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In anticipation of Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets, the new sci-fi adventure film from French film auteur, Luc Besson, I have cooked up a think piece about the sequel that never was and according to Besson himself last week at the screening of Leon: The Professional  at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, never could be.

“Why didn’t you ever make a sequel about what happens to Mathilda?” an earnest fan dressed as the lanky hitman, Leon, addressed the soft spoken french director during the Q & A following the crowd pleasing theatrical cut of Leon: The Professional. Besson thought for a moment then, answered in his typical broken english, “That time has passed.” He continued, “Finally, I had the perfect idea for a film with Mathilda aged 19, but, Natalie isn’t 19 anymore. The time has passed.”

Suddenly, I wasn’t listening anymore. The question opened up an entire world of possibility for me. How many times have I day-dreamed about whatever happened to Mathilda? More than I can count. This wasn’t a new imagination realm. I had often thought about the older, wiser Mathilda since I first watched Leon: The Professional on home video back in the 90’s. I wasn’t much older than Mathilda was then. She was 12 and I was 14. Honestly, I wasn’t supposed to be watching my father’s action films but how could I not?

Here’s the setup: Every Sunday night, the stack of VHS tapes ready to be returned to Blockbuster Video sat on the coffee table until Monday morning when my mother would take them to the Blockbuster dropbox after she drove both me and my brother to school. So, what happened between Sunday night and Monday morning? You guessed it. Little Julianna would creep downstairs and cram every R-rated film into her brain until sunrise. I would leave for school exhausted, but man, it was worth it!
For those of you who don’t know anything about Leon: The Professional, go watch it now.

For the rest, here’s a recap: It’s a story that takes place in NYC’s Little Italy about a 12 year old girl, Mathilda, that returns home from the grocery store after her parents have been brutally slain by rogue DEA agents. The agents sought vengeance specifically toward her father, who had been cutting the cocaine he was stashing for them. In the same apartment building, down the hallway, lives an awkward hitman, Leon, with a prowess for killing unlike anything seen in cinema before. He seems inhuman in strength and as intuitive as a cat. His gift for operating semi-automatic weaponry and sniper rifles make the gangster films of the 80s pale in comparison. When Leon takes the orphaned Mathilda into his home, his life changes forever.

With everyone in her family dead, including her only source of comfort in the world, her little brother, Mathilda decides to ask Leon to teach her to hunt and kill with ease the way he does. In hopes of executing her brother’s killer, she begins a rigorous training program with Leon at the helm. Later, with the help of Leon, Mathilda is able to track down the corrupt DEA agents, thwart their evil plans and destroy them. In the end, Mathilda loses her newfound friend, Leon, in an explosion that kills the main bad dude too, however, she gains insight on true friendship and an expertise on “cleaning” most people never receive. Before the credits roll, she is forced to enroll back into to the prestigious boarding school that threatened to expel her before her family died. The end.

Only Luc Besson could make something sounding this ridiculous on paper, seem exciting, fresh and most importantly, plausible. It really has a charming, gangster fairy tale vibe to it. Moreover, it made an 11 year old Natalie Portman, in the role of Mathilda, an overnight star.

Growing up in the 90s, woman started to be represented in new ways. Female badasses began cropping up on the silver screen and TV. Not a ton, mind you, but enough for me to gather some anti-heroic role models. Luc Besson excelled at writing female characters of complexity, importance and strength. We need not look further then La Femme Nikita or The Fifth Element for great examples of female heroines. Leon: The Professional was no exception.

Strangely enough, the first time I saw Leon: The Professional, I understood a new part of myself. I couldn’t shake Mathilda. I thought about her and her fate long after middle school math class. I thought about her during high school, college, and later, in film classes. What was she up to? I knew she couldn’t have stayed at that boring boarding school for long and if she did, it was only a matter of time before she broke out and slipped into the NYC night with her head full of Leon’s teachings to exact her satisfying retribution toward a corrupt and unjust world.

Mathilda had no real home, no mundane future ahead and no strings attached. She could be anyone, and yet, no one at the same time; a perfect woman to admire. Mathilda: A blank canvas to gaze upon while living out different parts of my own life; the troubling phases and the pesky growing pains. Did she become the kind of woman that we all wanted to be? Yes, because she didn’t have to be anything for certain. She could walk between the raindrops like Leon did. She could live in hiding as a vigilante or go through school and receive top honors.

It’s true. Mathilda is a Rorschach for my own life; a gauge for how I am living and how I am feeling. If Mathilda is killing some greedy politicians or drowning a nasty child killer in a puddle of his own blood then, clearly, I’m a little world weary. Is she teaching neurophysics at NYU while designing the ultimate neurological weapon on the side? Conversely, is she a mother that protects her own children from the violent childhood that she experienced? Maybe. It all truly depends on where my head is at.

Regardless of who or what Mathilda is to you, Luc Besson created a great, multi-dimensional character. Natalie Portman brought her to life. In a world of disappointing one dimensional female characters, Mathilda makes the ultimate difference. For me, she has always been an exemplary representation of a dream you take home long after the movie ends.

Written by: Julianna Brudek

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Joy Ride Is An Extremely Raunchy And Hilarious Comedy



Joy Ride is an extremely raunchy and hilarious comedy that takes the mantle of ensemble risky
comedies that at times, leave your mouth on the floor. Joy Ride focuses on two best friends
Audrey and Lolo (Ashley Sullivan and Sherry Cola) end up getting roped up into a trip to Asia,
they end up on gals pal cross-continent trek to find Audrey’s long lost birth mother so she
doesn’t lose a huge business deal.

The chemistry in this movie is superb. Every character has their moment to shine and there’s
rarely a scene where you don’t get a belly laugh. I was shocked at how crazy and bold this
movie got, continually pushing the line to get a laugh. The movie does a good job of getting to
the point and getting to the scenes that really make you chuckle. There are some editing choices where the story flies by some stuff, and it feels a little incomplete, but never at the expense of really enjoying being around for the journey.

I thought that this was a sleeper for this year and certainly a movie worth watching with your
friends some weekend. It’s great to throw on if you want a laugh and really just enjoy some
great actors riffing off each other. The focus on culture was a nice touch and really elevated the movie to another level. While I would say if you’re easily offended, this movie is not for you – if you’re looking for a no holds barred comedy, Joy Ride is a trip worth taking.

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Who Doesn’t Want To Wear The Ninja Suit Of Snake-Eyes Or Dress Like The Mandalorian?



Hasbro has had their pulse app out for a while now. It allows for access to items to buy, preorder, and a look into future projects and releases. It also allows for a very cool thing most nerds (a group of which I am a proud card-carrying member) have always wanted, the ability to make yourself into an action figure. I’ve contemplated making one for a time but, I finally got my chance to get my hands on one at Comic-Con this year. Now, of course, I had to wait in line as it was a pretty sought-after item. Who doesn’t want to have themselves wear the ninja suit of Snake-Eyes or dressed like a Mandalorian? I was approached by one of the booth staff as I was showing my nephew all the cool ways we could get him his own MIles Morales action figure with his face (as he’s a massive fan) and invited to take a seat and scan our faces into the Hasbro Pulse app with the help of their awesome team and make this dream a reality. My wife was with us, so of course she got in on the fun too. We scanned our faces in and it was very simple and quick. Then we all selected our figures to add our heads to. We all chose Power Rangers(Me as the Black Ranger, my wife chose the pink ranger and the nephew got the red ranger). Then we were told that we needed to wait about 4-6 weeks and we’d have our custom action figure team in our hands. This was a major part of our Comic-Con adventure and definitely, a memory my wife and nephew won’t forget (as it was both of their first Con ever). Thank you to Hasbro for being so generous(also getting me brownie points that home) and I highly suggest checking out Hasbro Pulse and all the cool stuff it has to offer.

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The Last Voyage of the Demeter: Double-knock on wood!  



Adapted and written largely from the Captain’s Log chapter of Bram Stoker’s magnum opus Dracula, The Last Voyage of the Demeter tells the story of Dracula’s journey by ship from Carpathia to London, and what happened to her crew in the interim.

So here we are in Bulgaria, middle of 1897, and Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham) of the Russian schooner Demeter is here to take on some strange cargo from some unknown client and transport it to Carfax Abbey in London. In need of some extra hands, the Captain sends out his capable Second Wojchek (David Dastmalchian) to scout for some, and initially the roving black doctor and aspiring philosopher Clemens (Corey Hawkins) is passed over in favor of more work-roughened men. The adorable cabin boy of the Demeter, Toby (Woody Norman), narrowly misses being crushed by the mysterious dragon-marked crates being loaded onto the ship, saved by Clemens himself and switched out with the superstitious sailors running from the Demeter like they had been poisoned by the sign of Dracul. And now, armed with some nine or so crewmen, Doc Clemens, and Captain Eliot himself, the twenty-four strange what looks like coffins adorned with dragon signs brought mostly safely aboard, the Demeter can make for open water and the Hell that awaits them there.

The duty of showing Clemens around the ship falls to a cheerful Toby, who proudly shows him the living areas, the Captain’s quarters, the very-large cargo hold, the galley and kitchen where the overly-devout Joseph (Jon Jon Briones) cooks the crews meals, the various above decks, even the sails, and the rigging are all at least touched on, and the livestock pens that Toby himself is in charge of, including the handsome good-boy doggy Huckleberry, or just Huck. We the audience get a very clear feeling of what it’s like to actually be aboard the Demeter, just how large she really is, and what living on a ship for months at sea is really like, the reality and practicality and the dangers of it.

Everyone more or less settles in for a hopefully uneventful voyage, taking mess around the common table and exchanging ideas or aspirations for when they arrive in London early thanks to the fair winds, and receive a handsome bonus for their troubles. But that involves being alive and making it to London to spend said bonus and pay, and the coffin crates spilling dark soil from the motherland and disgorging all sorts of other nasty secrets, have some serious plans to the contrary.

First, it’s the livestock, innocent and shrieking in their locked pens as a monster takes great furious bites out of their necks, and of course, the creature just straight up ruins poor doggy Huck. Then there’s the fully grown girl that gets dislodged from an open coffin-crate, covered in bite scars and as pale as death, she eventually starts interacting and talking after several blood transfusions from Doc Clemens, Toby learns her name is Anna (Aisling Franciosi). And then, as the weather turns foul and the winds begin to be a serious problem, the attacks turn toward the remaining humans onboard the Demeter.

Most people these days are familiar with Dracula, that gorgeous cunning vampire Elder who can supposedly transform into a bat or a wolf, seducing women to voluntarily offer up their veins like an unholy sacrament, a being at once beautiful and powerful, but also horrific and murderous if given half a heartbeat to smell your blood. This is not Dracula.

Instead, the creature that hunts the humans occupying the Demeter is an absolute monster, not a single human feature left to it, barely even recognizable as humanoid-shaped, instead boasting not just full-length bat wings but an entire exo-skin of bat membranes that can be used for feeding, a mouth full of needle-like teeth akin to a predator of the deepest darkest parts of the ocean, those yellowed Nosferatu eyes that will not tolerate light in any way, and of course giant pointy bat-ears. This is a thing, a grotesque straight from the depths of Hell, and no amount of glamor magic can make this Dracula (Javier Botet) seem like anything other than what he, is – a parasitic demon who only wants your blood. There is no reasoning with it, no trapping it, not even really any talking to it (kinda hard to talk when your throat has been ripped out), and, like the much more frightening Dracula stories of old, no amount of pure faith behind a symbol does anything other than give false hope.

Coming face to face with an actual abomination does different things to different people. The formerly delightfully foul-mouthed Abrams (Chris Walley) dissolves into a blubbering mess; poor Larsen (Martin Furulund) didn’t even get to see his own death coming; and it turns out Olgaren (Stefan Kapicic) wants to live so badly, he’ll suffer becoming a blank-eyed Renfield if that’s what it takes. All of Cook Joseph’s purported pure faith didn’t stop him from trying to take the coward’s way out and didn’t save him anyway when the sound of unnatural bat wings descended on him. I find that kind of irony delicious. Dear Anna, resigned to her fate to be eternal food for the horror that terrorized her village, nevertheless wants to try and save whoever is left of the Demeter with her own sacrifice, and there aren’t many. Wojchek of course wants to kill Dracula, but for all his logic and solid practical nature, has no experience whatsoever with this sort of thing, and sure doesn’t want to sacrifice the Demeter, the beloved ship he called home that was promised to him by Captain Eliot himself, in order to destroy that demon. Even poor sweet Toby isn’t safe from the creature’s clutches, and what happens to the cabin boy of the Demeter is what finally sends Captain Eliot over the blooming edge. And who could blame him? For this sort of thing to happen during the last voyage of such a proud, solid ship as the Demeter, is some serious bullsh*t.

To leave such a film open for a potential sequel, especially when called the last voyage of something, was a pretty hefty ask, and somehow the filmmakers managed it. I personally think a different version of Van Helsing, the infamous vampire hunter, teaming up with a certain black doctor who nurses a serious grudge against Dracula, could be a kickass sequel. Until then, experience the doomed final journey of the Demeter and her poor crew in all it’s bloodstained glory, in theaters now!

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