News and notes on ‘Expanse,’ ‘Guardians,’ and summer sci-fi

The second season of my new favorite TV series,”The Expanse,” is already over! I can’t believe I have to wait another year to see what will happen next! I’m glad I stuck with this show during its confusing beginning.

The second season of the series, which has been nominated for Saturn and Hugo awards, has been awesome. The characters’ storylines have come together, and the newer characters are great additions and fit right in.  Sometimes when you have a big cast like this, it’s annoying when a new character is introduced. But I love Prax (played by Terry Chen, above), and bad-ass Bobbie Draper.

My favorite scene of this season made me tear up. “The Expanse” is no “This Is Us,” so I was caught off guard during Naomi’s emotional scene on Ganymede in the penultimate episode. I know I’m being vague; I don’t want to give anything away. If you’re not watching “The Expanse,” you can catch up on syfy.com or Hulu.

From Toby to Taserface  

Speaking of the aforementioned tearjerker “This Is Us,” Chris Sullivan (who plays Toby), is in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”! Sullivan plays a character called Taserface and is unrecognizable under all that makeup.

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Chris Sullivan is Taserface in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

Also joining the cast for the sequel are Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Debicki (who is in “The Night Manager,” with Tom Hiddleston) and Pom Klementieff.

Reprising their roles as the Guardians are Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, and Dave Bautista.

If you have read my blog before, you know how much I loved the first “Guardians.” Superhero movies are not my favorite sci-fi genre, but that’s because most superhero movies are not as cool, fun, and funny as “Guardians.” I can’t wait until May 5!

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“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

I’m also excited about the other big sci-fi film coming out this year – Star Wars Episode VIII will be in theaters Dec. 15. It will be bittersweet, as it will be our last goodbye to Leia. Carrie Fisher will not appear in Episode IX, despite rumors that she would be edited into the film.

I know, December is still a long way off, but after “The Last Jedi,” we will only have to wait until summer – “Star Wars: Episode IX,” set for 2019, will be released in May.

“Star Trek: Discovery”

That other big sci-fi franchise, Star Trek, needs to learn a lesson from Star Wars about getting it done. The series “Star Trek: Discovery” has been delayed yet again. It was supposed to be coming in May, but Bryan Fuller has left his job as showrunner, and now there is no date for the premiere at all. Will we ever see this show?

On Netflix

The only discovery I’ve, um, discovered is “The Discovery.” The movie, directed by Charlie McDowell (who also did “The One I Love”), takes place after a scientist (Robert Redford) proves there is life after death. Unfortunately, this discovery causes a rash of suicides.

Telling you much more than this will be too spoiler-y. Let me just say if you are interested in weird movies à la “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” or NDE and OBE (near death/out of body experience) type stuff, you will probably like this. I myself find it fascinating, and while the film was not without flaws, it stayed with me for a while – and it didn’t hurt that one of my favorite actors, Jason Segel, is in it. Rooney Mara also stars.

Also coming up on Netflix is Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja,” about a girl and her best friend, or should I say, beast friend? Okja is a “super pig” in danger from a multinational corporation. The film sounds every bit as strange as Bong’s 2014 film “Snowpiercer,” but will be, I hope, less disturbing.

“Okja” stars Tilda Swinton, Ahn Seo-hyun, Lily Collins, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Paul Dano. It will be screened at Cannes in May and then released on Netflix on June 28.

Summer sci-fi

Now that Alien Day (April 26) has put us in the mood for scary monsters in outer space (right?), I’m ready for the new Alien movie. “Alien: Covenant” is in theaters May 19. The studio released a second prologue for the film:

A special bonus: If you go see “Alien: Covenant,” you will get to see a full trailer for “Blade Runner 2049.” Considering “Covenant” will be opening in the U.K. a week before it opens here in the U.S., the “Blade Runner” trailer might be online before May 19, but it will be cooler on the big screen anyway. (The connection here is “Covenant” director Ridley Scott, who also directed the original “Blade Runner” and produced the sequel.)

I’m really hoping they did Wonder Woman justice in the new film (out June 2), because they aren’t going to make more films about women unless we go see them, and we’re not going to go see them if they suck. Enough said.

“Orphan Black” will return for one more season, but later this year than normal. The show won’t be back until June 10, on BBC America. The show was not canceled; it was the creators’ decision to end it, and while I think it was the right decision, it will still be sad to see our favorite clones go. Here’s hoping the fifth and final season will be the best yet.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” (coming to theaters July 14) looks to be everything a big summer blockbuster should be: action, thrills, and cool special effects, and while I don’t care for, say, alien robots that turn into monster trucks, I’m totally on board with talking chimpanzees. Andy Serkis brings his performance-capture magic back with his character Caesar, and Woody Harrelson is “The Colonel,” a soldier who wants to destroy the apes.

“Game of Thrones” will return for its seventh season on July 16 on HBO. Even without the final books in the series, we can tell this story is getting close to wrapping up. The dragons are grown, the zombies are closing in, and they’ve killed off most of the characters. That’s not to say I’ve grown bored of the show – far from it. I’m super excited to see what happens next.

The one thing I am not happy about is the fact that we’re only getting seven episodes this summer, and then we won’t get to see the final six episodes until next year. Bummer!

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” will be in theaters July 21, and I wish it would hurry up because I keep writing about how maybe it’s going to be cool and maybe it will suck on “Jupiter Ascending” level proportions, and I haven’t heard any buzz about it either way. It’s not the same director as “Jupiter” (the Wachowski sibs are responsible for that mess). “Valerian” is written and directed by Luc Besson, so I want to say it will be as awesome as “The Fifth Element,” which is a crazy movie that I love beyond reason and which I have wasted many hours of my life re-watching.

If you haven’t seen “The Fifth Element” yet (or even if you have), you can see it on the big screen (with 4K restoration) on May 14 or 17, in select theaters. The screenings are part of a 20th anniversary celebration of the film, and will include a new introduction by Besson and a sneak preview of “Valerian.”

The 20th anniversary edition will be released on DVD sometime this summer.

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Photos/media: “The Expanse,” Syfy; “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Alien: Covenant,” 20th Century Fox; Game of Thrones, HBO. 

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Tune in to trippy TV series ‘Travelers’ and ‘Mr. Robot’

I’ve been telling everyone about the Netflix sci-fi series “Travelers,” starring Eric McCormack. This is a series I want to keep watching even though it’s late and I should go to bed. (Unfortunately, I am done watching all 12 episodes of Season 1, and there is no release date yet for Season 2.)

There are so many new series out right now and they’re really hit and miss. I picked this one sort of at random, but I will admit that the star of “Will & Grace” was also a draw. I also thought the premise sounded similar to that of “The 4400,” which I loved.

“Travelers” exceeded my expectations. It’s unpredictable and suspenseful, and even though it’s not totally original (shades of “12 Monkeys” and the aforementioned “4400”), I like that it’s not another ubiquitous remake/reboot/adaptation.

The show was created by Brad Wright, who did the “Stargate” series but “Travelers” is decidedly less nerdy. The promo pictures make it look like a police procedural drama, and I don’t know if they’re trying to make it a crossover hit or what, but don’t worry, this is not CSI: Time Travelers. There is more going on than meets the eye.

I’d like to keep this post spoiler-free, so I’ll just say that there is some cool time-traveling stuff going on and some interesting characters. This is one of those shows where the quality of the acting can make or break it, and this cast is doing a great job. I can’t wait to see what happens next. OK, enough of that. Just go watch it.

Let’s talk about “Mr. Robot.” This is also an original series – it was created by Sam Esmail. However, I have a hunch Esmail is a big fan of “Fight Club,” because there are some obvious similarities. (It is also reminiscent of “V for Vendetta.”)

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An argument could be made that this is not a sci-fi show per se (which is why I haven’t talked about it before now, this being a science-fiction blog), but I think it is safe to say that it veers in that direction. This show premiered in 2015, and the third season is probably coming sometime this summer, so you have time to catch up.

You may have heard of Rami Malek, who has won awards for his role as the main character, a hacker named Elliot. You might also recognize him from some of his other work, such as his role as King Ahkmenrah in the “Night at the Museum” films. (What!)

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If you’re already watching this show, you already know how twisty and turny and trippy it is. If you’re not watching, I won’t spoil it for you.

While we have seen some of the themes elsewhere, the characters are unique, and the actors are killing it. Portia Doubleday, who plays Elliot’s friend Angela, and Carly Chaikin as fellow hacker Darlene, are amazing.

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Portia Doubleday and Carly Chaikin, in USA Network’s “Mr. Robot.”

Last but not least, Christian Slater is in it, and like a lot of women who grew up watching his movies in the ’80s, I love me some Christian Slater, who seems to have barely aged in the last 30 years. I suspect he’s drinking from the same fountain of youth frequented by Paul Rudd.

Anyway. “Mr. Robot.” Catch up.

Cloak and Dagger

Speaking of the ’80s, I used to read the Marvel comic “Cloak and Dagger,” back in the day. They’re making it into a TV show, and I have to admit, my initial reaction was “Won’t be watching that one!” Ever since “Daredevil” (the 2003 film), I’ve been a little wary of adaptations of comics that I’ve read. Maybe I’m just one of those nerds who says things like, “That’s not how it was in the comic book!” OK, I don’t always say that. I do think that “Watchmen” and the X-Men films were done well.729023

The new show is geared toward teens and young adults, so I’m not the target audience (also true of “Riverdale,” the series based on Archie comics, which I also read as a kid). But … it could be interesting.

“Cloak and Dagger” will air on Freeform, and has cast its lead actors. Aubrey Johnson will play the role of Tyrone, who can engulf people in darkness, and Olivia Holt will be Tandy. Tandy can shoot “daggers of living light” (this phrase was repeated ad nauseum in the comics). The teenagers are a vigilante crime-fighting duo, and they need each other to survive. No air date has been released.

Photos: “Travelers,” Netflix; “Mr. Robot,” USA Network.

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Mark your calendar: 10 new sci-fi films to see this year

I love the smell of fresh science fiction in the movie theater. It smells like popcorn and … stardust. As I’ve likely said elsewhere in this blog: It’s a great time to be a nerd.

There are a few exciting sci-fi films that have release dates yet to be announced, but are supposed to come out this year, including writer/director Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja.” Bong wrote and directed the dystopian (and disturbing) thriller “Snowpiercer.”

“Ex Machina” writer/director Alex Garland’s next film, “Annihilation,” is also expected to be released this year.

But most of the movies I want to see have dates, which are already in my datebook. Let’s go to the movies!

March 10 – “Kong: Skull Island”

It seems like everything is a sequel or a remake lately. Everything from “Beauty and the Beast” to “CHiPs” to “Jumanji” is coming to the big screen this year. Do we really need another King Kong movie? An argument could be made for this viewpoint, but I’m not going to be the one to make it. There’s a reason giant lizards and gorillas don’t ever go away.kong-skull-island-2017-brie-larson-tom-hiddleston1

This is the second film in Legendary’s Godzilla-Kong film series. The first was “Godzilla,” in 2014. “Skull Island” stars Tom Hiddleston (which, let’s face it, is reason enough to see this), Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Goodman.

March 24 – “Life”

I think it’s possible we are nearing the saturation point with all the astronaut movies lately, but … oh well. Bring on another! This one is called, simply, “Life.” (I think it could use a catchier name but no one asked me.) Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal star as crew members of the International Space Station who are about to discover evidence of life on Mars.

April 7 – “Colossal”anne-hathaway-colossal-550x600

Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, a young woman who discovers she has a strange connection to a kaiju halfway across the world.

“Colossal” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and was written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo (“Timecrimes”).

It has been described as a kaiju disaster movie combined with an indie rom-com. It really doesn’t get any cooler than that, right? I’m thinking “date night.”

May 5 – “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-teaser-poster

I’m not super excited about all the superhero movies coming out this year. They’re all starting to run together at this point. (I did love “Deadpool” and “Dr. Strange” though.) I will go see “Wonder Woman” in the theater (because girl power!) but I’ll wait for “Thor,” “Logan,” “Spider-Man,” and “Justice League” to come out on DVD.

There is one comic book movie I am excited about: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” I loved the first one. It’s funny, and it has cool retro music and a talking raccoon. You really can’t go wrong with that formula. Or can you? Don’t disappoint me, sequel!

May 19 – “Alien: Covenant”

I’m not a big fan of horror movies, but my husband loves the “Alien” films, so I’ve seen them all. While they’re not my favorite, I can appreciate H.R. Giger’s artistic vision, Ridley Scott’s filmmaking talent, and Sigourney Weaver’s bad-ass portrayal of Ellen Ripley.

“Covenant” is the sixth of the “Alien” movies, and the second of the prequels. Ridley Scott directs, and Michael Fassbender reprises his role as an android. While Ripley was absent from “Prometheus,” Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) took up her mantle as the resident bad ass. Rapace reportedly has only a small role in the new film. With the exception of Fassbender, most of the cast members are new to the franchise, including Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride.

Interesting note: Neill Blomkamp (“District 9,” “Elysium”) was working on a sequel for this franchise as well, but it remains to be seen what will become of that project.

June 2 – “Wonder Woman”

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My sister and I loved watching “Wonder Woman” on TV back in the early ’80s. We made our own starred tiaras and bulletproof bracelets out of tinfoil, and took turns using the Lasso of Truth (one of our mom’s scarves). I’m sure we weren’t the only little girls who wanted to be Wonder Woman. So why has it taken soooo long to give her her own feature film? Well, that’s a loaded question, I guess, and a topic for another day.

Even though I grew up with Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, she’s now played by Gal Gadot, and the new film is set in World War I. The trailer looks pretty cool. I can’t wait to see her kick some ass on the big screen. I’m going to see it with my sister.

July 14 – “War for the Planet of the Apes”mv5bmjazmti3nti5m15bml5banbnxkftztgwnzm2nje4mdi-_v1_sy1000_cr006321000_al_

Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the other apes are at war with the humans in this third installment of the reboot series. If you haven’t seen the first two films, I recommend you check them out. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” are very well done. The visual effects are amazing and the stories are worthy of them, which is, as you know, not always the case with these summer blockbusters.

Matt Reeves directs, and the film is written by Reeves and Mark Bomback. Judy Greer returns as Caesar’s wife, Cornelia, and Steve Zahn will play a new ape. Woody Harrelson and Gabriel Chavarria have human roles.

July 21 – “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is based on the French comic book series Valérian and Laureline, by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. The film was produced, written, and directed by Luc Besson, who also did “The Fifth Element,” which I love. From what I’ve seen so far, it looks very similar in style to “The Fifth Element” as well. (It also sort of reminds me of “Jupiter Ascending,” but let’s hope it doesn’t veer in that direction.)

Oct. 6 – “Blade Runner 2049”

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A sequel to the original “Blade Runner” (from 1982), this one is set 30 years after the events in the original, which was based on a novel by Philip K. Dick. Harrison Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard. In the original, Deckard was a blade runner – a cop tasked with hunting down androids called replicants. The lead role, however, belongs to Ryan Gosling, and the director is Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) rather than Ridley Scott, who directed the original.

They’ve been talking about doing a sequel since 1999, but the project kept getting scrapped due to issues concerning rights to the novel and funding problems. Here’s hoping it’s worth the wait.

Dec. 15 – “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

The official name of “Star Wars: Episode VIII” was revealed on Monday. “The Last Jedi” is expected to pick up right where Episode VII left off, after Rey finds Luke. (Does this count as a spoiler? I imagine if you haven’t seen “The Force Awakens,” you’re probably not reading my blog.) “Rogue One” didn’t do much for me; this is the one I’m waiting for.

Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, and Andy Serkis return, and we will get to see Carrie Fisher on screen, in her last Star Wars film.

New cast members include Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, and Kelly Marie Tran.

NEWS AND NOTESgeorge-lucas-museum

In other Star Wars news, it was recently announced that the George Lucas museum, The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, will be built in Los Angeles, in Exposition Park (which is also home to the California Science Center and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles).

The $1 billion museum will house George Lucas’ personal art collection, which includes memorabilia from the “Star Wars” films as well as works from artists such as Norman Rockwell and R. Crumb. The museum is expected to be completed in 2021.

“Star Wars Celebration” will be in Orlando this year, from April 13 to 16, at the Orange County Convention Center. Tickets will go on sale May 25. The convention will celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Star Wars: A New Hope.”

I was shocked and saddened to hear about Carrie Fisher’s death. She inspired so many of us, not just as the tough-as-nails Princess Leia, but with her honesty and wit. (Her books are funny as hell.) She was one of a kind.

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Carrie Fisher

Photos: “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (top photo),  STX Entertainment; “Kong: Skull Island,” Warner Bros. Pictures; “Colossal,” NEON; “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Wonder Woman,” Warner Bros. Pictures; “War for the Planet of the Apes,” 20th Century Fox; “Blade Runner 2049,” Warner Bros. Pictures; artist rendering, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, design by Ma Yansong, MAD Architects. 

Film release dates are subject to change.

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What to watch on TV: New and returning sci fi in 2017

I’ve more or less given up on George R.R. Martin’s “Winds of Winter” (the next book in the series on which “Game of Thrones” is based) but at least we can depend on HBO to satisfy our need for dragons and dire wolves. I’m really excited for Season 7, which is expected to come later than usual this year (in the summer rather than the spring). We’re also going to have to savor it not only because this will be the penultimate season but because the last two seasons will have fewer than the usual 10 episodes.

We will have to say farewell to our favorite clones this year, with the fifth and final season of “Orphan Black” (BBC America). The last few seasons premiered in April, so we can probably expect the show to return in April.

If you like quirky comedy, I recommend “People of Earth” (on TBS), about a support group for people who have been abducted by aliens. I wasn’t sure at first what to make of this weird show, but it’s grown on me, and I will be watching for the second season. It will likely be back in the fall.

“The Expanse” (Syfy) will return on Feb. 1 – finally! I’ve almost forgotten what happened last season, since it has been nearly a year since the Season 1 finale. It took a while for the plot to gain momentum in the first season, so here’s hoping the second season hits the ground running.

A new Star Trek series is coming in May. “Star Trek: Discovery” will air on CBS All Access and Netflix. Taking on a beloved franchise like Star Trek is risky. Hopefully the show’s creators Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman are up to the task. Sonequa Martin-Green (“The Walking Dead”) will play the lead role; Michelle Yeoh, Doug Jones, and Anthony Rapp also star.

A new mini-series, “Electric Dreams: The World of Philip K. Dick,” is expected to come out sometimes this year. You may recognize the name Philip K. Dick – he wrote the stories behind so many science-fiction films: “Total Recall,” “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report,” “The Adjustment Bureau,” and “Paycheck,” to name a few. The popular Amazon series “The Man in the High Castle” is also based on one of Dick’s novels.

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Philip K. Dick

“Electric Dreams” is produced by Ronald D. Moore (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Outlander”), Michael Dinner, and Bryan Cranston, who will also appear in one of the episodes, each of which is a stand-alone drama.

There is no air date as of yet, but it is slated to premiere on Channel 4 in the UK and distributed internationally by Sony Pictures Television.

I can barely keep up with all the new series out right now. Two that I have been wanting to watch but haven’t yet are “Travelers” (Netflix) and “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” (BBC America).

The latter might sound familiar to you, as it is also a Douglas Adams novel, which has been adapted to TV before – in 2010 on BBC. (Adams also wrote the novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which was also adapted to a BBC TV series, as well as a movie, in 2005.)

Photo at top: Dominique Tipper and Steven Strait star in “The Expanse,” on Syfy. “Game of Thrones” photo, HBO. 

P.S. Check out this recap for Syfy’s “The Expanse.”

Deep space drama of ‘Passengers’ too shallow

This review contains spoilers. 

I was intrigued by the premise of this movie: Two people, on a 120 year long journey in space, are awakened from hibernation 90 years before the ship reaches its destination.

I like Jennifer Lawrence and Star-Lord, er, Chris Pratt, and I had heard it was a great story. I also loved director Morten Tyldum’s thriller “Headhunters” (which stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from “Game of Thrones”).

While “Passengers” was entertaining, it seemed that something was missing. It didn’t delve deep enough, for one thing. I wanted more.  More what, I don’t know.  It just felt superficial to me.

(If you didn‘t see “Passengers,” don’t read the rest of this review. It contains SPOILERS.)

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One thing that seems off is the part of the film that begins when Gus (Laurence Fishburne) wakes up. Besides the wrench it throws into the point of the movie being that they’re the only two people awake for the next 90 years, the subsequent action seems like it belongs in another movie entirely.

But even more annoying to me is Lawrence’s character, Aurora. Maybe it’s just me, but she seems snobby, like she thinks Jim is beneath her. More than once, she mentions that under ordinary circumstances, she would never end up with him, but she doesn’t say why. He’s adorable and romantic and sweet. What’s not to love?

I found it odd that it took her so long to bother getting to know Jim. Was she so upset about the prospect of being alone that she didn’t notice she wasn’t alone?

And while I can understand her anger at discovering Jim was the one who woke her, she ceases to be a sympathetic character once she attacks him while he’s sleeping. I know some reviewers couldn’t get past the moral problem of what he did, dooming her to a lifetime aboard the ship, but I was more disturbed by Aurora’s violence.

Was waking her from hibernation so unforgivable? He was ALL ALONE IN OUTER SPACE. Who knows what anyone would do in similar circumstances?

Clearly she does forgive him in the end, when she realizes she doesn’t want to be alone on that ship either. We are supposed to believe she really does love him after all, but the line between love and need is blurry.

Then he tells her she can get in the Autodoc and go back into hibernation and she says “No”? What! That’s all she cared about, and now she doesn’t want that anymore? I’m not buying it. At this point, they seem like they’ve fucked each other over too much to live happily ever after.

My other gripe is a minor one: It’s too clean and shiny. I like my sci-fi gritty, and everything in “Passengers” is too perfect – the ship, yes, but also Lawrence. Her outfits look like ads from a futuristic fitness magazine. And would you still bother to do your hair and makeup every day if the only person who is going to see you is that guy you hate? Me neither.

Photos: Columbia Pictures

Four new sci-fi flicks – coming soon to a theater near you

Lots of promising science-fiction films are in the works right now – “Replicas”; “Annihilation”; “Blade Runner 2”; “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Pacific Rim” and “Planet of the Apes” sequels;  and film adaptations of “Ready Player One,” “Station Eleven,” “Descender,” and “Chrononauts” – but we’re going to have to wait a long time for most of those. For now, let’s look at some new films coming out in the next few months:

First up, we have “Arrival,” adapted from a short story by Ted Chiang. The story, about deciphering alien communication, is directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer and stars Amy Adams as a linguist hired to communicate with aliens, Jeremy Renner as a mathematician, and Forest Whitaker as a U.S. Army colonel. The film, which had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, has had mostly good reviews thus far.

Sasha James at The Mary Sue said the movie “proves to be much more than the standard first contact flick, and Villeneuve maintains his track record of turning all expectations of genre on their head.”

“Arrival” will be released Nov. 11.

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Above, Amy Adams stars in “Arrival.” Below, Asa Butterfield in “The Space Between Us.”

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“The Space Between Us” has an original, intriguing concept: Asa Butterfield plays a teenager born on Mars who goes to Earth for the first time, experiencing our planet with fresh eyes. (You may remember Butterfield from “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas,” “Hugo,” or “Ender’s Game.”)

The movie also stars Carla Gugino, Britt Robertson, and Gary Oldman, who plays a character inspired by Elon Musk.

It could be a hit, as long as it doesn’t veer too far into schmaltzy territory. Another potential problem is timing – right now it’s up against the new Stars Wars film which has the same Dec. 16 release date.

Don’t expect to see Luke Skywalker or R2 in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” These are (mostly) new people in a sort of side project to tide you over till the next chapter of the saga.

Set sometime between episodes III and IV, “Rogue One” stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, and Forest Whitaker.

Jones plays Jyn Erso, a Rebel fighter who teams up with Cassian Andor (Luna) and some other Rebels to steal the Death Star plans.

There are a couple familiar faces: Genevieve O’Reilly will reprise her role as Mon Mothma, and Jimmy Smits is back as Bail Organa. There will also be a familiar voice – James Earl Jones as Darth Vader.

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“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” will be released Dec. 16.

“Passengers,” a sci-fi romance/thriller, stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as astronauts accidentally awakened from hibernation 90 years too early.

The original script (by Jon Spaihts) has been floating around for years and at one point had Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon set to star as the stranded pair.

The film is directed by Morten Tyldum, who also directed “The Imitation Game” and “Headhunters” (a cool film starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from “Game of Thrones” – check it out if you haven’t seen it).

“Passengers” is slated for a Dec. 21 release.

Photos: “Passengers,” Columbia Pictures; “Arrival,” Paramount Pictures; “The Space Between Us,” STX Entertainment; “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” Lucasfilm/Disney

 

New LACMA exhibit a must for Guillermo del Toro fans

One great thing about living near Los Angeles is being close to all the cool exhibits at the museums, and one that I did not want to miss was Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Guillermo del Toro is a science fiction and horror writer, director, and producer whose movies include “Pacific Rim,” “Mimic,” “Crimson Peak,” “Hellboy,” “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” “Blade II,” and the Spanish-language films “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Devil’s Backbone,” and “Cronos.”

From Guadalajara, Mexico, del Toro now resides in Los Angeles, where he is currently working on a film called “The Shape of Water.” He also is the creator of the FX series “The Strain.”

The collection displayed at LACMA is huge and very impressive. Of course it includes memorabilia from his films – costumes, drawings, notebooks, and props – but it also includes a lot of cool stuff from his collection of art, books, artifacts, and life-sized sculptures of people including Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Harryhausen and several others.

The exhibit is organized by the themes that run through del Toro’s films. The first is “Childhood and Innocence,” and includes props and drawings from “Pan’s Labyrinth” and other items in his collection that pertain to this theme.

Another theme is “Victoriana,” evident in his gothic romance/ghost story “Crimson Peak.” The name of del Toro’s residence Bleak House was taken from a Charles Dickens novel. (And in case you’re wondering, this is a separate house from the one he lives in with his family. This one is just for all his cool toys.)

In the “Magic, Alchemy, and the Occult” section, we learn that del Toro is heavily influenced by the writer H.P. Lovecraft as well as a series he loved as a child called “Man, Myth & Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural.”

A room themed “Movies, Comics, Pop Culture” displays del Toro’s collection of comic books and movie memorabilia. He loves Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel.

Inspired by “Planet of the Apes” (1968), a young del Toro filmed a display of his toy figurines with his father’s Super 8 camera, a pivotal moment: “When I first projected that first Super 8 reel, something happened that was absolutely life changing,” he said.

Del Toro’s self-described “Frankenstein fetish” is evident in the exhibit “Frankenstein and Horror,” an homage to Mary Shelley’s famous monster, as well as other famous movie monsters. “Freaks and Monsters” shows del Toro’s fascination with sideshow “freaks,” and how this influences his work.

There are also areas dedicated to “Death and Afterlife,” lucha libre (Mexican masked wrestling), a recreation of del Toro’s rain room (not to be confused with the other Rain Room at LACMA), and so much more.

 

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters is at LACMA until Nov. 27, and will travel to Minneapolis and Toronto in 2017. For more information, go to http://www.lacma.org/guillermo-del-toro#about-the-exhibition

Photos by EarthToShawna

 

 

‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6 finale not terribly shocking

If you haven’t seen the Season 6 finale of “Game of Thrones,” you may want to come back after you’ve seen it. This is your spoiler warning.

Let’s talk about Cersei’s industrial goth dress. I’m guessing someone in the costume department has seen the “Hellraiser” movies way too many times, because I feel like I’m watching Clive Barker’s “Game of Thrones.” Let’s not forget the Night King looking like Pinhead’s distant cousin:

Everything is happening, and it’s about time. We knew Cersei was planning something sinister, but who knew how big it would be? That wildfire explosion was crazy. One thing I didn’t see coming was the end of Margaery, Loras, and Mace Tyrell. But I was happy to see those pesky Sparrows go down.

Walder Frey also had it coming to him, after the carnage of the Red Wedding. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but Arya apparently believes it’s a dish best served with one’s sons baked inside. Gross.

The truth of Jon Snow’s parentage was figured out by readers of the books some time ago, so last night’s “shocker” wasn’t much of a revelation, but it was satisfying to see it finally play out on screen, even if we knew all along Jon wasn’t Ned’s bastard son. I think Ned would be proud of the man his nephew has become. “The King in the North!”

Daenerys’ scenes – some of my favorites in the first few seasons – have lately been a batch of fries sitting under a heat lamp while the other stories catch up, so it’s nice that she’s finally going somewhere. The part where she dumps her boyfriend was blah, but it’s so darn touching when she names Tyrion the Hand of the Queen, it almost makes up for it.

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It’s nice that we got to see a little bit of everyone, since it’s the last episode we will get until 2017. But come on, that was not enough of Sam and Gilly. (Cool library! And then we move on.)

I think the most unexpected and breathtaking moment of the finale was Tommen’s suicide. But the most heartbreaking was Davos confronting Melisandre about Shireen’s murder. “I loved that girl like she was my own,” he tells her. “She was good, she was kind, and you killed her!” (Stop making me cry, Onion Knight!)

I love GoT, and I’m going to miss it while it’s gone. Until next year.

In other news

I’m reading Hugh Howey’s post-apocalyptic “Wool” series (which is awesome – go read it right now if you haven’t), and hopefully I will have more news to report about this soon – “Guardians of the Galaxy” writer Nicole Perlman has reportedly been hired to re-write “Wool” for 20th Century Fox and producers Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian.

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“Wool” began as a stand-alone novella, which Howey published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing system. Interesting note: Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” also was based on a self-published book. Self-publishing seems to be gaining more respect.

Maybe anyone can write a novel. Maybe even … robots? Yes, as Hugh Howey himself predicted, a novel has recently been written by artificial intelligence. The AI had some help from humans, so writers aren’t obsolete just yet. The novel, a team effort led by Hitoshi Matsubara, a professor at Future University Hakodate, was an attempt to win Japan’s Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award. The novel, “The Day a Computer Writes a Novel,” didn’t win, but it passed the first round of screening.

The idea of robots taking over the world is just science fiction, though. Right? Well, not if you believe in a theory known as “technological singularity.” Singularity theorists say that superintelligent machines will one day overtake humans. Of course, there have been multiple books, movies and TV shows about cyborgs, androids, robots, or machines overthrowing humans. Most of them seem too far-fetched to come true, but some of them (“Ex Machina” and “Her”) seem eerily possible.

Moving on to a more scientifically plausible prediction about non-human intelligence, a Cornell student recently estimated that Earth won’t contact alien life for another 1,500 years. This might sound like a wild guess, but it’s based on math: Evan Solomonides and professor Yervant Terzian presented a paper earlier this month, at the American Astronomical Society meeting, which explains that because we have only been sending signals to space for 80 years, we’ve reached less than one percent of the galaxy. We shouldn’t expect to make contact until we’ve reached at least half of the solar systems in the Milky Way.

The astronomers address what’s known as the Fermi Paradox, which asks: “There must be other planets like Earth, so why have we not heard from them yet?” Solomonides’ answer is a good one, but I will offer up another possibility: Maybe the aliens are just waiting to see if this Trump thing blows over before they decide if we are worth talking to.

“Game of Thrones photos,” HBO. 

 

 

Game of Thrones – the good, the sad, and the frustrating

It’s a great time to be a nerd. There are so many cool sci-fi and fantasy films and TV shows going right now. Maybe it’s because reality is so disturbing lately that more and more people are seeking out alternative realities. Whatever the reason, I’m glad that stories like George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” are getting the big-budget treatment they deserve.

(Warning: This post contains Game of Thrones SPOILERS.)

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I’m really enjoying GoT right now. I love Sam and Gilly’s scenes, and I’m intrigued by Bran’s story too. Now that the HBO series has caught up to the books, every episode is a surprise.

Possibly the most anxiously awaited story line was the question of “Is Jon Snow really dead?” Readers have been wondering what will become of Snow since “A Dance With Dragons” (the fifth book in the ASOIAF series), and we finally got our answer this season.

I’ve also been wondering what will become of Arya and Daenerys since I finished the books. I admit I found the end of the Faceless Men plot less satisfying than I had hoped, and Daenerys’ speeches are starting to get a little stale.

Some of the most frustrating scenes are those that depart from the direction Martin was heading. When Jamie spouts his “the things we do for love” shtick, Edmure doesn’t want to hear it – and neither do we. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was thinking “Oh shut it, Jamie.” (I also yelled at my TV screen when Jaqen said, “Finally a girl has become no one.”)

Even though the series has now gone further than the books, it’s relatively easy to figure out which story ideas are Martin’s. The heartbreaking revelation in”Hold the Door” was very clever – and clearly a twist of which only Martin could have conceived.

I’m so excited for next week’s “The Battle of the Bastards.” It’s hard to believe there are only two episodes left in this season. It’s going by much too quickly.

WonderCon

I attended WonderCon in March and was very excited about the Image Comics panel, since I am a fan of “Saga” and “Rat Queens.” Queens writer Kurtis Wiebe and artist Tess Fowler discussed the creative process behind the comic.

The “Orphan Black” panel was fun too. Tatiana Maslany (who plays the female clones) was absent, but the show’s creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett participated, as did Kevin Hanchard (Art Bell), Kristian Bruun (Donnie Hendrix), and Jordan Gavaris (Felix Dawkins).

“Orphan Black” is one of my favorite shows. I am disappointed to learn that the show’s fifth season will be its last. I’ll miss the sestras.

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“Game of Thrones” photos, HBO; WonderCon photos EarthToShawna. 

News & musings: ‘Expanse,’ ‘Oddfits,’ ‘Ready Player One’

I have been wanting to write about the new Syfy series “The Expanse,” but it took me a while to process my thoughts and feelings about it. I was wary at first, as the show was being compared to my all-time favorite TV series, “Battlestar Galactica.” How can anything live up to that hype? And I found the name distracting because the entire third season of “Star Trek: Enterprise” is set in the Delphic Expanse, which was usually referred to as “the Expanse.”

But I gave it a try. I needed a good show to tide me over while “Game of Thrones,” “Orphan Black,” “Vikings” and “The Last Kingdom” are on hiatus.

I found the first couple episodes of “The Expanse” confusing, and I wondered if the books (which I haven’t read) were just not translating well to the screen – something seemed to be missing. Or at least, I felt I was missing something. I’m hearing impaired and use closed-captioning, and sometimes get lost when the action and/or dialogue are fast-paced, so that might have had something to do with it.

But I was intrigued enough to stick with it, and I reminded myself new series sometimes take a few episodes to hit their stride.

Here’s what you need to know: In the future, mankind has colonized the solar system, and there are three groups at odds with each other – Earthers (from Earth, duh), Martians (people who have settled Mars – not little green men), and the oppressed, working class “Belters” – people born in the asteroid belt. It gets more complicated than that, but I don’t want to give it all away.

Once I figured out what was going on, I was hooked. There’s all sorts of stuff going on in this show – mystery, political drama, and outer space action/adventure. (I will also confess that I like some comic relief in my science fiction. They had me at “donkey balls.”)

I love the complex characters, there’s a talented cast, and the special effects are amazing. The two-hour finale was crazy, in a good way, and left me feeling sad that the season is already over.

If you haven’t been watching, I recommend you check out season one (you can watch on syfy.com or Hulu). If you have been watching, I would love to hear what you think! Comment here or on the Earth to Shawna facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/Earth-to-Shawna-1476049362698628/?fref=ts

Books

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately (see my last blog post, in which I reviewed Jessica Chiarella’s “And Again” and Kate Mulgrew’s memoir “Born with Teeth”).

I just started “The Oddfits,” by Tiffany Tsao. It’s about this misfit kid named Murgatroyd Floyd (how cool is that name?) and there’s this huge freezer called the Great Freezer, which contains 736  flavors of ice cream, including Sunset, Quiet, Darkness, Rainbow, and Stars (shown on the book cover above), which tastes like violets, chocolate, warm honeyed peaches, coconut milk, and the sensation that the universe is a very vast place. (If magic ice cream doesn’t make you want to read this book, nothing will.)

I’m picking up hints of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Doctor Who,” “Twilight Zone,” and also something new that I can’t quite identify … but so far, I find it very palatable.

What are your favorite new sci fi titles?

‘Ready Player One’

Speaking of books, I’m super excited about the new, Spielberg-directed film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s dystopian novel “Ready Player One,” to be released in April 2018. (The film was previously slated for December 2017, but it was announced Tuesday that it has been pushed back – to avoid a box office clash with the next “Star Wars” movie.)

I loved the book, about a futuristic, ’80s-themed competition. The winner inherits the fortune of the contest’s creator, who has been dead for five years.

Olivia Cooke has been cast as Art3mis. (Cooke played Rachel in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” – an excellent movie. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.) Ben Mendelsohn is reportedly in talks for the lead villain, and Nick Robinson is reportedly a favorite for the role of Parzival.

The film has launched a worldwide casting call for three of the main roles: Wade, Shoto, and Daito. The deadline is Feb. 16, so if you’re an aspiring actor who fits the part, you have five days to upload an audition:

http://www.readyplayeronemoviecasting.com

When the book was released, Cline announced that the book contained an Easter egg, a clue which formed the first part of a series of staged video game tests, similar to the plot of the novel. A DeLorean was awarded to the contest’s winner. I wouldn’t be surprised if another contest will be announced when the movie is released, so keep your eye out!

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Olivia Cooke (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) has been cast as the female lead in Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s dystopian novel “Ready Player One.”

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New Star Trek series

It has been announced that the showrunner for the upcoming Star Trek series (which is not related to the 2016 film) will be Bryan Fuller, who wrote “Pushing Daisies, “Hannibal,” “Dead Like Me,” and “Wonderfalls.” He has also written for “Voyager” and “Deep Space Nine” so he’s no stranger to the Star Trek franchise.

In a 2013 Den of Geek interview, Fuller said he would love to see Angela Bassett as captain and Rosario Dawson as first officer. How cool would that be? Of course, that was three years ago, and the series has not yet been cast, so I’ll try not to get my hopes up.

The new show is set to premiere in January 2017 on CBS before moving to All Access.

‘Battlestar Galactica’ 

And last, but definitely not least, my fav show ever may be turning into a feature film! Let’s not get too excited – this might be a case of “all of this has happened before and will happen again.” (Yes, that’s a BSG quote.)

The newest news on the matter involves producer Michael DeLuca (“The Social Network”), Bluegrass Films (“Battleship”), and Universal Pictures. Nothing else has been announced thus far, but stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted.