maybe this would have worked. Otherwise, without the corresponding enigma, I’m not sure how quickly the code could have been broken.

From Russia With Love has a bit more accuracy and historical inspiration than Dr. No. Fleming fought in WWII under Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division, so a lot of the inspiration from From Russia With Love comes from previous experience (3). For my next Bond series post, I will write about the Bond women in From Russia With Love.

Sources:

https://jamesbond.fandom.com/wiki/Lektor/Spektor (1).

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/divers-discover-rare-nazi-enigma-cipher-machine-wwii-180976469/ (2)

Source #3 Ian Fleming’s website. ^

Rocketman (2019)

My mom was a teenager when Elton John released Rocketman. I told my mom I watched the Rocketman biopic and she reminisced about Elton John and how his music had shaped her younger years. When I spoke to my mom about Elton John, she brought up his charity work for HIV / AIDS and how he was a personal friend to Princess Diana. This biopic focuses less on his charity work and more on his life story. I thought this was a fun, musical film. The soundtrack is pretty good too as I find myself listening to it while I work.

The film opens up with Elton (played by Taron Egerton) in addiction therapy wearing an orange horned costume. The film discusses Elton’s (birth name Reginald Dwight) home life with his absent father, stern mother, and lovely grandmother. Elton is a brilliant piano player, leading him to study at the Royal Academy of Music. Eventually, Elton is partnered with Bernie Taupin (played by Jamie Bell) who writes the music Elton plays. Elton like many musicians is thrown into the rock and roll scene by his manager John Reid (played by Richard Madden). Elton struggles with his sexuality, weight, and his home life which leads to him going to rehab.

I thought Taron Egerton did a fabulous job portraying Elton. Taron did do all of his own singing which was something Elton wanted for the actor who played him in the movie. Richard Madden is one of my favorite actors and he was ruthless in this movie. If you haven’t watched Bodyguard on Netflix, you absolutely need to. Bernie and Elton’s friendship is so special and it felt like Jamie and Taron had legitimate chemistry together.

This biopic does feel a bit more like a musical than other biopics I have watched. I found myself comparing this to Bohemian Rhapsody while watching the film. In Bohemian Rhapsody it was less of a musical, more of a serious film with the music playing in the background. In Rocketman, there are choreographed musical routines especially towards the beginning of the film. I’m a bit picky with musicals, they are usually not my favorite genre to watch. However, I think Rocketman feels like an Elton John movie and it captures Elton’s flamboyant persona.

Towards the end of the film, words appear on screen detailing Elton’s life post-rehab. He has been sober for 28 years! He’s been sober longer than I have been alive. There is a brief description of Elton’s charity work with AIDS. The Elton John AIDS Foundation was established in 1992 with the end goal of ending the HIV epidemic. I remember watching an Oprah Winfrey interview with Elton as he talks about why he needed to change and why he’s passionate about HIV. He mentions the death of Ryan White, who was a teenager who died of the disease. Elton used his fame and fortune to help others and I think that’s something I wish Rocketman would have touched on more.

Rocketman was a fun film with a decent soundrack. Rocketman can be streamed on Hulu.

From Russia With Love (1963)

From Russia With Love started to establish the Bond formula. The gun barrel, in the beginning, a Bond theme song, and the first appearance of Q played memorably by Desmond Llewelyn. From Russia With Love was the Connery movie I remember being the fondest of. From Russia With Love is a solid Bond film. The villains are formidable, the Bond women serve a purpose besides being eye candy, and the plot moves at a steady pace.

From Russia With Love opens with Donald Red Grant (played by a younger Robert Shaw who’s also in Jaws) as he strangles someone to death who’s wearing a mask of James Bond. Grant is being trained to take out Bond for revenge of Bond’s murder of Dr. No. To further this plan, Rosa Klebb (played by Lotte Lenya) recruits Tatiana Romanova (played by Daniela Bianchi) to seduce Bond. Bond is contacted by M who tells him of Romanova who contacted Bond to assist with her defecting from Russia. If Bond helps her, she will give him a Lektor, which would help in code-breaking foreign intelligence. M senses a trap, but ultimately, doesn’t care and wants Bond to retrieve the Lektor anyway. From Russia With Love features a brutal train fight scene, many assassinations, and a sharp shoe.

The two main villains in From Russia With Love are Rosa Klebb and Grant. Klebb is the worst of the two in my opinion. She recruited Romanova telling her if she doesn’t do this, she will be killed. She knows that once Romanova serves her purpose, she will be killed anyway. Klebb is manipulative and is willing to sacrifice someone for the mission. She doesn’t herself kill, but watches from afar which makes her that much worse. She does try to kill Bond in the end with the poisonous blade in her shoe, but she’s shot and killed by Romanova which was perfect. Grant is the physical equal to Bond. He’s trained relentlessly to be given his chance to perform each mission he’s assigned. He kills Bond’s ally, Ali Kerim Bey (played by Pedro Armendaiz) which Bond actually seems saddened about. Both Klebb and Grant were formidable opponents for Bond and I enjoyed watching them on screen.

The Bond women in From Russia With Love do serve a purpose besides being love interests. Besides Klebb, Tatiana Romanova is a cipher clerk and a corporal in the Soviet Union intelligence. She’s accomplished, intelligent, and loyal to her country. While From Russia with Love features Bond women in different roles, the treatment of women in this film is gross. There’s a scene featuring Bond and Kerim Bey at a location featuring Romani women. This film does use a slur repeatedly and shows two women fighting over one man. It also shows the same women being presented to Bond as a gift since Bond helped save the village from assassins. After this scene, Bond slapped Romanova because he felt she was hiding information from him. This turns out to be incorrect once the plan is revealed by Grant to Bond. Both Klebb and Romanova are intriguing female characters however, From Russia With Love’s treatment of women isn’t great.

My favorite scenes within From Russia With Love were the train scenes with Bond, Romanova, and Grant. It reminded me of Murder on the Orient Express especially since Bond isn’t sure who’s after him especially after Kerim Bey’s murder. I liked Bond’s fight scene with Grant as it shows this brutal action scene in such an enclosed space. I like the locations of filming in Instanbul, Eastern Europe, and Venice.

From Russia With Love is a solid Connery Bond film. This film establishes the Bond formula, and Connery starts to embody James Bond as a character. There was a considerable amount of action scenes both in the Romani camp, on the train, and a speedboat chase. The only negative point I would add is how From Russia With Love treats women as a whole. I ranked From Russia With Love three martinis.

WandaVision

There’s a reason I subscribed to Disney+ on an annual subscription. After watching the Mandalorian, I’m watching the 90s X-Men cartoon while the fiance watched every single season of The Simpsons. I’m not kidding, I asked my fiance if he was all caught up and he said he was. When WandaVision released their first couple of episodes on Disney+, I poured myself a Blackberry Bubly as I watched both episodes. I’m intrigued as to how WandaVision will unfold as I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in the story.

Wanda Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olson) and Vision (played by Paul Bettany) are a married couple living in suburbia. Each episode released so far has shown Wanda and Vision in a different time era? It’s not explicitly stated which time period each episode occurs. The first episode is clearly the 50’s as Wanda stays home cooking and levitating dishes while she cleans them. In the second episode, Wanda is wearing pants, so I have to believe this was beyond the ’50s. There are certain occurences between both episodes leading Wanda and Vision to be hesitant about this life they are living. WandaVision has been compared to classic sitcoms, although my first impression of the series reminded me of The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey.

I’m happy with the WandaVision series thus far! Elizabeth Olson and Paul Bettany have great chemistry together. They cover for each other when there’s the off chance someone might discover their powerful abilities. One fun scene to watch was in episode #2 when Vision and Wanda were performing for a talent show. Vision would complete these magic tricks using his natural strengths. Wanda would summon an object to counteract Vision’s trick. It shows how this couple works together even if it’s as simple as a neighborhood talent show.

There are so many unanswered questions! At the end of episode #2, there’s a beekeeper who appears out of a storm drain. I’m not sure who that’s supposed to be. Additionally, Wanda hears her name being called out through a radio. This moment in the second episode is why I was reminded of The Truman Show. WandaVision is supposed to tie into the Doctor Strange sequel, so I’m curious as to how this will be achieved. Are Wanda and Vision in an alternate reality? Were they kidnapped and forced to be in this show to entertain others? How is Vision back because he died in Avengers Infinity War? There was an ad in one of the episodes of WandaVision listing Hydra as a sponsor for the ad. I thought that was a clever “blink and you miss it” Easter Egg.

If you have already watched WandaVision, please comment your theories in the comments below! The third episode of WandaVision will air on Friday, January 22nd only on Disney+.