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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Beauty picks for sci-fi lovers

If you have been here before, you know I usually review books and movies and TV series but today I’m bringing my love of beauty products to the blog. Maybe you are looking for a birthday present for a loved one, or even a holiday gift (it’s never too early for Christmas shopping!), or buy yourself a present – you deserve it!

My usual purchases from Ulta and Sephora are things like anti-aging serums or deep conditioning hair masks, but today I am reviewing fun, sci-fi themed nail polish, perfume, and a bath bomb – a little “self-care” break from the chaos of current events.

My favorite eyeshadow palette is BH Cosmetics’ Supernova. It has pigmented shades with names like Nebula, Neutron, and Phoenix. I wanted to include it here but I don’t think it is still available. Boo. But it inspired me to seek out other sci-fi-ish beauty products, so here we go:

First up is Pacifica’s Cosmosis Natural Perfume. As an animal lover, I am a huge fan of this brand; their products are vegan and cruelty-free. (The aforementioned BH Cosmetics is vegan and cruelty-free as well.) I like most of the Pacifica products that I’ve tried, and their products are more affordable than some other brands. Their Indian Coconut Nectar and Island Vanilla roller ball perfumes smell yummy and are only $12. They also sell skin care and hair products, makeup, etc.

OK, so Cosmosis. This perfume is described as “deep, resinous, creamy vanilla blended with ash and cold sparkling ozonic top notes.” I don’t know if I’m smelling any ash or ozone, but I’m definitely getting the vanilla. I don’t really like floral scents so this was perfect for me. It reminded me of whippped cream, but it’s not overly sweet. Still, if you’re not into gourmand scents, you may want to skip this one. I liked it and wish the scent would last a little longer, but for $22 (Ulta.com), I would purchase this again.

Next is Mugler’s Alien Eau de Parfum, which I got as a sample from Sephora.com. This one has been out for a while, and I’m finally getting around to trying it. I like Mugler’s Angel scent so this one had me intrigued.

Mugler’s website describes Alien as “a radiant scent that inspires a spiritual journey to unveil our hidden beauty. The glow of Jasmine Sambac infuses a warmth that is intensified by the enchantment of Cashmeran Wood and sensuality of White Amber. A divine elixir that unleashes our inner strength and unites in harmony with the universe.”

I love the bottle and the promotional photos. So awesome! But the scent is … not my favorite. It’s not bad – but I’m getting mostly the jasmine in this and like I said before, I am not a fan of florals. The dry down was better – a powdery amber scent that was not as strong as the jasminey top note.

If you are someone who likes florals (and amber), you will probably love it. More recent offerings from Mugler include Alien Goddess (bergamot, jasmine, and bourbon vanilla), and Alien Fusion (ginger, cinnamon, tuberose, orange blossom, vanilla, and amber).

Alien is $85 for one ounce. (Now you know why I only tried the sample.)

Another sample I just tried is Sci Fi Eau de Parfum by Ellis Brooklyn. I bought this sample as part of a set called Chronicle Fragrance Discovery, and it also includes Myth, Rose, Fable, Fawn, Raven, and Rives. The whole set of samples was $22 from Ulta.com.

The perfumes are cruelty-free and vegan. Cool. Ellis Brooklyn’s website describes Sci Fi thusly: “This sexy yet intelligent scent blends vanilla beans with citrus, florals and the unexpected jolt of green tea in an addictive combination that will have you smelling your wrist all day. By taking the known but combining in an innovative way, SCI FI is like stellar science fiction: familiar yet attractively futuristic.”

The top notes here are bergamot and bitter orange and I like oranges even less than I like florals, so it wasn’t love at first spritz. But the scent quickly transformed to green tea, which was interesting.

I know perfumes smell a little different on everyone but this one, on me anyway, smells just like it says it does. The subtle scent of vanilla beans comes through in the base note. If not for that initial orange, I would like this a lot more.

So what does outer space smell like? Not oranges. According to this (2009) article from The Guardian, astronomers who investigated a giant dust cloud in the middle of the Milky Way discovered ethyl formate, which gives raspberries their flavor, and smells like rum. Perfume chemists, take note.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2009/apr/21/space-raspberries-amino-acids-astrobiology

This Galaxy bath bomb from da Bomb looks really cool when you order it online. But when I got it in the mail (Ulta, $7.50) it looked … not as cool, and also the packaging was a little bent up. If I was planning to give it as a gift, I would have been annoyed, but I bought it for myself so whatever.

The description on this bath bomb says “Fizz yourself right out of the stratosphere with this delightfully cosmic creation. Watch carefully as this black amber fizzer dissolves, because there’s a fun surprise inside. Perfect for adults and kids alike. (Everyone loves surprises).”

I’m not really a bath bomb aficionado but I was lured by the novelty of this one, and I will admit it was pretty cool. It smelled perfumey as it dissolved into the water and there was a cute astronaut charm inside. The water turned a purpley black and it was like being submerged in a galaxy of stars. Or maybe more like being submerged in grape Kool-Aid. It sort of looks like it might leave your tub the color of grape Kool-Aid, but it doesn’t. (The photo at the top of this post is my actual bathwater with the Galaxy bomb in it. Cool, right?)

If you haven’t relaxed since 2019, this bath bomb isn’t going to change that. Maybe if it was paired with … raspberry rum?

Moving on.

I reviewed one nail polish: Pacifica’s Bio Glitter Translucent Topper. It comes in five shades and I chose Alien (Ulta, $10). I love it – it’s very pretty and shimmery. You can’t really tell from the photo but there’s a lavender shade which shows through the green-blue color. It reminds me of mermaids. (Yes that is why I used our fish tank as the backdrop for my picture.)

It is described as an “innovative gel-formula designed to add an iridescent, glittery finish to nails.” I tried it over another color (gray here) and by itself – two coats is enough for an opaque look and gives you twice the sparkle.

There are a lot of glittery pieces in this. I have used similar top coats from other brands that leave you with inconsistent sparklage, but that’s not a problem with this one.

I think I’ll try their Plant Magic Polish next; there are some cool-looking colors: Tourmaline Stone, Mermaid Tail, Bronzite …

Next time, I will be back to my usual reviews of sci-fi movies and TV shows. I have a lot to say about the new Marvel series “What If …?”

Do you have a favorite sci-fi themed beauty find? Leave me a comment here or on my Facebook page!

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Books, TV, movies for sci-fi fans

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

Marvel

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

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

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

‘The Midnight Sky’

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

Books

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

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

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

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

‘Star Trek: Discovery’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girls get it done?

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

‘The Trials of Koli’

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

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

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

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

Other stuff

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

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

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

2020-04-22 00.25.02

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Sci-fi to watch, read, and love

897264_2448775After getting CBS All Access so I could watch “Star Trek:  Picard,” I finally got around to watching “Star Trek: Discovery.” It exceeded my expectations. Admittedly, my expectations were somewhat low, due to the online hate for the series, which is part of the reason I took so long to watch. The other reason: I didn’t want to subscribe to yet another streaming service. My opinion is it’s totally worth it. You get “Picard” and “Discovery,” and the other Trek series are available as well.

I love that “Discovery” changed up the typical Trek structure. Normally, the captain is the main character, but that is not the case here. Also, this is the first Trek series in which a black woman is the main character; Sonequa Martin-Green is awesome as science specialist Michael Burnham.

Burnham is a human but she was raised by a Vulcan – Sarek. Yep, Spock’s father. She and Spock are step-siblings. (The show begins about 10 years before the events of the original series.)

I’m confused by the criticism surrounding “Discovery.” From what I’ve seen so far (I’m in the middle of Season 2), the series is true to the values of Star Trek, but is even more intense and suspenseful. It’s full of surprises and twists. Do I love every single episode? No. But there have been hits and misses in every Trek series.

If you want a nice diversion from current events, which will keep you on the edge of your seat, check it out. (Production on Season 3 is delayed and is expected to continue later this year.)

‘Limetown’

e85087c0-df45-11e9-8978-8fc02aeeebe7_800_420This Facebook Watch series is a remake of a podcast. It stars Jessica Biel as a journalist whose uncle (Stanley Tucci) mysteriously disappeared, along with 300 others, from an experimental town. I enjoyed Facebook’s offerings “Sorry For Your Loss” and “Sacred Lies,” so I decided to try this one, which was a little creepier than I would have liked, but it was addictive and made me want to keep watching to see what new secret would be revealed in the next episode. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after the first season, so the 10th episode is a cliffhanger and we never get to see how the story ends.

‘The Book of Koli’

the-book-of-koli-careyYou may remember a 2014 novel called “The Girl With All the Gifts,” by M. R. Carey. If you’re into zombie apocalypse stories, you’ll love it. It has since been made into a movie, which I haven’t seen. I can only tell you the book was crazy.

Carey’s new novel, “The Book of Koli” is a post-apocalyptic story too, and it’s just as engrossing as “The Girl,” but I enjoyed “Koli” even more.

The new book is about a teenage boy who lives in a village walled off from the murderous vegetation and cannibals which threaten their lives. When Koli starts questioning the power dynamic of the ruling family, everything changes.

From the first page, I was immersed in this dystopian world, and I didn’t want to put it down. I can’t wait to read the second book, “The Trials of Koli,” which comes out in September.

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Many, many films and TV/streaming series have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Wonder Woman sequel will not be released in June as planned; it has been pushed to Aug. 14. The Marvel film “Black Widow,” starring Scarlett Johansson, has been changed to Nov. 6.

umbrella-academy-season-2.-poster-1jpgNetflix suspended filming on all productions including Season 2 of “The Witcher.” The fourth season of “Stranger Things” has been postponed. Filming wrapped on Season 2 of “The Umbrella Academy” in November, but post-production was affected by the shutdown. Release dates are still in limbo.

While we don’t yet have a release date for Season 2 of Amazon’s “The Boys,” it is reportedly still on track. I’m looking forward to binge watching it this summer. Another Amazon Prime series, “The Expanse,” has also wrapped filming, but no word yet on whether the pandemic will postpone the release of Season 5.

Disney shut down production of its Marvel series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “WandaVision.” New release dates have not yet been announced.

Of course, with sci-fi, post-production is going to take longer on these special effects-heavy films and series, than on productions that don’t use a lot of effects. And even the films  which are ready for release will be delayed due to theater closures.

“The Mandalorian,” Season 2, is still expected to be released on Disney+ in October. In fact, it was recently announced that they’re already working on Season 3. Disney+ will also be releasing a documentary about the making of Season 1, which is planned for May 4, aka Star Wars Day.

space-force-steve-carell-lisa-kudrow-netflix“Space Force,” which is being described as “The Office” in space, will premiere on Netflix on May 29. It stars Steve Carell, and is created by Greg Daniels (“The Office,” “Parks and Recreation”).

Daniels has been busy; he also has another show coming out soon, an Amazon Prime series called “Upload,” about a “digital afterlife.” “Upload” will premiere on May 1.

What other sci-fi and fantasy films or series are you looking forward  to seeing? Have you discovered or rewatched an old favorite? Tell me in the comments or on my facebook page!

Credits: “Star Trek: Discovery,” CBS Television Distribution; “Limetown,” Facebook Watch; “The Book of Koli,” by M. R. Carey, Orbit, April 2020; “The Umbrella Academy” and “Space Force,” Netflix. 

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Need a new show to watch? Try ‘Undone’ and ‘Picard’

I was bored and searching for something to watch, when I found this Amazon Prime series called “Undone.” The most surprising thing about it is that I had never heard of it before, because it’s really good and it needs more publicity! So here we go.

The premise of the show is intriguing enough all by itself: After a car crash, a 28-year-old woman suddenly starts seeing her dead father and experiencing strange shifts in time. The creators use a trippy filming technique called rotoscoping: The filmed footage is traced over, so it’s animated, but it has a more realistic look than traditional animation.

The best part of the show is the cast of characters. They’re flawed, but also likable and interesting, especially the protagonist, Alma (Rosa Salazar). She’s real and relatable. She’s also irreverent and funny as hell. A daycare worker from a Latino family living in San Antonio, she is very close with her mom and sister, and she lives with her boyfriend Sam, who is from India.

I loved the characters’ interactions, and the diversity. As a hearing-impaired person, I also applaud the series’ representation of disability. (Alma has a cochlear implant.)

I never felt like the diversity was “forced” as it is in some series. Instead it was integral to the story. One of my favorite scenes is when Alma is talking to a Mesoamerican dancer who tells her, “Even though you don’t know the dance, you know the dance.” And the way their conversation, about the power of dance, influences the plot is really beautiful.

I haven’t even told you about the main story, the mystery Alma has to solve, but I don’t want to give it away. Watch it and tell me what you think!

‘Star Trek: Picard’

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I was a little late to this party, because I was reluctant to pay for CBS All Access just to watch this one show. But now that I’m watching it, I think it’s worth it.

There is a lot going on here, so I’ll just give you a little background: We find out in the first episode that Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) persuaded the Federation, 14 years ago, to help save millions of Romulans endangered by the Romulan star’s supernova. “Rogue” androids attacked Mars, disrupting the evacuation, so Starfleet called it off, abandoning the Romulan refugees – and banned synthetic life forms.

Picard resigned and is now living a peaceful life at his French vineyard. Of course this peace doesn’t last. Things get shaken up in short order.

It takes a couple episodes to hit its stride, but once it takes off, you’ll be ready to binge watch the whole series. Too bad – they only dole out an episode per week. I’m eight episodes in and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for the new crew.

Guest stars include Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and Jeri Ryan, who reprise their roles as Data, Riker, Troi, and Seven of Nine.

Credits: “Undone,” Amazon Prime Video; “Star Trek: Picard,” CBS Television Distribution.

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Top 10 TV and streaming series of the last 10 years

In the last couple weeks, I’ve reviewed my favorite sci-fi and fantasy books and movies. Today’s list concludes my best-of-the-decade series. Here are my top 10 favorite TV series that were available on TV and streaming from 2010 to 2019:

1. “The Expanse” (Amazon Prime) is my current favorite TV show, despite its somewhat slow first season. If you stick with it, you will be rewarded. There’s all sorts of stuff going on here: drama, mystery, political intrigue, and outer space adventure. Every season is better than the last. It started out on Syfy, but you can now find it at its new home on Amazon.

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Jaime Lannister (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) knights Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) on “Game of Thrones” (HBO).

2. “Game of Thrones.” During its eight-year run, HBO’s epic adaptation of the George R.R. Martin series was not only the best fantasy series on television, but the most compelling thing to watch, period – until the writers ruined it with the last few episodes. Let’s just pretend it ended with its last good episode: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”

3. “Orphan Black.” Like “Game of Thrones,” the last season of “Orphan Black” was not great. But I really enjoyed this series for most of its five-season run. Tatiana Maslany played several identical clones who are nothing alike, and she’s such a great actress I kept forgetting that she is just one person. My favorite “sestra” was Helena, and I dressed as her for Halloween a few years ago.

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Elisabeth Shue and Antony Starr in “The Boys” (Amazon Prime).

4. “The Boys” (Amazon Prime). I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did, mostly because its premise – superheroes who act like villains – sounded like a rip-off of “Watchmen.” (And like “Watchmen,” it’s adapted from a comic book series.) It turns out the titular charcters aren’t the  flashy superheroes, but the vigilantes who are trying to take them down. My only beef is that it’s occasionally a little too graphic for my taste, but that seems to be de rigueur for R-rated and MA-rated series lately.

5. “Mr. Robot.” The USA Network’s hacker thriller starring Rami Malek and Christian Slater also at first glance seemed like a rip-off; it had a lot of similarities to “Fight Club.” But it was suspenseful and unpredictable, and Rami Malek is such an amazing actor that you can’t help but want to keep watching and see what happens next.

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Winona Ryder plays Joyce Byers on “Stranger Things” (Netflix).

6. “Stranger Things” (Netflix). I am not typically a fan of horror, so the fact that this made my list is a testament to how cool it is. It’s set in the ’80s, and is an homage to so many films from that decade. The show also has some actors who were popular in the ’80s: Winona Ryder, Sean Astin, Matthew Modine, Cary Elwes, and Paul Reiser have been in at least one season of “Stranger Things.”

7. “The Witcher” (Netflix). Like the aforementioned series “The Boys,” this show has only been on for one season. But what I’ve seen so far, I like. This was a book series and a videogame first, but I’m not familiar with either, so the medieval fantasy world of Geralt of Rivia was all new to me. The series follows the life and times of a witcher (a monster hunter, played by Henry Cavill), a sorceress, and a princess, whose fates are intertwined.

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Robert Sheehan is Klaus Hargreeves in Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy.” Klaus can talk with the dead.

8. “The Umbrella Academy” (Netflix). Another comic book adaptation, this Netflix series hooked me from the first episode, in which 43 women spontaneously give birth, despite showing no signs of pregnancy. An eccentric billionaire finds and adopts seven of the babies, and raises them as a team of superheroes. But Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters it’s not. The children, now grown, have all sorts of dysfunction, stemming not only from their unique and varied powers, but their strange upbringing. I can’t wait to see what happens in Season 2.

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“The Child” is one of the (cutest) characters on “The Mandalorian,” on Disney+.

9. “The Mandalorian” (Disney+) is a welcome return to early-era Star Wars. It’s set a few years after the events of “Return of the Jedi” and follows the adventures of a Mandalorian bounty hunter. The series was created by Jon Favreau. Not only does it have an adorable “baby Yoda” but great guest stars like Amy Sedaris.

10. “Russian Doll” (Netflix). The always entertaining Natasha Lyonne is a wisecracking videogame developer caught in a time loop. As she re-lives the same day over and over in Groundhog Day-esque fashion, she discovers she’s not the only one stuck in the loop. It’s an entrancing and binge-inducing trip down a rabbit hole.

(Featured photo: “The Expanse,” Amazon Prime.) thumbnail_2019-09-16 20.23.12

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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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