Marvel’s long-awaited ‘Black Widow’ is intense, entertaining

At last, “Black Widow,” the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has come to theaters and streaming. People either love it or hate it, based on reviews and social media comments I’ve seen so far.

With Black Widow, we seem to have reached a weird place in the franchise: There seems to be a higher expectation for this movie than for previous Marvel films. I want to say it’s because its release was delayed so long, or because of the events of “Endgame,” because we are expecting a changing of the guard. Unfortunately, I suspect most of the criticism lies with the gender of its superhero. Some people are trashing on it – perhaps without even realizing it – simply because the main character is a woman.

Granted, it has some silly and unrealistic moments, but what Marvel film doesn’t? Even “Guardians of the Galaxy” (which is perfect in almost every way!) has a few ridiculous, over-the-top characters (hello Ronan the Accuser) that are too cartoony even for a comic book movie.

Even though “Captain Marvel” (and “Wonder Woman”) have proven that female superhero movies can be successful, there still seems to be a higher bar. Maybe because I am a woman, I loved “Black Widow” and didn’t expect the plot to surpass that of other Marvel entries in order for it to be deemed acceptable. Was it perfect? No. But it was entertaining, intense, unpredictable, funny, and moving.

(The remainder of this post contains SPOILERS! Continue reading at your own risk!)

One social media comment I read said the movie sucked because of the “Scooby Doo” masks, a criticism which doesn’t really make sense to me, considering that the mask tech used in “Black Widow” was used in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and I don’t recall anyone throwing that baby out with the bathwater.

Anyway.

The film begins with a seemingly happy (and seemingly American) family: a mom and dad and their young daughters, one of which is the title character. We quickly find that all is not as it seems. The parents are Russian spies and the children aren’t theirs – they belong to the “Red Room,” Soviet villain Dreykov’s training ground for his “widows” – young girls who are brainwashed and trained to be assassins.

A nightmarish montage of images of traumatized little girls, interspersed with cartoons and news clippings, is accompanied by a slow cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” We already know that Natasha has been sterilized, and we’ve seen flashbacks of her upbringing, so we can imagine what is happening to these children, which somehow makes it creepier than if they’d shown us.

The film then jumps around a bit from past to present – well, not present, but a time after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” and also takes us all over the world. It’s a bit jarring and difficult to keep up at first, but the story hits its stride after taking us on a chase that lasts only a little bit too long (but it’s a spy movie so I’ll allow it), and we get to see the connection between the two “sisters,” now grown and kicking butt.

One of the funniest scenes is when Yelena makes fun of Natasha’s poses – the sexy superhero landing and hair flip we’ve all seen many times. Florence Pugh is a talented actress, and is great in this role. The movie only gets better when Russian spy dad Alexei, aka Red Guardian, comes back into the picture. The casting for the role of Alexei is one of those choices that can make or break a character, and luckily for us, fan fave David Harbour from “Stranger Things” was perfect. And of course, award-winning actress Rachel Weisz is always wonderful.

Like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the witty dialogue and the theme of family are the film’s strong suits and are more meaningful than any stunts and special effects, and make up for the somewhat absurd plot: Good guys fight henchmen (or henchwomen) for a substance (or in the case of “Guardians,” an Infinity stone), in attempt to render madman villain powerless.

These movies are at their best when they are packing an emotional punch. Yelena telling her long-ago “family” how she feels about them was heart-wrenching, and I teared up when she and Alexei sang “American Pie,” a favorite song from her childhood (even if a bit heavy-handed in its symbolism).

One of the relationships in the film, between Natasha and her “fixer” Rick Mason, failed to launch. Mason’s portrayer, O-T Fagbenle, explained in an interview that there was originally a more intimate scene between them, in which, he says, “Scarlett and I lay down in bed together. We had quite an intimate conversation, but they cut it from the movie.”

He doesn’t say why it was cut, and it could be any number of reasons, but I think they were worried it would tarnish Natasha’s reputation. I can’t imagine they were trying to keep it kid-friendly, considering some of the other scenes. (It is rated PG-13.)

To be fair, the MCU isn’t exactly bursting with romance. There are very few kisses in the entire franchise. But almost every male character has had a girlfriend or wife. I know Natasha can’t have kids, but she could still have a man, if she wanted one, and if the writers would let her have one. Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, didn’t get a love interest either.

I think when the director is a woman, there’s an attempt to make the female superhero less of a sex symbol, less objectified, which is great; she’s a strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man? Or was it more “we don’t want her in bed with a man because that makes her seem slutty”?

Wanda and Vision are allowed to kiss – they are MARRIED. Also he is a robot.

I guess it’s OK for a woman superhero to have a boyfriend if he’s not really a boy but actually a robot. (If your boyfriend is a Hulk, it’s probably not going to work out.)

It’s possible director Cate Shortland cut the scene simply because she didn’t want a love story competing with the main plot and I can respect that, even if (or especially if?) the main plot involves treating women like objects.

I’m not sure why I’m hung up on this cut scene. Maybe because it would have been nice for Natasha to have something of her own. As much as I love (and honestly, prefer) Flo and am excited to see her continue Black Widow’s legacy going forward, Natasha seems almost relegated to a supporting player in her own movie.

Although she was never my favorite Avenger (probably because she hasn’t gotten an interesting story until now), I still felt it wasn’t fair for her to be the one sacrificed in “Endgame” since the implication was that since Clint was married and had kids and she didn’t, his life was somehow more valuable than hers. I also feel it wasn’t fair that it took this long for her to get her own movie, when most of the other original Avengers have each had three. But it’s here now, so I won’t belabor that point.

The film fits nicely into the MCU, sandwiched between the wars, Civil and Infinity. Fans will enjoy finding the Easter eggs. One of the more meaningful ones is Yelena’s vest that she gives to Natasha. It is this vest we see her wearing in “Infinity War.” Marvel is really great with this sort of attention to continuity and detail; it shows they are always looking ahead, which bodes well for the future of the MCU. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Photos: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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Beat the heat – stay home and watch ‘Loki’ on Disney+

I know I once said superhero movies aren’t my favorite genre and lately my blog is starting to look like a Marvel blog – I guess I’m changing my ways.

One of the most fun things to watch right now is the Loki series on Disney+ and I think it’s safe to say the reason this show is so beloved is due to Loki’s portrayer, Tom Hiddleston. He brings just the right amounts of smarm and charm to the god of mischief.

As if that weren’t enough to draw you in, I give you Exhibit B: Owen Wilson as Mobius. That’s right – two lovable actors for the price of one. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sophia Di Martino are also great.

We’ve only gotten three episodes so far, but we are halfway through the season. So far it’s been quite a ride: The story begins when Loki (in the film “Avengers: Endgame”) steals the Tesseract and disappears, only to be apprehended (in the Disney+ series) by the Time Variance Authority. Similar to the Commission in “The Umbrella Academy” (and other organizations in other sci-fi franchises) the TVA in “Loki” deals with anyone who isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing in the established timeline. But this particular Loki isn’t the only one causing problems. The TVA is looking for another Loki variant and they want this Loki’s help.

So far, I like it more than “WandaVision” and yes, even more than “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” I don’t care that it’s not terribly original. It’s fun and it’s clever and you should watch it.

‘Star Trek: Discovery’

I finished the third season of “Star Trek: Discovery” saying, “Noooo” when I realized I was watching the last episode of the season, which is usually a pretty good indicator that it’s a good show. I can’t wait to watch Season 4, which we’ve been told will begin sometime this year, but I don’t yet know when.

There are certainly things to dislike about this series. Like every Trek series, there are hits and misses, moments of silliness and moments of greatness. Perhaps it’s unfair to say the worst thing about “Discovery” is the fact that you have to pay for YET ANOTHER STREAMING SERVICE in order to watch it.

For the most part, however, I love it. There’s a diverse cast of excellent actors, suspense, and unpredictable story lines. What more do you want from your sci-fi? Cats in space? Done.

‘Black Widow’

At long last we may finally get to see this film that was originally supposed to be released last summer. I’m really excited to see another resurrected Marvel character (see Loki and Vision) in a starring role. I’m even more excited about Florence Pugh joining the MCU. She’s amazing and I’m sure she will rock in this movie, which will be in theaters and on Disney+ (for an additional $30) on July 9.

WitcherCon

Also July 9 is WitcherCon! If you are a hardore Witcher nerd, I mean fan, you may want to check it out. It will be broadcast on YouTube and Twitch. It will air twice, once at 10 a.m. and again at 6 p.m., in case you miss the first one. For more info:

https://www.witchercon.com/en

Fantasy films to watch with the kids

The new Pixar animated coming-of-age film “Luca” is available on Disney+ with no additional cost on top of your subscription. The title character is a fish-person/sea-monster kid who is forbidden to go on land, where humans pose a danger to their kind. Of course his curiosity gets the better of him, and he befriends another kid like him. It was very cute and heartwarming, and the tale is set on the Italian Riviera, which is beautiful even in cartoon.

We waited for “Raya and the Last Dragon” to be “free” on Disney+ and that was a good movie as well. (How do they decide which new releases will be free with a subscription and which ones will cost an extra 30 bucks? Hmm.) In this one, a warrior princess searches for a dragon who can help her fight the evil spirits threatening her kingdom.

“Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” is not yet available to stream, so it marked our first trip to theaters since the quarantine began. It was silly and funny and maybe not quite as good as the first one but close enough. If you enjoyed the antics of the mischievous James-Corden-voiced bun-bun the first time around, you will not be disappointed.

‘The Tomorrow War’

If you like your rats crisp, I mean if you like Crisp Rat, I mean Chris Pratt, check out “The Tomorrow War,” coming to Amazon on Friday. Time travel, blah blah blah. … Aliens, blah blah blah… Did I mention Star-Lord, I mean Chris Pratt, is in it?

Photos: “Loki,” Disney Platform Distribution; “Star Trek; Discovery,” Paramount+; “Black Widow” and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

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Avengers Campus is cool but not 4.5-hour-wait cool

My daughter loves the Marvel movies. She has seen all of them multiple times, and has watched the “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” series multiple times too. When I found out the Avengers Campus at California Adventure would open during Disney’s limited capacity and California resident only rules, I (foolishly) believed it would be a good time to go, before all the crowds show up on June 15. Well, as you can tell by the headline, we had to wait more than four hours in a standby line just to enter the new “land” at California Adventure, and even though it was pretty cool, it was decidedly not worth waiting in line for four and a half hours.

Because we bought park hopper tickets, we left the park to switch over to Disneyland after we were done at Avengers Campus, so we didn’t have time to see anything else at California Adventure. Having bitched about that, I will say that the Avengers Campus was the reason we went to California Adventure, and we got to see what we came to see so I shouldn’t complain. (But that hasn’t ever stopped me before.)

There is another way to get into the Avengers Campus more quickly – be one of the lucky few to acquire boarding passes for the new Spider-Man ride, “Web Slingers.” You can get those boarding passes only through the Disneyland app, and you have to have the “fastest finger” – I logged on and was poised to hit the JOIN button at 7 a.m. and noon (the only times you can get passes) and the slots were full within seconds. So we didn’t get to bypass the line, and of course we didn’t get to try the Web Slingers ride either.

Once we made it in, we got in line for the Campus’ other main attraction, the “Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!” This attraction opened in 2017, replacing the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

Because of social distancing rules, the line was outdoors. I think the coolest part of this ride is actually the “museum” indoors, but we sort of had to run through that part. I took a couple photos; among other artifacts, we recognized the astronaut dog in Tivan’s collection from the film. The ride itself is not a roller coaster – instead, it repeatedly drops you 130 feet at 39 mph. (The GotG ride is the tall building behind the Quinjet in the top photo.)

We were looking forward to having lunch at the Pym Test Kitchen but sadly, the mobile ordering for the new restaurant was unavailable by the time we entered the Campus. (It looked really cool though and I was happy to see a lot of vegetarian selections on their menu.) There is also a bar, a shawarma kiosk, and a dessert kiosk, where my daughter had a green churro – I mean a “Sweet Spiral Ration.” (I have celiac, so no Terran Treats for me, but she said it was good.)

We loved the gift shop next to the Guardians ride. They had some great GotG merch and we did make a few purchases there since the Guardians are our favorite. They even play the GotG soundtracks in there which made it that much more fun.

The other gift shops were just OK – the Spider-Man themed gift shop, Web Suppliers, was very small and only sold Spidey stuff, and there was also a kiosk that sold miscellaneous Avengers stuff. I see a fourth Avengers gift shop listed online but we didn’t see it. (I guess it’s possible that we missed it. Somehow?)

We spent just under two hours inside the campus, and saw several costumed characters but did not stand in line to be photographed with them. (We were done with lines by then.) The characters we saw were Loki, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow, Captain America, Black Panther, Thor, Ant Man and the Wasp, Doctor Strange (more on that in a minute), and three Dora Milaje who put on a show. That was pretty cool.

Spider-Man also does acrobatics on the rooftops (the one that flies through the air is an animatronic Spidey), and there’s a Black Widow and Black Panther stunt show but we didn’t see that. We also did not see the “Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Dance-Off!” I guess the Guardians had the day off when we were there because we didn’t see any.

So there’s another cool area inside the campus called the Ancient Sanctum and I didn’t realize that Doctor Strange would be performing a show there or we would have lingered a bit longer. By the time we caught a glimpse of him, the small area was already packed with people – but they don’t tell you when the next show will be and we didn’t stay long enough to find out.

We went to the park on Monday, June 7, so it’s possible that by the time you read this, they will have a different (hopefully better) method of letting visitors into the campus. I naively assumed we would be able to get in after a short wait even though we didn’t get a boarding pass, because we arrived about an hour early to the park. But a lot of people arrived even earlier. Live and learn.

By the way, we brought my sister and nephew, who aren’t Marvel-obsessed like us, so they opted to forgo the Avengers wait and instead enjoy California Adventure’s other offerings. You would think that because so many were there for Avengers, the rest of the park would be a breeze – especially as the Disney parks were (supposedly) at limited capacity – but they waited in line for 45 minutes to get hot dogs, only to be told they had run out of hot dogs. So it wasnt exactly smooth sailing in the rest of the park.

Also worth noting is that due to social distancing rules, there were no trams running to and from the parking lot, and the parades were cancelled.

My recommendation for Avengers Campus is to go after the crowds have died down a little, and also check it out in the evening if you can – the pictures I’ve seen of the Campus all lit up at night look really awesome.

Galaxy’s Edge

The Star Wars themed land at Disneyland opened in 2019 but we had not seen it yet because our last visit to Disneyland was seven years ago. Galaxy’s Edge is larger than the Avengers Campus – 14 acres to Avengers’ six – and the fact that we did not have to wait in a long line to see Galaxy’s Edge automatically made it that much better. Ha!

Because the same system for the Web Slingers ride is in place for the Rise of the Resistance ride, we didn’t get to go on that either. Boo. But we did go on the Millennium Falcon ride (which is more or less the same attraction as Star Tours – a nausea-inducing motion ride). The area also has costumed characters. We saw a Rey, a Kylo Ren, and some stormtroopers. The shops are very cute and I definitely got the feeling I had been transported to a galaxy far, far away.

For me, costliness and crowds are deterrents to more regular visits to the Magic Kingdom, and it may be another seven years before we return. But the weather was nice (I don’t love the heat so overcast is what I deem nice), the company was good, and it was a pleasant enough diversion on a summer day in Southern California.

See more photos on my Facebook page! All photos by EarthToShawna

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Books, TV, movies for sci-fi fans

It’s been a few months since my last post. I’ve been busy reading, and playing “Words with Friends.” Getting frustrated with “Words with Friends,” mostly. I have never heard the words QIS, JUA, or ZA (and I majored in English). Also, why is SARK (an island in the English Channel) a valid word, but MAUI is not? Regardless of these (and other) mysteries, I am hooked on this game, and yes I know I’m 12 years late. Anyway. Let’s get to the sci-fi:

Marvel

I enjoyed “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” I was never a huge fan of Bucky Barnes (or Falcon, for that matter), but the series changed that – the writers took these two side characters and gave them an interesting story, and an even more interesting friendship. There’s a lot of action here, but I found the characters’ evolution more intriguing than the plot with the Flag Smashers. Bucky trying to come to terms with his past, and Sam figuring out who he wants to be, give the series more depth.

I especially liked the story with the older super soldier, Isaiah Bradley. I would have liked it if they had delved into that a little more (sort of like how “Watchmen” went back in the past to show the story of Will Reeves, aka Hooded Justice). Maybe they did that in the comic. I don’t know; I haven’t read it.

Anyway, the show was great (and less confusing than “WandaVision”). Check it out if you have’t already. The “Loki” series comes to Disney+ in June, and the “Black Widow” movie is now scheduled for a July release.

‘The Midnight Sky’

I highly recommend the Netflix film “The Midnight Sky,” directed by, and starring, George Clooney. Based on a novel by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the movie centers on a scientist living at an Arctic base after a global disaster forces the evacuation of the other inhabitants. It’s a subtle movie, but beautifully done. I have a thing for Arctic survival movies, post-apocalyptic movies, and astronaut movies, and this is all three in one! I think I’ll watch it again now that it’s getting hot out.

Books

Most of the books I’ve read lately are memoirs, or non-sci-fi fiction, but I’ve also read some sci-fi novels in the past couple months. Here are some of the best ones:

“The Fall of Koli” is the final book in M.R. Carey’s Rampart Trilogy. This was the best one of the three, in my opinion, because he ties up all the threads that were started in the first two books. I loved this dystopian series, more than his zombie book “The Girl with All the Gifts.” It would be cool to see this trilogy turned into a series! (Orbit, 2021)

“The Midnight Library,” by Matt Haig, is another good sci-fi novel that I’ve read since I last posted. Haig also wrote another book I’ve mentioned here, “How to Stop Time.” In that one, the main character ages so slowly, he is almost immortal, living for hundreds of years. In this book, the main character finds herself in a library where each book is a different life that she could have lived if she had made different choices. I liked the message of the book and what it says about regrets. (Viking, 2020)

“Klara and the Sun” is by Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote one of my favorite books, “Never Let Me Go.” It is similar in tone to that book. Klara is a solar-powered android who is purchased to be a companion for a young girl. Because the narrator is Klara herself, the story takes us into the strange thoughts of this “Artificial Friend.” (Knopf, 2021)

‘Star Trek: Discovery’

I’ve just started watching Season 3 of “Star Trek: Discovery.” So far I’ve only watched the first episode of Season 3, but it’s sooo good so far! I know I’ve sung her praises before, but Sonequa Martin-Green is perfect in her role as science officer Michael Burnham. There is a lot going on in this episode and watching Burnham navigate it was a bit emotional. I can’t wait to see what happens next, and Season 4 is scheduled to be released later this year as well. (This series is on Paramount+, which was previously called CBS All Access.)

Also in the works is a spin-off series called “Strange New Worlds.” Filming for “Strange New Worlds” reportedly began in February. Production is also underway for the second and third seasons of “Star Trek: Picard.”

Paramount+ is also producing a Trek series that will appeal to younger audiences: “Star Trek: Prodigy” is an animated series that will air on Paramount+ and will then air on Nickelodeon before the second season airs on Paramount+. The series involves a group of teen aliens who find an abandoned starship. Kate Mulgrew reprises her role as Capt. Janeway, who appears as the ship’s Emergency Training Hologram.

Photos: “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” Disney; “Star Trek: Discovery,” Paramount+.

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‘Wonder Woman 1984’ kicks butt – but is not without flaws

At long last, “Wonder Woman 1984” hit theaters and streaming. I watched it on HBO Max and I loved it. Was this sequel as good as the original? It was not. But it still kicked butt. If you haven’t seen it yet, be warned there are major spoilers in this review!

For starters, the film was a bit long at two and a half hours, and there are a few scenes that could have been cut shorter, in my opinion. I have watched the original film multiple times, and I’d probably be more willing to rewatch this one over and over if it wasn’t so long.

Secondly, the film is set in the ’80s! Where is all the cool ’80s music? Why have New Order’s “Blue Monday” in the trailer and then not have any cool ’80s songs in the film? Music in movies is a big deal to me; maybe not everyone cares about this. One more minor complaint: I was slightly disappointed with the CGI appearance of Kristen Wiig’s alter ego, Cheetah. She looks cooler in the DC Rebirth comics.

Having said all that, the good outweighed the bad. Wiig is a great actress and it was fun to watch her clumsy, kind Barbara Minerva transform into someone who is powerful and vengeful. Pedro Pascal is great as oil tycoon Maxwell Lord. The fashion and the story itself are very ’80s-ish, even if the music isn’t. Pascal’s money- and power-hungry character is in keeping with the materialism the decade is known for.

One complaint I’ve heard is that Diana (Gal Gadot) didn’t care what happened to the man whose body Steve (Chris Pine) is occupying, and it’s a legitimate complaint but this was (sort of) addressed in the film – my view is that the opening sequence is a set-up for this moral issue. Young Diana is willing to cheat to get something she really wants (winning the race) which I believe is meant to foreshadow her desire to hang onto Steve, regardless of the consequences.

In her defense, it wasn’t her idea to have Steve take over someone else’s life – she just wished to have him back. I guess it would have been less problematic if we’d somehow found out that guy was about to get hit by a bus the next day or something. Then it wouldn’t have mattered as much.

Gadot and Pine have great chemistry. The love story between Diana and Steve is one of my favorite aspects of both films, and I cried when she had to give him up. The fireworks scene was a nice moment between the two of them.

The photo of Diana and Etta was a nice touch. The eagle armor was awesome. I loved Lynda Carter’s cameo at the end of the film, and seeing the Amazons in Themyscira again. I can’t wait for more Wonder Woman movies!

Moving on. That Mando finale was pretty crazy! If you are not caught up on “The Mandalorian,” be warned this review contains spoilers!

How freaking cool was it to see Luke and R2-D2 save the day? Yes it was bittersweet – Mando had to say goodbye to little Grogu! Will they ever reunite? What’s going to happen between Mando and Bo-Katan now that we know that whoever wields the Darksaber can lay claim to the Mandalorian throne? And not only that, but he can’t just hand it to her – she needs to win it in battle. Awkward! So many questions and we have to wait till Season 3 comes out next Christmas.

Disney+ has also announced multiple Star Wars series and films, so many I can barely keep track. In fact there are no less than 10 new Star Wars series coming. There’s the Boba Fett spin-off, an Obi-Wan series, an Ahsoka series, “Rangers of the New Republic,” “The Acolyte,” “Visions,” “A Droid Story,” a Lando series, “The Bad Batch,” and “Andor.”

My daughter and I have been playing this guessing game: “I’m thinking of an MCU character. …” And then the other person asks yes or no questions about them until they figure it out. When you can guess in only a few questions a minor character who has only been in one or two films, you know you’ve seen these movies way too many times, and you’re ready for a new installment.

If not for this pandemic, we’d already have seen “Black Widow.” Many more planned Marvel films and series have also been delayed, but we will be getting a few new series on Disney+ in 2021: “WandaVision” will arrive Jan. 15, and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is set for March 19. They each are scheduled to have only six episodes, but the work put into them looks impressive, based on the trailers I’ve seen and the interviews I’ve read so far. “WandaVision” is an homage to classic TV sitcoms like Betwitched and The Brady Bunch. It’s not clear yet how Vision is alive – we did see him die at the end of Infinity War – twice.

Loki is apparently dead as well, but the new series based on Thor’s brother spins off from that moment in Endgame when Loki steals the Tesseract. In the new show he uses it to travel through time and alters history. Tom Hiddleston reprises the role.

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is a bit more straightforward – it’s set after the events of Endgame. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan reprise their roles as Sam and Bucky.

Are you ready? There’s also “Ms. Marvel,” “What If …?” “Moon Knight,” “Hawkeye,” She-Hulk,” “Ironheart,” “Armor Wars,” “Secret Invasion,” “Legends,” “I Am Groot,” and “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.” And no I’m not making that up.

I wish you all better days in the new year.

Photo credits: “Wonder Woman 1984,” Warner Bros. Pictures; “The Mandalorian” and “WandaVision,” Disney Platform Distribution.

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Season 2 of Amazon’s ‘The Boys’ is gruesome but good

I was excited about the second season of “The Boys,” and in some ways it was satisfying and in others, not so much. I may be in the minority here when I say I don’t love the gruesome scenes like heads exploding and Homelander doing weird creepy stuff. I saw a comment on social media that complained that the one-episode-per-week format was “offensive,” which I thought was kind of funny because that’s not what I found offensive about the series.

I realize this is a TV-MA show, and I could turn it off if I don’t want to watch gratuitous violence. I have a love-hate thing with shows like this that are well written but which I also find creepy or gross. I had similar issues with “Game of Thrones” and “Stranger Things.” Why don’t I just not watch? Because I like other things about the show. I like “The Boys” despite the shock value, not because of it. (And yes I know the comic is supposedly even more graphic than the series, but I have not read it.)

So what did I like I about Season 2? First and foremost, I love Karl Urban as Billy Butcher, even though his cockney accent is laughably (purposely?) bad. He is the antihero who stops just short of being the villain.

I loved all the Billy Joel references, and I found the Deep and A-Train stories funny; the “Church of the Collective” was an obvious mockery of Scientology and I’m here for it. Mother’s Milk not wanting anyone to know he’s watching “Outlander” is the kind of thing that I love about this show; the boys are all so tough, steeped in this culture of toxic masculinity, but then they watch “Outlander” or talk about The Golden Girls. Frenchie especially is one my favorites. I love his sensitivity, and seeing his friendship with Kimiko progressing.

Girls get it done?

I like the satire and humor of the show but although I found the Stormfront story – and its commentary on our current political climate – to be anything but subtle, some fans were apparently rooting for her and Homelander, which I find confusing and disturbing. I was happy that they wrapped up Stormfront’s story, and I hope we have seen the last of her. I am looking forward to seeing what happens in Season 3. I hope they will tone down the yuck.

‘The Trials of Koli’

Back in April, I reviewed M. R. Carey’s “The Book of Koli,” the first novel in the post-apocalyptic Rampart Trilogy. Five months later, Carey released the second book, “The Trials of Koli,” which at 496 pages, still felt too short, as I am now eagerly awaiting the third book, which comes out in March. I’m not sure why the books are being released in such quick succession – and in paperback! But I’m not complaining.

The books are about this guy named Koli who lives in this little village, many years after a huge war wipes out most of the world’s inhabitants, and also the trees in the forest eat people now, so it’s a dangerous time.

In the first book, a bunch of crazy stuff happens in his village which leads to him leaving all he’s ever known and venturing out into said murderous forest.

I hope the third book wraps up the story satisfyingly, and that it will be made into a movie, as was the case with Carey’s book “The Girl With All the Gifts.” (I actually prefer the Koli stories more than the zombie book.)

Other stuff

A sequel to the 1988 film “Willow” is in the works. The Disney+ series will be produced by Lucasfilm, and Ron Howard is an executive producer. Warwick Davis will reprise his role as Willow Ufgood.

I am excited about the new season of “The Mandalorian” which is on track for an Oct. 30 release, which I talked about last time, and the new season of “Star Trek: Discovery” started last week. I haven’t started watching it yet but I will review it when I get a chance. It’s a great show and I’m looking forward to watching Season 3.

Photos: “The Boys,” Amazon Prime; “The Trials of Koli,” Orbit.

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What to watch: ‘Watchmen’ and ‘The Umbrella Academy’

Hey sci-fi fans. I have been wanting to talk to you about the second season of “The Umbrella Academy” and also “Watchmen,” which I finally got around to watching. But first, let’s talk about the second season of Baby Yoda, I mean “The Mandalorian.” The premiere date was just announced; the show will be back Oct. 30!

‘The Mandalorian,’ Disney+

Added cast members for Season 2 include Timothy Olyphant, Rosario Dawson, Katee Sackhoff, Michael Biehn, and Temuera Morrison. I can’t wait to see what new adventures are ahead for our favorite alien child and his new dad.

‘The Umbrella Academy’

Season 2 of “The Umbrella Academy,” if you haven’t seen it yet, is really great. It was even better than the first season. The siblings travel to the 1960s, before the assassination of Kennedy, and Diego wants to prevent it; Luther is working for Jack Ruby; and Vanya has amnesia.

I love that Klaus becomes a hippie guru. He is one of the best characters, and Robert Sheehan is so perfect in that role. But my favorite storyline this season is Allison’s. Her involvement in the civil rights movement is both timely and emotional. “The movement’s not finished,” she says. “Not even in 2019.” The truth of that statement is a gut punch.

Five has to stop the end of the world from happening (again!) which proves to be difficult as he needs the help of his distracted brothers and sisters.

‘The Umbrella Academy,’ Netflix

I love that the siblings are relating to each other more and becoming closer. There are only a couple things I don’t love about this season (the Swedes, for example), but my biggest complaint about Season 2 is that it had to end. I can’t wait till Season 3.

‘Watchmen’

HBO’s “Watchmen” has been on my to-watch list since before its release. I love the comic (by Alan Moore) and the 2009 film. I recently binge watched the series and I was blown away. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend reading the graphic novel first, and/or watching the movie, as the series covers events that occur about 30 years later, and it’s a little confusing even having been familiar with the original story.

‘Watchmen,’ HBO

“Watchmen” is set in an alternate reality – altered by its “superheroes.” (For example, they end the Vietnam War, which changes the course of history.) Costumed vigilantes aren’t always the good guys. The world of “Watchmen” is very dark and is somewhat of a satire.

The series is intense, heartbreaking, and nothing short of genius. I loved it. It is not perfect, but it comes very close, and even though it has been nominated for 26 Emmys, it deserves more.

As with “The Umbrella Academy,” there is a parallel here with Black Lives Matter. There’s also a lot of masks. At one point someone says, “Masks save lives,” which seems like an eerie premonition even though they’re not talking about coronavirus.

‘The Witcher’

Sadly, we have to wait till next year for new episodes of “The Witcher.” But you can see what happened “behind the scenes” in “Making the Witcher” and “The Witcher: A Look Inside the Episodes,” on Netflix.

Two spin-offs are in the works – the animated “The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf” and the live-action prequel “The Witcher: Blood Origin.”

“The Boys” will be back on Amazon for Season 2 tomorrow, Sept. 4.

“Star Trek: Discovery” will be back on CBS All Access for Season 3 on Oct. 15.

Top photo: “Umbrella Academy,” Netflix.

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‘Brave New World’ interesting, topical, and a little confusing

“Brave New World” (on NBC’s otherwise underwhelming new streaming service, Peacock) is the kind of bizarre, futuristic fiction I live for, but maybe it’s just me; I’m not hearing a ton of buzz about this show. Most of the Peacock talk is about what a letdown this service is turning out to be rather than the series, and I’m not impressed with the service’s offerings either but I did like BNW, which is an adaptation of the Aldous Huxley novel. I especially liked seeing Alden Ehrenreich again; he was great as a young Han in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

Harry Lloyd’s character Bernard is just as smug here as his “Game of Thrones” character Viserys. He’s almost the same cringey snob, but with different hair. Lloyd is a great actor, as he really makes you want to smack him.

While it’s not particularly deep, I like the series’ exploration of relationships and topics like privacy, monogamy, and family, and the social commentary of New London’s citizens popping happy pills every time they feel any level of discomfort. Heaven forbid anyone have a pang of guilt, jealousy, or fear, or concern for others. The self-absorption and silly trends are very timely in our “influencer” culture. 

The second episode is one of the best: The elites travel to the Savage Lands, a theme park that holds up a mirror to our own weirdness and entertains its visitors with re-enactments of shotgun weddings and Black Friday stampedes. Bernard and Lenina can hardly imagine living in a world with these “savages,” a world where they aren’t plugged in and sedated until they feel nothing. (Possibly the most unlikely aspect of the show is the collective sex drive of such heavily medicated people.)  

I think the writers failed to flesh out the characters who are in control in this utopian (dystopian?) society, and that seems kind of important. There were only nine episodes. They could have gone more in depth with Indra and Mustafa and added a couple extra episodes in order to make that part of the story more interesting and comprehensible. It would have made the finale less confusing, but maybe the confusion was meant to be part of the cliffhanger. I guess we’ll see, if the show gets renewed for a second season, which has not yet been announced.

Why couldn’t they give Nina Sosanya and Sophie McIntosh (above) more air time so that the finale would have made more sense? (Brave New World, Peacock)

‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’

If you hated “Justice League” and wish it had been longer, here is some good news for you: The Snyder cut, coming to HBO Max, is reportedly going to be a four-hour film or a miniseries. Snyder said, “I feel like they’re gonna study this whole thing in film school.”

After the tragic death of his daughter, Snyder stepped down from directorial duties during post-production of the 2017 film, and Joss Whedon took over. To put it mildly, Snyder was not happy with Whedon’s work: “There would be no chance on earth that I would use a shot that was made. … after I left the movie. I’d destroy the movie, I would set it on fire before I would use a single frame that I did not photograph,” Snyder said during a Comic-Con@Home panel.

Wow.

All I know is if you think I’m going to watch four hours of Snyder’s pretentious magnum opus – you are correct.

Bill & Ted

I’m very excited about the third Bill and Ted movie! “Bill & Ted Face the Music” will be released on Sept. 1 on video on demand, and in select theaters.

Top photo: “Brave New World,” NBC Universal Television Distribution.

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Check out Netflix’s ‘The Old Guard’ and ‘Warrior Nun’

(Contains spoilers.)

When I was in my teens and twenties I was somewhat obsessed with vampires. I loved “The Lost Boys” (which is getting a musical prequel – no I’m not kidding) and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Vampires fit into my goth aesthetic* but also the idea of immortality and what it would be like to never age or die is an intriguing concept all by itself.

It’s why I love Matt Haig’s novel “How to Stop Time” about a 400-year-old man who looks like he’s 40. It’s interesting to imagine what kind of perspective you would have if you were centuries old, but still living as a young(ish) person. And of course you would wonder, Why me?

In “The Old Guard,” Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron) faces similar questions. She and her fellow immortals are mercenaries, but in modern times, they have a harder time keeping a low profile. U.S. Marine Nile (KiKi Layne) is the “new guard” to Andy’s old.

Gina Prince-Bythewood

Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, and Chiwetel Ejiofor also star in “The Old Guard,” which was adapted from a comic book by Greg Rucka, and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees”).

Prince-Bythewood is the first black woman to make a comic book film, and she’s also working on adaptations of the Black Cat and Silver Sable comics. The film which would have combined the heroines’ stories in one movie called “Silver and Black” has been cancelled (boo!), but the characters are now reportedly getting separate series (yay!). Prince-Bythewood has said that the research and preparation she did for the now-cancelled film, which included getting advice from “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins, helped her with “The Old Guard.”

In Charlize Theron news, her character Furiosa is reportedly being recast in the Mad Max prequel, a decision Theron said was “a little heartbreaking, for sure. I really love that character, and I’m so grateful that I had a small part in creating her.”

Fortunately, we will be seeing Theron again in an “Atomic Blonde” sequel (which will reportedly be a Netflix exclusive) and also (I hope) a sequel to “The Old Guard.”

‘Warrior Nun’

My latest late-night binge is Netflix’s “Warrior Nun.” If you were a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” or even if you weren’t, you may enjoy this comic book adaptation about an order of nun soldiers who fight demons.

Alba Baptista (a Portuguese actress in her first English-speaking role) stars as a quadriplegic orphan who dies but is resurrected when an angel’s halo is placed in her back, giving her the ability to walk again – and also magical demon-hunting abilities.

I know it sounds bizarre and sort of silly – because it is, but it’s crazy and fun. Just go with it.

‘Monster Hunter’

I guess audiences can’t get enough witchers and slayers. Another supposed-to-be summer 2020 blockbuster has been postponed: “Monster Hunter,” a film adaptation of the video game, has been delayed till April 23, 2021. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil,” “Mortal Kombat”) and starring Milla Jovovich (who is married to Anderson), Tony Jaa, T.I., Ron Perlman, Meagan Good, and Diego Boneta, the movie follows a UN military team who end up in an alternate world where Hunters fight monsters. The soldiers and Hunters work together to keep the monsters from entering the portal to Earth.

In describing the monsters, Anderson said in an interview with Empire, “We’re building them in even more detail than the dinosaurs of Jurassic World. And they look even better. …” OK. But. Does your movie have Star-Lord? Didn’t think so.

Trailers

The trailer for “The One and Only Ivan” is here, and it looks like the plot may be a little different from the book, but I’m still looking forward to seeing it. It’s coming to Disney+ on Aug. 14.

HBO Max released a trailer for all their new stuff, including a cool-looking new Ridley Scott show called “Raised by Wolves.” (Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.)

There’s also a release date (Aug. 6) and a trailer for the new animated series “Star Trek: Lower Decks.” Check it out below.

Photo credits: “The Old Guard” and “Warrior Nun,” Netflix; “Interview with the Vampire” and “The Middle,” Warner Bros.; “Jurassic World,” Universal Pictures.

* Me in the 1990s, wishing I was a vampire.

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Matrix, Marvel and more: Films & series on the way

First, let’s talk about Marvel. “Black Widow” will be the next film in the franchise to hit theaters. (When theaters will open is another matter.) Although it is the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it will serve as the first entry of Phase Four. The story of Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, also stars David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, and Rachel Weisz.

Natasha’s character was never my favorite and I think it’s because she never got a great storyline. At first I thought it was because she doesn’t have superpowers, but then neither does Iron Man – unless being a rich genius is a superpower.

I think she didn’t get a better story (or her own film – until now) because she’s a woman. Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Captain America all got their own movies in Phase One.

Now that “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel” have proven that audiences want to see a female-led superhero flick, we are finally getting Black Widow’s origin story. Is it a day late and a dollar short?

Rumor has it that the MCU’s Phase Four is ushering in replacements for the heroes who didn’t survive “Infinity War” and “Endgame.” Could Flo Pugh be the new Black Widow? Suddenly I’m excited about this film. Go, Flo!

“Black Widow” was originally scheduled to be released in U.S. theaters in May, but has a new release date of Nov. 6.

The “Doctor Strange” sequel, titled “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” will have a different director this time around – Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead”).

Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor will return as the titular doc and Mordo. The film is reportedly going to be darker than its predecessor – I hope not too much darker as I don’t especially want to see horror when I go to a Marvel movie. We’ll see what happens with that – in 2022.

Taika Waititi, who directed “Ragnarok,” will be back to direct the next Thor sequel, “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which will star Natalie Portman. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson will also return. This one is also scheduled for a 2022 release.

Rounding out Phase 4 are “The Eternals,” set for Feb. 12, 2021, a Spider-Man sequel (Nov. 5, 2021), and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” (May 7, 2021) – which will be the first Marvel film with an Asian lead. Shang-Chi will be played by Simu Liu.

“The Eternals” will also mark some firsts – Makkari will be the first deaf superhero in the MCU, and Phastos will be the first gay superhero in the MCU.

“Captain Marvel” and “Black Panther” sequels are also in the works and expected to be released in 2022.

Oh did you think that was it? Fasten your seat belts, sci-fi fans – Marvel is just getting started. There’s also a “Blade” reboot with Mahershala Ali (!), a “Fantastic Four” movie, a “Loki” series, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “WandaVision” (which will tie into the Doctor Strange sequel), “Ms. Marvel,” “Moon Knight,” “She-Hulk,” an animated series called “What If … ?”, a “Hawkeye” series, a third Ant-Man film, and a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. Did I forget anything? Probably.

‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’

The fourth movie in the franchise is set 30 years after the second film. A family moves to a small town where they discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters, some of whom will make appearances. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and Annie Potts will reprise their roles. (Harold Ramis passed in 2014.)

The film will be directed by Jason Reitman, and also stars Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, and Paul Rudd. Originally scheduled to be released this month, the film now has a release date of March 5, 2021.

‘Tenet’

Christopher Nolan wrote and directed two of my favorite movies, “Interstellar” and “Inception.” His new mind-bender, “Tenet,” is scheduled to be released Aug. 12. The cast includes John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh.

They filmed in Denmark, Estonia, India, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (Filming was done before pandemic-related shutdowns.) It’s Nolan’s most expensive original project yet, with a production budget of roughly $200 million. The film’s release date has been postponed twice, and each pandemic-related postponement cost Warner Bros. between $200,000 and $400,000 in marketing fees.

It’s pretty certain this one won’t go straight to streaming. As one of the few filmmakers who still shoots with film stock rather than digital photography – and this one is also shot in IMAX – Nolan is adamant that it appears on the big screen.

So what’s the movie about? The plot has been somewhat shrouded in mystery. It’s a spy movie, and it looks like a time travel movie, but it’s apparently … not? It looks trippy, and it has the distinction of being the only film mentioned in this post (and the previous one) that isn’t a sequel or an adaptation. Three cheers for originality!

‘The Matrix 4’

This isn’t the Keanu Reeves sequel we wanted (what happened to Bill and Ted?) but I guess it’s the one we’re getting. Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss are back in the fourth Matrix movie. Jada Pinkett Smith and Lambert Wilson will also return. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jonathan Groff, Toby Onwumere, Erendira Ibarra, Priyanka Chopra, and Andrew Caldwell will also star. The release date is April 1, 2022.

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’

The fourth film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse stars Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza Gonzále, Jessica Henwick, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, and Demián Bichir. Adam Wingard directs, and the release date has been moved to May 21, 2021.

‘Jurassic World: Dominion’

The sixth film in the Jurassic Park franchise and the final film in the Jurassic World trilogy will be directed by Colin Trevorrow and stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, Isabella Sermon, BD Wong, Mamoudou Athie, DeWanda Wise, Dichen Lachman, Scott Haze, and Campbell Scott.

The film has reportedly resumed filming following COVID-19 delays. The studio has spent approximately $5 million on safety protocols including on-site doctors and nurses, 150 hand sanitizer stations, 1,800 signs, and thousands of tests for cast and crew. If all goes as planned, it will be released June 11, 2021.

Of course, Universal isn’t the only studio taking such precautions. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state would begin reopening to film and television production on June 12, and Los Angeles County health protocols must be agreed to as a condition of film permit release. Filming in other locations are following similar protocols.

More trailers!

“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 trailer dropped – I’m really looking forward to this one!

The increased Season 2 budget for “The Boys” means “bigger, better, and bloodier.” I’m on board for bigger and better. Bloodier, not so much. Replace bloodier with more Billy Butcher and I’m in.

And one more – an astronaut series called “Away,” starring Hilary Swank, is coming to Netflix.

What film or series are you most excited about? Tell me in the comments or on my Facebook page!

All release dates are subject to change.

Photo credits: “Black Widow,” “Doctor Strange,” and “Black Panther,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, “Jurassic World,” Universal Pictures.

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