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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Beat the heat – stay home and watch ‘Loki’ on Disney+

I know I once said superhero movies aren’t my favorite genre and lately my blog is starting to look like a Marvel blog – I guess I’m changing my ways.

One of the most fun things to watch right now is the Loki series on Disney+ and I think it’s safe to say the reason this show is so beloved is due to Loki’s portrayer, Tom Hiddleston. He brings just the right amounts of smarm and charm to the god of mischief.

As if that weren’t enough to draw you in, I give you Exhibit B: Owen Wilson as Mobius. That’s right – two lovable actors for the price of one. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sophia Di Martino are also great.

We’ve only gotten three episodes so far, but we are halfway through the season. So far it’s been quite a ride: The story begins when Loki (in the film “Avengers: Endgame”) steals the Tesseract and disappears, only to be apprehended (in the Disney+ series) by the Time Variance Authority. Similar to the Commission in “The Umbrella Academy” (and other organizations in other sci-fi franchises) the TVA in “Loki” deals with anyone who isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing in the established timeline. But this particular Loki isn’t the only one causing problems. The TVA is looking for another Loki variant and they want this Loki’s help.

So far, I like it more than “WandaVision” and yes, even more than “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” I don’t care that it’s not terribly original. It’s fun and it’s clever and you should watch it.

‘Star Trek: Discovery’

I finished the third season of “Star Trek: Discovery” saying, “Noooo” when I realized I was watching the last episode of the season, which is usually a pretty good indicator that it’s a good show. I can’t wait to watch Season 4, which we’ve been told will begin sometime this year, but I don’t yet know when.

There are certainly things to dislike about this series. Like every Trek series, there are hits and misses, moments of silliness and moments of greatness. Perhaps it’s unfair to say the worst thing about “Discovery” is the fact that you have to pay for YET ANOTHER STREAMING SERVICE in order to watch it.

For the most part, however, I love it. There’s a diverse cast of excellent actors, suspense, and unpredictable story lines. What more do you want from your sci-fi? Cats in space? Done.

‘Black Widow’

At long last we may finally get to see this film that was originally supposed to be released last summer. I’m really excited to see another resurrected Marvel character (see Loki and Vision) in a starring role. I’m even more excited about Florence Pugh joining the MCU. She’s amazing and I’m sure she will rock in this movie, which will be in theaters and on Disney+ (for an additional $30) on July 9.

WitcherCon

Also July 9 is WitcherCon! If you are a hardore Witcher nerd, I mean fan, you may want to check it out. It will be broadcast on YouTube and Twitch. It will air twice, once at 10 a.m. and again at 6 p.m., in case you miss the first one. For more info:

https://www.witchercon.com/en

Fantasy films to watch with the kids

The new Pixar animated coming-of-age film “Luca” is available on Disney+ with no additional cost on top of your subscription. The title character is a fish-person/sea-monster kid who is forbidden to go on land, where humans pose a danger to their kind. Of course his curiosity gets the better of him, and he befriends another kid like him. It was very cute and heartwarming, and the tale is set on the Italian Riviera, which is beautiful even in cartoon.

We waited for “Raya and the Last Dragon” to be “free” on Disney+ and that was a good movie as well. (How do they decide which new releases will be free with a subscription and which ones will cost an extra 30 bucks? Hmm.) In this one, a warrior princess searches for a dragon who can help her fight the evil spirits threatening her kingdom.

“Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” is not yet available to stream, so it marked our first trip to theaters since the quarantine began. It was silly and funny and maybe not quite as good as the first one but close enough. If you enjoyed the antics of the mischievous James-Corden-voiced bun-bun the first time around, you will not be disappointed.

‘The Tomorrow War’

If you like your rats crisp, I mean if you like Crisp Rat, I mean Chris Pratt, check out “The Tomorrow War,” coming to Amazon on Friday. Time travel, blah blah blah. … Aliens, blah blah blah… Did I mention Star-Lord, I mean Chris Pratt, is in it?

Photos: “Loki,” Disney Platform Distribution; “Star Trek; Discovery,” Paramount+; “Black Widow” and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

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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+.

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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.

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What to watch: ‘Watchmen’ and ‘The Umbrella Academy’

Hey sci-fi fans. I have been wanting to talk to you about the second season of “The Umbrella Academy” and also “Watchmen,” which I finally got around to watching. But first, let’s talk about the second season of Baby Yoda, I mean “The Mandalorian.” The premiere date was just announced; the show will be back Oct. 30!

‘The Mandalorian,’ Disney+

Added cast members for Season 2 include Timothy Olyphant, Rosario Dawson, Katee Sackhoff, Michael Biehn, and Temuera Morrison. I can’t wait to see what new adventures are ahead for our favorite alien child and his new dad.

‘The Umbrella Academy’

Season 2 of “The Umbrella Academy,” if you haven’t seen it yet, is really great. It was even better than the first season. The siblings travel to the 1960s, before the assassination of Kennedy, and Diego wants to prevent it; Luther is working for Jack Ruby; and Vanya has amnesia.

I love that Klaus becomes a hippie guru. He is one of the best characters, and Robert Sheehan is so perfect in that role. But my favorite storyline this season is Allison’s. Her involvement in the civil rights movement is both timely and emotional. “The movement’s not finished,” she says. “Not even in 2019.” The truth of that statement is a gut punch.

Five has to stop the end of the world from happening (again!) which proves to be difficult as he needs the help of his distracted brothers and sisters.

‘The Umbrella Academy,’ Netflix

I love that the siblings are relating to each other more and becoming closer. There are only a couple things I don’t love about this season (the Swedes, for example), but my biggest complaint about Season 2 is that it had to end. I can’t wait till Season 3.

‘Watchmen’

HBO’s “Watchmen” has been on my to-watch list since before its release. I love the comic (by Alan Moore) and the 2009 film. I recently binge watched the series and I was blown away. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend reading the graphic novel first, and/or watching the movie, as the series covers events that occur about 30 years later, and it’s a little confusing even having been familiar with the original story.

‘Watchmen,’ HBO

“Watchmen” is set in an alternate reality – altered by its “superheroes.” (For example, they end the Vietnam War, which changes the course of history.) Costumed vigilantes aren’t always the good guys. The world of “Watchmen” is very dark and is somewhat of a satire.

The series is intense, heartbreaking, and nothing short of genius. I loved it. It is not perfect, but it comes very close, and even though it has been nominated for 26 Emmys, it deserves more.

As with “The Umbrella Academy,” there is a parallel here with Black Lives Matter. There’s also a lot of masks. At one point someone says, “Masks save lives,” which seems like an eerie premonition even though they’re not talking about coronavirus.

‘The Witcher’

Sadly, we have to wait till next year for new episodes of “The Witcher.” But you can see what happened “behind the scenes” in “Making the Witcher” and “The Witcher: A Look Inside the Episodes,” on Netflix.

Two spin-offs are in the works – the animated “The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf” and the live-action prequel “The Witcher: Blood Origin.”

“The Boys” will be back on Amazon for Season 2 tomorrow, Sept. 4.

“Star Trek: Discovery” will be back on CBS All Access for Season 3 on Oct. 15.

Top photo: “Umbrella Academy,” Netflix.

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‘Brave New World’ interesting, topical, and a little confusing

“Brave New World” (on NBC’s otherwise underwhelming new streaming service, Peacock) is the kind of bizarre, futuristic fiction I live for, but maybe it’s just me; I’m not hearing a ton of buzz about this show. Most of the Peacock talk is about what a letdown this service is turning out to be rather than the series, and I’m not impressed with the service’s offerings either but I did like BNW, which is an adaptation of the Aldous Huxley novel. I especially liked seeing Alden Ehrenreich again; he was great as a young Han in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

Harry Lloyd’s character Bernard is just as smug here as his “Game of Thrones” character Viserys. He’s almost the same cringey snob, but with different hair. Lloyd is a great actor, as he really makes you want to smack him.

While it’s not particularly deep, I like the series’ exploration of relationships and topics like privacy, monogamy, and family, and the social commentary of New London’s citizens popping happy pills every time they feel any level of discomfort. Heaven forbid anyone have a pang of guilt, jealousy, or fear, or concern for others. The self-absorption and silly trends are very timely in our “influencer” culture. 

The second episode is one of the best: The elites travel to the Savage Lands, a theme park that holds up a mirror to our own weirdness and entertains its visitors with re-enactments of shotgun weddings and Black Friday stampedes. Bernard and Lenina can hardly imagine living in a world with these “savages,” a world where they aren’t plugged in and sedated until they feel nothing. (Possibly the most unlikely aspect of the show is the collective sex drive of such heavily medicated people.)  

I think the writers failed to flesh out the characters who are in control in this utopian (dystopian?) society, and that seems kind of important. There were only nine episodes. They could have gone more in depth with Indra and Mustafa and added a couple extra episodes in order to make that part of the story more interesting and comprehensible. It would have made the finale less confusing, but maybe the confusion was meant to be part of the cliffhanger. I guess we’ll see, if the show gets renewed for a second season, which has not yet been announced.

Why couldn’t they give Nina Sosanya and Sophie McIntosh (above) more air time so that the finale would have made more sense? (Brave New World, Peacock)

‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’

If you hated “Justice League” and wish it had been longer, here is some good news for you: The Snyder cut, coming to HBO Max, is reportedly going to be a four-hour film or a miniseries. Snyder said, “I feel like they’re gonna study this whole thing in film school.”

After the tragic death of his daughter, Snyder stepped down from directorial duties during post-production of the 2017 film, and Joss Whedon took over. To put it mildly, Snyder was not happy with Whedon’s work: “There would be no chance on earth that I would use a shot that was made. … after I left the movie. I’d destroy the movie, I would set it on fire before I would use a single frame that I did not photograph,” Snyder said during a Comic-Con@Home panel.

Wow.

All I know is if you think I’m going to watch four hours of Snyder’s pretentious magnum opus – you are correct.

Bill & Ted

I’m very excited about the third Bill and Ted movie! “Bill & Ted Face the Music” will be released on Sept. 1 on video on demand, and in select theaters.

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

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Check out Netflix’s ‘The Old Guard’ and ‘Warrior Nun’

(Contains spoilers.)

When I was in my teens and twenties I was somewhat obsessed with vampires. I loved “The Lost Boys” (which is getting a musical prequel – no I’m not kidding) and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Vampires fit into my goth aesthetic* but also the idea of immortality and what it would be like to never age or die is an intriguing concept all by itself.

It’s why I love Matt Haig’s novel “How to Stop Time” about a 400-year-old man who looks like he’s 40. It’s interesting to imagine what kind of perspective you would have if you were centuries old, but still living as a young(ish) person. And of course you would wonder, Why me?

In “The Old Guard,” Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron) faces similar questions. She and her fellow immortals are mercenaries, but in modern times, they have a harder time keeping a low profile. U.S. Marine Nile (KiKi Layne) is the “new guard” to Andy’s old.

Gina Prince-Bythewood

Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, and Chiwetel Ejiofor also star in “The Old Guard,” which was adapted from a comic book by Greg Rucka, and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees”).

Prince-Bythewood is the first black woman to make a comic book film, and she’s also working on adaptations of the Black Cat and Silver Sable comics. The film which would have combined the heroines’ stories in one movie called “Silver and Black” has been cancelled (boo!), but the characters are now reportedly getting separate series (yay!). Prince-Bythewood has said that the research and preparation she did for the now-cancelled film, which included getting advice from “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins, helped her with “The Old Guard.”

In Charlize Theron news, her character Furiosa is reportedly being recast in the Mad Max prequel, a decision Theron said was “a little heartbreaking, for sure. I really love that character, and I’m so grateful that I had a small part in creating her.”

Fortunately, we will be seeing Theron again in an “Atomic Blonde” sequel (which will reportedly be a Netflix exclusive) and also (I hope) a sequel to “The Old Guard.”

‘Warrior Nun’

My latest late-night binge is Netflix’s “Warrior Nun.” If you were a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” or even if you weren’t, you may enjoy this comic book adaptation about an order of nun soldiers who fight demons.

Alba Baptista (a Portuguese actress in her first English-speaking role) stars as a quadriplegic orphan who dies but is resurrected when an angel’s halo is placed in her back, giving her the ability to walk again – and also magical demon-hunting abilities.

I know it sounds bizarre and sort of silly – because it is, but it’s crazy and fun. Just go with it.

‘Monster Hunter’

I guess audiences can’t get enough witchers and slayers. Another supposed-to-be summer 2020 blockbuster has been postponed: “Monster Hunter,” a film adaptation of the video game, has been delayed till April 23, 2021. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil,” “Mortal Kombat”) and starring Milla Jovovich (who is married to Anderson), Tony Jaa, T.I., Ron Perlman, Meagan Good, and Diego Boneta, the movie follows a UN military team who end up in an alternate world where Hunters fight monsters. The soldiers and Hunters work together to keep the monsters from entering the portal to Earth.

In describing the monsters, Anderson said in an interview with Empire, “We’re building them in even more detail than the dinosaurs of Jurassic World. And they look even better. …” OK. But. Does your movie have Star-Lord? Didn’t think so.

Trailers

The trailer for “The One and Only Ivan” is here, and it looks like the plot may be a little different from the book, but I’m still looking forward to seeing it. It’s coming to Disney+ on Aug. 14.

HBO Max released a trailer for all their new stuff, including a cool-looking new Ridley Scott show called “Raised by Wolves.” (Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.)

There’s also a release date (Aug. 6) and a trailer for the new animated series “Star Trek: Lower Decks.” Check it out below.

Photo credits: “The Old Guard” and “Warrior Nun,” Netflix; “Interview with the Vampire” and “The Middle,” Warner Bros.; “Jurassic World,” Universal Pictures.

* Me in the 1990s, wishing I was a vampire.

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Matrix, Marvel and more: Films & series on the way

First, let’s talk about Marvel. “Black Widow” will be the next film in the franchise to hit theaters. (When theaters will open is another matter.) Although it is the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it will serve as the first entry of Phase Four. The story of Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, also stars David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, and Rachel Weisz.

Natasha’s character was never my favorite and I think it’s because she never got a great storyline. At first I thought it was because she doesn’t have superpowers, but then neither does Iron Man – unless being a rich genius is a superpower.

I think she didn’t get a better story (or her own film – until now) because she’s a woman. Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Captain America all got their own movies in Phase One.

Now that “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel” have proven that audiences want to see a female-led superhero flick, we are finally getting Black Widow’s origin story. Is it a day late and a dollar short?

Rumor has it that the MCU’s Phase Four is ushering in replacements for the heroes who didn’t survive “Infinity War” and “Endgame.” Could Flo Pugh be the new Black Widow? Suddenly I’m excited about this film. Go, Flo!

“Black Widow” was originally scheduled to be released in U.S. theaters in May, but has a new release date of Nov. 6.

The “Doctor Strange” sequel, titled “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” will have a different director this time around – Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead”).

Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor will return as the titular doc and Mordo. The film is reportedly going to be darker than its predecessor – I hope not too much darker as I don’t especially want to see horror when I go to a Marvel movie. We’ll see what happens with that – in 2022.

Taika Waititi, who directed “Ragnarok,” will be back to direct the next Thor sequel, “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which will star Natalie Portman. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson will also return. This one is also scheduled for a 2022 release.

Rounding out Phase 4 are “The Eternals,” set for Feb. 12, 2021, a Spider-Man sequel (Nov. 5, 2021), and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” (May 7, 2021) – which will be the first Marvel film with an Asian lead. Shang-Chi will be played by Simu Liu.

“The Eternals” will also mark some firsts – Makkari will be the first deaf superhero in the MCU, and Phastos will be the first gay superhero in the MCU.

“Captain Marvel” and “Black Panther” sequels are also in the works and expected to be released in 2022.

Oh did you think that was it? Fasten your seat belts, sci-fi fans – Marvel is just getting started. There’s also a “Blade” reboot with Mahershala Ali (!), a “Fantastic Four” movie, a “Loki” series, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “WandaVision” (which will tie into the Doctor Strange sequel), “Ms. Marvel,” “Moon Knight,” “She-Hulk,” an animated series called “What If … ?”, a “Hawkeye” series, a third Ant-Man film, and a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. Did I forget anything? Probably.

‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’

The fourth movie in the franchise is set 30 years after the second film. A family moves to a small town where they discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters, some of whom will make appearances. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and Annie Potts will reprise their roles. (Harold Ramis passed in 2014.)

The film will be directed by Jason Reitman, and also stars Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, and Paul Rudd. Originally scheduled to be released this month, the film now has a release date of March 5, 2021.

‘Tenet’

Christopher Nolan wrote and directed two of my favorite movies, “Interstellar” and “Inception.” His new mind-bender, “Tenet,” is scheduled to be released Aug. 12. The cast includes John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh.

They filmed in Denmark, Estonia, India, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (Filming was done before pandemic-related shutdowns.) It’s Nolan’s most expensive original project yet, with a production budget of roughly $200 million. The film’s release date has been postponed twice, and each pandemic-related postponement cost Warner Bros. between $200,000 and $400,000 in marketing fees.

It’s pretty certain this one won’t go straight to streaming. As one of the few filmmakers who still shoots with film stock rather than digital photography – and this one is also shot in IMAX – Nolan is adamant that it appears on the big screen.

So what’s the movie about? The plot has been somewhat shrouded in mystery. It’s a spy movie, and it looks like a time travel movie, but it’s apparently … not? It looks trippy, and it has the distinction of being the only film mentioned in this post (and the previous one) that isn’t a sequel or an adaptation. Three cheers for originality!

‘The Matrix 4’

This isn’t the Keanu Reeves sequel we wanted (what happened to Bill and Ted?) but I guess it’s the one we’re getting. Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss are back in the fourth Matrix movie. Jada Pinkett Smith and Lambert Wilson will also return. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jonathan Groff, Toby Onwumere, Erendira Ibarra, Priyanka Chopra, and Andrew Caldwell will also star. The release date is April 1, 2022.

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’

The fourth film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse stars Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza Gonzále, Jessica Henwick, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, and Demián Bichir. Adam Wingard directs, and the release date has been moved to May 21, 2021.

‘Jurassic World: Dominion’

The sixth film in the Jurassic Park franchise and the final film in the Jurassic World trilogy will be directed by Colin Trevorrow and stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, Isabella Sermon, BD Wong, Mamoudou Athie, DeWanda Wise, Dichen Lachman, Scott Haze, and Campbell Scott.

The film has reportedly resumed filming following COVID-19 delays. The studio has spent approximately $5 million on safety protocols including on-site doctors and nurses, 150 hand sanitizer stations, 1,800 signs, and thousands of tests for cast and crew. If all goes as planned, it will be released June 11, 2021.

Of course, Universal isn’t the only studio taking such precautions. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state would begin reopening to film and television production on June 12, and Los Angeles County health protocols must be agreed to as a condition of film permit release. Filming in other locations are following similar protocols.

More trailers!

“The Umbrella Academy” Season 2 trailer dropped – I’m really looking forward to this one!

The increased Season 2 budget for “The Boys” means “bigger, better, and bloodier.” I’m on board for bigger and better. Bloodier, not so much. Replace bloodier with more Billy Butcher and I’m in.

And one more – an astronaut series called “Away,” starring Hilary Swank, is coming to Netflix.

What film or series are you most excited about? Tell me in the comments or on my Facebook page!

All release dates are subject to change.

Photo credits: “Black Widow,” “Doctor Strange,” and “Black Panther,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, “Jurassic World,” Universal Pictures.

2020-04-22 00.25.02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All release dates subject to change.

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

2020-04-22 00.25.02

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Sci-fi and fantasy coming to TV, streaming services

Mike McMahan

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

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

‘Battlestar Galactica’

Sam Esmail

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

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

‘The Wheel of Time’

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

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

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

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

‘The Boys’

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

Fantasy films for younger viewers

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

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

It is in Japanese with English subtitles.

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

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

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

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