“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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 Pughbe 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After 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.)
This 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’
You 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.
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.
Netflix 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,” 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.
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’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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
3. “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 long 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.
10. “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.
I’ve been so busy getting caught up on all my TV viewing (see my two previous blog posts) that I haven’t really had time to get started on my decade faves, but better late than never, I always say! Here are my top 10 favorite books of the decade. (I will post my favorite movie and TV series lists soon.)
1. “Station Eleven,” the award-winning, post-apocalyptic novel by Emily St. John Mandel, made me feel grateful for everything I have, in a “well-at-least-everyone-I-love-hasn’t-been-killed-by-a-superbug-and-everything-hasn’t-turned-to-complete-shit” sort of way. It’s reportedly being adapted for TV, as a 10-episode miniseries on HBO Max, and will star Mackenzie Davis and Hamish Patel. You can read my review of the novel here: Award winner ‘Station Eleven’ is a haunting, addictive novel
2. Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One,” the novel on which the 2018 film is based, is about a teenage gamer named Wade who escapes from his crappy reality by pluggging into an online, virtual reality where anything is possible. He enters a 1980s themed contest, so as you can imagine, there are tons of fun ’80s pop culture references.
3. “All the Birds in the Sky,” by Charlie Jane Anders, is the story of a girl named Patricia who discovers she can understand what the birds are saying. As someone who’s always wanted to talk to animals, the premise sucked me into this apocalyptic adventure that blends magic and technology when Patricia becomes friends with a computer genius kid named Lawrence. I also enjoyed Anders’ book of short stories, and her other novel, “The City in the Middle of the Night,” which has been optioned for series development by Sony Pictures Television.
4. “Saga,” written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, is the best comic book series in the past 10 years, and I’m guessing it made lots of people’s best-of lists. Its central characters are Marko and Alana, lovers from warring planets, and their daughter, Hazel. The family is chased across the galaxy by an assassin whose sidekick is a giant, hairless, lie-detecting cat; a TV-faced robot prince; and Marko’s ex-girlfriend. See my review of the comic here: ‘Saga’ leaves you wanting more but you’ll have to wait
5. “Circe,” by Madeline Miller, was a treat for me because I enjoyed reading “The Odyssey” in college, so I was familiar with a lot of the characters already, but you don’t need to have any prior knowledge of Odysseus, or even Greek mythology, in order to enjoy the book. You might want to know that it reminds me of Maleficent in that it’s told from the villain’s side of the story. Circe is a sorceress who turns men into pigs in “The Odyssey,” but here, we find out why. I loved it and I’m hoping it will be adapted to the big screen.
6. “Monstress,” a comic by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, was introduced to me recently by a family member so I’m not even caught up yet, but what I’ve read so far, I love. And it’s adorable; it’s about a teenage girl who is possessed by a demon. Oh wait, that’s not the part that’s cute – it also has a little girl and a talking cat.
7. “Rat Queens,” a comic by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated by Tess Fowler (see note below), is a medieval fantasy about four women mercenaries who go on always-exciting (and sometimes raunchy) adventures. By the way, all three of the comic books on this list are published by Image Comics (and also are not for kids).
8. “Salt Slow” is a collection of feminist fairy tales and ghost stories by Julia Armfield. The characters evoke the spirits of old-fashioned monsters from Greek mythology, Grimm’s fairy tales, and classic horror movies, but with an original and modern twist.
9. “Wool,” by Hugh Howey, is the first book of “Silo,” a post-apocalyptic series. It takes place in the Silo, a city that goes 144 stories under the surface of the Earth. The series is reportedly being adapted to telesvision, as is another of Howey’s series, “Beacon 23.”
10. “How to Stop Time,” by Matt Haig, is a sort of time-traveling tale, but our protagonist is not using a time machine – he is 400 years old. His body ages more slowly than the rest of us so he only looks like he’s in his 40s. I know, you’re wondering if they are making this into a film and the answer is yes! It has been reported that Benedict Cumberbatch will play the main character.
Note: Ryan Ferrier took over “Rat Queens” in 2019, and Priscilla Petraites is now the artist. Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic, and Owen Gieni have also illustrated the series.