Sci-fi TV: Disney+ updates and ‘Travelers’ wrap-up

If you haven’t gotten around to subscribing to Disney+ yet, and watching the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian,” what are you waiting for? It’s so cool! Baby Yoda! I mean, um “The Child.” He (she??) is so cute!

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My other favorite character in this series is Cara Dune, a bad-ass mercenary played by Gina Carano. I love that they chose a former mixed martial artist for this part, instead of a skinny supermodel. Carano looks tough because she is tough. She’s also a great actress.

“The Mandalorian” will be back with Season 2 in October. It has also been reported that Disney+ is planning at least two more “Star Wars” spinoffs, with Ewan McGregor in an Obi-Wan Kenobi series, and Diego Luna reprising his role as Cassian Andor, in a “Rogue One” series. I’ll keep you posted when I have premiere dates on those shows.

PRI_80590434Coming to Disney+ this year is “WandaVision.” Remember Scarlet Witch from the “Avengers” movies? Her real name is Wanda Maximoff, and her boyfriend is that red guy – an android named Vision. He was created in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” after Tony and Bruce uploaded J.A.R.V.I.S. into a vibranium body powered by the Mind Stone.

You may remember that Vision died in “Avengers: Infinity War” – twice. So I guess they’ll have to power him back up again for this new series, which will premiere in December. It will be six episodes, to be released weekly. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany will reprise their roles.

There are more “Avengers” spinoff series in the works as well: “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” will be on Disney+ in August, and there’s also a “Loki” series coming up. Tom Hiddleston will reprise his role (yay!) but we have to wait till 2021 (boo!). Also expected in 2021 are the Marvel series “What If…” and “Hawkeye.”

“Moon Knight,” “She-Hulk,” and “Ms. Marvel” are in development, but dates for those series have not yet been announced.

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‘Travelers’

I finally got around to finishing the series “Travelers,” the Canadian-American sci-fi series that began in 2016. I got sidetracked and didn’t finish seasons 2 and 3 until this month, and I binge-watched it; it’s a very addictive show, and I got caught up in all the time-traveling craziness. There’s so much going on that I could probably watch the entire series all over again and pick up puzzle pieces that I missed the first time around.

“Travelers” requires you to suspend your belief in logic, otherwise you will get a headache trying to make sense of it, but that’s more or less true of every time-travel story. The gist is this: Hundreds of years in the future, humans develop advanced technology and are able to send people’s consciousnesses back to the 21st century – into the bodies of people who are about to die. These “travelers” are given missions that will prevent catastrophic events that make the world worse for its future inhabitants.

Photo: Jeff WeddellI love that there’s a suspenseful, unpredictable story here, but also some really compelling characters. Eric McCormack (from “Will & Grace) is great as the team’s leader, and there is some great acting across the board, with an ensemble cast that includes Jared Abrahamson as an elderly engineer in the body of a high school kid; Reilly Dolman as the team’s historian, whose 21st century body is addicted to heroin; Nesta Cooper, the team’s tactician, who assumes the life of a young mom; and MacKenzie Porter, the team’s medic.

Travelers must continue to live their hosts’ lives whenever they are not on a mission, and it’s just as interesting to see them navigate life in the 21st century as it is to to see them saving the world. I’m bummed that we only got three seasons of this show (and it would have made my best-of-the-decade list if I’d finished it before now), but at least we got an epic and (mostly) satisfying finale. You can watch all three seasons on Netflix.  I’m excited to see what the series’ creator, Brad Wright (who also did the “Stargate” series), does next.

Credits: “The Mandalorian,” Disney Media Distribution; “Avengers: Endgame,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Travelers,” Netflix.

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Top 10 TV and streaming series of the last 10 years

In the last couple weeks, I’ve reviewed my favorite sci-fi and fantasy books and movies. Today’s list concludes my best-of-the-decade series. Here are my top 10 favorite TV series that were available on TV and streaming from 2010 to 2019:

1. “The Expanse” (Amazon Prime) is my current favorite TV show, despite its somewhat slow first season. If you stick with it, you will be rewarded. There’s all sorts of stuff going on here: drama, mystery, political intrigue, and outer space adventure. Every season is better than the last. It started out on Syfy, but you can now find it at its new home on Amazon.

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Jaime Lannister (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) knights Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) on “Game of Thrones” (HBO).

2. “Game of Thrones.” During its eight-year run, HBO’s epic adaptation of the George R.R. Martin series was not only the best fantasy series on television, but the most compelling thing to watch, period – until the writers ruined it with the last few episodes. Let’s just pretend it ended with its last good episode: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”

3. “Orphan Black.” Like “Game of Thrones,” the last season of “Orphan Black” was not great. But I really enjoyed this series for most of its five-season run. Tatiana Maslany played several identical clones who are nothing alike, and she’s such a great actress I kept forgetting that she is just one person. My favorite “sestra” was Helena, and I dressed as her for Halloween a few years ago.

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Elisabeth Shue and Antony Starr in “The Boys” (Amazon Prime).

4. “The Boys” (Amazon Prime). I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did, mostly because its premise – superheroes who act like villains – sounded like a rip-off of “Watchmen.” (And like “Watchmen,” it’s adapted from a comic book series.) It turns out the titular charcters aren’t the  flashy superheroes, but the vigilantes who are trying to take them down. My only beef is that it’s occasionally a little too graphic for my taste, but that seems to be de rigueur for R-rated and MA-rated series lately.

5. “Mr. Robot.” The USA Network’s hacker thriller starring Rami Malek and Christian Slater also at first glance seemed like a rip-off; it had a lot of similarities to “Fight Club.” But it was suspenseful and unpredictable, and Rami Malek is such an amazing actor that you can’t help but want to keep watching and see what happens next.

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Winona Ryder plays Joyce Byers on “Stranger Things” (Netflix).

6. “Stranger Things” (Netflix). I am not typically a fan of horror, so the fact that this made my list is a testament to how cool it is. It’s set in the ’80s, and is an homage to so many films from that decade. The show also has some actors who were popular in the ’80s: Winona Ryder, Sean Astin, Matthew Modine, Cary Elwes, and Paul Reiser have been in at least one season of “Stranger Things.”

7. “The Witcher” (Netflix). Like the aforementioned series “The Boys,” this show has only been on for one season. But what I’ve seen so far, I like. This was a book series and a videogame first, but I’m not familiar with either, so the medieval fantasy world of Geralt of Rivia was all new to me. The series follows the life and times of a witcher (a monster hunter, played by Henry Cavill), a sorceress, and a princess, whose fates are intertwined.

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Robert Sheehan is Klaus Hargreeves in Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy.” Klaus can talk with the dead.

8. “The Umbrella Academy” (Netflix). Another comic book adaptation, this Netflix series hooked me from the first episode, in which 43 women spontaneously give birth, despite showing no signs of pregnancy. An eccentric billionaire finds and adopts seven of the babies, and raises them as a team of superheroes. But Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters it’s not. The children, now grown, have all sorts of dysfunction, stemming not only from their unique and varied powers, but their strange upbringing. I can’t wait to see what happens in Season 2.

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“The Child” is one of the (cutest) characters on “The Mandalorian,” on Disney+.

9. “The Mandalorian” (Disney+) is a welcome return to early-era Star Wars. It’s set a few years after the events of “Return of the Jedi” and follows the adventures of a Mandalorian bounty hunter. The series was created by Jon Favreau. Not only does it have an adorable “baby Yoda” but great guest stars like Amy Sedaris.

10. “Russian Doll” (Netflix). The always entertaining Natasha Lyonne is a wisecracking videogame developer caught in a time loop. As she re-lives the same day over and over in Groundhog Day-esque fashion, she discovers she’s not the only one stuck in the loop. It’s an entrancing and binge-inducing trip down a rabbit hole.

(Featured photo: “The Expanse,” Amazon Prime.) thumbnail_2019-09-16 20.23.12

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Superhero movies ruled in the last decade; here are the best

As I mentioned last time, I separated my top 10 sci-fi and fantasy films of the decade from my fave superhero movies. Here are my picks:

1. “Wonder Woman,” 2017. This is my favorite film of the decade, period. I still haven’t gotten tired of watching it. I loved Wonder Woman when I was a kid, and Gal Gadot lives up to her character’s moniker. She really is a wonder, and I love just about everything about this movie: Diana growing up on Themyscira with the bad-ass Amazonian warriors, Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, and the way the movie captured the rallying cry of feminist power. I love the song Sia did for this movie. I love the film’s heart and humor and all-around awesomeness. 

guardians_of_the_galaxy_vol_two_xlg2. “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” 2017. This movie (along with the first one) is another one that I’ve watched multiple times. I fell in love with this zany intergalactic superhero team and I can’t get enough of them. I love the characters, the music, the humor, and all of their crazy outer space adventures. They’re my favorite superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

3. “Deadpool 2,” 2018. Ryan Reynolds is perfect as the wisecracking mutant. Deadpool isn’t a typical comic book hero; he knows he’s in a superhero movie. He knows all the tropes and clichés and he “breaks the fourth wall.” Both Deadpool movies manage to be raunchy and hilarious while also being touching and sweet.

4. “Doctor Strange,” 2016. I don’t know what I was expecting when I first saw this movie, but it wasn’t this. I didn’t expect to love every minute of this trippy origin story, with Benedict Cumberbatch as an arrogant surgeon turned sorcerer and Tilda Swinton as a bald and ancient mystic. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, and Rachel McAdams also star.

captain_marvel_poster_16885. “Captain Marvel” (2019) is the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and the first female-led film in the MCU. Crazy, right? There were a lot of other things to love about this movie too: Brie Larson was great as the title character; we got to see a lot of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson); and it gets extra points for having a cat – I mean a flerken – in the cast. I also loved that it was set in the ’90s.

6. “Black Panther” (2018). The title character, aka King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), is the leader of Wakanda, an African nation which is every bit as fascinating as the superhero himself. His little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is the Tony Stark-like genius behind T’Challa’s suits/gadgets. And as awesome as Black Panther is, it’s the women I admired most in this film. I hope to see Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia in future films.

7. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) is my favorite X-Men movie. Logan (Hugh Jackman) goes back to 1973 to – what else? Save the world. This could get old, but it doesn’t. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as young Professor X and Magneto are soooo great, and the cast also includes Jennifer Lawrence and Peter Dinklage. But arguably the best part of this movie is the prison break scene in which Quicksilver (Evan Peters) dashes around to the tune of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” moving bullets out of the way and giving cops wedgies.

Spider-Man-Into-the-Spider-Verse-2018-movie-poster8. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) won several awards, and in my opinion, it’s the best Spider-Man film yet. It’s not about Peter Parker this time, but Miles Morales, a teenager who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and discovers there can be more than one Spider-Man. It aims to look like it’s been torn from the pages of a comic book, and it does. The computer animation is awesome, and the script is fresh and funny.

9. “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018). This is my fave Avengers film. It was great to see the Avengers and the characters from the other Marvel movies interacting with each other. The ensemble cast was the best part of this movie, but it was also more engaging than previous installments because it was a better story.

10. “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017). Chris Hemworth and Tom Hiddleston are back as Thor and Loki in this sequel, in which Thor must save Asgard from his evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett). Directed by Taika Waititi, the film is as much a comedy as it is an action movie, which is exactly how I like my superhero movies. It’s a fun film.

That concludes Part 2 of my favorite movies of the decade! Next up is my top 10 favorite TV series. Stay tuned!

(Photo at top: Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman,” Warner Bros. Pictures.) thumbnail_2019-09-16 20.23.12

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My 10 favorite sci-fi and fantasy films, 2010-2019

I tried to mash all of my favorite sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero movies into one top 10 list, but alas, it didn’t work. There were just so many great films in the past 10 years, I had to make a separate list for my 10 favorite superhero movies. I’ll post that soon. For now, here are my favorite non-superhero movies of the decade. I’m not going by Rotten Tomatoes or Oscar noms or box office numbers; these are my personal favorites.

1. “The Shape of Water” (2017) is a movie about a cleaning lady who falls in love with the creature from the black lagoon, and it won an Oscar for best picture, which would sound unbelievable if you didn’t know who made it; Guillermo del Toro is known for making films that are works of art. Like all good sci-fi, it asks the big questions. How do we treat “the Other” in our society, whether the Other is a sea creature, a mute woman, a gay man? 

2. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015). The final trilogy in the Skywalker saga recently ended, but this is where it started. The highly anticipated “Force Awakens” introduced us to new characters and reacquainted us with old favorites. You can check out the review I did with my friend and fellow blogger Lavender (nomansland.blog) here: ‘The Force’ awakens two Star Wars fans’ inner Siskel & Ebert

Interstellar_023. “Interstellar” (2014) is an epic outer space drama directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan. Matt McConaughey leads a team of astronauts who travel through a wormhole to search for a new planet after Earth’s resources have been depleted. The movie is almost three hours long, but I was so absorbed in the movie, I didn’t notice.

4. “Inception” (2010) is one of those trippy, mind-bending movies like the one I was just talking about – “Interstellar.” This one was also written and directed by Christopher Nolan, so I guess that’s no coincidence. Instead of going into space, though, the characters in this film go into people’s minds. Leonardo DiCaprio is an “extractor,” a thief who steals info by infiltrating the subconscious. He is offered the chance to have his criminal record expunged if he can do the opposite: implant an idea into a person’s subconscious. What’s real? What’s not? It can get confusing if you’re not paying attention.

5. “Hunger Games,” 2012. A friend of mine convinced me to read the books not longpora6w964o9iq before the first movie was released. I really liked the books, so I had high hopes for the film, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I contracted “Hunger Games” fever and saw it in the theater twice. The first film was the best of the bunch. Jennifer Lawrence was a perfect Katniss Everdeen.

6. “Elysium,” 2013. Matt Damon stars in Neill Blomkamp’s futuristic morality play, in which Damon’s character attempts to reach a Med-Bay on the luxury space habitat Elysium after being poisoned by radiation on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Even if Blomkamp is a bit heavy-handed with his symbolism, I love his movies. I also love Matt Damon, so this one is a win-win.

7. “Never Let Me Go” (2010). Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley star in the heartbreaking film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s heartbreaking novel in which clones are raised to have their organs harvested. Pass the tissues please.

8. “Gravity” (2013). There has been some discussion about whether this is science fiction. Wikipedia calls it a “science fiction thriller,” so I’m including it. Watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney float around in space may sound boring, but it’s actually a suspenseful, inspiring story, and I loved it. “Gravity” was written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who also wrote another one of my favorite movies, the dystopian “Children of Men.” Cuarón is another filmmaker, like del Toro, who doesn’t just “make movies” – this film is a masterpiece.

9. “Okja” (2017). This Netflix film by Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite,” “Snowpiercer”) is one of those movies where you’re constantly thinking, “What the … ?” Bong sort of reminds me of Yorgos Lanthimos in this way. Is it weird that I still loved it? Maybe I’m biased because I’m a vegetarian; it’s about a giant, genetically engineered “super pig.” Tilda Swinton plays the eccentric CEO of a big corporation and Paul Dano plays a member of the Animal Liberation Front. Check it out, but don’t blame me if you never want to eat pork again.

Alicia-Vikander-Ex-Machina-FilmFad.com_-110. “Ex Machina” (2014). Alex Garland also did the movie “Annihilation,” but I prefer this more subtle, less creepy film. A programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to his CEO’s (Oscar Isaac) secluded home, and meets an intelligent humanoid robot (Alicia Vikander).  I’ve noticed a lot of futuristic films fall into one of two camps: One vision of the future is an AI takeover. The other suggests we are headed for the apocalypse. I’m fine with either – fictionally speaking – as long as it’s a good story. Like many robot flicks, “Ex Machina” asks the question: What makes us human?

On that note, I leave you. But I’ll be back soon with my Top 10 superhero films of the decade.

Credits: “The Shape of Water,” Fox Searchlight Pictures; “Interstellar,” Paramount Pictures; “Hunger Games,” Lionsgate Films; “Ex Machina,” A24. 

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My top 10 favorite sci-fi & fantasy books of the decade

I’ve been so busy getting caught up on all my TV viewing (see my two previous blog posts) that I haven’t really had time to get started on my decade faves, but better late than never, I always say! Here are my top 10 favorite books of the decade. (I will post my favorite movie and TV series lists soon.)

51-qQ2TbIPL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_1. “Station Eleven,”  the award-winning, post-apocalyptic novel by Emily St. John Mandel, made me feel grateful for everything I have, in a “well-at-least-everyone-I-love-hasn’t-been-killed-by-a-superbug-and-everything-hasn’t-turned-to-complete-shit” sort of way. It’s reportedly being adapted for TV, as a 10-episode miniseries on HBO Max, and will star Mackenzie Davis and Hamish Patel. You can read my review of the novel here: Award winner ‘Station Eleven’ is a haunting, addictive novel

ready-player-one-book-cover2. Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One,” the novel on which the 2018 film is based, is about a teenage gamer named Wade who escapes from his crappy reality by pluggging into an online, virtual reality where anything is possible. He enters a 1980s themed contest, so as you can imagine, there are tons of fun ’80s pop culture references.

3. “All the Birds in the Sky,” by Charlie Jane Anders, is the Printstory of a girl named Patricia who discovers she can understand what the birds are saying. As someone who’s always wanted to talk to animals, the premise sucked me into this apocalyptic adventure that blends magic and technology when Patricia becomes friends with a computer genius kid named Lawrence. I also enjoyed Anders’ book of short stories, and her other novel, “The City in the Middle of the Night,” which has been optioned for series development by Sony Pictures Television.  

250px-Saga1coverByFionaStaples4. “Saga,” written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, is the best comic book series in the past 10 years, and I’m guessing it made lots of people’s best-of lists. Its central characters are Marko and Alana, lovers from warring planets, and their daughter, Hazel. The family is chased across the galaxy by an assassin whose sidekick is a giant, hairless, lie-detecting cat; a TV-faced robot prince; and Marko’s ex-girlfriend. See my review of the comic here: ‘Saga’ leaves you wanting more but you’ll have to wait

5. “Circe,” by Madeline Miller, was a treat for me because I largeenjoyed reading “The Odyssey” in college, so I was familiar with a lot of the characters already, but you don’t need to have any prior knowledge of Odysseus, or even Greek mythology, in order to enjoy the book. You might want to know that it reminds me of Maleficent in that it’s told from the villain’s side of the story. Circe is a sorceress who turns men into pigs in “The Odyssey,” but here, we find out why. I loved it and I’m hoping it will be adapted to the big screen.

image16. “Monstress,” a comic by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda,  was introduced to me recently by a family member so I’m not even caught up yet, but what I’ve read so far, I love. And it’s adorable; it’s about a teenage girl who is possessed by a demon. Oh wait, that’s not the part that’s cute – it also has a little girl and a talking cat.

7. “Rat Queens,” a comic by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated by512+UBiq1HL Tess Fowler (see note below), is a medieval fantasy about four women mercenaries who go on always-exciting (and sometimes raunchy) adventures. By the way, all three of the comic books on this list are published by Image Comics (and also are not for kids).

8. “Salt Slow” is a collection of feminist fairy tales and ghost stories by Julia Armfield. The characters evoke the spirits of old-fashioned monsters from Greek mythology, Grimm’s fairy tales, and classic horror movies, but with an original and modern twist.

9781476733951_custom-77e5513ca3d99086fbaa65d783932017b7a41600-s6-c309. “Wool,” by Hugh Howey, is the first book of “Silo,” a post-apocalyptic series. It takes place in the Silo, a city that goes 144 stories under the surface of the Earth. The series is reportedly being adapted to telesvision, as is another of Howey’s series, “Beacon 23.”

10. “How to Stop Time,” by Matt Haig, is a sort of time-traveling tale, but our protagonist is not using a time machine – heimg_0276 (1) is 400 years old. His body ages more slowly than the rest of us so he only looks like he’s in his 40s. I know, you’re wondering if they are making this into a film and the answer is yes! It has been reported that Benedict Cumberbatch will play the main character.

Note: Ryan Ferrier took over “Rat Queens” in 2019, and Priscilla Petraites is now the artist. Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic, and Owen Gieni have also illustrated the series.

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Toss a coin to ‘The Witcher’ – it’s a valley of plenty

Catchy tune aside, Netflix’s new series “The Witcher” is plenty. Plenty of what, you ask? Well, it’s fantasy and horror and comedy and romance and just really binge-worthy and fun.

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“The Witcher” reminds me of Terry Gilliam’s 2005 film “The Brothers Grimm,” starring Heath Ledger and Matt Damon.

It’s one part “Game of Thrones,” one part “Brothers Grimm” (great film with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger), with just a slice of “Xena: The Warrior Princess”-flavored cheese. But calling it cheesy is selling it short, because it’s also funny, thrilling, and addictive.

A lot of people know the characters from the video game, but it was a book series first (a cult favorite in Poland), and despite the fact that I just said it reminds me of three other things, it still feels fresh and clever.

The series follows three stories; the main story of course is about Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher, played by the swoon-worthy Henry Cavill (Superman!) in a silver wig. The other two characters are a powerful mage named Yennefer, played by Anya Chalotra, and Princess Cirilla (Freya Allan).

The “Continent” where the series takes place is a mythical, medieval world similar to Westeros or Middle Earth. There are sorcerers and magic – and monsters. A witcher’s job is to kill monsters and Geralt is a total bad-ass when it comes to killing monsters. There are lots of cool fight scenes. And did I already mention Geralt is really hot?

(Warning: Spoilers below.)

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Henry Cavill is Geralt of Rivia, aka “The Witcher.”

There’s a lot to like about this character. The “white wolf,” as he is sometimes called, is a man of few words, but when he does speak, it’s in a sexy growl. And you’ve got to love a guy who defends the honor of dragons and persecuted women.

But there are lots of ladies on the Continent who aren’t damsels in distress, thank you very much. The bad-ass ladies of “The Witcher” make the series that much better.

Netflix just released an official timeline of the first season of “The Witcher.” Maybe it’s just me but doesn’t that spoil the fun of figuring it out on your own? Realizing that we were watching three different time periods was a good twist. I admit it was a little confusing, but wasn’t that sort of the point?

Maybe they assume that everyone who was going to watch it has already done so. If you haven’t watched it yet, I recommend you check it out. Just don’t blame me if the bard’s song gets stuck in your head.

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Iron Man, um I mean Robert Downey Jr., will star as the doc who can talk to animals, in “Dolittle,” on Jan. 17.

I guess I’m going to have to suck it up and subscribe to yet another streaming service when “Star Trek: Picard” is released on Jan. 23.

“The New Mutants,” based on the Marvel Comics team, will be out April 3.

The Avengers’ “Black Widow,” Scarlett Johansson, gets her own film on May 1.

The movie I’m most excited for in 2020 is “Wonder Woman 1984.” It will be out June 5.

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Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman 1984.”

The Marvel film “The Eternals,” starring Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjani, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Don Lee, Barry Keoghan, Gemma Chan, and Kit Harington, will be released Nov. 6.

Sequels to “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Deadpool” are in the works, and lots of new shows are coming to TV and streaming services this year as well – too many to name but including “Devs,” “Y: The Last Man,” “Space Force,” “Snowpiercer,” and “WandaVision.” Returning series include “The Boys,” “Stranger Things,” “The Orville,” “Westworld,” and “The Mandalorian.”

Release dates subject to change. 

Credits: “The Witcher,”Netflix;”The Brothers Grimm,” Dimension Films; “Wonder Woman 1984,” Warner Bros. Pictures; “The Boys,” Amazon Prime.

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Binge-watch: 4th seasons of ‘Mr. Robot’ & ‘The Expanse’

“The Expanse” is finally back. Season Four was worth the wait. The suspenseful sci-fi series started out on the Syfy channel, and now it lives on Amazon Prime, where the fourth season was just released Dec. 12.

The first three seasons take place across our own now-colonized solar system: Earth, Luna (our moon), and Mars; and on various spaceraft and asteroids (asteroid belt natives are referred to as Belters).

Season Four takes us to a new planet – called Ilus by the Belters, and New Terra by Earthers. There are four main storylines going on, and they’re all equally fraught with tension:  On Earth, Avasarala is campaigning to keep her seat as UN Secretary General; the Belters are dealing with a pirate who stole a UNN colony ship; on Mars, Bobbie Draper reluctantly becomes involved in some shady gangster dealings; and the crew of the Rocinante is sent to the new planet to see if there’s any alien Protomolecule there, or any other potential dangers.

Of course, these storylines all eventually tie together, and in unexpected ways. There are also some new characters who add a new dynamic to the series. Every season of “The Expanse” is better than the last, and if this trend continues, Season 5 should be even better. Can’t wait!

Mr. Robot

This last season of the mind-bending hacker drama “Mr. Robot” was also its fourth, but unlike “The Expanse,” this was the series’ last. I have mixed feelings about the last season. Some of the episodes were every bit as brilliant as those in previous seasons, but some were uncomfortable to watch, and some were confusing.

One of the best episodes of the season had Elliot and Darlene infiltrating a company that keeps the servers for the bank they’re trying to hack. The episode contains almost no dialogue, and I was biting my nails the whole time.

Honestly, this whole season had me on the edge of my seat, even when I was squirming or scratching my head. My main complaint is that it makes me nervous when someone is trapped or held against their will, but that’s my personal issue. I guess it’s a testament to the realism of the show that some of the episodes gave me anxiety. It is a thriller after all.

The finale had an unexpected twist, but I didn’t love it. It felt somewhat anticlimactic to me. I wanted more from the Whiterose story after it had been built up for so long.

Overall, though, it was as binge-able as “The Expanse.” The plot was unpredictable and exciting, the diversity of the cast was refreshing, and I love the characters. I hope to see these actors in more projects soon.  I also am interested in seeing what Sam Esmail, the show’s creator, does next.

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Credits: “Mr. Robot,” NBC Universal Television Distribution; “The Expanse,” Legendary Television Distribution.thumbnail_2019-09-16 20.23.12

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‘I am woman, hear me roar!’ New tales of monstrous women to read and watch

original_400_600I was at the library for “Monstress” (more on that later) when I picked up Julia Armfield’s book, “Salt Slow,” on impulse. I had never heard of the author (it’s her first book), and I was pleasantly surprised to discover it’s a collection of feminist fairy tales and ghost stories!

Armfield’s characters are not what they seem; they subtly become sinister, evoking the spirits of old-fashioned monsters from Greek mythology, Grimm’s fairy tales, and classic horror movies, but with an original and modern twist.

A wolf dressed in a pinafore calls to mind an image of the Big Bad Wolf in Grandmother’s nightgown. A woman is visited by her undead lover. City dwellers become a population of insomniacs when they’re separated from their “Sleeps” – wraith-like creatures who take on lives of their own.

Because short stories aren’t usually my thing, they have to be special to be worth my time, and these qualify. One benefit of the medium is that you can enjoy the book in bite-sized pieces, saving the rest of the package for later, instead of finishing it all at once. I savored the stories of “Salt Slow,” and look forward to reading more of her work.

Monstress

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I’m late to this party, but that just means I don’t have to wait for the next installment of this awesome comic, set in a matriarchal world of sorceresses and magical creatures. The title character is Maika Halfwolf, a teenager who is bonded to/possessed by a powerful demon.

monstress-volume-4Maika embarks on a journey of discovery and revenge, and … well, I’m only on Vol. 2 but I like the story so far and will report back when I’m all caught up! I’m trying not to rush through the series.

Written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda, “Monstress” is published by Image Comics, which also publishes two of my other favorite comics, “Rat Queens” and “Saga.” 

Like “Saga,” “Monstress” deals with the big stuff: racism, war, etc. The comic has won several Eisner and Hugo awards, which is not surprising: It has a fresh, original (and grisly) story, and beautiful art.

Volume Four, which collects issues 19 through 24, was published in September.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

“Maleficent,” released in 2014, was a remake of “Sleeping Beauty,” told from the villain’s side of the story. It was clever and beautiful and I loved it. So I ignored the sequel’s score on Rotten Tomatoes, and I’m glad I did.

The new movie is – like the first one – a visual masterpiece, which makes up for the fact that the story is not quite as good as the first.

Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning reprise their roles as Maleficent and Aurora. The sequel picks up a few years after the events of the first film.

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Maleficent is once again maligned/feared/hated, all the old rumors swirling, but this time in the neighboring kingdom of Ulstead, the home of Prince Phllip. Phillip’s mother, the queen, is played by Michelle Pfeiffer.

Phillip has been recast but is about the same level of interesting as the prince from the original. The women are the MVPs here, but I do love Diaval, the loyal man/raven played by Sam Riley in both films. (Perhaps he is the ideal man – one who can be controlled with a snap of one’s fingers!)

There were mixed reviews even among my own party, so I guess this film isn’t for everyone. Maybe you have to be in the right mood, and I was in it. If you could use a dose of girl power, take your daughter, your niece, or your besties, and go see it.

Credits: “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” and “Maleficent,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Salt Slow,” Julia Armfield, Flatiron Books, October 2019; “Monstress,” Image Comics. 

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Anders’ novel optioned for series; plus news & reviews

In cool sci-fi news: I recently read that open-uri20190219-15-r061tbSony Pictures Television has optioned Charlie Jane Anders’ book, “The City in the Middle of the Night,” for series development, with Sharon Hall, who is also an executive producer on “The Expanse.”

I’m super excited about this because Charlie Jane Anders is awesome, and because I love “The Expanse,” so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the adaptation is as cool as the novel, which is set in the future, on the tidally locked planet of January. Because one side is always facing the sun (like our moon), one side of the planet is always dark and cold, and the other is always light and hot. The inhabitants (descendants of humans who fled Earth) live in the strip of dusk between the light and dark sides of the planet.

The main character, Sophie, lives in Xiosphant, an authoritarian city with mandated sleeping hours and curfews. When she gets in trouble with the law, she is thrown into the dark and cold night, and left for dead. But she survives, and is changed by her experience.  There is a lot of crazy stuff going on; I couldn’t put it down. If you like dystopian sci-fi, check it out.

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Charlie Jane Anders

I also read and loved Anders’ other works, her novel “All the Birds in the Sky,” and her short story collection “Six Months, Three Days, Five Others.” You can read my review here:

https://earthtoshawna.com/2018/12/21/short-and-sweet-anders-six-months-and-saunders-fox-8/

No word yet on when we will see the new series. In the meantime, Anders is working on the adaptation of one of my favorite comics, Brian K. Vaughan’s “Y: The Last Man.”

The Vertigo comic centers on Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand. A plague has wiped out every other male mammal, and as far as Yorick knows, he’s the last man on Earth. The series is expected to premiere on FX next year.

Carnival Row

Oh “Carnival Row,” I had such high hopes for you! The Amazon Prime series is about fairies and other mythological creatures forced to flee their homelands to (some version of) Victorian-era London.

I do love cutie pie Orlando Bloom but watching him in his role as a detective is about as thrilling as watching paint dry, and he doesn’t have much chemistry with his love interest, played by Cara Delevingne as adorable fairy Vignette. I’m not sure who was in charge of casting but I suspect the series would be more steamy if they’d found a couple with a little more heat between them. (Is it just me?)

Vignette and Philo phone in the fairy romance on “Carnival Row.”

Don’t get me wrong; I did enjoy the premise of the show (despite the fact that it seems to have stolen Saga’s horns and wings) and it held my interest enough that I wanted to keep watching. There is a lot of mystery, political intrigue and multiple subplots, some of which are really interesting and others which are sort of meh. The big finale was not super satisfying but it seems to have set up a potentially better storyline for Season 2, so I’m still in. 

 The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE

The 1982 film charmed and terrified me when it came out in theaters. (I was 7.) The Netflix prequel series is also charming – and very dark. I guess Netflix is banking on nostalgia. The comical yet smarmy pleading of the chamberlain is here, as is the adorable dog-like creature (known as Fizzgig in the original). I like the Gelfling and Podling puppets. The new series is appealing for those of us who miss Jim Henson’s lovable Muppets.

It’s as true to the original as any  ’80s kid could want, but there’s a lot of emphasis on the “dark” in Dark Crystal. I’m sure this would be hard to avoid in any prequel series, though, as we know from the film that Jen and Kira were the last of their kind – and we know why.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is a little disheartened by the creepiness and oppressive nature of the series. But I am trying to hang in there; I’m only a few episodes in, and I’m reserving final judgment until I’ve seen all 10. Stay tuned.

“Do you think I look Skeksi?”

The Boys

I wasn’t expecting to be so blown away by this Amazon Prime series, based on a comic book. For starters, the story – superheroes as villains – has been done before, in “Watchmen.” But “The Boys” is different enough that it still seems original, and I loved it. It’s (very) grisly, but it’s a binge-worthy thrill ride.

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Jack Quaid and Karl Urban are Hughie Campbell and Billy Butcher, two of the titular “boys,” enemies of the superheroes who turn out to not be so super.

mark-your-calendar-clipart-48 “Ad Astra” opens this weekend. Brad Pitt plays an astronaut who searches for his father in the outer edges of the solar system.

The TV series “Mr. Robot” will return for its fourth and final season on Oct. 6 (USA Network).

“Gemini Man” comes out Oct. 11. Will Smith plays an assassin who is forced to fight a younger clone of himself.

Two sequels will be released Oct. 18: “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” and “Zombieland: Double Tap.”

The new season of the sci-fi series “The Expanse” will air on Amazon Prime on Dec. 13.

And last but not least: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” will be in theaters on Dec. 20.

Credits: “The City in the Middle of the Night,” by Charlie Jane Anders, Tor Books; “Carnival Row,” Amazon Prime, “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance,” Netflix; “The Boys,” Amazon Prime.

 

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