Marvel’s ‘Shang-Chi’ a hybrid of action and fantasy

Let’s get straight down to business: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” It was great – I loved it. It was almost (I said almost!) as good as “Black Panther.” Even though they are very different, it’s hard not to compare the two – they both are origin stories that star minority leads: “Black Panther” was the first MCU film with a Black lead, and “Shang-Chi” is the first Asian superhero. Both films also feature never-before-seen magical places. (I won’t get into that because I’m trying to make this review relatively spoiler-free.)

Simu Liu is great as the title character Shang-Chi, the son of Wenwu (Tony Leung) who is the wielder of the 10 rings, ancient relics which give power to those who possess them. Shang’s BFF Katy, played by the always-funny Awkwafina, provides moral support and comic relief, and Meng’er Zhang is great as Shang’s sister, Xialing.

Michelle Yeoh, as Shang and Xialings’s aunt, is fantastic as usual. I loved her in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Star Trek: Discovery,” and oh yes, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”! You know you’re good when you land not one, but two roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Besides being visually stunning, there is never a dull moment in this movie. It sucks you in from the start, and takes you on a crazy ride. It’s sort of a hybrid between an action flick and a fantasy. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s not terribly deep but the cast, the story, the costumes, and the CGI are all amazing and come together to make this a worthy addition to the MCU, especially when you factor in the cameos from other Marvel characters. (And if you’ve seen the Marvel One-Shots short film “All Hail the King,” you will not be surprised to see Ben Kingsley, reprising his role as Trevor Slattery, who first appeared in “Iron Man 3.”)

Free Guy

I know “Free Guy” looks like a silly movie – a combination between “Wreck-It Ralph” and “The Lego Movie,” and well, it is. But it’s funny and it has heart and it was better than I thought it was going to be. I probably would not have gone to see this in the theater except for the fact that it was our anniversary and there was not much else to do. But we were pleasantly surprised.

I’ve loved Ryan Reynolds since I saw him in “Deadpool,” so already the movie had that going for it. It reminded me of the Amazon series “Upload,” except instead of a virtual afterlife, “Free Guy” takes place in a video game. Reynolds is Guy, an NPC (non-playable character). Guy’s run-in with a player named Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer, “Killing Eve”) sort of “awakens” him and he begins to stray from his program. Craziness ensues.

You don’t really need to be a gamer to enjoy the movie (but it will help you recognize certain YouTubers who make cameos). The movie also stars Taika Waititi as a narcissistic game developer, and “Stranger Things” fans will be happy to see Joe Keery as his employee.

It’s not going to blow your mind, but if you’re on the fence about this one, just go see it. It’s fun.

What If … ?

I know I talked about how much I loved “Loki,” and also “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” I even liked “WandaVision” (but not as much as the other two). Now we have “What If …?”, an animated Marvel series which explores alternate outcomes. What if Agent Carter had taken the super serum instead of Steve Rogers? That’s the question posed in the first episode, and although it was a little campy, I actually liked that episode. Unfortuantely, it went downhill from there, and so far, this is my least favorite Marvel series on Disney+.

(Warning: Spoilers follow!)

What if … your favorite Marvel characters were cursed with bad writing?

In the episodes that followed the Captain Carter episode (at least the ones that I’ve seen so far), the superhoeroes we’ve come to know and love act completely against character. In episode 2, the series explores what would have happened if T’Challa had become Star-Lord, and we see Nebula, who is normally a total bad-ass, reduced to a blonde bombshell who calls T’Challa Cha-Cha.

I also found certain plot points to be somewhat nonsensical: T’Challa forgives Yondu for lying to him about his real father for no reason. In “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Quill forgives Yondu for lying to him about his real father but there’s a very good reason (his father was a bad guy). I get that T’Challa is a good person and that it’s this goodness that made his Star-Lord a savior, rather than the screw-up that Peter Quill is, but come on.

Also acting against character is Hank Pym who (in the third episode) becomes a murderous villain after his daughter Hope is killed. And Doctor Strange, in episode 4, loses his love, Dr. Christine Palmer, and becomes obsessed with bringing her back. Our favorite sorcerer’s willingness to absorb creepy entities is out of character but even worse is the assertion that Dr. Palmer’s death is an “absolute point” in the timeline – an unchangeable event that leads to Strange’s defeat of Dormammu. There is no timeline in which she doesn’t die. Um? Except for the one (in the film) in which Christine is alive and well, right?

Episode 5 gives us … zombies. If it isn’t disturbing enough to see our Avengers devolve into brain-eating monsters, the insult added to injury is Vision sacrificing humans to feed his zombie love Wanda. This seems completely out of character, but by this point I guess it was par for the course. (I admit I’m not a fan of gore; horror fans probably loved it.)

Another thing I did not like was the fridging of two women – in two consecutive episodes. In case you haven’t heard me gripe about this before, fridging is a plot device in which a character, often the hero’s love interest, is killed off or incapacitated for the purpose of motivating the hero. The most obvious example of this is in the Doctor Strange epsiode (Christine’s death is the motivating factor for his trip to Kamar-Taj). But I would argue that Hope’s death also qualifies, since it’s the catalyst for Pym’s unexpected villainy.

Actually, Doctor Strange sort of becomes a villain as well – because of his unwillingness to accept that he can’t change the past (in which she dies) – but only after her death leads to him saving the world first. So I’m not really sure if the writers are making a commentary on fridging leading to villainy or if this is just textbook fridging. Considering these are the same writers who turned Nebula into a femme fatale, my guess is the latter.

I get that the whole point is to switch up the stories but I expected the alternative timelines to at least make sense. The Captain Carter one did; it was plausible that Peggy would take the serum instead of Steve, and the ensuing events made sense. The following four episodes didn’t seem to follow logic.

There are four more episodes left in the series, and I haven’t given up. The possibilities in a multiverse are endless; there is potential for some great stories. Maybe “What If …?” will yet fulfill it.

Photos: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Free Guy,” 20th Century Studios; “What If …?”, Disney+.

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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

2020-04-22 00.25.02

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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.

2020-04-22 00.25.02

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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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New films & series adapted from sci-fi & fantasy books

Fans of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel “Brave New World” will be happy to hear there’s a release date for the adaptation, a series which will air on NBC’s Peacock – on July 15, which is also the launch date of the new streaming service.

The series is set in a future society that is rigid and controlled. Bernard (Harry Lloyd) and Lenina (Jessica Brown Findlay) go to the Savage Lands where they become involved in a rebellion and meet John the Savage (Alden Ehrenreich). Hannah John-Kamen and Demi Moore also star. David Wiener is the showrunner.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m very excited about the upcoming adaptation of one of my favorite books, the post-apocalyptic novel “Station Eleven,” by Emily St. John Mandel. The miniseries is coming to HBO Max, but the premiere date still has not been announced. Mackenzie Davis and Hamish Patel will star.

Another film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” is coming in 2021. This one changes the setting from ’80s England to ’60s Alabama, and is written by Robert Zemeckis, Guillermo del Toro, and Kenya Barris. The cast includes Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Chris Rock, and Jahzir Kadeem Bruno.

Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) is also working on an adaptation of “Pinocchio” for Netflix, which will also be released in 2021. The film, a musical, will feature stop-motion animation and the voices of Ewan McGregor, Ron Perlman, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz, and David Bradley.

Another miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Stand” is coming to CBS All Access. Filming was reportedly completed in March, but a release date has not yet been set. James Marsden, Amber Heard, Whoopi Goldberg, and Alexander Skarsgård will star.

The latest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” will be directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”). The ensemble cast includes Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem. The film is scheduled to be released in U.S. theaters Dec. 18.

“The Old Guard,” July 10
Charlize Theron stars in this superhero film, based on the comic book of the same name. KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, and Chiwetel Ejiofor also star. “The Old Guard” will premiere on Netflix.

“Cursed,” July 17
The Netflix series is adapted from the illustrated fantasy novel of the same name, by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler. It is based on Arthurian legend, from the viewpoint of a young woman destined to become the Lady of the Lake.

“The One and Only Ivan,” Aug. 21
I love this book (by Katherine Applegate), about a gorilla who lives in a cage in a shopping mall. The film adaptation is a mix of live action and CGI and was originally going to be released in theaters, but will premiere on Disney+.

Bryan Cranston, Ramon Rodriguez, and Ariana Greenblatt star, and the voice cast includes Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, Helen Mirren, Chaka Khan, Mike White, Brooklynn Prince, Ron Funches, and Phillipa Soo.

“The Boys,” Sept. 4
The subversive superhero series, based on the comic book, will return to Amazon Prime for Season 2.

All release dates subject to change.

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

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Sci-fi and fantasy coming to TV, streaming services

Mike McMahan

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m looking forward to all the new Star Trek series coming up. The adult animated comedy “Star Trek: Lower Decks” is expected to be released later this year. Creator Mike McMahan (“Ricky and Morty”) has said it will be set during the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” era, and will focus on the support crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos.

The voice cast includes Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noel Wells, Eugene Cordero, Dawnn Lewis, Jack Ransom, Jerry O’Connell, Fred Tatasciore, and Gillian Vigman, and will air on CBS All Access.

‘Battlestar Galactica’

Sam Esmail

Exciting news for fellow “Battlestar Galactica” fans: The creator of “Mr. Robot,” Sam Esmail, is developing a series based on the sci-fi space drama. Esmail is reportedly a fan of Ron Moore’s version, which was a reboot of the ’70s series.

There is no date yet or casting news, but it will air on the NBC streaming service Peacock. Esmail said it will be a long-running series rather than a mini-series. Let’s hope it has a better ending than Moore’s “Galactica.” And a better ending than “Mr. Robot,” for that matter.

‘The Wheel of Time’

If you’re a fan of the Robert Jordan book series “The Wheel of Time,” you have probably already heard about the upcoming Amazon Prime adaptation which has been in the works for a while. Brandon Sanderson, who finished writing the book series after Jordan passed, and Jordan’s widow Harriet McDougal will be consulting producers on the series. It is worth mentioning that McDougal isn’t “just” the widow of the author – she is an editor of many fantasy novels (including the WoT books written by Jordan).

Rafe Judkins (“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) is the main showrunner and executive producer. Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”) has been cast as Moiraine.

Moiraine is a member of the Aes Sedai, a group of women who use magic. After an attack on a village by the “Dark One,” Moiraine takes five young people from the village. She believes the evil entity is after one of them, because one of them might be “the Dragon” who is part of an ancient prophecy.

If you’re thinking “the prince that was promised” from Game of Thrones, there’s a reason for that: Every streaming service has been looking for the next big GoT-like hit, and this is supposed to be Amazon’s. (The books are more reminiscent of “Lord of the Rings” though.) Will it live up to the hype? Time will tell.

‘The Boys’

If you’re eagerly anticipating the return of Amazon’s series “The Boys,” you’ll want to tune in tomorrow for a reunion special, during which the Season Two premiere date will be announced. The reunion will be hosted by Patton Oswalt, who has a role in the new season.

Fantasy films for younger viewers

“A Whisker Away,” on Netflix, is about a middle school girl who becomes a cat in order to be with her crush. She wears a literal mask when she is a cat, but when she’s human, she’s wearing a mask too – a fake smile to hide her pain.

If you like Miyazaki, or cats, you may enjoy watching this strange little movie with your tween or teen. We liked it, even as we found it slightly baffling. (I also find Miyazaki confusing, so maybe it’s just me.)

It is in Japanese with English subtitles.

The film adaptation of the children’s book series “Upside-Down Magic” is coming to Disney Channel on July 31. I enjoyed reading the books with my daughter when she was younger, so I think it’s cool they made a movie. The story follows a group of students whose magic has gone “wonky.” It has a good message about kids who don’t fit in, or feel different.

The movie stars Izabela Rose, Siena Agudong, Vicki Lewis, Kyle Hward, Elie Samouhi, Alison Fernandez, and Max Torina.

Photo credits: “Star Trek: Lower Decks,” CBS Television Distribution; “The Boys,” Amazon Studios; “A Whisker Away,” Netflix; “Upside-Down Magic,” Disney.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monstress

monstress_v2_feat

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

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

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

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

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

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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