Tolkien, Marvel, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, repeat

Well, I think it’s finally happening to me: Franchise burnout. I am really not that impressed with HBO’s “Game of Thrones” prequel series “House of the Dragon,” and Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings” prequel series “The Rings of Power” isn’t blowing me away either. And I’m not eagerly anticipating the new Star Wars series “Andor” (Disney+). I feel like I should want to watch all the new offerings from these popular sci-fi and fantasy franchises but honestly, I kind of just don’t care.

I doubt I would have even bothered with the Targaryens or the saga of Tolkien’s elves if it had not been for my husband convincing me to watch with him. Is it just me? Maybe I’m just tired in general. It’s a balmy 110 degrees where I live and it’s draining my will to do much of anything lately, much less care about Westeros or Middle-earth.

I’m happy to see there’s more diversity than I expected from these two series but both shows are still leaning white and blond, especially (most of) the lead characters. I guess they get points for including actors of different ethnicities, even if they are mostly peripheral characters? (I have read that some people are having a problem with any people of color in these shows, which I find confusing and sad.)

There is more diversity than I expected from these series but there’s still a lot of blond going on. Above, Galadriel from “The Rings of Power”; left, Rhaenyra from “House of the Dragon.”

Another issue I have with these series is that the events took place years before the original series. We already know how “Game of Thrones” ended – who cares what happened 200 years before that? (And let’s face it – the end of “Game of Thrones” sucked, which doesn’t help.)

We also already know what happened in “Lord of the Rings.” Do we really need to know what happened thousands of years before Frodo and Sam went to Mordor?

It seems a bit crazy to me that Amazon paid $250 million(!) for the rights to these stories, and they’re based mostly on appendices!

I realize they are banking on the name to draw viewers, but I would have been more interested in seeing something new. I think the post-apocalyptic Koli trilogy by M. R. Carey would be a fantastic miniseries, if they had the right writers and actors attached.

I would also love to see Charlie Jane Anders’ novel “All the Birds in the Sky” adapted to a movie or series. Her YA novel “Victories Greater Than Death” was picked up by Amazon Prime last year and is being developed by Michael B. Jordan’s production company Outlier Society. Hopefully they’ll do a good job with that so we’ll see more of her stories on the big and small screen.

Don’t get me wrong – “Dragon” and “Rings” aren’t really bad, just sort of boring. I guess it isn’t fair to judge them already since they’ve only released a couple episodes; maybe they are just getting warmed up. After all, “The Expanse” was confusing and boring at first, but it turned out to be awesome. So we’ll see.

“Andor” isn’t out yet. It was supposed to premiere on Aug. 31 but I assume its new release date, Sept. 21, is due to Disney+ not wanting it to compete against “Dragon” and “Rings.”

I hate to say this as a Star Wars fan, but why should we care about a prequel to “Rogue One,” which itself was a (boring) prequel? Having said that, I will probably still watch it. It’s Star Wars! (See, that’s how they get you.) Speaking of Disney, there’s another new Marvel series that just started: “She-Hulk,” which looked incredibly ridiculous in the trailer and actually is sort of ridiculous but is also kind of funny, and not as awful as I expected.

I like that it breaks the “fourth wall” and is sort of tongue-in-cheek, and of course Tatiana Maslany is super talented and adorable, which almost makes up for the silliness and the bad CGI.

That’s all for now. Tune in next time when I hopefully will have changed all my opinions on the aforementioned series because they dramatically improved halfway through!

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‘Thor,’ ‘The Boys,’ ‘Umbrella Academy,’ and ‘Trek: SNW’

I had really been looking forward to “Thor: Love and Thunder.” I had high expectations, as it has the same director (Taika Waititi) as “Thor: Ragnarok,” which is one of the most fun, and funny, films in the Marvel franchise. Unfortunately, this new one is not as good as “Ragnarok.”

It was cool to see Thor, Valkyrie, Jane, and Darcy (briefly) again, and my inner (Slash-obsessed) teen was really happy about all the Guns N’ Roses tunes. And there are some funny moments, and some “Yay!” moments, but if you’re taking little kids to see this, or you’re in the mood for a feel-good movie, you might be a little bit disappointed.

My main complaint about “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is that it is basically a horror movie. I thought the Thor sequel would be more light-hearted and fun, and it is, but it is also darker than I expected. One might think the fun parts balance that out, but instead it comes across, to me anyway, as sort of disjointed.

My more detailed criticisms (which follow the photo) are full of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen “Thor: Love and Thunder” yet, maybe just skip down to my review of “The Boys.”

By the way, the Guardians of the Galaxy do appear in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” but only in the beginning of the movie, so don’t get too excited.

OK if you’re still with me and haven’t seen “Thor: Love and Thunder” yet, you’ve been warned. Spoilers follow!

Christian Bale is creepy and depressing as Gorr the God Butcher, and I know he’s supposed to be creepy because he’s the bad guy, but his origin story is unsettling, and his abduction of the kids is pretty dark. Isn’t it sad enough that Jane Foster is dying of cancer? Now there are monsters stealing little kids from their beds?

Almost as much of a bummer as the horror elements are the tired jokes. (The first time Korg botches Jane’s name is funny. Come up with a different joke after that.) Remember in “Endgame” when the writers thought it was funny to make fun of the fact that Thor got fat – like 12 times? That’s how I feel about the love affair between Thor and Stormbreaker. It’s amusing at first, and I know Natalie Portman has a reputation for not having chemistry with any of her co-stars but this script doesn’t help matters by whipping up more tension between Thor and his ax than between its human characters.

I was excited about Jane becoming Mighty Thor, and I stupidly thought they were going to be bringing her back for more than just this one movie. Mjolnir gives her powers but doesn’t cure her cancer? No; in fact, it actually hastens her decline. (Apparently, this is partially taken from the comics, the explanation being that the transformation purges her body of toxins, including the chemo.)

I love that we get this whole back story of Thor and Jane’s relationship, and that she turns into a superhero, and that she and Thor get back together, but then … it’s over. Then to add insult to injury we discover the love and thunder of the title refers not to Thor and Jane, but to Thor and the villain’s bratty orphan daughter! I guess it is supposed to be adorable, but it feels rushed and unearned. I guess I’m just bitter because I wanted Jane to have the happy ending with Thor.

Give Tessa Thompson more screen time!

I wanted a win for at least one of the bad-ass women in this film. Valkyrie is sidelined about halfway through the movie! I’m over this trend of women getting fridged and/or killed off. Is Jane’s role in this simply to sacrifice herself and to teach Thor how to open his heart to love? We already had Black Widow sacrifice herself in “Endgame.” And in “Multiverse,” Wanda was killed off (and was also a victim of character assassination). That’s just off the top of my head – and only in the last three years of Marvel movies.

Maybe I’m being unfair. I know it sounds like I hate this movie, but I don’t. I’ll watch it again and I’ll probably like it more the next time, and I’ll say I was too harsh in my review. Maybe.

‘The Boys’

I loved Frenchie and Kimiko this season. They are so pure and sweet with each other, and I really want them to live. Previously, my fave character on “The Boys” was Billy Butcher. (Don’t judge!) I even found Frenchie slightly annoying before, but now I’m 100% team Frenchie/Kimiko.

Unfortunately, the comments I keep seeing online about this show look like “Who cares about these two? Let’s get back to the supes.” Um? You don’t want to see Frenchie and Kimiko snuggling, but you’re OK with supes shrinking themselves to fit into someone’s uh … nether regions? You don’t want to see Frenchie and Kimiko singing and dancing, but you’re OK with yet another exploding head? What about the Deep doing stuff with an octopus? More than once?! Also, I don’t understand anyone who is turned on by Soldier Boy or Little Nina. And “Herogasm” made me nauseated. It’s possible (I mean likely) that this show isn’t for me. But. Homelander needs to die and I’m not going to stop watching until he does.

‘Umbrella Academy’

Speaking of singing and dancing, how much did you love the dance battle at the beginning of this season’s “Umbrella Academy”? As in “The Boys,” it was all in the imagination of one character, but it was still awesome.

I think the writers did a good job of handling Elliot Page’s storyline. Vanya is now Viktor, and the other siblings are supportive, which is nice.

I am not loving the Sparrows, but I guess we’re not supposed to like them. I really loved Season 2 of this series, and so far, Season 3 isn’t quite as good, but I’m only halfway through, so maybe it will get better.

‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’

When the first few episodes of SNW aired, I was kind of bored. “Discovery” was the new Trek, as far as I was concerned. SNW is just a spinoff! Right? Well. It reeled me in and now I’m all in with Space Daddy, er, PIKE, new Spock, Una, Chapel, La’an, New-Uhura (New-Hura?), Ortegas, M’Benga, and T’Pring.

There is much discussion in the fandom as to why this show works so well. Is it because it is episodic? Is it because it is so similar to the original series? Is it because it isn’t trying so hard to be, for lack of a better word, “woke”? Does it matter? It’s fun. Enough said.

Aside from the animated series (“Lower Decks” and “Prodigy”), which will be back this year, there are no release dates yet for any new or returning Trek series. “Discovery,” “Picard,” and “Strange New Worlds” are expected to return in 2023.

Coming up in August on Disney+ are the Marvel series “She-Hulk” (Aug. 17) and “I Am Groot” animated shorts (Aug. 10), as well as the Star Wars series “Andor” (Aug. 31). The “Game of Thrones” prequel series “House of the Dragon” premieres Aug. 21, on HBO.

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‘The Boys’ Season 3 is gross, but engrossing

I know everyone’s talking about “Stranger Things” but I haven’t yet gotten around to watching Season Four. Actually, it’s less that I’m too busy and more that I’m procrastinating because I heard it is the scariest season so far. Yikes.

Anyway, I’m already covered in the gore department, now that Season 3 of “The Boys” (Amazon Prime) has started. Is it not enough that there are multiple heads exploding during each episode? Now we have to see “previously on ‘The Boys'” head explosions too?

Aside from that ugliness, I’m enjoying this season so far. I missed Billy Butcher, and I can’t wait to see what happens next for Frenchie, Kimiko, and MM. Oh yeah, and Hughie. The supes make me somewhat sick to my stomach but I guess that’s the point.

“The Boys” is satire above all else, and I want to escape the real world, not be reminded of it. And this series is a constant reminder of corrupt American politicians and corporations, mindless celebrity worship, violence, racism, sexism, and the list goes on. So why do I keep watching it? I guess I’m waiting for Homelander to get his comeuppance. (Will he? Ever?) I’m rooting for the boys fighting the bad guys, and I know Billy Butcher is not really a good guy, but who doesn’t love an antihero who gets shit done?

‘Ms. Marvel’

It is hard to believe that Disney+ is already on its seventh Marvel Cinematic Universe series. The new series features a teen superhero named Kamala Khan.

As anyone who has read the book before the movie can attest, it can be annoying to discover the changes that were made in the transition. And even though I suspected it would happen with “Ms. Marvel” too, I was still slightly annoyed that the series strayed from the comic. The biggest change to the plot is the origin of her powers. But whatever.

It’s no “Loki,” but it’s a fun show so far (only one episode has been released as of this writing), I like the visual style, and the new character is also in next year’s “The Marvels” so it will be interesting to see where it goes.

‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’

(Spoilers for the first four episodes of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” follow the photo.)

Disney Platform Distribution

I wasn’t super excited for “Obi-Wan,” mostly because I’m getting bored of Tatooine. In fact, I live in a desert, so I see enough of that landscape already. Luckily, the new series has our titular hero traveling to other planets, and it had an intriguing start (except for that opening scene which I’ll get to in a minute) but it quickly became apparent that the writers stole a page (or a whole book) from “The Mandalorian.” Swap out the adorable alien child for the adorable human child, and a Jedi for a bounty hunter and you more or less have the same show.

The very first scene of this series is a sort of flashback to Order 66 and involves a school shooting, only three days after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Was it too late to remove that scene? It was unnecessary, and even if it wasn’t so soon after the Texas shooting, it is still a questionable choice, especially as it’s on Disney+.

Anyway. I’m not sure we needed an “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series, which is fine – it’s not as if Boba Fett’s adventures were integral to the larger Star Wars story either. If it’s original and/or entertaining, I’m going to watch it. I mean, it is Star Wars. It isn’t terribly original so far but is entertaining. There are some annoying plot inconsistencies, but again, it is Star Wars. You have to just kind of go with it.

I think all the plot inconsistencies in this franchise are of the “too many cooks spoil the soup” variety. (I suspect the missing ingredient here may be Jon Favreau.)

Petersen Automotive Museum

If you’re a car enthusiast and you are going to be in Los Angeles, check out the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard. We took my dad-in-law and mom-in-law there a couple weeks ago, and I will be honest, I really don’t care about cars, but it was more interesting than I thought it would be, mostly because I didn’t know they had all these cool movie cars.

They had the DeLorean from “Back to the Future,” the Batmobile from “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” the ECTO-1 from “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” the Transporter from “Ready Player One,” the Lexus from “Black Panther,” the Boris bike from “Men in Black 3,” and more.

If you’re into James Bond, you’re in for a treat, because they have lots of cars from the Bond films too. There’s also a fun gift shop. The museum is near the La Brea tar pits, LACMA, and the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which I talked about in a recent post.

“Umbrella Academy,” Season 3, Netflix, June 22

“Thor: Love and Thunder,” in theaters July 8

“House of the Dragon” (“Game of Thrones” prequel series), HBO, Aug. 21

“I Am Groot” animated shorts, Disney+, Aug. 10

“She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” Disney+, Aug. 17

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” (adaptation of A. S. Byatt story, starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton), in theaters Aug. 31

“Andor” (“Rogue One” spin-off series), Disney+, Aug. 31

“Don’t Worry Darling” (Stepford Wives-ish thriller starring Florence Pugh), in theaters Sept. 23

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What’s next in Marvel, Star Wars, and Trek universes

Now that the crazy whirlwind that is “Moon Knight” has concluded its first season, we can talk about it what it all means.

What does it mean? I still don’t know. But I love that Marvel’s Disney+ offerings are so different from each other. We have the amazing adventures of Bucky and Sam, Wanda and Vision play house, a very Hawkeye Christmas, the Asgardian god of mischief, and now Oscar Isaac channeling an Egyptian god. I don’t like them all equally, and that’s fine. There is something for everyone.

Oscar Isaac in “Moon Knight,” on Disney+

I personally prefer the lighter, funnier side of Marvel (“Ant-Man,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”) rather than Marvel’s darker, creepier offerings (“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”). “Moon Knight” leans more toward this dark side. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed “Moon Knight.” It is interesting and suspenseful. But the best thing it has going for it is Isaac’s performance. He really brings this immense talent to every role, and he is perfect in this.

It was recently brought to my attention that a lot of Marvel heroes have been at war with some version of themselves lately. We see this in “Moon Knight,” “Loki,” “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” etc. I’m not sure if this is a coincidence, or if it’s a commentary on how our greatest obstacle is often ourselves. Something to think about.

Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel

Next up, Marvel series-wise, is “Ms. Marvel,” which will premiere on Disney+ on June 8. I’ve been reading the comic books, and they are pretty good. This new character will be the first Muslim superhero in the MCU, which is cool.

We are seeing more diversity lately in Marvel movies and series; there are more female, Black, Latino, Indian, LGBT+, and deaf superheroes, and it’s about time! White dudes dominated the screen for the first 17 MCU films, and they were great and all, but it’s so refreshing – and important! – to see not just characters but main characters who represent people of different ethnicities, races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, and abilities.

The new series “She-Hulk” is coming out on Aug. 17, and stars Tatiana Maslany who was amazing in “Orphan Black.” Mark Ruffalo and Tim Roth, who are also wonderful, will appear in the series (as the Hulk and the Abomination). The trailer just dropped on Tuesday, and it looks, um, what’s the word I’m looking for? Entertaining. See for yourself:

There are a lot of new Marvel series coming in the next couple years, including “Secret Invasion,” “Ironheart,” “Armor Wars,” and a series set in Wakanda. A Halloween special and a Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas special are also still scheduled to be released this year as well.

There are also two spinoff series in the works: one starring Kathryn Hahn as her character from “WandaVision,” called “Agatha: House of Harkness,” and “Echo,” starring Alaqua Cox who played Maya Lopez in “Hawkeye.”

In Marvel movie news, there are still six more Phase Four films coming out in the next couple years. The next one is “Thor: Love and Thunder,” out July 8. Then we have “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” on Nov. 11; “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” and “The Marvels,” scheduled to be released next year; and “Fantastic Four.”

In Star Wars news, the Obi-Wan Kenobi series will premiere May 27, on Disney+, and will star Ewan McGregor, who also serves as executive producer for the show, set 10 years after the events of “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.” Hayden Christensen will also reprise his role, as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. There are six episodes.

Other Star Wars series coming to Disney+ are “Andor,” “Ahsoka,” “The Acolyte,” and Season Three of “The Mandalorian.” There is also talk of a “Lando” series, but there isn’t much information yet on this series.

If you are caught up on “Star Trek: Picard,” you know things have taken a turn for the batsh*t crazy. Q shows up in Season 2, and of course chaos ensues, as it does whenever Q shows up. And the Borg Queen shows up, and chaos ensues, as it does whenever she shows up.

There’s some time travel, some unresolved childhood trauma, and an alternate universe plot – all manner of completely bonkers stuff happens is what I’m saying, and I’m not sure yet how I feel about it because what is happening on this show?! That’s all I’m going to say about that.

“Star Trek: Discovery” got a bit crazy as well, in its fourth season. (When the universe as you know it might be ending and your rogue boyfriend is partially responsible, but you want to give him another chance!) But one of the cool things that “Discovery” has going for it is that every season goes in a completely new direction, and even though there were some WTF moments, I still am looking forward to seeing what direction it heads in Season Five.

“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” premiered on May 5, and it’s OK but it isn’t really blowing me away. To be fair, I’ve only seen the first two episodes so far, and there are some new, interesting characters, so I’ll keep watching and maybe it will get better with time.

Michelle Yeoh in “Star Trek: Discovery”

Another spin-off of “Discovery,” called “Section 31,” is still reportedly in the works and will star Michelle Yeoh, reprising her role as Philippa Georgiou. There has also been talk of a limited series based on Khan Noonien Singh, and another set at Starfleet Academy, but it has been announced that no new Trek series will be released before at least one of the current series concludes its run.

There are now 12 Star Trek series (including the animated ones) and they are all available on Paramount+. You can also watch all 13 of the Trek films on Paramount+. And … a new, J. J. Abrams-produced Trek movie is in the works and is expected to be released next year.

In “Grishaverse” news, Season 2 of the Netflix series “Shadow and Bone” (based on the YA fantasy novels by Leigh Bardugo) is reportedly in production. If you haven’t seen the first season yet, now’s a good time to catch up before the Season 2 release, expected sometime this year.

Daisy Head as Genya, and Jessie Mei Li as Alina, in Netflix’s “Shadow and Bone”

The series follows a cartographer named Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li) who discovers she is a Grisha, gifted with magical powers.

I had never heard of the books or the series before I saw the first episode, but I found this fantasy world, with its interesting characters and beautiful costumes, very intriguing, because let’s face it: It’s nice to go somewhere new, rather than visit the same boring destination over and over. Like, say, Tatooine.

“Stranger Things” will be back May 27. There are actually two release dates; Netflix will release the second half of Season 4 on July 1. There are nine episodes, and at over an hour each, they are longer than those of previous seasons. In a recent interview, the Duffer Brothers (the series’ creators) said the season finale will be over two hours long. Stock up on popcorn!

Season Three of the Netflix series “Umbrella Academy” will be released June 22. If you haven’t watched the first two seasons of this show, based on the comics by Gerard Way, I highly recommend it.

Photo at top: “Ms. Marvel,” Disney Platform Distribution.

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Multiverse mania, Southern California day trips, and more

Stories about parallel universes and multiverses can be problematic. The concept of the butterfly effect posits that something as seemingly insignificant as a butterfly flapping its wings can put huge changes into motion. If this is true then if all of us are even a little different in a potential other universe, how could we even exist in another reality? If the other “you” is different, then wouldn’t your parents’ alternates also be different, and if so wouldn’t they not have even had you in the first place? Or if they did, would they have the same you? Even siblings with the same two parents have different gene combinations. It doesn’t make sense. These stories defy logic and physics and are plagued by minor inconsistencies at best, and gaping plot holes at worst.

Science fiction asks us to set those pesky issues aside and instead delve into the philosophical questions alternate realities present. Or at least just enjoy the ride. Of course, it’s easier to do that when the story is good.

I have been looking forward to “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” because Doctor Strange is one of my favorite Marvel characters, and “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” because I love Michelle Yeoh. (Yeoh is no stranger to parallel universes; she plays two different versions of Philippa Georgiou in “Star Trek: Discovery.”)

A24

Another thing these films have in common other than multiple universes is that they are not for kids. The Doctor Strange sequel is dark and creepy. It may have the same rating (PG-13) as “Ant-Man” but it is darker and creepier than “Ant-Man.” (Did I mention it is dark? And creepy?)

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is rated R, and for good reason. There are things in this movie I wish I could un-see. Enough said.

Does EEAAO live up to the hype? Well if you like quirky, raunchy movies that make you say “What the f–k did I just watch?” then you will love it. I made my sister go see it with me and she said it was like “an exhausting acid trip,” which is as fitting a description as any for this frenetic, absurdist film, but we also found it laugh-out-loud funny, and even touching. I don’t want to give any spoilers, in case you are still interested after everything I just said. Yeoh was awesome as always, as was the rest of the cast, including Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I had heard the Doctor Strange sequel was more horror-themed this time, and I suspected I would not like this about it, and I was right. If the horror aspects of the film were the only things I didn’t like, I could maybe forgive it, but I didn’t like the plot either. I am not going to give spoilers. If you like Sam Raimi’s other stuff (“The Evil Dead,” “Drag Me to Hell”), you will probably like this and if you don’t, well. We can’t win ’em all, I guess. (It’s entirely possible I am just bitter because in our universe, Stephen Strange isn’t a sorcerer, or even a surgeon. He’s an actor, and there are no superheroes. Boo.)

For alternate realities on a smaller scale, and on a smaller screen, check out “Undone” on Amazon Prime, and “Russian Doll,” on Netflix, both of which recently released a second season. I loved the first and second seasons of both shows, which feature women struggling to control their time-traveling abilities.

In the first season of “Russian Doll,” Natasha Lyonne’s character, Nadia, gets stuck in a sort of “Groundhog Day” time loop, and in Season Two, she discovers a portal to the past. Alma, in “Undone,” also finds herself traveling back to the past.

In both series, the protagonists are seen as mentally unstable (but are they?) and both attempt to change the fate of family members, often at their own peril. I could talk about what that says about how society views women, and the sacrifices women make for their families but I’m not really sure that’s where they were even going. Make of it what you will.

I have already reviewed and sung the praises of the first seasons of “Undone” and “Russian Doll,” so I won’t go on and on. I actually found the second season of both series even more compelling than the first. Like most alternate reality stories, they were occasionally confusing and sometimes asked more questions than they answered, but they got so much right that it was easy to overlook the complications.

Southern California day trips

Peasant dress + elf ears = my Ren Faire costume

There are two weekends left this year of The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire at the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale. My hubby and daughter and I went a couple weeks ago for the first time in several years. The traffic getting into the park was a pain; I missed the bird show they used to have, with hawks and vultures, etc. (we want birdies!); and there were not as many bands this time around. But most of the same vendors and attractions were there, and we still had fun.

The Wisconsin and New York faires are still to come this year. Go to http://renfair.com for more information.

We also recently went to see the Hayao Miyazaki exhibit at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. You can’t take photos inside the exhibit itself, but we got a few in the hallway, and photography is allowed in the other galleries at the museum.

This place just opened last year (next to LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits on Wilshire Boulevard, if you want to make a whole day of it). It was our first time there and we loved it. There were tons of movie props and costumes, a terrace from which you can see the famous Hollywood sign, and a cute gift shop. The Miyazaki exhibit runs through June 5. For more information, visit academymuseum.org.

Ren Faire and Academy Museum photos by Earth to Shawna

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New: Saga, Ghostbusters, Boba … but where’s Grogu?

After a four-year hiatus the award-winning comic book “Saga” is back! I got my copy of the new issue Wednesday at my local comic book shop, and if you haven’t read this title yet (and are 18 or older – it is rated Mature), I highly recommend you check it out. I have blogged about this comic before – multiple times – and it made my best-of-the-decade list. Here is my review from that post:

“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

I finally saw the new Ghostbusters movie, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” It’s set 32 years after the events of “Ghostbusters 2” and involves Egon’s grandkids (played by Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace), who have just moved with their mother to his house, which they inherited after his death.

I liked that they did something different – focusing on kids this time around. I especially liked that it was the granddaughter who was the main brain of the story, and with her dark curls and glasses, she even looked like the late Harold Ramis.

I would have liked to have seen different ghosts this time; why did they feel the need to spin out the same spirits again? But it was fun to see the cameos from the original cast members – and Paul Rudd is always good!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard about the Netflix movie “Don’t Look Up.” I’m not sure why this got bad reviews. (Only 56% on Rotten Tomatoes? Really?) The plot lays out exactly how society would react if a comet was headed for Earth. Maybe it hit a bit too close to home for some viewers as it was intended as a satire of climate change deniers, but it could just as easily have been a satire about people thinking COVID is fake.

The film, written and directed by Adam McKay, stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothee Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, and Scott Mescudi.

My favorite character was Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence), an astronomy grad student who discovers the comet. The dialogue struck me as very funny and I laughed out loud multiple times. It captured the absurdity of our politicians and media talking heads and was alternately heartbreaking and hilarious. I loved it and watched it twice.

How refreshing was Chapter 5 of “The Book of Boba Fett” (Disney+), with the return of our beloved Din Djarin? I mean, the first four episodes were okay, but this episode was a reminder of just how good “The Mandalorian” was. I loved this episode! But did I? Or was I just excited because for the whole hour, I thought we were going to get to see Grogu? Where’s Grogu??

Seriously though, it was nice to see Mando again, and also I love Amy Sedaris as the mechanic. It was a great episode (except no Grogu!) and I hope they put a little more of this energy into the rest of the season. And hopefully we will get to see Grogu next time!

I was sad to see the end of “The Expanse”! BUT. I read an article on WinterIsComing.net that explained why the producers ended it here, and apparently it was because the next book starts up, like, 30 years later. So. I think, and hope, and pray, that there will be a spin-off series after the events of this last series. Let me go find that story for you. … Here it is:

I think that just about wraps up this post. Don’t forget to mark your calendar for “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” coming to Paramount+ on May 5!

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Skip ‘Matrix’ sequel – watch ‘Witcher’ and Spidey instead

When I read that people are divided over “The Matrix Resurrections,” that fans either love it or hate it, I knew I would be in the second group. I wanted to be wrong. I wanted to like this movie. But unfortunately, my prediction was correct.

It started out fun and funny, and I hate the word “meta,” but it was that too. But the writers apparently didn’t know where to go from there. It was almost as bad as the new “Bill & Ted” movie, and every bit as pointless. I love Keanu, but how did no one who read the script think to say, “Can’t we do better than this?” The plot was so dull and boring, I nearly fell asleep before it was over.

The fact that they kept showing clips from the first film should have been a clue that they were relying too heavily on nostalgia. They even named the deja vu cat from the first film Deja Vu, in case we didn’t feel saturated in deja vu already.

That cat was the best thing in the whole movie, which is all you really need to know.

‘The Witcher’

I finished watching Season 2 of “The Witcher” and it was over much too quickly. I’m a tiny bit obsessed with this Netflix series. I’m not going to pretend that it’s as good as say, “Game of Thrones” (and when I say GoT is good, I assume you know that I mean except for Season 8), but it is probably just as fun to watch. I love this show, and without ruining the whole plot for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I will explain why.

Exhibit A: Henry Cavill. Actually, do you really need another reason? He’s dreamy. Enough said.

OK, OK. That’s not all. There’s also some great girl power: Princess Cirilla is learning how to be a warrior, and there’s also a sorceress named Yennefer. The stories are great, the costumes and scenery transport you to another time and place, and there’s just the right mix of action, suspense, romance, and scary shit to please any sci-fi/fantasy fan.

It’s also funny. Yes, it is intentionally funny and it (mostly) succeeds at that. One of my favorite scenes has Jaskier the bard defending one of his songs when someone criticizes it by saying it’s too complicated – he didn’t realize there were different timelines until the fourth verse, etc. Obviously referring to criticism directed at Season 1 of “The Witcher,” Jaskier continues the fourth-wall break by insulting him right back, basically telling him that he can’t do any better so he should shut up.

I also love the anachronistic speech. Geralt saying stuff like “Where the fuck are my swords?” is probably not supposed to be funny, but gets me every time. Same with every character who can say “fire fucker” with a straight face.

I have a few minor gripes about this show, one of which is I am sort of over the tired trope of “the one.” The one that was foretold of in the prophecies, the prince who was promised, the dragon reborn, blah blah blah – every show/book/movie has a different name for this special chosen one. Thankfully, this series doesn’t beat you over the head with it; there’s plenty of other stuff going on. But destiny does figure into the plot, which is a little annoying. (Maybe it’s just me?)

My recommendation to anyone who watched Season 1 when it was released but hasn’t yet seen Season 2: Watch Season 1 again before watching Season 2. I had forgotten some of the characters and plot points since it has been so long between seasons. (Season 1 came out in December 2019.)

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’

(SPOILERS FOLLOW!)

Spidey is not my favorite: I am not a big fan of Tobey Maguire; I sat through nearly every previous Spider-Man movie somewhat grudgingly; and I normally find Tom Holland’s Peter Parker too earnest. I prefer Tony Stark’s sarcasm. But it took multiple viewings of the Captain America movies before I came to appreciate (and love) Steve Rogers’ wholesomeness, and Peter Parker is finally growing on me too.

I loved that Doctor Strange is in this movie, but I didn’t love that Peter thought it was perfectly acceptable to ask him to interfere with the space-time continuum simply because his buddies didn’t get into their college of choice. It was even more annoying that the doc agreed to help him. And then Peter didn’t go along with Strange’s solution of sending the supervillains back to their own universes – um, what?!

But then Ned used the sling ring to find the other Peter Parkers and things got kinda cool. When Andrew Garfield showed up and then Maguire, it reminded me of what I loved about “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which until now was the best Spidey film, and darn it if I didn’t get a little teary-eyed by the end of the movie.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will be released on May 6.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” will be in theaters July 8.

“Wakanda Forever” has a Nov. 11 release date.

(All release dates are subject to change.)

Also expected in 2022 are the Disney+ series “Ms. Marvel,” “Moon Knight,” “She-Hulk,” and “The “Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.”

“Star Trek: Picard” and “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” are also planned for the new year.

Note that the mid-season finale of “Star Trek: Discovery” is Dec. 30; Season 4 returns Feb. 10.

Have a safe and happy new year!

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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.

2020-04-22 00.25.02

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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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