More female-led films and TV series – a welcome trend

There are so many reasons I love sci-fi. One of the main reasons is that it’s an escape – from the senseless stuff going on in the world and in the news and, at times, in our own lives. It might just be a temporary escape, but I love that there are all these alternate, fictional universes out there, and I can check in and out of them anytime my brain needs a break from the real world.

And I know I’ve said it before, but I love superhero movies because there is always someone fighting for justice and giving us the happy endings we don’t often get in real life. OK, maybe not always (*cough, cough* “Infinity War”). But you catch my drift.

One of the things going on in science fiction right now makes me really happy: the trend of female characters getting their own movies. I am still giddy over the Wonder Woman movie that came out last year, and I’m also excited for the Wonder Woman sequel coming out next year.

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Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in “Wonder Woman 1984.”

The sequel will be set in 1984, which in itself is soooo rad. I really love Gal Gadot as the Amazonian warrior princess, I’m thrilled that Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, and Robin Wright will also be reprising their roles, and I’m particularly intrigued about the news that Kristen Wiig will star as archaeologist Barbara Minerva, aka Cheetah, because even though I haven’t read much DC stuff, I did actually read some of the “Wonder Woman: DC Universe Rebirth” comics, and Cheetah is featured in those so I actually know who she is. And also Kristen Wiig is so cool.

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Marvel Comics’ Cheetah will appear in the new Wonder Woman movie, coming in 2019.

Why oh why must we wait so long till the movie comes out? I will have to just content myself with watching my Wonder Woman DVD for the 20th time. …

On the Marvel side, we were treated to some awesome girl power in “Black Panther.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia were the best characters in the film. I would love to see one or all of them heading their own movie in the future.

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Danai Gurira as Okoye in “Black Panther.”

We also finally got to see Evangeline Lilly turn into the Wasp in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” What a fun, and funny, movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. And don’t miss the ever-present Marvel post-credits scenes – there’s a tie-in to “Infinity War.”

Speaking of “Infinity War,” I’m really looking forward to seeing another character, who was alluded to at the end, in her own movie – Captain Marvel! I haven’t read any of the Captain Marvel comics – yet – but I love Brie Larson and the trailer looks super cool. The movie is set in the ’90s, in case you’re wondering why she crashes into a Blockbuster Video (or why Nick Fury still has two eyes).

I know that cool, ass-kicking women in sci fi are not necessarily new. One of my all-time favorite TV series, “Battlestar Galactica,” was a remake that made tough Viper pilot Starbuck a female character instead of a man (like in the 1970s series). Before that, we had Ripley in “Alien” and Sarah Connor in “Terminator.”

But more often than not, women are the girlfriend of the hero, or the token female on the boys team – and not always the most interesting of the bunch (sorry Black Widow). So it seems sort of groundbreaking to have Wonder Woman (finally!) and Captain Marvel movies.

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Brie Larson stars in “Captain Marvel.”

In fact, “Captain Marvel” will be the first female-led film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yep. The 20 MCU movies so far have all been about the dudes – Thor, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Hulk, Captain America, and Black Panther – or an ensemble cast – Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers. (I’m not counting “Elektra,” as it was distributed by 20th Century Fox and therefore not officially an MCU film.) I guess Disney needed Warner Bros. to show them women superheroes can bring in the big box office bucks.

In addition to the Wonder Woman sequel, Warner Bros. is also working on “Birds of Prey,” an ensemble film of DC Comics’ female heroes and villains. Margot Robbie will play Harley Quinn again, and is also signed on as co-producer. Just how closely the movie follows the comic, or the 2002 TV series, remains to be seen.

Buzz about the movie so far suggests the cast will be more diverse than previous iterations, which is good news (and perhaps an indication that Disney schooled Warner Bros. with the success of “Black Panther.”) Filming is expected to begin early next year.

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DC Comics’ “Birds of Prey” is being adapted into a film by Warner Bros.

It may seem like women as comic heroes is a new phenomenon, but it dates back a lot further. I recently watched an inspiring and informative documentary on Netflix called “She Makes Comics,” and I highly recommend it. She-Makes-Comics-2

Women in comics talk all about their roles in the comic industry – as writers, illustrators, editors, fans, and cosplayers. And comic historians talk about the first women in the industry – waaaaay back in the 1930s!

The word “documentary” might make you think “boring,” but trust me when I say this is an engrossing film, and it’s only 73 minutes long. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

On the TV front, we have some really great women characters right now. While not a “female-led” series, per se, there are some powerful women in major roles on “The Expanse,” including an engineer, a captain, a gunnery sergeant, and a United Nations secretary-general.

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Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dominique Tipper, and Frankie Adams as UN Secretary-General Chrisjen Avasarala, engineer Naomi Nagata, and Martian Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bobbie Draper, on “The Expanse.”

The 13th doctor on “Doctor Who” is a woman, which is a first, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the female-led series “Jessica Jones,” “Agent Carter,” and “Supergirl,” although I admit I haven’t seen them. They’re getting pretty good reviews; one of these days I will get around to watching!

Next year we will have to say goodbye to some of the most bad-ass women in the fantasy genre when “Game of Thrones” concludes. Brienne of Tarth, Arya Stark, and Daenerys Targaryen were my favorite women on the HBO series.

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Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) will be missed, after HBO’s “Game of Thrones” airs its final season next year.

I’m really only scratching the surface here, talking about the faces that you see on the big and small screens. My friend and fellow blogger Lavender Vroman has her finger on the pulse of geek industry girl power. She blogs about and interviews women from across the spectrum of geekdom: fans, writers, illustrators, artists, fashion designers, models, cosplayers – the list goes on and on.

https://nomansland.blog/

You can also find Vroman’s work on the Hero Within blog:

https://herowithinstore.com/blogs/news

Credits: “Captain Marvel” photos and trailer, Star Wars gif, and “Black Panther” photo, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. “Wonder Woman 1984,” Warner Bros. Pictures. “Wonder Woman” and “Birds of Prey” art, DC Comics. “The Expanse,” Alcon Entertainment Group. “Game of Thrones,” HBO. “She Makes Comics,” XLrator Media. 

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Thumbs up for ‘Deadpool 2,’ ‘Isle of Dogs,’ ‘Infinity War’

There have been so many good movies out lately, I can barely keep up. I saw the new Star Wars movie and “Deadpool 2” in the same weekend. (You can see my “Solo” review below this post.)

Superhero flicks are not usually my favorite genre, but lately I find myself more and more drawn to them, and I guess I’m not alone because they’re big hits at the box office too.

I think part of the reason, for me anyway, is that there are so many bad guys in real life, in the world, in the news. It’s very disheartening. Superhero movies offer a temporary escape – we can make believe that there are good people out there who have magical powers to kick the bad guys’ asses.

If these ass kickers can make me laugh, so much the better.

‘Deadpool 2’

If you liked the first Deadpool, you’ll like this one too. I loved it. I laughed, I cried. Mostly I laughed. If you haven’t seen the first one yet, check it out – as long as you’re OK with raunchy humor.

The thing that’s refreshing and unique about Deadpool is that he’s not a typical comic book hero – no, I’m not referring to his double entendres, but to his self-awareness; he knows all the tropes and clichés and he “breaks the fourth wall” – that invisible wall that separates the characters from the audience. He looks at the camera and says things like:

Ryan Reynolds is great as Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, the wisecracking mutant superhero, and I love the new characters in the sequel too. I think my favorites are Zazie Beetz as Domino, because she was funny and badass, and Cable, because I love Josh Brolin.

Morena Baccarin reprises her role as Wade’s adorable, hooker-with-a-heart-of gold fiancée Vanessa. There are some surprisingly touching moments in the film, considering the slapstick tone of the movie. (I wasn’t joking when I said I cried). That’s not to say that Deadpool is deep and meaningful, but if you want to be entertained and amused for two hours, go see it. Just remember it’s rated R, so don’t bring the kids.

‘Isle of Dogs’

If you’re familiar with writer and director Wes Anderson, you know he’s known for his quirkiness. I was especially drawn to this film because of the endearing characters – dogs. But don’t be fooled – even though these are cute and cuddly stop-motion canines, this isn’t a kid movie. The dogs (voiced by Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, and Ed Norton, among others) are quarantined on a trash island in a dystopian Japan.

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I liked it, but it was darker and more disturbing than Anderson’s 2009 stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

‘Avengers: Infinity War’

This is my favorite Avengers film so far. The addition of other Marvel characters was what made the movie. I love the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, and the characters from “Black Panther.” It was fun, and funny, to see some of them meeting each other for the first time.

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It’s not all fun and games though – the reason they are all meeting each other is because they are joining forces to fight a big, bad villain named Thanos. The problem of Thanos (which began in other Marvel films) comes to a head in “Infinity War.”

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. This particular story is based on “The Infinity Gauntlet” and “Infinity” comic books from 1991 and 2013, respectively. (If you want to know more about the Infinity Gauntlet, scroll down a few posts.)

I am not going to post any spoilers. All I’m going to say is that the next Avengers movie can’t come soon enough.

Here are some other films I’m looking forward to:

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ fn-ant-man-and-the-wasp-film04

I was a little bit bummed that Ant-Man didn’t make an appearance in “Infinity War,” since I love Paul Rudd, but I’m looking forward to seeing him in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which also stars Evangeline Lilly.

The sequel to 2015’s “Ant-Man” is set after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” and will be in theaters July 6.

‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard star in this sequel to the 2015 movie, and Jeff Goldblum returns as Dr. Ian Malcolm (although his part is rumored to be more of a cameo appearance).

The sequel is said to be darker and scarier than the first “Jurassic World” movie, and the trailer does have more of a horror feel to it. Director J.A. Bayona said it’s influenced by Alfred Hitchcock movies and 1979’s “Dracula.” It sounds like a departure from the other Jurassic films. We’ll see if it’s a change for the better or worse, on June 22.

‘Mary Poppins Returns’

I feel the same way about Emily Blunt playing the magical nanny as I do about Alden Ahrenreich as Han Solo. Han will always be Harrison Ford to me, and Mary Poppins is Julie Andrews. Can anyone else really be practically perfect in every way? 

That being said, I’m willing to give it a chance. After all, “Solo” exceeded my expectations. To make the medicine go down, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, and Lin Manuel Miranda also star, and Dick Van Dyke will have a cameo. It comes out on Christmas Day, so it should be a jolly holiday with Mary.

‘Aquaman’

Also expected to come out in December is “Aquaman.” The sixth film in the DC Extended Universe follows the events in last year’s “Justice League.” The heir to the underwater city of Atlantis, Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, who is half human and half Atlantean, is caught in a battle between his two worlds.

I’ve heard this is going to be an origin story, and I’m a sucker for a good origin story. Time will tell if the story is good. Honestly, I’m going to go see it no matter what because Jason Momoa:

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Photos: “Deadpool 2,” 20th Century Fox; “Isle of Dogs,” Fox Searchlight Pictures; “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Aquaman,” Warner Bros. Pictures. 
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Brush up on your Infinity Stone knowledge before ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Nine more days till “Infinity War”! I don’t normally count down the days to superhero flicks, but this one is special because it has everyone in it – the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, but also Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and even Ant-Man and Spider-Man.

If you haven’t seen all the Marvel movies, or you just want to brush up on the history of the Infinity Stones before the new movie, I’ll give you a little background, and a few recommendations on what to watch/re-watch before you see the new film.

If you’ve seen “Guardians of the Galaxy,” you may remember Benicio del Toro’s character, Taneleer Tivan, aka the Collector, talking about the Infinity Stones. He said, “Before creation itself, there were six singularities. Then the universe exploded into existence, and the remnants of these systems were forged into concentrated ingots. Infinity Stones.”

That explains everything we need to know about these gems. Just kidding; it explains nothing. Suffice it to say they’re powerful relics that superheroes and supervillains fight over like third-graders fighting over a Nintendo controller.

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The Collector, played by Benicio del Toro, “explains” the Infinity Stones. 

The blue Space Stone was used by the Red Skull in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and it’s used to generate wormholes in “The Avengers.” It is housed in the Tesseract. The yellow Mind Stone is in Loki’s scepter in “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” The red Reality Stone was formed into a weapon called the Aether, and was entrusted to the Collector at the end of “Thor: The Dark World.” The purple Power Stone is contained inside an orb which is central to the plot of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The green Time Stone was encased in the Eye of Agamotto. A master of the mystic arts can use it to manipulate time. It appears in “Doctor Strange.” Not much is known about the orange Soul Stone; maybe we’ll learn more about it in the new movie.

No one has time to watch all 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before the new movie comes out (or maybe you do – I don’t know your life). But I have narrowed it down to the basics. These are my personal recommendations, which I’ve chosen because they mention Infinity Stones, but also because they’re really fun movies. In order of release, they are “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Doctor Strange,” and “Thor: Ragnarok.”

I also recommend “Black Panther,” because T’Challa/Black Panther, as well as several other characters from that movie, will appear in “Infinity War,” and their country, Wakanda, plays a big role in the new film too. Plus it’s just a really awesome movie. Unfortunately, the “Black Panther” DVD won’t be released until May 15, but you may be able to catch a Marvel marathon near you. (Check your local theater listings.)

“Avengers: Infinity War” will be released April 27.

The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire

If you didn’t get tickets to this year’s Ren Faire, it’s not too late. The faire, in Irwindale, runs every weekend through May 20. This weekend (April 21 and 22) is RennCon™ weekend! The faire offers different themed weekends; RennConn™ is a celebration of “cosplay in all its forms.”

Time traveler weekend (including a steampunk costume contest) is May 5 and 6, and Heroes & Villains is May 12 and 13. For more information, go to http://renfair.com/socal/special-events/

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The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire, in Irwindale. 

Photos: “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Renaissance Faire photo by Earth to Shawna. 

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Virtual reality movie ‘Ready Player One’ is a fun ride

READY. PLAYER. ONE.

I’ve been excited about this ever since I heard they were making it into a movie (it was a novel first – by Ernest Cline).

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When I heard it was going to be directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, my first thought was Wow, Spielberg! That’s perfect! And then my next thought was that I’m not a huge Spielberg fan. So I had my misgivings. Were they going to mess this up?

The main character is an orphaned teenager named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who is competing in a 1980s-themed  VR contest – in the year 2044. The winner will inherit the fortune of the contest’s deceased creator, James Halliday, a Willy Wonka-esque character who created the virtual reality world OASIS.

OASIS is where much of the story takes place, which I imagined could translate to the big screen in a really awesome way – or it could look totally lame.

Luckily, the special effects were great. My other concern was that there are usually two issues with reading the book first. One: I already know what’s going to happen. And two: “That’s not how it was in the book!” Well there’s really no worries about that here. It was still exciting, even though I already knew the plot, and at this point, I understand that they need to change it up from novel to screenplay. As long as it works, I’m happy. And aside from a few minor gripes, it does work.

It’s clever, it’s funny, and it’s a little trip down memory lane for anyone who grew up in the 1980s, because ’80s movie and video game references abound. “Back to the Future,” “Iron Giant,” “Gremlins,” “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” – you will catch snippets of these and many more throughout, but it’s subtle enough as to not be too distracting.

You don’t need to be an ’80s kid to enjoy this movie. The rumor about this being a pop-culture overdose was premature. The ’80s stuff is just background/setting and not the story. (I don’t understand people bitching about this before the movie was even released?)

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Art3mis and Parzival in “Ready Player One.”

For a movie that celebrates ’80s nostalgia, the soundtrack should have been better. There are a couple gems (including New Order’s “Blue Monday”), but the track list is phoned in and too short, especially for such a long movie.

It clocks in at 140 minutes, but it’s so fast-paced you probably won’t notice (unless you have to pee). The pacing is actually perfect, and it’s enough time for our heroes to get to know each other in between all the racing around.

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Tye Sheridan and Lena Waithe

Their friendship is central to the story, and Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, and Lena Waithe were well cast and seem to click. The villains were a little clichéd; Wade’s nemesis, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), is like a high school principal in a John Hughes film but maybe that’s fitting.

“Ready Player One” isn’t deep or profound, but it’s fun, especially if you don’t mind a sprinkle of Spielbergian cheese on the second half of your movie.

Moving on …

‘The Expanse’

I did not read this book series, which is set in a future where humans have colonized the solar system. I was kind of confused/bored at first, but I stuck with it and my patience paid off. This is one of the most interesting, suspenseful series I’ve seen in a long time.

In case you haven’t heard me sing this show’s praises already: It has all the ingredients you want in a sci-fi show – great writing and effects, complex characters, a diverse and talented cast, moral dilemmas, plot twists, drama, suspense, humor. But what I like best about “The Expanse” is that it’s not like anything else – a refreshing change of pace in this era of remakes and sequels.

Season 3 of “The Expanse” premieres April 11 on Syfy.

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Dominique Tipper and Steven Strait star in “The Expanse.”

A match made in the Star Trek Universe

Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Adam Nimoy (Leonard Nimoy’s son) tied the knot on Monday, which would have been Leonard Nimoy’s 87th birthday. They went public with their relationship at the Star Trek convention in Vegas last year. Live long and prosper, newlyweds!

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Photos: Ready Player One, Warner Bros. Pictures; The Expanse, Syfy; Terry Farrell/Adam Nimoy photo by Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

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My 5 fave sci-fi films of 2017 – and 5 I want to see in 2018

I was so looking forward to so many sci-fi movies in 2017, and what a year it has been! Here are my favorite sci-fi films of the year:

Wonder Woman

I did not have great expectations for Wonder Woman. Even though I loved Lynda Carter’s version of the Amazon princess in the 1980s TV series, I am not a huge fan of DC comics. But I was blown away. Gal Gadot was nothing short of amazing. I laughed, I cried, I watched it a dozen times. It was the perfect movie to go with the feminist rallying cry of 2017. Girl power!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Well I just said I’m not a DC fan – I’m a Marvel girl. And my favorite Marvel superheroes right now are the Guardians of the Galaxy! They’re cool, they’re funny, and they’re cute. I love Star-Lord, Rocket, Baby Groot, and new character Mantis. Add tough chick Gamora and funny-as-hell Drax and you’ve got a winning team. Even my friends who don’t usually like sci-fi love the Guardians. So what are you waiting for?

Okja

This Bong Joon-ho film was on Netflix, not in theaters, but I can’t get it out of my head. Maybe I’m biased because I’m a vegetarian, but this movie, about a huge, genetically engineered “super pig,” was one of my favorites. It also helps that I adore Paul Dano, who plays a member of the Animal Liberation Front.

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A space horse, or “fathier,” from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I’m seeing a lot of griping about the latest Star Wars episode, but I loved it – the simmering connection between Rey and Kylo, the return of Luke Skywalker, the bittersweet Carrie Fisher scenes, and all those adorable Star Wars critters! I can’t wait till it comes out on DVD so I can watch it 10 more times.

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Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones star in “The Shape of Water.”

The Shape of Water

You may remember I did a review last year of LACMA’s Guillermo del Toro exhibit – it was muy interesante. So when I heard there was a new del Toro film, I had to go see it. It didn’t disappoint. It’s sort of like a love story between a cleaning lady and the creature from the black lagoon. I know, it sounds crazy – and it is – but like most of del Toro’s films, it’s a work of art, and that in itself makes it worth watching.

The cast was superb. Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, and Richard Jenkins earned much-deserved Golden Globe nominations for their roles.

I’m also looking forward to more awesome movies in 2018. There are lots of new sci-fi movies coming – too many to list! Here are just a few that I don’t want to miss:

Annihilation, coming Feb. 23

Ever since “Ex Machina,” I’ve been looking forward to seeing whatever Alex Garland does next. Natalie Portman stars as a biologist trying to find out what happened to her husband, the sole survivor of a mysterious environmental disaster. The film is based on a book (by Jeff VanderMeer), which I have not read, so I really don’t know much about the film. Based on what I’ve seen in the trailer, it looks like it could be good. Or awful. Too soon to tell!

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Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” will be in theaters March 23.

Isle of Dogs, March 23

Is this really a sci-fi movie? It has talking dogs and it’s set in the future, so I say yes. I love Wes Anderson and I’m super excited about his new movie, a stop-motion animation film about a boy looking for his dog in a dystopian Japan.

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Tye Sheridan stars in the upcoming film “Ready Player One,” directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel by Ernest Cline.

Ready Player One, coming March 30

Now this one, I did read. Usually when I’ve already read the book, I get my hopes up and the movie can’t possibly live up to them, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. “Ready Player One” is about a teenager named Wade Watts who lives in a crummy future world, where most people escape their miserable lives by plugging into a virtual world, OASIS, where anything is possible. The creator of OASIS, James Halliday, has died, and whoever finds his Easter egg, in the OASIS, will inherit his fortune.  Steven Spielberg directs.

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No one can really fill Harrison Ford’s shoes – but Alden Ehrenreich is going to try!

Solo: A Star Wars Story, May 25

Can anyone really fill Harrison Ford’s shoes, when it comes to that lovable scoundrel Han Solo? Of course not. It’s a risky move, casting someone else in this role, but again, I’m keeping an open mind. Ron Howard directs, which is promising. This is a standalone film, like “Rogue One,” a film to tide us over till the main story wraps up.

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Deadpool 2, June 1

There are so many cool-looking Marvel flicks coming in 2018 – “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “X-Men: Dark Phoenix,” and “Aquaman,” to name just a few (yes there are more). But I confess, the one I’m most looking forward to is “Deadpool 2.”  There’s a different director attached (David Leitch, “Atomic Blonde”) but I’m hoping it will be as funny as the first “Deadpool.”

Photos: “Wonder Woman,” Warner Bros. Pictures; “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “The Shape of Water,” Fox Searchlight Pictures; “Isle of Dogs,” Fox Searchlight Pictures; “Ready Player One,” Warner Bros.

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Sci-fi summer movie catch-up: What to see, what to skip

I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve been watching movies. If you haven’t, and want to know which ones to watch and which ones to skip, you’re in the right place. Here’s your spoiler-free guide. (Movies rated on a five-star system.)

Colossal
Rated R; available on DVD
“Colossal” is a quirky movie about a young woman (Anne Hathaway) who discovers she has a strange connection to a kaiju in South Korea. If that doesn’t sound intriguing to you, then you probably won’t like it as much as I did. Four stars.

Wonder Woman
PG-13; playing in select theaters; DVD release date Sept. 19
Amazon warrior Princess Diana of Themyscira finally gets her own movie! This was the best film of the year so far, in my opinion. Gal Gadot is amazing as Wonder Woman, and Chris Pine is the perfect Steve Trevor. It’s breathtaking and powerful, and it has humor and heart. I honestly can’t think of one thing I didn’t like about this film. It exceeded my expectations. Five stars.

Alien: Covenant
Rated R; available on DVD
The sixth film in the franchise follows our new crew to an earth-like planet and the usual “Oh shit!” insanity ensues. I love Michael Fassbender, and the rest of the cast was great too, but horror isn’t really my bag. If you’re an Alien fan, you’ve probably already seen this one. And if you’re not a fan, you’re not missing much. Two stars.

Okja
TV-MA (Mature Audiences); Netflix170627_MOV_Okja-pig.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2
This movie with a message, directed by Bong Joon-ho, is about a “super pig” bred by a corporation headed by Tilda Swinton’s character. I was a little concerned that I would be scarred for life, after seeing Bong’s 2014 film “Snowpiercer,” and I will admit “Okja” was pretty intense too. But I loved it. Four stars.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
PG-13; in theaters
Tom Holland plays Peter Parker in the newest installation of this comic book superhero flick. There’s nothing groundbreaking going on here; it’s everything you expect from Spider-Man. It was fun, but it didn’t blow me away. It’s a popcorn movie. Three stars.

Kong: Skull Island
PG-13; available on DVD
I had high hopes for this one, in no small part because I like Tom Hiddleston. I will admit it was suspenseful and entertaining and the special effects were awesome, but I would have liked it a lot more if the plot or characters had a little more depth. Three stars.

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
PG-13; available on DVD
I didn’t think this would be as good as the first one because origin stories are always the best, but I loved this sequel. Just like the first one, there was plenty of wacky outer-space adventure, lots of laughs, groovy ’70s tunes, and some touching moments about what it means to be a family. I could watch this a dozen times, and I probably will. Five stars.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
PG-13; in theaters
I really, really wanted to like this. Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element” is one of my all-time favorite movies, and “Valerian” does succeed in creating a visually impressive universe, but it lacks the heart of its predecessor. The characters were flat and uninteresting, for the most part, and the plot could have been better. Two stars.

Photos: Wonder Woman, Warner Bros. Pictures; Okja, Netflix; Guardians of the Galaxy, STX Entertainment. 

 

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

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

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

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

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

March 10 – “Kong: Skull Island”

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

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

March 24 – “Life”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 19 – “Alien: Covenant”

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

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

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

June 2 – “Wonder Woman”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct. 6 – “Blade Runner 2049”

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

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

Dec. 15 – “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

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

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

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

NEWS AND NOTESgeorge-lucas-museum

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

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

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

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

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Carrie Fisher

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

Film release dates are subject to change.

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

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

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

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

“Arrival” will be released Nov. 11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Books

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

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

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

What are your favorite new sci fi titles?

‘Ready Player One’

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

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

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

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

http://www.readyplayeronemoviecasting.com

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

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

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New Star Trek series

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

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

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

‘Battlestar Galactica’ 

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

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

 

Postapocalyptica! What to watch while waiting for ‘Hunger Games’ finale

I loved “Hunger Games” – the books and the movies – and even though I feel cheated that they split the last book into two movies, I’m excited for the final chapter, “Mockingjay, Part 2,” coming out Nov. 20.

Maybe it’s morbid, but I love post-apocalyptic movies, and movies with dystopian societies. Here are some of my faves (in no particular order):

  1. Twelve Monkeys. Terry Gilliam’s trippy movie, about a prisoner sent back in time to collect information on the virus that all but destroyed humanity, also made my list of top 10 time travel movies. While the underground world where the survivors live is dark and creepy, the real horror is the mindfuckery James Cole (Bruce Willis) endures. Also, cool plot twists.
  2. Strange Days. It’s hard to believe “Strange Days” just had its 20th anniversary. The dystopian thriller set in 1999 was released in October 1995, when virtual reality was all the rage in sci fi. Written by James Cameron and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the film is somewhat of a murder mystery, with the evidence in the form of discs recorded on “SQUIDS,” which plug into users’ heads and allow them to record memories and feelings. Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, and Tom Sizemore star.
  3. Hunger Games. A friend of mine recommended the books to me before the first movie came out so I read them all, one after another. (One benefit of being late to the party is you don’t have to wait for the next book to come out.) I like that the films stay true to the books, but I have an issue with paying full price for half a movie, which is what “Mockingjay, Part 1” was. I hope the finale is more satisfying.
  4. Never Let Me Go. The book and the movie make me cry like a baby. Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley star in the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s heartbreaking novel in which clones are raised to have their organs harvested.
  5. The Matrix. Did I mention virtual reality was big in the ’90s? I loved the first Matrix movie – Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in their cool trench coats and sunglasses, battling the powers that enslave humanity. So cool. But I found the sequels annoying and confusing.
  6. Blade Runner. Ridley Scott’s futuristic film noir starring Harrison Ford is arguably the coolest film adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story (there have been about a dozen movies made from his novels and short stories, including “Total Recall,” “Minority Report,” and “The Adjustment Bureau”). Ford is retired police officer Rick Deckard, whose job was to track down replicants (bio-engineered androids) and destroy them. The film also stars Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, and Edward James Olmos.
  7. Children of Men. Based on P.D. James’ novel of the same name, “Children of Men” is set in the year 2027, and the U.K. is the only country with a functioning government. Twenty years of global infertility threatens the human race with extinction. Clive Owen plays Theo, a civil servant tasked with safeguarding the life of a pregnant young immigrant named Kee. The movie was written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, and also stars Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Charlie Hunnam.
  8. Elysium. 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. “District 9” kept me on the edge of my seat, “Chappie” was so much better than the critics gave it credit for, and this one is an entertaining ride as well.
  9. I Am Legend. I’m not a huge fan of zombie flicks, but I like that this one focuses on character, rather than just frenzied zombie carnage. Will Smith’s performance was moving. Plus it has a cute German shepherd in it. And “Three Little Birds.”
  10. Gattaca. Sometimes subtle is better with science fiction. Gattaca is one of those, like “Never Let Me Go,” that lacks the guns-blazing craziness of movies like “Mad Max,” but still manages to shake you up. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) dreams of traveling to outer space, but in the future, only genetically superior people are allowed to do such things. Jude Law and Uma Thurman also star.

(photo: Elysium; TriStar Pictures)