‘Dragon,’ ‘Rings,’ and ‘Andor’ start slow but get better

I know I complained in my last post about how much I don’t care about all these new shows, but some of them did get more interesting since then.

I will start with “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” (Amazon Prime). Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) is a great character, and one that didn’t get a lot of screen time in the movies, so it was nice to see her story. I enjoyed some of the new characters also. I especially loved Nori and her bestie, Poppy. It struck me as touching and sort of rare to see their friendship in a show like this. Men dominate the books and films so it was refreshing to get some girl power this time around. (Fiona Apple’s beautiful voice singing “Where the Shadows Lie,” at the end of the season finale, was the icing on the cake.)

The series was beautiful and well-cast, but it took its sweet time to get interesting. It wasn’t until the last episode or two that it started to pick up the pace. That was my main beef with this series and in the slow category, it’s the worst offender on today’s list. There were some interesting twists and it would have been nice if they got there sooner. That being said, I will for sure be watching Season 2, which is already in production.

Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and Rhaenerya (Emma D’Arcy), “House of the Dragon.”

I was not thrilled about “House of the Dragon” before it premiered and I didn’t love the first couple episodes, but it grew on me. Because of its slow start (and because the last season of “Game of Thrones” was terrible and left a bad taste in my mouth), Season 1 of “House of the Dragon” doesn’t hold a candle to the first season of “Game of Thrones.” But I am definitely now hooked and want to see what happens next.

Like “Rings,” “House of the Dragon” is beautiful – the sets, the costumes, the special effects (dragons!), and the cast were all great. Paddy Considine and Matt Smith were wonderful of course, and I was happy to see Olivia Cooke as the adult Alicent, as I liked her in “Ready Player One” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

I thought it was interesting that there was such a strong focus on motherhood and childbirth, although it was difficult to watch some of the scenes, as they were so heart wrenching. This series also had a female friendship, albeit one that has soured (to put it mildly).

The women characters got the short end of the stick (as usual), and even Alicent, who seemed to be holding all the cards, was not much more than a pawn. As Rhaenys pointed out to Alicent in the penultimate episode: “You toil still in service to men: your father, your husband, your son.”

Alicent is even somewhat sexually beholden to her spy (the creepy Larys) who has a fetish for the queen regent’s feet. I would like to say that was the most disturbing scene thus far in “House of the Dragon,” but there were, unfortunately, scenes that were worse. That’s my biggest complaint about “House of the Dragon.” In this it is similar to its predecessor; I watched “Game of Thrones” despite its “yuck” factor, not because of it. I would also prefer they tone down the violence a little, but I know that’s not going to happen.

Maarva (Fiona Shaw) is one of the best characters in the Star Wars series “Andor.”

The Star Wars series “Andor,” on Disney+, is not yet done airing its first season, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

Sometimes I find it slow and boring and feel too scattered to keep up with the allegorical and political nuances of the series. Other times I am invested, sitting at the edge of my seat and biting my nails.

Diego Luna is an amazing actor, reprising his role as Cassian Andor, and I also love his adoptive mother Maarva (Fiona Shaw), and Rebel leader Vel (Faye Marsay, who portrayed the waif from “Game of Thrones”). It’s also cool to see Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) again.

It is well done, and well-cast, but it is depressing, with all the oppressive Imperial forces, but I guess that should be expected from a franchise with the word Wars in the title.

Marvel

If you haven’t already watched the Marvel special “Werewolf by Night,” check it out. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Laura Donnelly, it’s an homage to old-timey horror, and perfect for Halloween. It was released Oct. 7, on Disney+.

Wrapping up Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” in theaters Nov. 11, and “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special,” Nov. 25, on Disney+.

The new year will bring Phase Five, beginning with the movie “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” in February. The first TV series of Phase Five will be the second season of “What If … ?” The first new TV series of Phase Five will be “Secret Invasion.”

Credits: Top photo, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” Amazon Studios; “House of the Dragon,” HBO; “Andor,” Disney Platform Distribution; “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

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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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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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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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What to watch: ‘Eternals,’ ‘Expanse,’ ‘Witcher’ & more

I’ll start with “Eternals.” I saw this movie in the theater, and it was pretty cool, but it was sort of weird in that it didn’t have the same feel as others in the Marvel franchise. Not only are the characters new (to the MCU anyway), but the movie was very sober. Maybe this is just the new direction that Marvel is headed, with the seriousness of the snap and the finales of the “WandaVision” and “Loki” series. Even “What If … ?” was pretty dark, and what we need right now is laughter and light! Come on, Marvel. What are you doing to us? If we want depressing, all we have to do is turn on the news!

If you haven’t seen “Eternals,” you may be wondering what it’s all about. Well, the Eternals are a team of superheroes who are not from Earth. (I don’t think that’s giving away too much.) They all have different powers, and are played by Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, and Don Lee. Kit Harington – as a human – also stars, bringing Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow and Robb Stark (Madden) together again!

I really liked the cast and the story was interesting, even if the plot was slightly confusing. Suffice it to say the Eternals are so named because they live for a long time. It’s sort of like “The Old Guard” in that way. (And if you haven’t seen “The Old Guard” yet, check it out. It’s on Netflix.) I really like stories about immortal-type people, whether it’s vampires or Wonder Woman or whatever. There’s something about non-humans that show us, ironically, what it means to be human. It’s also cool to see the characters adapt to different historical time periods.

If I say too much, I’ll give the movie away. It’s not my favorite Marvel film but I liked it and I want to watch it again. I will probably do that Jan. 12, when it will be available for streaming on Disney+.

Our next Marvel film will be “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which is out today (in the United States). It was released in Los Angeles on Dec. 13 and by some miracle I have managed to avoid reading any spoilers.

In the meantime I’ve been watching “A Very Hawkeye Christmas,” I mean, um, “Hawkeye,” the Marvel series on Disney+. It was a bit too cheesy for my liking for the first few episodes – as if Hallmark got a hold of it – but it’s growing on me. Clint was never my favorite Avenger (is he anyone’s?) but it’s an interesting enough series, and Hailee Steinfeld is adorable and perfect as Kate Bishop.

Speaking of Steinfeld, she also voices one of the characters in the next series I want to tell you about: Netflix’s “Arcane,” an animated show based on the video game “League of Legends.” I’m not very familiar with the game on which the series is based so I can only comment on the series itself and don’t know how well it represents the game.

Steinfeld voices one of the main characters, Vi. The story centers on Vi and her sister Jinx, who grew up on the mean streets of the undercity, and two “topside” scientists of Piltover, who attempt to use arcane magic in technology. Probably one of the best aspects of “Arcane” is the animation, which is so impressive and realistic, you almost forget you’re watching a “cartoon.”

The story was entertaining but it was also dark and intense, so if you’re looking for something optimistic or uplifting, this is not for you. Also, as is often the case with video game adaptations, the characters aren’t super relatable. Most of us aren’t brilliant scientists and politicians, or acrobatic thieves. Still, I’ll probably watch Season 2. The first season (nine episodes) is on Netflix and the second season is in production.

The voice actors were well cast. In addition to Steinfeld, there’s also Ella Purnell voicing Jinx, Kevin Alejandro as Jayce, Harry Lloyd (from “Game of Thrones”), Katie Leung as Caitlin, and perhaps the most recognizable voice is Shohreh Aghdashloo, who is Avasarala on “The Expanse,” which I’m going to talk about next:

The sixth and final season of “The Expanse” began Dec. 10 on Amazon Prime. They aren’t letting us binge watch this one; I’ve only seen the first episode of this season so far. If you are not watching this series, I highly recommend it. I think it’s the best sci-fi series on right now. The series is set in the future where humans have colonized the solar system. It’s based on the novels by James S.A. Corey, which I have not read and you might in the beginning think you need to, since it’s a little confusing at first, but don’t worry, you’ll catch on and it won’t be an issue. I have written a lot about previous seasons of this show so I won’t go on and on about it.

Season 4 of “Star Trek: Discovery” is out now. We’re not allowed to binge this one either but maybe that’s for the better as I nearly can’t take how much of a pushover our beloved Burnham is becoming. Fight back, woman!

I miss Michelle Yeoh’s character, Philippa Georgiou, who apparently is getting her own spinoff series. She was the bad cop to Michael’s good, and now the show seems to be taking a little more Pollyanna-ish turn. Maybe it’s just me. I still do like the show though, even if, so far, this season isn’t the best. We are only five episodes in – here’s hoping the rest of the season has a bit more bite.

At long last, the “Wheel of Time” novels have been adapted into a series on Amazon Prime. My hubby, who loved the books, is very excited. I did not have high hopes, as he also likes “Dune.” (Sorry, honey.) However, I’m enjoying this series. Like “The Expanse,” it took a few episodes to suck me in, and, like “Arcane,” it’s dark and intense. (Seems to be a trend.)

If you like “Lord of the Rings,” you are the target audience for “Wheel of Time.” The first episode is pretty similar to LotR: Gandalf leaves the Shire with four Hobbits who are then pursued by Orcs and Wraiths. In WoT, Moiraine leaves Two Rivers with four young people who are then pursued by Trollocs and a Fade. But the plot diverges from there.

Rosamund Pike plays Moiraine, a member of the powerful and magical Aes Sedai. The other actors are mostly unrecognizable (to me anyway) with the exception of Egwene, played by Madeleine Madden, who I recognized from “Dora and the Lost City of Gold.”

This show is dark and depressing too. If you really can’t get enough dark, depressing fantasy and sci-fi, you’ll love it! You’ll also be delighted to know ANOTHER dark, depressing series is back, as of today: Season 2 of “The Witcher” is now streaming on Netflix. Eight brand new epsisodes for your binge-watching pleasure.

Until next time, sci-fi fans – Merry Christmas and happy holidays and don’t forget to toss a coin to your witcher!

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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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Marvel’s long-awaited ‘Black Widow’ is intense, entertaining

At last, “Black Widow,” the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has come to theaters and streaming. People either love it or hate it, based on reviews and social media comments I’ve seen so far.

With Black Widow, we seem to have reached a weird place in the franchise: There seems to be a higher expectation for this movie than for previous Marvel films. I want to say it’s because its release was delayed so long, or because of the events of “Endgame,” because we are expecting a changing of the guard. Unfortunately, I suspect most of the criticism lies with the gender of its superhero. Some people are trashing on it – perhaps without even realizing it – simply because the main character is a woman.

Granted, it has some silly and unrealistic moments, but what Marvel film doesn’t? Even “Guardians of the Galaxy” (which is perfect in almost every way!) has a few ridiculous, over-the-top characters (hello Ronan the Accuser) that are too cartoony even for a comic book movie.

Even though “Captain Marvel” (and “Wonder Woman”) have proven that female superhero movies can be successful, there still seems to be a higher bar. Maybe because I am a woman, I loved “Black Widow” and didn’t expect the plot to surpass that of other Marvel entries in order for it to be deemed acceptable. Was it perfect? No. But it was entertaining, intense, unpredictable, funny, and moving.

(The remainder of this post contains SPOILERS! Continue reading at your own risk!)

One social media comment I read said the movie sucked because of the “Scooby Doo” masks, a criticism which doesn’t really make sense to me, considering that the mask tech used in “Black Widow” was used in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and I don’t recall anyone throwing that baby out with the bathwater.

Anyway.

The film begins with a seemingly happy (and seemingly American) family: a mom and dad and their young daughters, one of which is the title character. We quickly find that all is not as it seems. The parents are Russian spies and the children aren’t theirs – they belong to the “Red Room,” Soviet villain Dreykov’s training ground for his “widows” – young girls who are brainwashed and trained to be assassins.

A nightmarish montage of images of traumatized little girls, interspersed with cartoons and news clippings, is accompanied by a slow cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” We already know that Natasha has been sterilized, and we’ve seen flashbacks of her upbringing, so we can imagine what is happening to these children, which somehow makes it creepier than if they’d shown us.

The film then jumps around a bit from past to present – well, not present, but a time after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” and also takes us all over the world. It’s a bit jarring and difficult to keep up at first, but the story hits its stride after taking us on a chase that lasts only a little bit too long (but it’s a spy movie so I’ll allow it), and we get to see the connection between the two “sisters,” now grown and kicking butt.

One of the funniest scenes is when Yelena makes fun of Natasha’s poses – the sexy superhero landing and hair flip we’ve all seen many times. Florence Pugh is a talented actress, and is great in this role. The movie only gets better when Russian spy dad Alexei, aka Red Guardian, comes back into the picture. The casting for the role of Alexei is one of those choices that can make or break a character, and luckily for us, fan fave David Harbour from “Stranger Things” was perfect. And of course, award-winning actress Rachel Weisz is always wonderful.

Like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the witty dialogue and the theme of family are the film’s strong suits and are more meaningful than any stunts and special effects, and make up for the somewhat absurd plot: Good guys fight henchmen (or henchwomen) for a substance (or in the case of “Guardians,” an Infinity stone), in attempt to render madman villain powerless.

These movies are at their best when they are packing an emotional punch. Yelena telling her long-ago “family” how she feels about them was heart-wrenching, and I teared up when she and Alexei sang “American Pie,” a favorite song from her childhood (even if a bit heavy-handed in its symbolism).

One of the relationships in the film, between Natasha and her “fixer” Rick Mason, failed to launch. Mason’s portrayer, O-T Fagbenle, explained in an interview that there was originally a more intimate scene between them, in which, he says, “Scarlett and I lay down in bed together. We had quite an intimate conversation, but they cut it from the movie.”

He doesn’t say why it was cut, and it could be any number of reasons, but I think they were worried it would tarnish Natasha’s reputation. I can’t imagine they were trying to keep it kid-friendly, considering some of the other scenes. (It is rated PG-13.)

To be fair, the MCU isn’t exactly bursting with romance. There are very few kisses in the entire franchise. But almost every male character has had a girlfriend or wife. I know Natasha can’t have kids, but she could still have a man, if she wanted one, and if the writers would let her have one. Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, didn’t get a love interest either.

I think when the director is a woman, there’s an attempt to make the female superhero less of a sex symbol, less objectified, which is great; she’s a strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man? Or was it more “we don’t want her in bed with a man because that makes her seem slutty”?

Wanda and Vision are allowed to kiss – they are MARRIED. Also he is a robot.

I guess it’s OK for a woman superhero to have a boyfriend if he’s not really a boy but actually a robot. (If your boyfriend is a Hulk, it’s probably not going to work out.)

It’s possible director Cate Shortland cut the scene simply because she didn’t want a love story competing with the main plot and I can respect that, even if (or especially if?) the main plot involves treating women like objects.

I’m not sure why I’m hung up on this cut scene. Maybe because it would have been nice for Natasha to have something of her own. As much as I love (and honestly, prefer) Flo and am excited to see her continue Black Widow’s legacy going forward, Natasha seems almost relegated to a supporting player in her own movie.

Although she was never my favorite Avenger (probably because she hasn’t gotten an interesting story until now), I still felt it wasn’t fair for her to be the one sacrificed in “Endgame” since the implication was that since Clint was married and had kids and she didn’t, his life was somehow more valuable than hers. I also feel it wasn’t fair that it took this long for her to get her own movie, when most of the other original Avengers have each had three. But it’s here now, so I won’t belabor that point.

The film fits nicely into the MCU, sandwiched between the wars, Civil and Infinity. Fans will enjoy finding the Easter eggs. One of the more meaningful ones is Yelena’s vest that she gives to Natasha. It is this vest we see her wearing in “Infinity War.” Marvel is really great with this sort of attention to continuity and detail; it shows they are always looking ahead, which bodes well for the future of the MCU. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Photos: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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Avengers Campus is cool but not 4.5-hour-wait cool

My daughter loves the Marvel movies. She has seen all of them multiple times, and has watched the “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” series multiple times too. When I found out the Avengers Campus at California Adventure would open during Disney’s limited capacity and California resident only rules, I (foolishly) believed it would be a good time to go, before all the crowds show up on June 15. Well, as you can tell by the headline, we had to wait more than four hours in a standby line just to enter the new “land” at California Adventure, and even though it was pretty cool, it was decidedly not worth waiting in line for four and a half hours.

Because we bought park hopper tickets, we left the park to switch over to Disneyland after we were done at Avengers Campus, so we didn’t have time to see anything else at California Adventure. Having bitched about that, I will say that the Avengers Campus was the reason we went to California Adventure, and we got to see what we came to see so I shouldn’t complain. (But that hasn’t ever stopped me before.)

There is another way to get into the Avengers Campus more quickly – be one of the lucky few to acquire boarding passes for the new Spider-Man ride, “Web Slingers.” You can get those boarding passes only through the Disneyland app, and you have to have the “fastest finger” – I logged on and was poised to hit the JOIN button at 7 a.m. and noon (the only times you can get passes) and the slots were full within seconds. So we didn’t get to bypass the line, and of course we didn’t get to try the Web Slingers ride either.

Once we made it in, we got in line for the Campus’ other main attraction, the “Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!” This attraction opened in 2017, replacing the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

Because of social distancing rules, the line was outdoors. I think the coolest part of this ride is actually the “museum” indoors, but we sort of had to run through that part. I took a couple photos; among other artifacts, we recognized the astronaut dog in Tivan’s collection from the film. The ride itself is not a roller coaster – instead, it repeatedly drops you 130 feet at 39 mph. (The GotG ride is the tall building behind the Quinjet in the top photo.)

We were looking forward to having lunch at the Pym Test Kitchen but sadly, the mobile ordering for the new restaurant was unavailable by the time we entered the Campus. (It looked really cool though and I was happy to see a lot of vegetarian selections on their menu.) There is also a bar, a shawarma kiosk, and a dessert kiosk, where my daughter had a green churro – I mean a “Sweet Spiral Ration.” (I have celiac, so no Terran Treats for me, but she said it was good.)

We loved the gift shop next to the Guardians ride. They had some great GotG merch and we did make a few purchases there since the Guardians are our favorite. They even play the GotG soundtracks in there which made it that much more fun.

The other gift shops were just OK – the Spider-Man themed gift shop, Web Suppliers, was very small and only sold Spidey stuff, and there was also a kiosk that sold miscellaneous Avengers stuff. I see a fourth Avengers gift shop listed online but we didn’t see it. (I guess it’s possible that we missed it. Somehow?)

We spent just under two hours inside the campus, and saw several costumed characters but did not stand in line to be photographed with them. (We were done with lines by then.) The characters we saw were Loki, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow, Captain America, Black Panther, Thor, Ant Man and the Wasp, Doctor Strange (more on that in a minute), and three Dora Milaje who put on a show. That was pretty cool.

Spider-Man also does acrobatics on the rooftops (the one that flies through the air is an animatronic Spidey), and there’s a Black Widow and Black Panther stunt show but we didn’t see that. We also did not see the “Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Dance-Off!” I guess the Guardians had the day off when we were there because we didn’t see any.

So there’s another cool area inside the campus called the Ancient Sanctum and I didn’t realize that Doctor Strange would be performing a show there or we would have lingered a bit longer. By the time we caught a glimpse of him, the small area was already packed with people – but they don’t tell you when the next show will be and we didn’t stay long enough to find out.

We went to the park on Monday, June 7, so it’s possible that by the time you read this, they will have a different (hopefully better) method of letting visitors into the campus. I naively assumed we would be able to get in after a short wait even though we didn’t get a boarding pass, because we arrived about an hour early to the park. But a lot of people arrived even earlier. Live and learn.

By the way, we brought my sister and nephew, who aren’t Marvel-obsessed like us, so they opted to forgo the Avengers wait and instead enjoy California Adventure’s other offerings. You would think that because so many were there for Avengers, the rest of the park would be a breeze – especially as the Disney parks were (supposedly) at limited capacity – but they waited in line for 45 minutes to get hot dogs, only to be told they had run out of hot dogs. So it wasnt exactly smooth sailing in the rest of the park.

Also worth noting is that due to social distancing rules, there were no trams running to and from the parking lot, and the parades were cancelled.

My recommendation for Avengers Campus is to go after the crowds have died down a little, and also check it out in the evening if you can – the pictures I’ve seen of the Campus all lit up at night look really awesome.

Galaxy’s Edge

The Star Wars themed land at Disneyland opened in 2019 but we had not seen it yet because our last visit to Disneyland was seven years ago. Galaxy’s Edge is larger than the Avengers Campus – 14 acres to Avengers’ six – and the fact that we did not have to wait in a long line to see Galaxy’s Edge automatically made it that much better. Ha!

Because the same system for the Web Slingers ride is in place for the Rise of the Resistance ride, we didn’t get to go on that either. Boo. But we did go on the Millennium Falcon ride (which is more or less the same attraction as Star Tours – a nausea-inducing motion ride). The area also has costumed characters. We saw a Rey, a Kylo Ren, and some stormtroopers. The shops are very cute and I definitely got the feeling I had been transported to a galaxy far, far away.

For me, costliness and crowds are deterrents to more regular visits to the Magic Kingdom, and it may be another seven years before we return. But the weather was nice (I don’t love the heat so overcast is what I deem nice), the company was good, and it was a pleasant enough diversion on a summer day in Southern California.

See more photos on my Facebook page! All photos by EarthToShawna

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Books, TV, movies for sci-fi fans

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

Marvel

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

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

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

‘The Midnight Sky’

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

Books

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

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

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

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

‘Star Trek: Discovery’

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

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

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

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

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