Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-Ray – A Review by Film Nerd

Created by: George Lucas

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Alec Guinness, Ewan McGreggor, Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, Liam Neeson, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Terence Stamp, Warwick Davis, Sebastian Shaw

Synopsis: This is a review of the Blu-Ray release of the most popular epic saga in cinematic history.   Star Wars routinely tops lists of the best film ever made in many polls.   For this release, fans get what they desire by seeing this pair of trilogies upgraded to high-definition, as well as having a raft of extra features, delving into the archives of LucasArts.

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Leon – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello, Peter Appel

Synopsis: Leon (Reno) is a career hitman, whom reluctantly takes a twelve-year-old orphaned girl, Mathilda (Portman) into his care.   He becomes emotionally attached to this young girl, though, and at her request starts introducing her to his trade.

This is one of those films that I have been hoping to see for a long time, more so as it is the highest ranking films in the Internet Movie Database (currently #33) that I had not yet seen.   With this high recommendation, I ran the risk of having high hopes that would soon afterwards be dashed.   Thankfully though, despite being quite familiar with the synopsis, I found this film quite an entertaining experience.

Leon is introduced during a hit, when he takes out an armada of hired goons, armed to the teeth, to finally get to his mark and deliver his employers message.   It is a thrilling sequence which highlights the Leon is a man at the top of his chosen profession.   Indeed, and alternate title for the film is “The Professional”.   It is easy to see however, how a young girl from down the hall managed to get under his skin and become a significant element of his life.   She is returning home and passing her apartment as her family is slaughtered, and proceeds to Leon’s door and rings the bell.   After an internal conflict he lets young Mathilda in.

Both leads are fantastic.   Reno is hard when he needs to be, but it is clear he has had little opportunity in his life to practice social graces.   Mathilda absolutely confuses him often, and this is often played to delightful comic effect.   Mathilda is more than ordinary though, as she is the one to embrace the opportunity to become a “cleaner”.   This is Portman’s first feature film, and she shows a level of talent that is equal to her more recent performances as she has matured.   Indeed, despite not being the title character herself, she often threatens to steal the show from Leon, and at times the film actually feels more like it is her story rather than his.   Her character’s desire to be come a hitman is well established, as she seeks revenge against Stansfield (Oldman), the man responsible for her family’s death.   Both character’s grow from knowing each other, but Mathilda has the most complete story arc.

As mentioned above, Oldman plays the main villain role here.   This is crazy Oldman at his delightful best.   He is a psychotic type that takes drugs and often goes to such extremes of insanity that his colleagues are at a loss to calm him down.   Oldman is one of the true master’s of our age, and he really brings it home in this film.

There is a lot of violence, and at times there are graphic depictions of shot wounds, so this is not really a film to be watched by the squeamish.   Also, though Leon has a code of “No women, no children”, this is not a tenet held to by Stansfield, and so images of women and children being murdered in cold blood can be a little disturbing.   These scenes do highlight that despite his profession, Leon is an honourable man, and sometimes those in perhaps evil professions are not always as bad as those placed in a position to do good.

4 stars out of 5

 

Leon on IMDB

Leon on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcsirofJrlM]

Your Highness

Director: David Gordon Green

Cast: Danny McBride, James Franco, Rasmus Hardiker, Natalie Portman, Toby Jones, Justin Theroux, Zooey Deschanel

Synopsis: Fabious (Franco) is the popular Prince of the realm, off fighting the hordes of the evil Leezar (Theroux), and overshadowing his underachiever brother Thadeous (McBride).   When Leezar steals Fabious’ bride-to-be Belladonna (Deschancel), he enlists his brother’s help to go rescue her.   They are helped along the way by female warrior Isabel, who has her own scores to settle.

I should preface this review with the fact that I was seeing the film with low expectations based upon previous reviews, and I was also already extremely tired.   I was far from being in the mood to think about much, and if anything, cheap laughs was exactly what I could have wanted.   I got said laughs, and as such, this film was perfect for me at the time.   If I had been in a more discerning mood, I probably still would have enjoyed it, but perhaps find it a bit silly.

That would not be an inaccurate interpretation, but it is where the charm of the film lies.   Raunchy innuendo, gross-out, slap-stick… all the reliable comedy tropes are there.   McBride revives the same slacker comedy type that he relies heavily on, and Franco channels more of his character in Pineapple express than his Spiderman villain, here to good effect.   If the film had remained a two-handed effort between these two, the gags could have gotten old fast, but introducing Portman’s Isabel gives the comedy greater balance, in addition to providing a love interest for Thadeous (and the associated comic opportunities).   In the end, there were quite a few belly laughs on offer, with many chuckles in between.   Bride of Film Nerd and I saw the film as a second half of a double feature with Bridesmaids, and I can safely say we both agree that Your Highness was the superior comedy.

We were also quite surprised that the special effects were quite decent, in addition to some quite incredible action sequences.   Each come from nowhere, and they are welcome when they arrive, giving the film a bit more flair whenever the running gags are in danger of becoming old.   It helps that Franco looks quite appropriately dashing in the role of action icon of the film.   Even McBride, when brought into his stand up and be counted final fight scenes, looks somewhat menacing, without extending the character beyond its origins to an unbelievable extent.

All of this commentary in many ways however is over-analysing what is a very simple film.   If you find stoner/slacker/frat boy humour offensive, you should already be well aware to keep away from this film.   If that list already has grabbed your interest though, there are many worse ways I can think of spending an enemy.   The film gets the fourth star if you are tired and can’t raise your mind above low-brow!!

4 stars out of 5http://filmactually.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php


Your Highness on IMDB

Your Highness on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KH7qH4Kb8wc]

 

 

No Strings Attached

Director: Ivan Reitman

Cast: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline, Cary Elwes, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell, Olivia Thirlby, Ludacris

Synopsis: Adam (Kutcher) is in a bad place romantically after discovering his ex-girlfriend is now dating his celebrity father (Kline).  After a night drinking, he catches up with old acquaintance Emma (Portman), and they begin a just sex, no relationship arrangement, setting ground rules to avoid true intimacy creeping in.   Soon enough, predictably, intimacy occurs despite their best efforts.

Yes, I did end up going watching both films released in the last year taking some big name actors and putting them in a “friends with benefits relationships”.    The first was previously reviewed Love and Other Drugs, which took the concept, and opted for a film more heavy on drama then on romantic comedy.   No Strings Attached however, has gone for the latter route.   This overall results in a much easier to watch film.   This does not necessarily make it better, but it does mean that despite a similar story thread, these are two different films, with different strengths and weaknesses.

A strength both films share is a strong performances from the leading pair.   You read right, in this film I feel Ashton Kutcher gives a very good performance.   It does bear similarities to his former slacker cool type roles, but he imbues Adam with a sensitivity and a likeability I had not seen from him before.   It is no surprise that Portman gives a good performance, she gives a lot of them.  It must be said though, in this film, she has the least likeable character.   In fact, this film shares one major element with Bridesmaids that also annoyed me in that film… The female lead is purely incapable of accepting a relationship in her life that she really wants but is too scared, for whatever reason, to pursue.   In both films, said great guy gets pushed away, so the female has to step up the game to get what she could have had so much more easily if she has been more open at the start.

Another positive of the film though comes from the supporting cast, which is certainly extensive, and does provide a hefty proportion of the laughs.   Emma’s room-mates, for a start, are a real treat.   Their introduction, all fooling a drunk Adam he slept with them the previous night, is a classic.   Adam’s friends, including a surprisingly authentic performance from Ludacris, are also worth watching.  I will say though, for a film with Cary Elwes, they severely under-utilised this particular talent.   Sure, he has stacked on the pounds, but he is still a brilliant actor, and I spent most of the film waiting for him to play an important impact role that never came.

There are flaws in this film, but in the end, it delivers what one would expect from a film with the title No Strings Attached.   It is not perhaps a film that would stick with me or be at the top of any of my favourites lists, but it was a fun way to spend an evening.

3 stars out of 5.

 

No Strings Attached on IMDB

No Strings Attached on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ubfcfs98MBw]

 

 

V for Vendetta – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: James McTeigue

Cast: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith, Roger Allam

Synopsis: Set in the not to distant future, London has survived global devastation that has crippled former world powers such as the United States.   The government has a dictatorial stranglehold on the populous, however, in which anyone caught with a dissenting view tends to disappear.   This story follows the goals of freedom fighter/terrorist V, who seeks to inspire the people to rise up against this government.

I freely admit that this week the only thing I have been posting about in the last week is Supanova, but I hope I can be forgiven for this given the amazing time that was had at Sydnova by all, and as such I found it an event much worth of promotion.   As I type, Perth Supanova (or as I have seen it written on the Supanova Facebook page, SuPerthNova) should be in full swing and I hope all in attendance have a blast.

For my last Sydnova related post, I am going to connect it back to my cosplay for the event.   Such a brilliant film needs more than just photos taken of a guy trying to be the title character.   For a film that sells itself on action set pieces and Natalie Portman having gotten her head shaved for the role, there is much more to the film than these popularised elements.   As I type this, the film sits at 180 on the IMDB Top 250 list, and I would suggest that this is largely due to the film being a very thought-provoking piece.

Alan Moore was behind the original graphic novel on which the film was based.   This is the same creative talent behind From Hell and Watchmen.   However, being dedicated to the medium of comics, he did not permit his name to be listed in the credits for the film.   The story itself though is extremely intelligent, and it is very easy to miss certain connections if one does not remained focus.   One of the incredible moments of cinematography in the film is not necessarily an action set piece, but an intricate collection of dominos that is set falling.   More than being just really cool, this image appropriately represents the film.   V has manufactured a series of events, that rely on a keen sense of intelligence, observation, and intuition into knowing how people will respond to his stimulus.   He truly weaves a tapestry, one that the end result is not obvious until the final thread is put in place.

More than an extremely intelligent plot, V’s ideals themselves, and how he expresses them, are thought-provoking.   There are many phrases that he utters that are imbued with power and inspiration.   A few personal favourites include “People should not be afraid of their government.   Governments should be afraid of their people”, “A symbol, in and of itself is powerless, but with enough people behind it, blowing up a building can change the world” and “What I am is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof”.   This is a film about knowing that something is wrong with the world, and that somebody needs to stand up to do something about it.   One person alone is not enough however.   One person may start the wind of revolution, but without a cause people can and will rally behind, change may not be possible.   The story really does highlight that the line between freedom fighting and terrorism is really very fine.   How is it defined?   The audience supports V’s cause, as his motives are justice and an attempt to end oppression.   His deeds themselves however, are not necessarily admirable… killing party leaders and blowing up buildings by themselves are dastardly acts, and the film title admits that part of his motivation is also revenge.   Perhaps this is the strength of the character however.   He is not a typical unambiguous hero type.   The story does not flinch from addressing this, Portman’s Evey indicating at one point that what was done to him has actually made him a monster.   Regardless, his methods do not change, but he does at least acknowledge by the end that it should not be he who decides how the final events should unfold, redeeming the character from his former path.

The film comes together from incredibly strong performances.   Portman is as always brilliant, which may excuse her top billing, though that choice does strike me as a marketing ploy to promote the film where Weaving’s  recognition in the US was not high enough.   Portman amazingly portrays two sides of the same character though, her story arc taking her from constantly frightened to a reserved but forceful bravery by the end of the film.   The transition is really quite remarkable, and certainly took more than a radical haircut to achieve it.   The film really does belong to Weaving, though.   This is a performance that never once has the mask removed.   Despite this, he displays a range of emotion that is evident without the facial cues that many actors would normally rely on.   The fact that he also has an amazing voice that articulates the script and gives already powerful words an even greater gravitas really brings home that a special quality of actor was always needed for the role.   In this case they had it.   All the supporting actors are all on similarly fine form, I could continue this essay at great length discussing each one, but I have let this particular stream of consciousness last too long already.   Suffice it to say, as far as performances go, this film has no weak link.

There is something about the work of Alan Moore that gets me overly analytical, and has my reflective reviewing style more go into absolute overdrive.   Those familiar with my Watchmen review observed the same essay style of review as I have presented here.   The fact is however, that the films based on his source material, let alone the source material itself, are brilliant, original, thought-provoking stories.   Do yourself a favour and delve into his world further.

5 stars out of 5


V for Vendetta on IMDB

V for Vendetta on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTlgpnNQYmg]

Black Swan – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder

Synopsis: The story of one ballerina’s goal to dance the lead in her company’s production of Black Swan.   It follows the agonies a dancer can go to reach perfection, and how such ambitions can lead to great mental anguish.

A review by Film Nerd.

This film has perhaps already been seen by many, especially given the accolades it received at the most recent Academy Awards.   I am sure there is still a sub-population out there that either did not have time to see it on its release, or that were waiting to enjoy it at their home cinema.   So this review is for you, as that is exactly what I did.   As such, I will try to keep various twists hidden, which will be very hard to do as it certainly limits the scope of what I can write here.

From early in the film, there is a large focus on the level of dedication required to be successful in the world of ballet.   I will admit, though being able to appreciate the grace of ballet, and that it does have its own beauty, I am not a fan.   This did not negatively affect my enjoyment of the movie, however.   What is evident is that it is a career of extremes… extreme dedication, extreme flexibility, extreme balance, extreme focus, and yes, extreme diet.   All these elements are introduced early on, introducing the circumstances under which Portman’s Nina Sayers begins to crack.

It doesn;’t help that a rival appears on the scene in the shape of Kunis’ Lily.   Okay, let’s get the white elephant out of the room.   The young male audience may only be interested in the lesbian tryst between the two stars.   This is a shame, and misses the entire point of that particular scene, which when viewed by the psychology of the moment is more disturbing than it is erotic.   Motifs of splintering mind are littered throughout the film from early on, and are even suggested by the above poster.   The “intimate scene” between Nina and Lily becomes a more extreme form of this splintering.

There is no question that Portman’s performance is award worthy.   It is further evidence that the only blip on her performance career to date (thank you Star Wars) was more likely die to a brilliant actress paired with a poor director rather than the opposite combination.   She simply overshadows everyone else on-screen, and that is not to imply the supporting characters lack the skill to compete.   Portman is just simply that good.

A dance movie this is not, but a drama with worthy comment, absolutely.

4 stars out of 5

Black Swan on IMDB

Black Swan on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jaI1XOB-bs]

Thor – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddlestone, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Ray Stevenson, Idris Elba, Jaimie Alexander, Clark Gregg, Jeremy Renner, Stan Lee

Synopsis: This film continues the run of Marvel Comics films that are building to the release of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers next year.   Loosely based on Norse mythology, Thor, son of Odin, is banished from Asgard to Midgard (Earth), following his brash actions that threaten the realm now with war.   He is stranded here until such time as he can be worthy to once again wield the power of his mighty hammer, Mjolnir.

A review by Film Nerd.

Anyone who may follow this blog would be well aware of the level of fandom I have for Marvel comics and the films adapted from them.   As such, you may be prepared for an entirely biased review of this particular film, and you would be absolutely right.   For me, this film was a nerdgasm waiting to happen, ever since the first sight of Mjolnir following the closing credits of Iron Man 2.

Thor as the headline character of his own film was always a prospect I approached with trepidation.   When I was an avid comic reader, I only really followed him as a member of the Avengers, if anything.   It is a very difficult character to get a grasp of, always speaking in Ye Olde English, and having an almost antiquated sense of nobility.   The fact he is a god made him pretty cool, but I was never sure of his film potential.   As such, Kenneth Branagh could not have been a better choice to bring him to the big screen.   Being himself familiar with more antiquated drama such as Shakespeare, he was able to put together a film that provides entertainment without necessarily drifting into the area of farce.   A wise choice was to discard the Old English, yet keeping the flavour with an English accent for the realm of Asgard.   I had also read in interviews that Branagh recognised themes common between this story and Shakespeare, such as the corruption that comes with power and relationships between parent and child.   It is when these themes are focussed on in the film that it is at its strongest.

The film is not without flaws.   Despite Portman’s talent, the love story developed between her Jane and Hemsworth’s Thor does feel somewhat forced, as well as a little rushed.   Okay, so the point is he learns maturity and compassion through his dealings with humans, but I feel this could have been achieved by introducing some mutual interest that would be allowed to simmer.   The simple fact is with everything else going on, the romance itself does not need acting on.   However, if this is my only quibble with the film, I admit it is a minor one, and something needs to be there to please that half of the crowd that is more interested in Hemsworth’s abs than they are the development of the Marvel Universe on film.

The performances are uniformly brilliant.   Hemsworth does have real charisma, in addition to the bulk he gained to look the part.   Following his breakthrough role on the international market with Star Trek, he is building a very strong CV.   Portman as always is lovely,and errors in scripting cannot take away from her on-screen allure.   Hopkins as Odin brings a gravitas to proceedings, and introduces a depth to the father-son relationship that may have been lacking in a lesser actor.   Hiddlestone’s Loki also successfully walked the very fine line as the double-dealing half-brother,showing how the character could take so many in without appearing immediately slimy and self-interested.   The remaining cast introduces some more fun and humour.   Also keep eyes open for a few cameo appearances, the big hint being to stay after the credits once again.

As far as comic adaptations go, this is one of the better ones, and I was more than once stupidly grinning in the big action scenes.   The romance detracts somewhat from the rest of the story, but otherwise this is a brilliant popcorn flick that should entertain most audiences.

4 stars out of 5


Thor on IMDB

Thor on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOddp-nlNvQ]

Upcoming Genre Films for 2011 Part Deux – A Preview by Film Nerd

First of all thanks to Urban Fantasist for that awesome post.   Consider my appetite whetted.   As you referred to yourself though, there are certain tastes of mine that were not catered to, so here is a preview of 2011 from the perspective of someone who collected comics in high school.

I will be using the same list as Urban Fantasist from io9, but I will extend from there a little bit from a post by blastr featuring the top 55 trailers for films coming out in 2011.   I will of course avoid overlap between these lists.

The Green Hornet (io9, blastr)     January 14

A remake of the series that first captured hearts on radio serials then on television, featuring a rich guy turned vigilante.   The character was created by the guy who brought us The Lone Ranger, and at one point in the radio series it was indicated that the Hornet is descendant of the Ranger.   Directed by Michael Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame, it could prove interesting.

I Am Number Four (io9, blastr)     February 18

A group of nine aliens hiding out as teenagers on Earth are hunted down for extermination by the government.   With three down, this film follows the story of the fourth to be targeted.    Based on a novel of the same name.

The Adjustment Bureau (io9, blastr)     March 4

Matt Damon plays a congressman destined for big things, before he meets and falls for Emily Blunt’s ballerina.   He was supposed to never meet her again, but somehow does, and falls in love with her.   The mysterious agency of the title steps in to prevent the relationship, and put our heroes life back on the set path.   Escaping, running, and hiding ensues….

Battle: Los Angeles (io9, blastr)     March 11

Gritty war film with hand-held camera work with visceral closeups, etc.   Oh yeah, and humans are fighting aliens.   Sounds like a great big B-movie, but with a cast headlined by Aaron Eckhart, may prove a hidden gem.

Red Riding Hood (io9, blastr)     March 11

Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman star in this retelling of the classic tale, with the wolf recast as a werewolf connected the past of she with the hood.   Don’t know how Urban Fantasist missed that one, sounds like her cup of tea!!

Paul (io9, blastr)     March 18

Comedy starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as two mates on an American road trip that meet foul mouth alien Paul, voiced by Seth Rogen.   Some of the gags on the trailer are foul, but delightfully so!!

Sucker Punch (io9, blastr)     March 25

A film by Zack Snyder, who previously brought us 300 and Watchmen.   He does have a talent for absolute visual splendour on-screen, and the trailers indicate this will be no different.   It is hard to get a grasp on what it is about, but seems to be the story of five girls attempting to escape the clutches of evil authority in a mental asylum…or is it a war zone???   Or a bordello??

Super (io9, blastr)     April 1

Okay, so the concept of this sounds very similar to Kick-Ass… average bloke dons a costume to fight crime.   So lacking in originality on that count perhaps.   Just watch the clip posted on blastr though and I dare you not to show some interest!!

Hanna (blastr only) April 8

Eric Bana’s ex-CIA agent trains daughter Saoirse Ronin to be the perfect assassin, with the goal to target Cate Blanchett.    A lot of talent there in that sentence, and a pretty cool concept to boot.    The trailer also kicks butt!!

Your Highness (io9, blastr) April 8

Danny McBride and James Franco reteam with the director of Pineapple Express to star as royal brothers on a rescue mission… a comedy that drags Natalie Portman and my favourite Zooey Deschanel along for the ride.   I am still giggling at the trailer… “What a coincidence, I was just about to finish thinking of you!!”   Hehe.

Thor (io9, blastr)     May 6

The Norse god is exiled to Earth, as reimagined by Marvel Comics.   Mjolnir was spotted after the credits to Iron Man 2, resulting in my second Nerdgasm for that film.   Those that don’t know that this is part of building towards Joss Whedon’s The Avengers should be stripped of their geek badge immediately!!

X-Men: First Class (io9 only)     June 3

The second Marvel movie for 2011.   With James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and January Jones on board, and Kick-Ass’ Michael Vaughn directing, can we put the travesty of X-Men: The Last Stand behind us???

Green Lantern (io9, bkastr)     June 17

A film based on a DC universe second tier hero.   Ryan Reynolds is good casting, but the CGI costume is still a little off-putting for me.   However, has the potential to be the next Iron Man, whom was one of Marvel’s second tier heroes.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two (io9, blastr)     July 15

You really want a synopsis for this one?

Captain America: The First Avenger (io9 only)     July 22

The source of my first Nerdgasm in Iron Man 2 was spotting Captain America’s shield partially constructed in Tony Stark’s work room.   Like Thor, this is building to Whedon’s The Avengers, and has Chris Evans donning the tights in what can only be called great casting!

Cowboys and Aliens (io9, blastr)     July 29

James Bond and Indiana Jones!!   The old west!!   Aliens!!    Daniel Craig waits from unconsciousness with a strange device on his arm.   Harrison Ford plays the villain of the piece, that teams with Craig when the bigger threat arrives.   Why didn’t they think of this earlier???

The Thing (io9 only)     October 14

Prequel to John Carpenter’s iconic original.   Stars Joel Edgerton, and personal favourite Mary Elizabeth Winstead, last seen in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Sherlock Holmes 2 (io9, blastr)     December 16

Downey Jr. and Law return to 221B Baker Street, this time to face the infamous Professor Moriarty.   Be warned, blastr screwed up, the trailer from the first film, not the first trailer for the second!!

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (io9 only) December 23

Steven Spielberg directs his first fully motion capture film.   Peter Jackson produces.   They will be swapping roles for the sequel!!   Stars Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.   Some writing was even done by Doctor Who‘s Steven Moffatt!! Add that element of retro charm and I am sold!

Man, that is a lot of movies…. I hope Bride of Film Nerd doesn’t kill me when we need a second mortgage!!