SoCal fun: Hollywood, Ren Faire, & Disneyland parks

Two years ago, I blogged about our visit to Disneyland and California Adventure and predicted it would probably be another seven years before I visit again but we decided to cough up the dough for park hopper tickets once again, and it was fun, but my gripe about long lines is still one of my major beefs about visiting these parks. They are still using the reservation system, which leads you (falsely) to believe the park will be less crowded.

My other main issues are the ridiculous amount of money you have to pay to get in, and also the audacity of charging people extra money to take cuts in front of us poor folk, making the lines that much longer.

We finally got to do Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which was extremely cool, but it broke while we were on it and had to wait 20 minutes for them to let us off. Fortunately, we were able to try it again later in the day, and I would say it is the best thing at Disneyland right now. It’s a combination of several different types of rides – the traditional Disney “dark ride,” motion simulator, a walk-through portion, and a small drop. It makes you feel like you’re in the movie, more than any other ride I have been on. I hope they figure out how to keep it from breaking. It was “temporarily closed” several times while we were there that day.

I assume the increasing price of Disneyland tickets reflects all the cool new attractions, but a lot of the time, you can’t even get on them because they’re closed, or you don’t have time because the lines are so long.

I guess I didn’t learn my lesson about park hopper tickets the last time we were there. You can’t do everything you want to do at both parks in one day. Maybe you can if you pay extra for their line-cutter passes. I wouldn’t know.

It is important that you put the (free) Disneyland app on your cell phone because you need to check it frequently to see the estimated wait times for rides and stuff like that. (You can just uninstall the app after your visit.) Also be aware that parking is $30, because apparently Disney is not making enough money from admission fees and overpriced food and drinks – and Genie and Lightning Lane and all the other ways they price-gouge those willing to pay more (whilst screwing over those of us who aren’t).

If you read my last post about the Avengers Campus at California Adventure, you know we had to wait more than four hours just to get into this new, Marvel-themed area of the park. This time, we walked right in, which was nice. Last time, we couldn’t get on the Web Slingers ride, but this time we did. It was a sort of video game/ride hybrid. It was fun, but not really what I was expecting. My daughter is more of a Spidey fan than I am and also more of a gaming type, so she was more into it than I was.

We also got to see the Guardians of the Galaxy dance-off this time, which was a little dorky, but that’s par for the course. Ha. We also got to see the Dora Milaje and Spider-Man shows again, which are short but very cool.

Costumed characters the day we were there included Black Panther, Ant-Man, Black Widow, and both captains – America and Marvel. Get in line early if you want to see the Doctor Strange show. We missed it both times we were there unfortunately, so I can’t comment on it.

My husband, daughter, and I have become somewhat obsessive Marvel fans. If you aren’t a huge fan of the franchise, you can skip California Adventure altogether, unless you have small children. Last time we were there, we only had time for the Avengers Campus, but this time we went on the Cars-themed Radiator Springs Racers, one of the park’s most popular rides. The line was super long, but it was fun.

I keep saying I’ve had enough Disneyland, but I’m a sucker. I say I won’t be going back anytime soon but … we’ll see.

The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale

We visited the Renaissance faire again this year, and it was fun. We love to go in costume, and also look at everyone else’s costumes – the employees’ and visitors’ costumes are always impressive. We didn’t attend the joust this time, but I would definitely recommend it if you go next year. Also, it’s usually hot, so I also recommend bringing an umbrella. I brought a paper parasol that I purchased there a few years back, and it helps when you’re not in the shade. My complaints from last year stand: The bird show has still not returned (maybe it’s gone for good, I don’t know); there aren’t as many bands playing on the stages; and it’s a bit of a hassle to get into the parking lot.

Hollywood

We went to a show in Hollywood recently, so we made a point of checking out the new Carrie Fisher plaque that was unveiled a few weeks ago (May the Fourth!) at TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s). That area is a bit annoying and touristy but it’s worth a visit if you’ve never been there, if only to cross it off your bucket list. Parking was $30 here too, in the lot we chose. It’s pricey, but if it’s nighttime when your show gets out, it’s nice to not have a long walk past dark alleys, which can be anxiety-inducing.

I feel very fortunate to live in Southern California. I don’t live in Los Angeles, but I’m about an hour or so away, depending on traffic, so there are lots of fun things to see and do. What cool sci-fi things are there to do in your hometown? Comment below or visit me on my Facebook page!

Tune in next time when I will return to my usual programming: reviewing my favorite TV series and movies! Until then:

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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3′ is bringin’ on the heartbreak

No, the Def Leppard song isn’t in the new movie, but the third and final installment of James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” trilogy brings on the heartache in a big way. This one hurts.

I don’t think I’m giving too much away to tell you that Rocket’s origin story is intense – he’s a talking raccoon with cybernetic implants and a past he won’t talk about.

I’m sure some will say the depictions of Rocket’s early years are too disturbing, but the truth is that animal experimentation is real, so in the interest of awareness, I’m OK with it, even if it was difficult to watch. (Go to navs.org if you want to know more about ending animal testing.)

Of course, the film isn’t just about our favorite feisty hero; there’s a lot going on in this movie. It’s loud, it’s chaotic, and it’s the Guardians so it’s also fun and funny and heartwarming. It’s also dark and heavy. (Of the three Guardians movies, this one is the most disturbing and violent. Don’t bring young children.)

If you love these characters, prepare to feel all the feelings.

That was my spoiler-free review. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, come back and read the rest of this later.

*SPOILERS BELOW*

While I did like this more than the latest Thor, Doctor Strange, and Ant-Man sequels, I did not love it as much as I loved Guardians Vols. 1 and 2. For starters, it was too dark and creepy. If you’re going to put in animal torture, then maybe don’t also add a bunch of other awful stuff, like the genocide of an entire planet (Counter-Earth), or company headquarters (Orgocorp) built from biological material that looks like nasty human skin, or the horrific and disgusting face under the High Evolutionary’s mask, or … well, you get the idea.

It was arguably a little too violent for a PG-13 rating. I like bad guys getting what they deserve – and the Beastie Boys – as much as anyone, but there was an excessive amount of gun violence, even for a Marvel movie.

And the number of times a main character appeared to be beyond saving was way too high. I thought Rocket was a goner more than once, and I thought we were going to lose Drax. And Peter. At what point are you emotionally manipulating your audience more than you’re entertaining them? I had a feeling this would be a tearjerker, but I didn’t expect to be almost sobbing for half the movie.

I loved Cosmo (good dog!) and the way that the film continued to develop friendships (Mantis’ defense of Drax, Nebula caring for a heartbroken/intoxicated Peter, etc.). I also liked that they tied up a lot of storylines. Rocket got closure (and we find out why he likes to steal batteries), Drax got to be a dad again (and danced!), Peter went to see his grandfather on Earth, etc. Last but not least, the audience got to feel included in the end because we, like the Guardians, finally understood what Groot was saying. That was a nice bow that wrapped up the package.

Goodbye, Guardians. We will miss you.

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Marvel’s trip to the Quantum Realm could be more fun

I saw the new Marvel movie “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” a few weeks ago, but I haven’t had a chance to write lately. Let’s get started: I really like Paul Rudd, and the first two “Ant-Man” films are some of my faves in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But if you watch Marvel movies, you know that even if Ant-Man isn’t your favorite, you’re still going to see this movie. In that respect, Marvel is really smart. They know that we are going to see all of the movies and series in this franchise because if we don’t, we are going to be confused.

Some of the criticism I’ve seen surrounding this latest sequel is of the “it’s confusing if you haven’t seen all the films” variety, to which I say of course it is. That’s their goal. The movies are meant to be viewed as an episodic series, a series with multiple characters – and directors.

The director of the Ant-Man films is Peyton Reed, a comedy guy, and he was great at making the first two Ant-Man films funny. Unfortunately, this one is not as funny. First of all, Michael Pena (Luis) was missing from this film. The director’s explanation was basically that there were already a lot of characters in the film and there wasn’t room for Pena, which seems strange to me considering the inclusion of some other non-essential characters (no offense, guy who plays Baskin-Robbins manager).

Also, even though the special effects were great, the Quantum Realm sort of veers into the territory of silly, with its Star Wars-y aliens. I know I should love that stuff since I write a science-fiction blog, but I think Marvel isn’t really at its best here. It almost felt a little … Sharkboy and Lavagirl.

I’m not thrilled about the direction the MCU is headed with this concept of multiverses. It seems like a minefield of plot holes. But maybe they can pull it off. We’ll see.

Having said all that, I didn’t hate it. It was still fun and funny, just not as good as the previous Ant-Man movies.

More Marvel news

I have higher hopes for the next “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie, which is coming May 5. This may be the last Guardians film, which I’m sad about because they’re my faves, so I hope they at least go out with a bang.

The release date for “The Marvels” movie has been moved yet again, this time to Nov. 10. Bummer! Disney is reining in Marvel’s output. It was originally reported that six (new and returning) Marvel series would be released on Disney+ in 2023, but that has changed. Even “Echo” and “Ironheart,” which have already wrapped, are being put on hold. Now it looks like the only ones we’ll see this year will be “Secret Invasion” and Season 2 of “Loki.”

According to a February article in The Hollywood Reporter, “The pullback on Disney+ is coming amid an industrywide shift in rethinking the best way to achieve profitability in streaming.”

So, it’s about money. (I know, it’s shocking.)

I already mentioned HBO’s “The Last of Us” in my last post. It was really good, and I recommend it, if you haven’t watched it yet. I liked that the zombies aren’t super scary – and I love it when sci-fi proves that the scariest thing of all is really other humans. Pedro Pascal is amazing, as always. Apparently, some people complained that there wasn’t enough zombie action but there was enough for my liking and like I said, it’s not about zombies – it’s about human nature, and it was very moving. I laughed, I cried, I immediately wanted more. Enough said. Go watch it. Just don’t watch it with your kids or they’ll probably be scarred for life. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The new season of “Carnival Row,” on Amazon Prime, is out now, and it’s just as terrible as the first season. Why is this show so bad? Well for starters, it doesn’t make sense. There’s so much illogical plot stuff going on, I can barely keep up. If I ever actually had sympathy for rich successful actors, it would be for the stars of this ridiculous show. I haven’t finished watching Season 2 but I’m not sure I will.

What can I say about Season 3 of “The Mandalorian”? Hmm. It’s better than the Obi-Wan show. Because Grogu. And Pedro. I love Amy Sedaris, and Katee Sackhoff. But the plot isn’t blowing me away so far.

The story with the other Mandalorians is sort of boring, and I am not sure what is happening with Dr. Pershing. Are we supposed to care about him? Am I just being nit-picky? Maybe it will get more exciting in the upcoming episodes.

Lately I find myself being annoyed by their helmets. Just bugged in general because wouldn’t your face get all hot and sweaty under there? And more specifically, I want to see Pedro’s face, and also, is Grogu going to have to wear a helmet? Because NO.

The second season of “Shadow and Bone” (Netflix) has been released but I haven’t had a chance to see it yet. I have heard it’s good, so I’m looking forward to it.

“Willow” fans disappointed to hear the show has been cancelled will be happy to hear that it actually hasn’t. It’s reportedly just on hiatus. (The full explanation can be found on writer/producer Jon Kasdan’s twitter.)

If you are in Southern California, the Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale is coming up, on Saturdays and Sundays from April 8 to May 21. The themed weekends this year are pirate and marketplace weekend (April 15 and 16) and RennCon™ weekend (April 29 and 30).

Please note that if you bought tickets during their “Holidazzle” sale, you may only use them through April 23.

The New York Renaissance Faire starts in August, and the Bristol Renaissance Faire (in Wisconsin) begins in July. Go to renfair.com for more info.

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Sci-fi and fantasy I’m looking forward to seeing in 2023

Is it really 2023? Being a member of Generation X, I imagine 2023 as a destination in a time travel movie from the 1980s, not the actual present time. I guess I’m getting old.

There are a lot of science fiction, fantasy, and superhero movies scheduled to come out this year, which is exciting for all of us nerdy folks. Here are some on my watch list (in no particular order):

‘Quantumania’

Tickets are already on sale for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” in theaters Feb. 17. The sequel will be the first film of Marvel’s Phase Five. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, and Michelle Pfeiffer will reprise their roles and Kathryn Newton will play Cassie Lang, Scott’s daughter. The trailer, set to a trippy version of Elton John’s “Yellow Brick Road,” got me hyped up for this movie, so hopefully it won’t let me down like certain other Marvel sequels from 2022.

The “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” trailer also got me hyped up, with Spacehog’s ’90s hit “In the Meantime.” The Guardians soundtracks are usually full of 1970s tunes from Peter Quill’s Walkman, but now we are moving into a new era (remember when Kraglin gave Peter a Zune?). Although I’m sad that this will probably be the last Guardians film, it looks like it will be a good one. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Elizabeth Debicki, and Sylvester Stallone reprise their roles, Will Poulter has been added to the cast as Adam Warlock, and Chukwudi Iwuji is the High Evolutionary. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel reprise their roles as the voices of Rocket and Groot, and Maria Bakalova voices Cosmo the Spacedog. It’s scheduled to be released on May 5.

‘Spaceman’

An adaptation of the Jaroslav Kalfar novel “Spaceman of Bohemia” is coming to Netflix in July. “Spaceman” is about a Czech astronaut (played by Adam Sandler) on a solo mission to explore a mysterious cloud of space dust. The film also stars Carey Mulligan, Paul Dano, Isabella Rossellini, and Kunal Nayyar.

Marvel seems to be dominating in theaters this year – or at least dominating my must-see list. Brie Larson and Iman Vellani will reprise their roles as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel and Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel in “The Marvels,” on July 28. The cast also includes Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. I think it’s interesting that so many characters introduced in Disney+ series are going on to the big screen. For example, we’ll see Kang from the “Loki” series in the new Ant-Man film (or I guess the one from Loki was a Kang variant?) and Kamala and Monica (from “Ms. Marvel” and “WandaVision,” respectively) in this one. It’s a smart – and sneaky – move by Disney to get us all to subscribe, so that we will be caught up when we head to theaters.

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is based on the Suzanne Collins novel and is a prequel to the other Hunger Games books and films. Tom Blyth portrays young Coriolanus Snow (the president played by Donald Sutherland in the other movies). The film also stars Rachel Zegler, Hunter Schafer, Jason Schwartzman, Peter Dinklage, and Viola Davis, and is scheduled to be released on Nov. 17.

Coming to theaters on June 2 is the computer-animated sequel “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” The theme of parallel universes seems to be a trend lately, and the Spider-Verse is another one doing the multiverse thing. Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld reprise their roles as Miles Morales/Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman.

The next film on my list is from the people who brought you “A Quiet Place” (Scott Beck and Bryan Woods). At first glance, “65” looks kind of – how can I put this? – stupid. A sci-fi thriller with astronauts and dinosaurs? Hmm. But it has Adam Driver. That’s how they get you. “65” is in theaters March 17.

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is (obviously) based on the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons and stars Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Rege-Jean Page, Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis, and Hugh Grant. The effects and setting in the trailer are impressive, and it looks like it might be a really fun fantasy film. Or it could be a huge flop. Guess we’ll have to, um, roll the dice on this one. The film premieres at SXSW March 10 and will be in theaters March 31.

Films with release dates TBA

Another sci-fi film on the SXSW slate is “If You Were the Last,” starring Anthony Mackie, Natalie Morales, Zoe Chao, and Geoff Stults. It has been described as “When Harry Met Sally” in space. Make of that what you will.

The Zack Snyder movie “Rebel Moon” (Netflix) was inspired by Star Wars and Akira Kurosawa films. The ensemble cast includes Sofia Boutella, Charlie Hunnam, Ray Fisher, and Djimon Hounsou. Snyder has said he hopes the movie will become a “massive IP and a universe that can be built out.” Sounds very ambitious. I’m excited at the prospect of something original and new. It could be really cool. Or it could be really boring. Like “Dune.”

‘The Pod Generation

Sci-fi rom com/satire “The Pod Generation,” starring Emilia Clarke and Chiwetel Ejiofor, premieres at the Sundance Film Festival today (Jan. 19). Directed by Sophie Barthes (“Cold Souls”), the film may not be released in mainstream theaters, as it’s an independent movie, and it might not be released this year at all, but I will keep you posted. It looks interesting.

There were supposed to be new Star Trek and Star Wars movies in theaters this year, in June and December, respectively, but it doesn’t look like either of those will be happening. Hopefully we will have more news on those soon.

Now streaming

After we finished “Paper Girls,” which we loved, my daughter and I were looking for something similar to watch together. Our contenders were “The Wilds” and “Runaways” (both of which we only watched one episode), and “Parallels” (Disney+) which we declared the winner of the three. We binge-watched all six episodes of Season 1. A French series dubbed in English, “Parallels” follows a group of teenage friends who are accidentally separated into parallel universes during testing of a nearby particle collider. (Rated TV-14.)

‘The Last of Us’

A new series on HBO, “The Last of Us” is based on a video game and stars Pedro Pascal as Joel, a survivor of a creepy zombie plague. I’ve only seen the first episode so far (it just came out on Sunday), but so far it’s really good. The epic first episode walks us through the events before the apocalyptic plague hits, Joel’s harrowing fight to get out of the infected city with his daughter and brother, and the dismal aftermath. (Rated TV-MA.)

Franchise series expected in 2023

Star Wars series coming to Disney+ this year: “Ahsoka,” “Skeleton Crew,” and the third season of “The Mandalorian.”

New seasons of the three (live-action) Star Trek series are also coming this year: the second season of “Strange New Worlds,” Season 5 of “Discovery,” and the third and final season of “Picard.”

Marvel series coming to Disney+ this year: “Secret Invasion,” “Ironheart,” “Echo,” “Agatha: Coven of Chaos,” and the second seasons of “Loki” and “What If …?”

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The greatest (and not as great) sci-fi and fantasy of 2022

Hey sci-fi people! I’m finishing up my end of the year roundup, right under the wire. I haven’t seen everything, obviously, and other than lack of time, the main reasons for that are: I don’t really love horror (in case you’re thinking, “What about ‘Nope’?”) and also, I don’t subscribe to every streaming service. It’s getting a little out of hand, all these increasingly expensive streaming services, am I right? But that’s a complaint for another post.

Wakanda Forever!

Here are my awards for sci-fi and fantasy films of 2022:

Favorite Movie of the Year: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Was it perfect? No. Is it going to win Best Picture award at the Oscars? Probably not. But I loved it. It was beautifully done, and after the disappointments that were the Thor and Doc Strange sequels, “Wakanda” was just what I needed. It was exciting and unpredictable without being too silly (“Love and Thunder”) or too creepy (“Multiverse of Madness”). It was a great tribute to Chadwick Boseman and a great addition to the MCU, but also a good movie in general.

‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ lives up to its title.

Wackiest movie: “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is getting all kinds of nominations for the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards, which is cool, and I love Michelle Yeoh; she’s one of my favorite actresses. This absurdist movie about parallel universes was so frenetic and crazy I don’t think I will watch it again, but it was definitely something, even if it wasn’t my favorite.

Favorite dance scene: “After Yang.” There were a lot of good dance scenes in movies and TV this year. I loved the dance-off in “Umbrella Academy,” and Frenchie and Kimiko’s old-timey musical number in “The Boys.” Wednesday Addams’ self-choreographed goth dance on the Netflix series even went viral. But the one that gets my vote is the family dance competition in the opening credits of the Colin Farrell film “After Yang.” I like funny, what can I say? Unfortunately, there isn’t much humor in the rest of the film, about a family dealing with the loss of their humanoid robot companion. Quiet and melancholic, “After Yang” is the polar opposite of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” in its pace.

This is not the happy-go-lucky genie from Aladdin’s lamp.

Movie that Put Me in a Funk: “Three Thousand Years of Longing.” Speaking of melancholy, this movie about a djinn (Idris Elba) released from his bottle by a professor (Tilda Swinton) gave me the sads. It didn’t earn big box office bucks, which I suspect may have been due to poor marketing, but also the way the story is framed: The bulk of the film is taken up with the djinn telling the professor stories of how he ended up in the bottle. I love Swinton and Elba, and I wanted to love this, but the djinn’s stories aren’t all that interesting, and they take up the whole movie so there’s no depth to the relationship the djinn and Alithea have with each other. I want more from a movie that’s supposed to be about magic and storytelling. What can we learn from a being that has been alive for thousands of years? Humans are awful, and loneliness sucks? I already know that. When the credits rolled, I didn’t feel charmed. Just depressed.

Most impressive effects: “Avatar: The Way of Water.” I just talked about this film in my last post, so I won’t go into detail. I also recently found out it’s being boycotted, and perhaps justifiably so. A topic for a different post. I’ll just say the controversy doesn’t change the fact that the effects are indeed impressive and leave it at that.

Sci-fi and fantasy series

I watched more series than films this year, and there were a lot of good ones. There were also some that were OK but could have been better. Here we go:

‘Andor’ – the best thing to happen to Star Wars since baby Yoda.

Started Out Boring but Turned Out to be the Best New Series of the Year (aka “The Expanse” award) goes to “Andor,” on Disney+. I think a lot of Star Wars fans got burned out on the barren desert boringness of “The Book of Boba Fett” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Expecting us to get excited about a prequel of a prequel was a big ask. The first couple episodes had me feeling “whatever” about it, but by the end, I was blown away by this series. Diego Luna earned a nomination as the title character, and Andy Serkis was intense as Kino Loy, a floor manager in a prison complex. And I’m still thinking about that Stellan Skarsgård speech. Great writing, great acting. More Star Wars like this, please!

‘Undone’ – doing the time warp again.

Season 2 Which was Even Better than Season 1: “Undone,” on Amazon Prime. I have sung the praises of this awesome show multiple times, so I won’t go on and on but if you haven’t watched it yet, this is your reminder. It has cool animation and time travel and Bob Odenkirk. Runner-up: “Russian Doll” on Netflix.

Series That Should Get a Season 2 but Was Cancelled: “Paper Girls.” The Amazon Prime series is an adaptation of a comic book by the author of my favorite comic, “Saga,” Brian K. Vaughan, who describes “Paper Girls” as a cross between “Stand by Me” and “Terminator.” Four paper delivery girls living in 1988 are swept up in a time travel conflict and transported to the year 2019. One of my favorite comedians, Ali Wong, plays one of the girls as an adult in 2019. I really liked this one; it’s too bad it didn’t get the marketing or renewal it deserved. (I assume it’s because all of Amazon’s marketing budget went to the next series on this list.) Maybe “Paper Girls” will get picked up by another streaming service. Fingers crossed.

Most Expensive Series that Should Have Been Better: “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” on Amazon Prime. This wasn’t really bad, and in fact I will watch Season 2 since I did like the last couple episodes. But overall, it was a bit of a snooze fest, which it shouldn’t have been, considering it cost more than all the LOTR movies combined. The total reported price tag for Season 1 was $715 million. Yikes. Runner-up: HBO’s “House of the Dragon.”

Joseph Quinn mastered that Metallica cover.

Best Musical Scene: Everyone’s favorite dungeon master Eddie Munson on “Stranger Things” playing “Master of Puppets” to lure the demon bats away from his friends – the ultimate guitar hero! The actor who plays Munson, Joseph Quinn, is really playing the guitar in that scene; he practiced the Metallica song for months.

That’s it, folks! Happy New Year.

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‘The Way of Water,’ ‘Witcher,’ ‘Wonder Woman’ and more

The long-awaited sequel to James Cameron’s epic 2009 sci-fi/fantasy film “Avatar” is finally in theaters. We saw it last night, and we loved it! But not everyone had positive things to say about it. I’ve seen some less than favorable reviews, with critics complaining about the film not being original or deep enough, which I guess is a fair point? The plot is a recycled version of the plot from the first movie, and the characters are clichéd (rebellious teenagers, snarling Marine colonel, etc.).

If you’ve seen the first movie – one of the critics in question admitted she hadn’t – then you know the point is not the story. You aren’t going to see this CGI movie in IMAX 3D expecting to be blown away by the plot. You’re in it because it looks cool. It transports you for three hours to another planet. It’s not “Citizen Kane.”

I know everyone says “Avatar” is a glorified version of “FernGully” or “Pocahontas” but how glorious it is! It’s no wonder the villainous Earth people want to move to Pandora. Who wouldn’t? The water is clean and phosphorescent; the forest is lush and magical.

In this sequel, we are introduced to the reef people, a separate clan from the one in the first film, which introduced the forest people of Pandora. And I know I mentioned in my last post that I have an issue with mer-people but 1) these people don’t have underwater homes so it doesn’t count, and 2) Cameron has said that one of the reasons this was so long coming was because he wanted to get the underwater effects just right, and it looked amazing! It may not be award-winning writing, but visually, it’s just about perfect.

Having said that, I didn’t hate the plot. It’s not subtle in its messages about environmentalism and colonialism, but so what. They’re good messages and bear repeating.

It’s possible this sequel struck a chord because, like me, Jake and Neytiri are now parents of teenagers, so I related to their worries. I was invested; the stakes are high and the action sequences are intense. It was breathtaking but it also had humor, and heart. It’s not going to change your life, but it has everything you want in a sci-fi/fantasy/action movie. If you liked the first one, you won’t be disappointed.

“Avatar 3” is scheduled to be released in December 2024.

Under the Gunn
Patty and Gal

I think I speak for a lot of people when I say, “WTF, James Gunn?” First we find out that he’s not going to direct any more “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, and now he’s taking over at DC, and the first order of business is apparently to ax the best things DC had going for it: Henry Cavill playing Superman and Patty Jenkins directing the Wonder Woman movies.

Jenkins has reportedly left the third Wonder Woman film over “creative differences.” This came as a shock as the first one was, in this fan’s opinion, DC’s best offering thus far. I can only hope Gal Gadot follows Jenkins to something bigger and better.

Cavill fans were already upset by the announcement in October that he will no longer be playing Geralt of Rivia after Season 3 of “The Witcher,” expected in mid-2023. (Season 4 will feature Liam Hemsworth in the role.) There have been many rumors, but an official explanation has not been given. It was suspected that his return to his Superman role could be the reason. But now we know this isn’t happening either, as Gunn is taking Superman in a different (younger) direction. Cavill announced last week he is working on a “Warhammer” franchise which will be on Amazon. Mystery (sort of) solved.

I don’t know much about “Warhammer” but as long as I get to see Henry in something, I’m happy.

More stuff …
Michelle Yeoh

In other Witcher news, a four-episode prequel miniseries, “The Witcher: Blood Origin,” starring Michelle Yeoh, will be released on Netflix on Dec. 25. I love Yeoh, so I will be watching this one. I was happy to see that she and her wacky sci-fi flick “Everything Everywhere All at Once” have been nominated for Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Movie awards. Yeoh is also in the aforementioned third installment of “Avatar,” coming in 2024.

If you are looking for something to binge watch, check out the first season of the fantasy series “Shadow and Bone” before the second season comes out March 16. This one is also on Netflix.

One last thing I want to mention is the new trailer for “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Check it out.

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Willow, Wednesday, Wakanda … What’s worth watching?

Somehow it is already December, and I know you all have holiday stuff to do. I know you don’t want to waste your time trying to find something to watch when you finally get some time to wind down. I’m here for you.

First up is the Disney+ series “Willow.” If you’re from Gen X, like me, you will remember the fantasy film “Willow,” starring Val Kilmer as Willow. Just kidding! Kilmer played Madmartigan who thus far does not appear in this series.

Willow is played by Warwick Davis, and my favorite part was when he showed up. His return had the same energy as the original Star Wars characters showing up in “The Last Jedi,” and and in fact Davis has said he was inspired by Mark Hamill’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker in that film.

I’m not sure how this is possible, but I did not realize Davis would be reprising his role from the 1988 film. I guess I haven’t been paying attention, and honestly, I don’t remember much from the original movie which I’ve mixed up with the 1985 fantasy film “Ladyhawke.”

As awesome as it was to see Davis back in the titular role, it doesn’t bode well that that scene was the best part of this show. Instead of reminding me of those earlier movies, this new series reminds me of nothing so much as Amazon’s adaptation of “Wheel of Time.” That’s not a bad thing, it’s just … a little confusing. It’s possible my middle-aged brain can only keep track of so many teenagers going on quests, but that’s probably a problem exclusive to myself (and maybe my fellow Gen X-ers).

So is “Willow” worth watching? I’ve only seen the first two episodes and I’d love to say it started out with a bang but so far it’s just meh. I will keep watching, in the hopes it will go from boring to amazing (which seems to be the trend – I’m looking at you, “Andor”) but if you have Disney+ and are into fantasy, or you’re just plain nostalgic, you’re probably already watching this one.

‘Wednesday’

Netflix’s new series “Wednesday” is, of course, about Wednesday Addams from the 1960s TV show and the movie remakes from the ’90s. Actually, there are multiple iterations of this family’s story, but those are the only ones I’ve seen.

The earlier versions are dark comedies, but this one’s genre is a bit less clear. With Tim Burton producing (and directing the first few episodes), we know it will be dark, but is it a comedy? Is it horror? Or a murder mystery? I think it’s trying to be all of those, but not entirely succeeding.

Wikipedia calls it a “coming-of-age supernatural comedy horror television series.” I feel that’s at least one too many ingredients in the cauldron, but maybe I’m not the target audience. This Wednesday, now 16, is played by Jenna Ortega, who is perfect in this role. Christina Ricci (who also stars) is my generation’s Wednesday, and her deadpan Thanksgiving speech at Camp Chippewa is still one of my favorite movie scenes. The witch hunt story line in “Wednesday” seems to be a callback to that takedown of whitewashing American history in “Addams Family Values,” but it’s just one of many side plots in a somewhat tangled story.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did, and I’m not alone – “Wednesday” is so popular it even broke a record held by “Stranger Things” – the most hours viewed in a week for an English language series on Netflix. It is similar in some ways to “Stranger Things.” Both shows are creepier than I would like, but they also both have themes of friendship and perseverance against the odds. Both shows focus on teen outcasts, and they also both have some great musical scenes: Wednesday’s dance scene (accompanied by The Cramps’ “Goo Goo Muck”), is the one most talked about, but I prefer her cello cover of The Stones’ “Paint It Black” (although nothing can top Eddie Munson’s “Master of Puppets” moment).

Despite its flaws, “Wednesday” is suspenseful and addictive. If you like coming-of-age supernatural comedy horror, stock up on popcorn and binge watch this one.

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’

If you are a Marvel fan, you know “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is absolutely worth going to see in the theater as you’ve likely already seen it and don’t need me to tell you how great it is. If you haven’t seen all the movies, you might be confused, as this is not just a sequel to 2018’s “Black Panther,” but also … lots of stuff has happened since that came out, in the films and TV series, but also in real life. Sadly, the actor who played King T’Challa/Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman, passed away in 2020.

The film did a great job in handling the death of his character and was a beautiful tribute to Boseman. I tried to avoid reading any spoilers, so I did not know who would be chosen as T’Challa’s successor. In that way, the film was unpredictable, which I liked. There are also some new characters introduced, who will likely have bigger roles in future installations.

I was less thrilled about the conflict the Wakandans had with the sea people, who reminded me too much of the underwater people from “Aquaman,” I guess because people who live in the ocean seem silly to me. Marvel has aliens and wizards and talking raccoons, but I apparently draw the line at mer-people. I don’t know why. Marvel villains always seem to lean toward the cheesy side anyway, so maybe it’s just par for the course.

Overall it was an exciting and emotional movie, and just as good as the first “Black Panther.” Maybe it was even better, since we already know and love these characters. I don’t think I’m giving away anything when I say this one is a tearjerker. Bring tissues.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

Despite the fact that it looked a little low-budget, I enjoyed “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.” It was silly and fun, and it was released the day after Thanksgiving, which I thought was a good choice. Mantis’ and Drax’s antics were funny and the ending was even sort of touching and sweet.

The Guardians are my favorite MCU characters and the upcoming “The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is rumored to be the last film with these characters, which I hope is not true.

The new movie is scheduled to be released in theaters on May 5, the second Marvel film of the new year, after “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” coming Feb. 17. The trailers for both films have been released.

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‘Dragon,’ ‘Rings,’ and ‘Andor’ start slow but get better

I know I complained in my last post about how much I don’t care about all these new shows, but some of them did get more interesting since then.

I will start with “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” (Amazon Prime). Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) is a great character, and one that didn’t get a lot of screen time in the movies, so it was nice to see her story. I enjoyed some of the new characters also. I especially loved Nori and her bestie, Poppy. It struck me as touching and sort of rare to see their friendship in a show like this. Men dominate the books and films so it was refreshing to get some girl power this time around. (Fiona Apple’s beautiful voice singing “Where the Shadows Lie,” at the end of the season finale, was the icing on the cake.)

The series was beautiful and well-cast, but it took its sweet time to get interesting. It wasn’t until the last episode or two that it started to pick up the pace. That was my main beef with this series and in the slow category, it’s the worst offender on today’s list. There were some interesting twists and it would have been nice if they got there sooner. That being said, I will for sure be watching Season 2, which is already in production.

Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and Rhaenerya (Emma D’Arcy), “House of the Dragon.”

I was not thrilled about “House of the Dragon” before it premiered and I didn’t love the first couple episodes, but it grew on me. Because of its slow start (and because the last season of “Game of Thrones” was terrible and left a bad taste in my mouth), Season 1 of “House of the Dragon” doesn’t hold a candle to the first season of “Game of Thrones.” But I am definitely now hooked and want to see what happens next.

Like “Rings,” “House of the Dragon” is beautiful – the sets, the costumes, the special effects (dragons!), and the cast were all great. Paddy Considine and Matt Smith were wonderful of course, and I was happy to see Olivia Cooke as the adult Alicent, as I liked her in “Ready Player One” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

I thought it was interesting that there was such a strong focus on motherhood and childbirth, although it was difficult to watch some of the scenes, as they were so heart wrenching. This series also had a female friendship, albeit one that has soured (to put it mildly).

The women characters got the short end of the stick (as usual), and even Alicent, who seemed to be holding all the cards, was not much more than a pawn. As Rhaenys pointed out to Alicent in the penultimate episode: “You toil still in service to men: your father, your husband, your son.”

Alicent is even somewhat sexually beholden to her spy (the creepy Larys) who has a fetish for the queen regent’s feet. I would like to say that was the most disturbing scene thus far in “House of the Dragon,” but there were, unfortunately, scenes that were worse. That’s my biggest complaint about “House of the Dragon.” In this it is similar to its predecessor; I watched “Game of Thrones” despite its “yuck” factor, not because of it. I would also prefer they tone down the violence a little, but I know that’s not going to happen.

Maarva (Fiona Shaw) is one of the best characters in the Star Wars series “Andor.”

The Star Wars series “Andor,” on Disney+, is not yet done airing its first season, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

Sometimes I find it slow and boring and feel too scattered to keep up with the allegorical and political nuances of the series. Other times I am invested, sitting at the edge of my seat and biting my nails.

Diego Luna is an amazing actor, reprising his role as Cassian Andor, and I also love his adoptive mother Maarva (Fiona Shaw), and Rebel leader Vel (Faye Marsay, who portrayed the waif from “Game of Thrones”). It’s also cool to see Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) again.

It is well done, and well-cast, but it is depressing, with all the oppressive Imperial forces, but I guess that should be expected from a franchise with the word Wars in the title.

Marvel

If you haven’t already watched the Marvel special “Werewolf by Night,” check it out. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Laura Donnelly, it’s an homage to old-timey horror, and perfect for Halloween. It was released Oct. 7, on Disney+.

Wrapping up Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” in theaters Nov. 11, and “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special,” Nov. 25, on Disney+.

The new year will bring Phase Five, beginning with the movie “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” in February. The first TV series of Phase Five will be the second season of “What If … ?” The first new TV series of Phase Five will be “Secret Invasion.”

Credits: Top photo, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” Amazon Studios; “House of the Dragon,” HBO; “Andor,” Disney Platform Distribution; “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

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Tolkien, Marvel, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, repeat

Well, I think it’s finally happening to me: Franchise burnout. I am really not that impressed with HBO’s “Game of Thrones” prequel series “House of the Dragon,” and Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings” prequel series “The Rings of Power” isn’t blowing me away either. And I’m not eagerly anticipating the new Star Wars series “Andor” (Disney+). I feel like I should want to watch all the new offerings from these popular sci-fi and fantasy franchises but honestly, I kind of just don’t care.

I doubt I would have even bothered with the Targaryens or the saga of Tolkien’s elves if it had not been for my husband convincing me to watch with him. Is it just me? Maybe I’m just tired in general. It’s a balmy 110 degrees where I live and it’s draining my will to do much of anything lately, much less care about Westeros or Middle-earth.

I’m happy to see there’s more diversity than I expected from these two series but both shows are still leaning white and blond, especially (most of) the lead characters. I guess they get points for including actors of different ethnicities, even if they are mostly peripheral characters? (I have read that some people are having a problem with any people of color in these shows, which I find confusing and sad.)

There is more diversity than I expected from these series but there’s still a lot of blond going on. Above, Galadriel from “The Rings of Power”; left, Rhaenyra from “House of the Dragon.”

Another issue I have with these series is that the events took place years before the original series. We already know how “Game of Thrones” ended – who cares what happened 200 years before that? (And let’s face it – the end of “Game of Thrones” sucked, which doesn’t help.)

We also already know what happened in “Lord of the Rings.” Do we really need to know what happened thousands of years before Frodo and Sam went to Mordor?

It seems a bit crazy to me that Amazon paid $250 million(!) for the rights to these stories, and they’re based mostly on appendices!

I realize they are banking on the name to draw viewers, but I would have been more interested in seeing something new. I think the post-apocalyptic Koli trilogy by M. R. Carey would be a fantastic miniseries, if they had the right writers and actors attached.

I would also love to see Charlie Jane Anders’ novel “All the Birds in the Sky” adapted to a movie or series. Her YA novel “Victories Greater Than Death” was picked up by Amazon Prime last year and is being developed by Michael B. Jordan’s production company Outlier Society. Hopefully they’ll do a good job with that so we’ll see more of her stories on the big and small screen.

Don’t get me wrong – “Dragon” and “Rings” aren’t really bad, just sort of boring. I guess it isn’t fair to judge them already since they’ve only released a couple episodes; maybe they are just getting warmed up. After all, “The Expanse” was confusing and boring at first, but it turned out to be awesome. So we’ll see.

“Andor” isn’t out yet. It was supposed to premiere on Aug. 31 but I assume its new release date, Sept. 21, is due to Disney+ not wanting it to compete against “Dragon” and “Rings.”

I hate to say this as a Star Wars fan, but why should we care about a prequel to “Rogue One,” which itself was a (boring) prequel? Having said that, I will probably still watch it. It’s Star Wars! (See, that’s how they get you.) Speaking of Disney, there’s another new Marvel series that just started: “She-Hulk,” which looked incredibly ridiculous in the trailer and actually is sort of ridiculous but is also kind of funny, and not as awful as I expected.

I like that it breaks the “fourth wall” and is sort of tongue-in-cheek, and of course Tatiana Maslany is super talented and adorable, which almost makes up for the silliness and the bad CGI.

That’s all for now. Tune in next time when I hopefully will have changed all my opinions on the aforementioned series because they dramatically improved halfway through!

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‘Thor,’ ‘The Boys,’ ‘Umbrella Academy,’ and ‘Trek: SNW’

I had really been looking forward to “Thor: Love and Thunder.” I had high expectations, as it has the same director (Taika Waititi) as “Thor: Ragnarok,” which is one of the most fun, and funny, films in the Marvel franchise. Unfortunately, this new one is not as good as “Ragnarok.”

It was cool to see Thor, Valkyrie, Jane, and Darcy (briefly) again, and my inner (Slash-obsessed) teen was really happy about all the Guns N’ Roses tunes. And there are some funny moments, and some “Yay!” moments, but if you’re taking little kids to see this, or you’re in the mood for a feel-good movie, you might be a little bit disappointed.

My main complaint about “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is that it is basically a horror movie. I thought the Thor sequel would be more light-hearted and fun, and it is, but it is also darker than I expected. One might think the fun parts balance that out, but instead it comes across, to me anyway, as sort of disjointed.

My more detailed criticisms (which follow the photo) are full of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen “Thor: Love and Thunder” yet, maybe just skip down to my review of “The Boys.”

By the way, the Guardians of the Galaxy do appear in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” but only in the beginning of the movie, so don’t get too excited.

OK if you’re still with me and haven’t seen “Thor: Love and Thunder” yet, you’ve been warned. Spoilers follow!

Christian Bale is creepy and depressing as Gorr the God Butcher, and I know he’s supposed to be creepy because he’s the bad guy, but his origin story is unsettling, and his abduction of the kids is pretty dark. Isn’t it sad enough that Jane Foster is dying of cancer? Now there are monsters stealing little kids from their beds?

Almost as much of a bummer as the horror elements are the tired jokes. (The first time Korg botches Jane’s name is funny. Come up with a different joke after that.) Remember in “Endgame” when the writers thought it was funny to make fun of the fact that Thor got fat – like 12 times? That’s how I feel about the love affair between Thor and Stormbreaker. It’s amusing at first, and I know Natalie Portman has a reputation for not having chemistry with any of her co-stars but this script doesn’t help matters by whipping up more tension between Thor and his ax than between its human characters.

I was excited about Jane becoming Mighty Thor, and I stupidly thought they were going to be bringing her back for more than just this one movie. Mjolnir gives her powers but doesn’t cure her cancer? No; in fact, it actually hastens her decline. (Apparently, this is partially taken from the comics, the explanation being that the transformation purges her body of toxins, including the chemo.)

I love that we get this whole back story of Thor and Jane’s relationship, and that she turns into a superhero, and that she and Thor get back together, but then … it’s over. Then to add insult to injury we discover the love and thunder of the title refers not to Thor and Jane, but to Thor and the villain’s bratty orphan daughter! I guess it is supposed to be adorable, but it feels rushed and unearned. I guess I’m just bitter because I wanted Jane to have the happy ending with Thor.

Give Tessa Thompson more screen time!

I wanted a win for at least one of the bad-ass women in this film. Valkyrie is sidelined about halfway through the movie! I’m over this trend of women getting fridged and/or killed off. Is Jane’s role in this simply to sacrifice herself and to teach Thor how to open his heart to love? We already had Black Widow sacrifice herself in “Endgame.” And in “Multiverse,” Wanda was killed off (and was also a victim of character assassination). That’s just off the top of my head – and only in the last three years of Marvel movies.

Maybe I’m being unfair. I know it sounds like I hate this movie, but I don’t. I’ll watch it again and I’ll probably like it more the next time, and I’ll say I was too harsh in my review. Maybe.

‘The Boys’

I loved Frenchie and Kimiko this season. They are so pure and sweet with each other, and I really want them to live. Previously, my fave character on “The Boys” was Billy Butcher. (Don’t judge!) I even found Frenchie slightly annoying before, but now I’m 100% team Frenchie/Kimiko.

Unfortunately, the comments I keep seeing online about this show look like “Who cares about these two? Let’s get back to the supes.” Um? You don’t want to see Frenchie and Kimiko snuggling, but you’re OK with supes shrinking themselves to fit into someone’s uh … nether regions? You don’t want to see Frenchie and Kimiko singing and dancing, but you’re OK with yet another exploding head? What about the Deep doing stuff with an octopus? More than once?! Also, I don’t understand anyone who is turned on by Soldier Boy or Little Nina. And “Herogasm” made me nauseated. It’s possible (I mean likely) that this show isn’t for me. But. Homelander needs to die and I’m not going to stop watching until he does.

‘Umbrella Academy’

Speaking of singing and dancing, how much did you love the dance battle at the beginning of this season’s “Umbrella Academy”? As in “The Boys,” it was all in the imagination of one character, but it was still awesome.

I think the writers did a good job of handling Elliot Page’s storyline. Vanya is now Viktor, and the other siblings are supportive, which is nice.

I am not loving the Sparrows, but I guess we’re not supposed to like them. I really loved Season 2 of this series, and so far, Season 3 isn’t quite as good, but I’m only halfway through, so maybe it will get better.

‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’

When the first few episodes of SNW aired, I was kind of bored. “Discovery” was the new Trek, as far as I was concerned. SNW is just a spinoff! Right? Well. It reeled me in and now I’m all in with Space Daddy, er, PIKE, new Spock, Una, Chapel, La’an, New-Uhura (New-Hura?), Ortegas, M’Benga, and T’Pring.

There is much discussion in the fandom as to why this show works so well. Is it because it is episodic? Is it because it is so similar to the original series? Is it because it isn’t trying so hard to be, for lack of a better word, “woke”? Does it matter? It’s fun. Enough said.

Aside from the animated series (“Lower Decks” and “Prodigy”), which will be back this year, there are no release dates yet for any new or returning Trek series. “Discovery,” “Picard,” and “Strange New Worlds” are expected to return in 2023.

Coming up in August on Disney+ are the Marvel series “She-Hulk” (Aug. 17) and “I Am Groot” animated shorts (Aug. 10), as well as the Star Wars series “Andor” (Aug. 31). The “Game of Thrones” prequel series “House of the Dragon” premieres Aug. 21, on HBO.

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