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:

https://www.facebook.com/Earth-to-Shawna-1476049362698628/?fref=ts

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)

Celebrate Back to the Future Day with time-travel favorites

Happy “Back to the Future” Day! Today is Oct. 21, 2015, the day Marty and Doc traveled to the future to stop Marty’s kid from getting arrested. The Internet is abuzz with questions of “What did the movie get right?” If you’re not sick of hearing how close you are to having your own hoverboard, you will be soon.

I love the BTTF trilogy as much as anyone, but they’re not the only cool time-travel flicks in the universe. Time travel is a fun subject, even though it’s not possible – and thank goodness, because we really do not want to “unravel the fabric of the space-time continuum!”

Some characters get to go back in time, some go forward, and some just go back a day and are forced to keep repeating the same day over and over until they get it right. Here are some of my favorite time travel movies.

  1. Back to the Future trilogy. But of course. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are stellar as teenager Marty McFly and his kooky inventor friend Doc Brown. The DeLorean is arguably the coolest time machine of all time. These movies are so cool, we’ll forgive them for predicting we’d have flying cars by now.
  2. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play a couple of rock ‘n’ roll-loving teenagers whose time-traveling mentor is an older guy (George Carlin). It seems that Bill and Ted copied BTTF – I’ve heard their time machine was originally a van, but they thought that would be too similar to the DeLorean, so they changed it to a phone booth. Apparently they never saw Dr. Who. It’s still a fun movie.
  3. The Terminator and Terminator 2. The time travelers in the Terminator movies are androids sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor and her son John, who becomes a leader of the resistance in the future. Arnold Scharzenegger’s catchphrase “I’ll be back” comes from The Terminator. Fun and action-packed. What more could you want from your time-travel movie?
  4. 12 Monkeys. Bruce Willis stars as a prisoner who is sent back in order to collect information on a deadly virus that has forced the survivors to live underground. I love this crazy movie, directed by Terry Gilliam, and also starring Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe. I think this was the first time we saw that Pitt was a versatile actor, and not just a pretty face. He won a Golden Globe and earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his role as a mental patient.
  5. Groundhog Day. Bill Murray stars as a grouchy meteorologist who is forced to live the same day over and over. What would you do in this position? Commit crimes with no fear of consequences? Learn to play the piano? Phil Connors uses it as an opportunity to woo the beautiful news producer, played by Andie MacDowell. The first time I saw this movie, I hated it. I felt like I was trapped in Feb. 2, along with Phil. But after forced repeat viewings – it’s one of my husband’s favorites – it became one of my favorites too.
  6. Army of Darkness. OK, I know this one also made my Halloween Top Ten, but … it’s good. Bruce Campbell, as a discount store employee who has the worst luck, gets sucked into a time portal and ends up in the Middle Ages and has to fight an army of undead before he can go back to his own time.
  7. Star Trek: First Contact. The crew of the Enterprise travel from the 24th to the 21st century after the Borg destroy Earth by altering the timeline. Patrick Stewart, et al, as Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew, are wonderful, but I especially love James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane, who is famous for having created the first warp-capable vessel. The crew is delighted to meet Cochrane, because he’s a legend, but Cochrane doesn’t understand why they’re so impressed. “I wish I had a picture of this,” Geordi tells Cochrane. “You’re standing almost on the exact spot where your statue is going to be!” “Statue?” “Yeah, it’s marble, about 20 meters tall. You’re looking up at the sky, and your hand is sort of … reaching toward the future.” Cochrane replies, “I’ve got to take a leak.” Too funny.
  8. Men in Black 3. My favorite MIB movie sends Agent J (Will Smith) back in time to save Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) from a Boglodite (Jemaine Clement) who has gone back in time to murder him. In 1969, K is a young man, played by Josh Brolin. This is such a fun movie, also starring Emma Thompson, Will Arnett, and Bill Hader, with cameos from Lady Gaga and Tim Burton.
  9. Edge of Tomorrow. Tom Cruise in yet another futuristic action movie? But wait – this one is good. Think “Groundhog Day” meets “Starship Troopers.” Earth has been invaded by an alien race, and Cruise’s character gets caught in a time loop that sends him back to the day before, every time he dies. He teams up with a badass Special Forces sergeant (Emily Blunt) to hone his fighting skills.
  10. X-Men: Days of Future Past. This is my favorite X-Men movie. Logan (Hugh Jackman) goes back to 1973 to – what else? Save the world, blah blah blah. 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.

Vampires, ghosts, witches, werewolves, and zombies: Fun flicks for Halloween

I’m much more a sci-fi fan than a horror fan. The “scary” movies I like are not very scary. At the theater, I close my eyes at the first few bars of that eerie piano music that tells you you’re about to watch a paranormal movie trailer.
A lot of my favorite Halloween movies are comedies. With that in mind, here are 10 of my favorite ghost, vampire, witch, werewolf, and zombie films to get you ready for All Hallows’ Eve – and to make you laugh.

  1. Beetlejuice. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis star as a recently deceased couple who hire an obnoxious ghost (Michael Keaton) to help them scare away their home’s new tenants (Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, and Winona Ryder).
  2. Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. Who doesn’t love these goofy movies with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as scientists fighting supernatural entities like giant marshmallow men, balls of slime and demon gargoyles? I can’t wait for next summer’s reboot.
  3. What We Do in the Shadows. I’ve always been a sucker for vampires – I love “Interview with the Vampire,” “The Lost Boys,” and yes, even dorky “Twilight.” This mockumentary-style horror comedy, written and directed by (and starring) Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, is the story of four vampires who live in New Zealand, and it’s hysterical.
  4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Kristy Swanson was the first cheerleader/slayer and although the TV series that was based on this movie was more popular, I prefer the campy original. And it has Pee Wee Herman, er, Paul Reubens. Luke Perry, David Arquette, Hilary Swank, Rutger Hauer, and Donald Sutherland also star.
  5. Practical Magic. This witchy romantic comedy isn’t super popular, but I like it. It’s an adaptation of Alice Hoffman’s novel of the same name, and stars Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock as the nieces of witches played by Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing.
  6. An American Werewolf in London. Another classic, “American Werewolf” tells the tale of two American backpackers who are attacked by a werewolf in England.
  7. Teen Wolf. Would this silly werewolf movie have been so fun to watch if it was anyone but Michael J. Fox? I don’t think so. The new series is more serious, à la Buffy.
  8. Army of Darkness. This is the third in the “Evil Dead” trilogy, and you don’t need to watch the first two to enjoy this one. Bruce Campbell is awesome as Ash, an S-Mart employee who has been sucked into a time portal, winds up in 1300 AD, and has to fight an army of undead. “This is my boomstick!” he tells the villagers, holding up his shotgun. Good stuff.
  9. Shaun of the Dead. This Simon Pegg zombie satire has become a cult classic.
  10. Zombieland. Another great zom com, in which Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone play survivors of a zombie apocalypse. An entertaining, campy adventure.

What to watch while you’re waiting for ‘The Force’

I keep hearing about this new movie that’s coming out in a few months – ‘The Force Awakens’? Or something like that. I guess it’s a sequel to those Star Wars movies. People are getting excited about all this new merchandise from the movie. I don’t really know much about it.

I’m kidding, of course. I’m super excited about the new movie too. But can we please admit that Star Wars fever has gotten a bit out of control when someone is selling Han Solo frozen in carbonite Pop-Tarts? And they aren’t edible – they are made out of resin. And they cost $30. For a replica of a Pop-Tart.

I think we need to take a few deep breaths and put the Star Wars frenzy on hold until Dec. 18. Then we can dress up like stormtroopers and camp overnight for tickets. Like normal people.

In the meantime, there are dozens of great sci-fi flicks to watch while you wait for the new film. Here are some of my favorite outer space adventure movies:

All the Star Wars movies. If you can think of nothing else but Star Wars, just have a Star Wars marathon. Again. My husband and I grew up with the original trilogy, so those are our favorites. And they are better, let’s face it. But we watch all of them, because as you know, you can never have too much Star Wars. Although you can definitely have too much Star Wars memorabilia. And you can definitely have too much Jar Jar Binks, so maybe stay away from that one.

All the Star Trek movies. I love what J.J. Abrams did with the last two Star Trek movies, lens flares and all. If you’re not a fan, you’re probably worried about what he’ll do to George Lucas’ legacy. But if “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” are any indication, I think “The Force” will be awesome. If you’re a huge Trek fan, you could boldly go where probably others have gone before and binge watch all 12 of the Trek movies. But that would be like, 24 straight hours of movie watching, which would be, um, illogical.

“The Fifth Element,” Luc Besson’s wacky outer space action flick is one of my all-time favorites. Bruce Willis is perfect as Korben Dallas, a futuristic cab driver who ends up rescuing a beautiful alien (Milla Jovovich) sent to save their planet. Ian Holm is great as priest Vito Cornelius, and Gary Oldman, as always, is the perfect villain. “You’re a monster, Zorg,” the priest tells him. His deadpan reply: “I know.”

“Moon” is an underrated movie starring an underrated actor, Sam Rockwell. Rockwell is always to fun to watch, whether he’s playing a two-headed alien in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or the alcoholic coach of a high school girls’ basketball team in “The Winning Season.” In “Moon,” Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut nearing the end of a solitary three-year job mining helium-3 on the moon. If you haven’t seen it yet, go see it. Right now.

The Alien movies. I really don’t like scary movies, or monster movies, so I will admit the first time I was coerced into watching these movies, I was less than thrilled. But after repeat viewings, they grew on me. Sigourney Weaver is a total badass. Enough said.

“Starship Troopers.” Loosely adapted from the Robert A. Heinlein novel and directed by Paul Verhoeven, this satire is campy and smart at the same time. Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards and Neil Patrick Harris star as military recruits tasked with fighting a war on Bugs. Giant Bugs. This is one of those guilty pleasures that comes on TV and you can’t help but watch it again.

“Gravity.” Watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney float around in space sounds boring, but it’s so not. It’s 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 thriller “Children of Men.”

“Interstellar” had mixed reviews but I thought it was amazing. Matthew McConaughey leads a team of astronauts who travel through a wormhole to search for a new planet after Earth’s resources have been depleted. It’s one of those movies you need to pay attention to, like “Inception” (also written and directed by Christopher Nolan). You can’t just go to the bathroom and then come back and say, “What did I miss?” It’s also almost three hours long, but I was so absorbed in the movie, I didn’t notice.

“Guardians of the Galaxy.” The film adaption of the Marvel comic book was a huge hit, and deservedly so. A cocky Han Solo wannabe, a green-skinned warrior woman, a simple-minded brute bent on revenge, an alien that looks like a tree, and a genetically engineered raccoon team up to save the galaxy; it seems like there were a thousand ways this could have gone wrong. The plot is predictably cheesy, but the movie is saved by the cool ’60s and ’70s soundtrack and a wry sense of humor. It turns out that “Guardians” is a comedy. I can’t wait for the sequel. Let’s just hope no one makes a Groot Pop-Tart.