More female-led films and TV series – a welcome trend

There are so many reasons I love sci-fi. One of the main reasons is that it’s an escape – from the senseless stuff going on in the world and in the news and, at times, in our own lives. It might just be a temporary escape, but I love that there are all these alternate, fictional universes out there, and I can check in and out of them anytime my brain needs a break from the real world.

And I know I’ve said it before, but I love superhero movies because there is always someone fighting for justice and giving us the happy endings we don’t often get in real life. OK, maybe not always (*cough, cough* “Infinity War”). But you catch my drift.

One of the things going on in science fiction right now makes me really happy: the trend of female characters getting their own movies. I am still giddy over the Wonder Woman movie that came out last year, and I’m also excited for the Wonder Woman sequel coming out next year.

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Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in “Wonder Woman 1984.”

The sequel will be set in 1984, which in itself is soooo rad. I really love Gal Gadot as the Amazonian warrior princess, I’m thrilled that Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, and Robin Wright will also be reprising their roles, and I’m particularly intrigued about the news that Kristen Wiig will star as archaeologist Barbara Minerva, aka Cheetah, because even though I haven’t read much DC stuff, I did actually read some of the “Wonder Woman: DC Universe Rebirth” comics, and Cheetah is featured in those so I actually know who she is. And also Kristen Wiig is so cool.

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Marvel Comics’ Cheetah will appear in the new Wonder Woman movie, coming in 2019.

Why oh why must we wait so long till the movie comes out? I will have to just content myself with watching my Wonder Woman DVD for the 20th time. …

On the Marvel side, we were treated to some awesome girl power in “Black Panther.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia were the best characters in the film. I would love to see one or all of them heading their own movie in the future.

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Danai Gurira as Okoye in “Black Panther.”

We also finally got to see Evangeline Lilly turn into the Wasp in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” What a fun, and funny, movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. And don’t miss the ever-present Marvel post-credits scenes – there’s a tie-in to “Infinity War.”

Speaking of “Infinity War,” I’m really looking forward to seeing another character, who was alluded to at the end, in her own movie – Captain Marvel! I haven’t read any of the Captain Marvel comics – yet – but I love Brie Larson and the trailer looks super cool. The movie is set in the ’90s, in case you’re wondering why she crashes into a Blockbuster Video (or why Nick Fury still has two eyes).

I know that cool, ass-kicking women in sci fi are not necessarily new. One of my all-time favorite TV series, “Battlestar Galactica,” was a remake that made tough Viper pilot Starbuck a female character instead of a man (like in the 1970s series). Before that, we had Ripley in “Alien” and Sarah Connor in “Terminator.”

But more often than not, women are the girlfriend of the hero, or the token female on the boys team – and not always the most interesting of the bunch (sorry Black Widow). So it seems sort of groundbreaking to have Wonder Woman (finally!) and Captain Marvel movies.

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Brie Larson stars in “Captain Marvel.”

In fact, “Captain Marvel” will be the first female-led film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yep. The 20 MCU movies so far have all been about the dudes – Thor, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Hulk, Captain America, and Black Panther – or an ensemble cast – Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers. (I’m not counting “Elektra,” as it was distributed by 20th Century Fox and therefore not officially an MCU film.) I guess Disney needed Warner Bros. to show them women superheroes can bring in the big box office bucks.

In addition to the Wonder Woman sequel, Warner Bros. is also working on “Birds of Prey,” an ensemble film of DC Comics’ female heroes and villains. Margot Robbie will play Harley Quinn again, and is also signed on as co-producer. Just how closely the movie follows the comic, or the 2002 TV series, remains to be seen.

Buzz about the movie so far suggests the cast will be more diverse than previous iterations, which is good news (and perhaps an indication that Disney schooled Warner Bros. with the success of “Black Panther.”) Filming is expected to begin early next year.

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DC Comics’ “Birds of Prey” is being adapted into a film by Warner Bros.

It may seem like women as comic heroes is a new phenomenon, but it dates back a lot further. I recently watched an inspiring and informative documentary on Netflix called “She Makes Comics,” and I highly recommend it. She-Makes-Comics-2

Women in comics talk all about their roles in the comic industry – as writers, illustrators, editors, fans, and cosplayers. And comic historians talk about the first women in the industry – waaaaay back in the 1930s!

The word “documentary” might make you think “boring,” but trust me when I say this is an engrossing film, and it’s only 73 minutes long. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

On the TV front, we have some really great women characters right now. While not a “female-led” series, per se, there are some powerful women in major roles on “The Expanse,” including an engineer, a captain, a gunnery sergeant, and a United Nations secretary-general.

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Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dominique Tipper, and Frankie Adams as UN Secretary-General Chrisjen Avasarala, engineer Naomi Nagata, and Martian Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bobbie Draper, on “The Expanse.”

The 13th doctor on “Doctor Who” is a woman, which is a first, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the female-led series “Jessica Jones,” “Agent Carter,” and “Supergirl,” although I admit I haven’t seen them. They’re getting pretty good reviews; one of these days I will get around to watching!

Next year we will have to say goodbye to some of the most bad-ass women in the fantasy genre when “Game of Thrones” concludes. Brienne of Tarth, Arya Stark, and Daenerys Targaryen were my favorite women on the HBO series.

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Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) will be missed, after HBO’s “Game of Thrones” airs its final season next year.

I’m really only scratching the surface here, talking about the faces that you see on the big and small screens. My friend and fellow blogger Lavender Vroman has her finger on the pulse of geek industry girl power. She blogs about and interviews women from across the spectrum of geekdom: fans, writers, illustrators, artists, fashion designers, models, cosplayers – the list goes on and on.

https://nomansland.blog/

You can also find Vroman’s work on the Hero Within blog:

https://herowithinstore.com/blogs/news

Credits: “Captain Marvel” photos and trailer, Star Wars gif, and “Black Panther” photo, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. “Wonder Woman 1984,” Warner Bros. Pictures. “Wonder Woman” and “Birds of Prey” art, DC Comics. “The Expanse,” Alcon Entertainment Group. “Game of Thrones,” HBO. “She Makes Comics,” XLrator Media. 

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What to watch/read: ‘Black Panther,’ ‘How To Stop Time’

I know, I know. I haven’t posted in a while. But I’m still here! And I’ve been watching a lot of sci-fi stuff that I can’t wait to share with you, so let’s get started:

First, we need to talk about “Black Panther.” If you’re wondering if this movie is worthy of the hype, the answer is yes. Yes it is.

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Girl power! Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright in “Black Panther.”

I love origin stories, and this one was no exception. It’s beautiful, for starters. The Kingdom of Wakanda blew me away, and the costumes are breathtaking. I went into this movie not knowing much about the comic so it was fun and surprising and I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what was going to happen next. I’ll give you a little bit of backstory:

Black Panther, aka King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the leader of Wakanda, an African nation which is every bit as fascinating as the superhero himself. Hundreds of years ago, Wakanda was hit by a meteorite containing vibranium, a metal which, unknown to the rest of the world, has given the Wakandan people the ability to create advanced technology, and which also affects an indigenous “heart-shaped herb,” which is ingested by the king and gives him the superhuman abilities that make him a total bad-ass.

Of course, the tech doesn’t hurt either. His little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is the Tony Stark-like genius behind T’Challa’s suits/gadgets. And as awesome as Black Panther is, it’s really the women I admired most in this film. I really want to tell you about them but I don’t want to give away anymore. Suffice it to say there are some interesting twists and turns, some laughs and a lot of heart. (And lots of girl power!) Just take my advice and go see it.

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Sam Rockwell in “Moon.”

The next thing I want to talk to you about is “Mute” (Netflix).  I was so excited about this, because it’s directed by Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son!), who also directed one of my favorite movies, “Moon.”

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Paul Rudd in “Mute.”

“Mute,” on the other hand, is one of those movies where you’re like WTF is happening right now and where is this even going?

Alexander Skarsgard stars as a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend, but Paul Rudd steals the show as an unhinged surgeon named Cactus Bill, who makes you laugh but in an awkward, uncomfortable way that makes you wonder if you should really be laughing. Rudd is good though, and you’ll probably completely forget the plot while you’re watching him.

I will confess the main reason I wanted to see this movie is because I was promised more Sam Rockwell and I would like to say I was not disappointed but I was totally disappointed; Rockwell appears in “Mute” for about three seconds.

I liked the ending of “Mute,” if that counts for anything. (Does it?)

Next up, let’s talk about “Electric Dreams.” I was even more excited about this series than I was about “Mute.” Unfortunately, I was equally disappointed.

I had high hopes because each episode is (loosely) based on a different story by Philip K. Dick, whose stories have been previously adapted to the films “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report,” “Total Recall,” etc. He’s been called “the father of modern science fiction,” to give you an idea of his influence.

The first “Electric Dreams” episode, “Real Life,” was just OK. It’s been done before and it’s been done better (in the aforementioned “Total Recall”). I kept thinking, I really hope the second episode is better.

It was. “Autofac” is set in a post-apocalyptic world (and you know I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic worlds), where a group of survivors are trying to figure out how to shut off a factory that keeps sending them stuff they don’t need. (It’s hard to believe this was based on a story written in 1955. Did Dick predict Amazon Prime?)

That’s all I’ve seen so far – the first two episodes. I’ll update if/when I see more.

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Juno Temple and Janelle Monae in “Electric Dreams.”

Moving on.

I recently read a novel called “How To Stop Time,” by Matt Haig. The main character, Tom Hazard, has a condition that causes his body to age much slower than the rest of us. He’s actually over 400 years old, even though he looks like he’s in his 40s.

It’s tempting to make comparisons to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, but Tom is not a vampire. He’s very human, and that is sort of the theme. What makes us human? What makes life worth living? It’s deep, but it’s also accessible and fun.

A film adaptation is in the works, with Benedict Cumberbatch starring as Tom. I loved Cumberbatch in “Doctor Strange,” and I am looking forward to seeing this story on the big screen.

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The 90th Academy Awards

As I mentioned earlier, I love Sam Rockwell, so I was very happy last night when he won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”! Also I love that Frances McDormand won – she’s amazing. It’s not sci-fi so I haven’t discussed “Three Billboards” on my blog, but I highly recommend it. It’s very powerful and moving.

Guillermo del Toro won best director and his film “The Shape of Water” won best picture! Congratulations, Guillermo! If you missed my review of his art exhibit at the LACMA, check it out here:

https://earthtoshawna.com/2016/08/15/new-lacma-exhibit-a-must-for-guillermo-del-toro-fans/

I loved his acceptance speech at the awards ceremony, which he ended by saying, “I want to tell you, everyone that is dreaming of a parable, of using genre and fantasy to tell the stories about the things that are real in the world today, you can do it. This is a door. Kick it open and come in.”

“Black Panther” photos, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Moon,” Sony Pictures Classics; “Mute,” Netflix; “Electric Dreams,” Sony Pictures Television; “How to Stop Time,” Viking. 

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Tune in to trippy TV series ‘Travelers’ and ‘Mr. Robot’

I’ve been telling everyone about the Netflix sci-fi series “Travelers,” starring Eric McCormack. This is a series I want to keep watching even though it’s late and I should go to bed. (Unfortunately, I am done watching all 12 episodes of Season 1, and there is no release date yet for Season 2.)

There are so many new series out right now and they’re really hit and miss. I picked this one sort of at random, but I will admit that the star of “Will & Grace” was also a draw. I also thought the premise sounded similar to that of “The 4400,” which I loved.

“Travelers” exceeded my expectations. It’s unpredictable and suspenseful, and even though it’s not totally original (shades of “12 Monkeys” and the aforementioned “4400”), I like that it’s not another ubiquitous remake/reboot/adaptation.

The show was created by Brad Wright, who did the “Stargate” series but “Travelers” is decidedly less nerdy. The promo pictures make it look like a police procedural drama, and I don’t know if they’re trying to make it a crossover hit or what, but don’t worry, this is not CSI: Time Travelers. There is more going on than meets the eye.

I’d like to keep this post spoiler-free, so I’ll just say that there is some cool time-traveling stuff going on and some interesting characters. This is one of those shows where the quality of the acting can make or break it, and this cast is doing a great job. I can’t wait to see what happens next. OK, enough of that. Just go watch it.

Let’s talk about “Mr. Robot.” This is also an original series – it was created by Sam Esmail. However, I have a hunch Esmail is a big fan of “Fight Club,” because there are some obvious similarities. (It is also reminiscent of “V for Vendetta.”)

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An argument could be made that this is not a sci-fi show per se (which is why I haven’t talked about it before now, this being a science-fiction blog), but I think it is safe to say that it veers in that direction. This show premiered in 2015, and the third season is probably coming sometime this summer, so you have time to catch up.

You may have heard of Rami Malek, who has won awards for his role as the main character, a hacker named Elliot. You might also recognize him from some of his other work, such as his role as King Ahkmenrah in the “Night at the Museum” films. (What!)

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If you’re already watching this show, you already know how twisty and turny and trippy it is. If you’re not watching, I won’t spoil it for you.

While we have seen some of the themes elsewhere, the characters are unique, and the actors are killing it. Portia Doubleday, who plays Elliot’s friend Angela, and Carly Chaikin as fellow hacker Darlene, are amazing.

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Portia Doubleday and Carly Chaikin, in USA Network’s “Mr. Robot.”

Last but not least, Christian Slater is in it, and like a lot of women who grew up watching his movies in the ’80s, I love me some Christian Slater, who seems to have barely aged in the last 30 years. I suspect he’s drinking from the same fountain of youth frequented by Paul Rudd.

Anyway. “Mr. Robot.” Catch up.

Cloak and Dagger

Speaking of the ’80s, I used to read the Marvel comic “Cloak and Dagger,” back in the day. They’re making it into a TV show, and I have to admit, my initial reaction was “Won’t be watching that one!” Ever since “Daredevil” (the 2003 film), I’ve been a little wary of adaptations of comics that I’ve read. Maybe I’m just one of those nerds who says things like, “That’s not how it was in the comic book!” OK, I don’t always say that. I do think that “Watchmen” and the X-Men films were done well.729023

The new show is geared toward teens and young adults, so I’m not the target audience (also true of “Riverdale,” the series based on Archie comics, which I also read as a kid). But … it could be interesting.

“Cloak and Dagger” will air on Freeform, and has cast its lead actors. Aubrey Johnson will play the role of Tyrone, who can engulf people in darkness, and Olivia Holt will be Tandy. Tandy can shoot “daggers of living light” (this phrase was repeated ad nauseum in the comics). The teenagers are a vigilante crime-fighting duo, and they need each other to survive. No air date has been released.

Photos: “Travelers,” Netflix; “Mr. Robot,” USA Network.

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Postapocalyptica! What to watch while waiting for ‘Hunger Games’ finale

I loved “Hunger Games” – the books and the movies – and even though I feel cheated that they split the last book into two movies, I’m excited for the final chapter, “Mockingjay, Part 2,” coming out Nov. 20.

Maybe it’s morbid, but I love post-apocalyptic movies, and movies with dystopian societies. Here are some of my faves (in no particular order):

  1. Twelve Monkeys. Terry Gilliam’s trippy movie, about a prisoner sent back in time to collect information on the virus that all but destroyed humanity, also made my list of top 10 time travel movies. While the underground world where the survivors live is dark and creepy, the real horror is the mindfuckery James Cole (Bruce Willis) endures. Also, cool plot twists.
  2. Strange Days. It’s hard to believe “Strange Days” just had its 20th anniversary. The dystopian thriller set in 1999 was released in October 1995, when virtual reality was all the rage in sci fi. Written by James Cameron and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the film is somewhat of a murder mystery, with the evidence in the form of discs recorded on “SQUIDS,” which plug into users’ heads and allow them to record memories and feelings. Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, and Tom Sizemore star.
  3. Hunger Games. A friend of mine recommended the books to me before the first movie came out so I read them all, one after another. (One benefit of being late to the party is you don’t have to wait for the next book to come out.) I like that the films stay true to the books, but I have an issue with paying full price for half a movie, which is what “Mockingjay, Part 1” was. I hope the finale is more satisfying.
  4. Never Let Me Go. The book and the movie make me cry like a baby. Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley star in the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s heartbreaking novel in which clones are raised to have their organs harvested.
  5. The Matrix. Did I mention virtual reality was big in the ’90s? I loved the first Matrix movie – Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in their cool trench coats and sunglasses, battling the powers that enslave humanity. So cool. But I found the sequels annoying and confusing.
  6. Blade Runner. Ridley Scott’s futuristic film noir starring Harrison Ford is arguably the coolest film adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story (there have been about a dozen movies made from his novels and short stories, including “Total Recall,” “Minority Report,” and “The Adjustment Bureau”). Ford is retired police officer Rick Deckard, whose job was to track down replicants (bio-engineered androids) and destroy them. The film also stars Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, and Edward James Olmos.
  7. Children of Men. Based on P.D. James’ novel of the same name, “Children of Men” is set in the year 2027, and the U.K. is the only country with a functioning government. Twenty years of global infertility threatens the human race with extinction. Clive Owen plays Theo, a civil servant tasked with safeguarding the life of a pregnant young immigrant named Kee. The movie was written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, and also stars Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Charlie Hunnam.
  8. Elysium. Matt Damon stars in Neill Blomkamp’s futuristic morality play, in which Damon’s character attempts to reach a Med-Bay on the luxury space habitat Elysium after being poisoned by radiation on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Even if Blomkamp is a bit heavy-handed with his symbolism, I love his movies. “District 9” kept me on the edge of my seat, “Chappie” was so much better than the critics gave it credit for, and this one is an entertaining ride as well.
  9. I Am Legend. I’m not a huge fan of zombie flicks, but I like that this one focuses on character, rather than just frenzied zombie carnage. Will Smith’s performance was moving. Plus it has a cute German shepherd in it. And “Three Little Birds.”
  10. Gattaca. Sometimes subtle is better with science fiction. Gattaca is one of those, like “Never Let Me Go,” that lacks the guns-blazing craziness of movies like “Mad Max,” but still manages to shake you up. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) dreams of traveling to outer space, but in the future, only genetically superior people are allowed to do such things. Jude Law and Uma Thurman also star.

(photo: Elysium; TriStar Pictures)

‘Skywalker Strikes’ sparks theory about ‘Force Awakens’

I am a big fan of “Star Wars,” and I also love comic books. But “Skywalker Strikes,” the graphic novel which collects issues 1 through 6, is the first Star Wars comic I’ve read. The last Star Wars “Expanded Universe” books I read were Timothy Zahn’s books, the Thrawn Trilogy, back in the early ’90s. The trilogy is set five years after the events in “Return of the Jedi.”

I am sure that the upcoming Star Wars sequel “The Force Awakens” will have little in common with Zahn’s books, as Disney now owns the Star Wars franchise and has more or less declared the Star Wars Expanded Universe not part of official canon, pissing off Star Wars fans everywhere.

I get why they did it, but it seems a little insulting to throw out all the books and comics that came before Disney, and also a bit tricky. Coruscant, for example, a planet prominently featured in the movie prequels, first appears in Zahn’s “Heir to the Empire.” Are they only keeping EU if it was picked up in the films?

Also angering some fans was Disney’s refusal to renew Dark Horse’s Star Wars publishing license in January. They instead gave the license back to Marvel, which they also now own.

Star Wars comics were published by Marvel from 1977 to 1986, when they canceled it. So Dark Horse had been publishing Star Wars comics since 1989. In short, this is the first Star Wars comic released by Marvel since the ’80s.

Because Disney has said the new comics are canon, it is possible that the characters introduced in them will be part of the new movies, so if you don’t like spoilers and theories, stop reading now.

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If you’re still with me, you’ve read my spoiler alert and have been warned.

The biggest surprise in the new comic is the appearance of a woman named Sana Solo, who claims to be Han’s wife. She confronts him on a planet where he and Leia are hiding from Imperial forces, and even asks Leia, “Now who in the hell might you be, lady?”

Earlier in the comic, she is shown (in a mask) trying to track Han down, and it seems she’s a bounty hunter when she says Han belongs to her, but in light of her claim, her words take on a new meaning.

The fact that Sana is black has fans speculating about a “Force Awakens” theory – that she and Han could be Finn’s parents or grandparents, especially considering director J.J. Abrams’ decision not to reveal some of the characters’ last names (as it would give something away).

Of course, this is all just a theory, and Sana might just be a lying stalker. But why put her in there if she’s not important?

One thing I like about this series is that it’s not boring. From the very first page, we are in the thick of the action, with the Rebels infiltrating an Imperial weapons factory, but their plan to destroy it is thwarted by the appearance of Vader. Luke, who still doesn’t know Vader is his father, wants to fight him, but the voice of Obi Wan tells him to run. At least old Ben knows Luke is no match for his old apprentice.

I like the art in this collection; Han and Leia look like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. Luke is another story. Sometimes he looks like Mark Hamill and in other panels he’s almost unrecognizable. Maybe it’s just me.

Some of the action is recycled. A quick escape is hindered by a problem with the Millennium Falcon. Luke continues his existential Jedi angst. Han and Leia argue-flirt. Han flies through an electrical storm in an attempt to lose their tail – just like the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” when he flew into an asteroid field. He even says, they “stopped following us, didn’t they?” In “The Empire Strikes Back,” he says, “They’d be crazy to follow us, wouldn’t they?”

The introduction of Sana reminds me of the introduction of another character – Gwendolyn from the comic book “Saga.” Marko’s crazy ex trailed him across the galaxy before confronting him and his new woman.

That’s not to say the lack of originality has turned me off the new comic completely. I am looking forward to reading more, if only because I want to see what’s going on with Sana, and a few other new plot points that have been introduced. (OK, one.)

If I am not blown away, it’s only because I expected more from Marvel. In their defense, I think their biggest obstacle was that the element of suspense is missing, because we already know what’s going to happen. But then why choose this time period? It’s filler. Or an excuse to set up the lineage of the movie’s new characters, if the theory proves to be correct.

That being said, it’s nice to see everyone again, and while the plot may not be earth-shattering, it’s familiar and fun to read while waiting for the movie.

“Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes,” by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by John Cassaday and Laura Martin
Marvel; October 2015

‘Limitless,’ ‘Last Man on Earth’ pose intriguing questions

There have been lots of movies about people who suddenly become smarter, or who use the part of their brain that normally goes “unused”: John Travolta’s character in “Phenomenon,” Scarlett Johansson as “Lucy,” and Bradley Cooper in “Limitless.”

These movies operate from the premise that humans use only 10% of our brains, and what would happen if we used all of it? This is actually a myth. But the idea that we could take a pill that would give us a photographic memory, and the ability to learn and analyze at a superhuman rate is intriguing, and inspiring.

I love these movies, and the idea that we are all capable of so much more – that we all have untapped potential.

We may not be wasting our brain power, but many of us do waste time. Maybe I could learn how to play the cello or speak Chinese, if I spent less time watching movies and TV. But that’s not going to happen. So let’s talk about the show:

“Limitless,” the TV spinoff of the film, passes the higher intellect torch to Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), who gets a job working for the FBI after taking the brain-enhancing drug NZT.

It’s a great hook, but I’m not sure it will be enough to hold onto viewers. It’s slipping rather quickly into the formulaic crime show category, which is what happened to the “Minority Report” spinoff. We want sci fi, not another “CSI.” Talk about untapped potential.

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“I swim in it, I drink out of it. There’s really no wrong way to use a margarita pool.”

The Last Man on Earth

“The Last Man on Earth” poses a different what-if scenario: What would you do if the world’s population succumbed to a massive epidemic and you were the last person left?

If you were Phil Miller (played by Will Forte) you would steal art and artifacts from museums and use them to decorate your new mansion. You would have an inflatable pool filled with tequila and margarita mix.

And you would become so lonely for company you would make friends with volleyballs à la “Cast Away” and get so desperate for love that you end up hitting on a mannequin.

This very funny post-apocalyptic comedy hits just the right notes of loneliness and hilarity to keep me coming back for more, even if the title no longer rings true (it turns out he’s not really the last man).

Now in its second season, I was a bit skeptical of its ability to maintain its momentum. It seems like the premise could run out of steam at any moment, but “Last Man” always has another trick up its sleeve.

In one moment it’s a comedy with heart, and in the next it’s completely heartless. It’s stupid and brilliant at the same time. It turns out it’s not about the end of the world at all, but about the human condition and our vulnerability.

(Photos: Limitless, CBS; and The Last Man on Earth, FOX)

Vampires, ghosts, witches, werewolves, and zombies: Fun flicks for Halloween

I’m much more a sci-fi fan than a horror fan. The “scary” movies I like are not very scary. At the theater, I close my eyes at the first few bars of that eerie piano music that tells you you’re about to watch a paranormal movie trailer.
A lot of my favorite Halloween movies are comedies. With that in mind, here are 10 of my favorite ghost, vampire, witch, werewolf, and zombie films to get you ready for All Hallows’ Eve – and to make you laugh.

  1. Beetlejuice. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis star as a recently deceased couple who hire an obnoxious ghost (Michael Keaton) to help them scare away their home’s new tenants (Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, and Winona Ryder).
  2. Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. Who doesn’t love these goofy movies with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as scientists fighting supernatural entities like giant marshmallow men, balls of slime and demon gargoyles? I can’t wait for next summer’s reboot.
  3. What We Do in the Shadows. I’ve always been a sucker for vampires – I love “Interview with the Vampire,” “The Lost Boys,” and yes, even dorky “Twilight.” This mockumentary-style horror comedy, written and directed by (and starring) Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, is the story of four vampires who live in New Zealand, and it’s hysterical.
  4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Kristy Swanson was the first cheerleader/slayer and although the TV series that was based on this movie was more popular, I prefer the campy original. And it has Pee Wee Herman, er, Paul Reubens. Luke Perry, David Arquette, Hilary Swank, Rutger Hauer, and Donald Sutherland also star.
  5. Practical Magic. This witchy romantic comedy isn’t super popular, but I like it. It’s an adaptation of Alice Hoffman’s novel of the same name, and stars Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock as the nieces of witches played by Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing.
  6. An American Werewolf in London. Another classic, “American Werewolf” tells the tale of two American backpackers who are attacked by a werewolf in England.
  7. Teen Wolf. Would this silly werewolf movie have been so fun to watch if it was anyone but Michael J. Fox? I don’t think so. The new series is more serious, à la Buffy.
  8. Army of Darkness. This is the third in the “Evil Dead” trilogy, and you don’t need to watch the first two to enjoy this one. Bruce Campbell is awesome as Ash, an S-Mart employee who has been sucked into a time portal, winds up in 1300 AD, and has to fight an army of undead. “This is my boomstick!” he tells the villagers, holding up his shotgun. Good stuff.
  9. Shaun of the Dead. This Simon Pegg zombie satire has become a cult classic.
  10. Zombieland. Another great zom com, in which Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone play survivors of a zombie apocalypse. An entertaining, campy adventure.

Check out graphic novels ‘Nimona,’ ‘Descender’

I’ve been on a bit of a comic book kick lately. I especially like graphic novels, as they’re easier to get my hands on and take longer to read than individual issues.

“Nimona,” Noelle Stevenson’s graphic novel debut, began as a web comic. A fun read, the comic is set in the time of knights and dragons, but with convenient anachronisms like computers, TVs, and plasma cannons.

Nimona is a shapeshifter who shows up at villain Ballister Blackheart’s lair, looking to be his new sidekick. She can’t wait to do revenge! And science! She is an impatient teenager and she wants to overthrow the government – NOW!

Blackheart is methodical, though, and has plans, and he doesn’t want Nimona going berserk. Of course she does anyway, and chaos ensues, etc.

I love that “Nimona” subverts the traditional role of heroes and villains. It’s unpredictable and it has heart.

Stevenson also co-writes the comic “Lumberjanes,” about a Girl Scout-like troop who get much more than they bargained for when they explore the wilderness.

Plans for both “Nimona” and “Lumberjanes” to be adapted for the big screen are in the works.

Descender

Entertainment Weekly says, “Your new sci-fi obsession is here,” in the blurb on the cover of the graphic novel “Descender, Volume 1,” by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. A bold statement which would seem a bit presumptuous if it wasn’t such a great comic.

A collection of issues 1-6, “Descender, Volume 1” definitely left me wanting more, and I can’t wait to see what happens next to Tim-21, an android child who survived the robot culls that followed the destruction of billions of humans by huge robots called Harvesters.

Tim was created by a scientist named Dr. Jin Quon, and then shipped to a mining colony, where his function was to provide companionship to a child of one of the miners.

I don’t want to give the whole story away. It’s dark, intense, and heartbreaking, and is also being made into a movie. Check it out.

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson; HarperTeen

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Descender, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, Image Comics, Rated Mature

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Check out these binge-worthy sci-fi, fantasy TV series

  1. “Battlestar Galactica.” There are four seasons, but you have to start with the miniseries. My favorite TV show of all time, it stars Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, and so many other great actors. It is epic, dramatic, suspenseful, and just plain awesome. So say we all!
  2. “Star Trek.” Any and all. I came in at “Deep Space Nine,” so I’m more a fan of the later series. I sometimes think if I had watched Star Trek when I was younger, I would have set my sights on science, rather than journalism.
  3. “Game of Thrones” is the first science fiction-fantasy series ever to win an Emmy for best drama, so you know it’s something special. GoT has knights, dragons, wolves, witches, giants, and ice zombies, and the special effects are amazing. But the real magic is the plotting and political intrigue, and the stellar performances of the ensemble cast. My one complaint is that HBO goes too far sometimes, adding violent scenes that weren’t in the books.
  4. “Orphan Black.” If you haven’t seen this BBC show yet, you’re in for a treat. Tatiana Maslany stars as a young mother and con woman who has just discovered she’s a clone – one of many. And then the plot thickens. Stick with it; it keeps getting better.
  5. “Heroes.” With the “Heroes Reborn” premiere this week, what better time to re-watch the original series, about ordinary people discovering they have random superpowers? The series has a huge cast of great actors playing interesting characters, and Zachary Quinto (who plays Spock in the new Star Trek films) is amazing as psychotic supervillain Sylar.
  6. “The 4400.” This series drew a lot of comparisons to “Heroes” but actually came first. In the pilot episode, 4,400 people suddenly appear near Mount Rainier. All of them have disappeared at some point during the past 50 years, but no one knows where they have been all this time, or how they got back, and some of them have returned with special abilities.
  7. “Life on Mars.” Jason O’Mara plays a New York City cop who is hit by a car in 2008 and wakes up in 1973. I’m a sucker for a good time travel tale. It was canceled after one season, and some say it wasn’t good as the BBC version, but I ask of you, did the BBC version have Harvey Keitel?
  8. “Caprica.” I didn’t love this prequel series as much as the series from which it was spun, but it satisfied my craving for more “Battlestar Galactica.” Starring Eric Stoltz, Esai Morales, Paula Malcomson, Alessandra Torresani and Polly Walker, “Caprica” tells the story of how the Cylons were created.
  9. “Defying Gravity.” Another good show that was canceled after one season, “Defying Gravity” starred Ron Livingston as one of eight astronauts on a mysterious six-year mission. This was pitched as “Grey’s Anatomy in outer space,” which may have sold the series, but was maybe also its downfall.
  10. “Dr. Who.” I confess I have only seen one season of this goofy time-travel series, but I’m planning to go back and watch more. It’s on my list.

(Photo: “Battlestar Galactica,” Syfy)

What to watch while you’re waiting for ‘The Force’

I keep hearing about this new movie that’s coming out in a few months – ‘The Force Awakens’? Or something like that. I guess it’s a sequel to those Star Wars movies. People are getting excited about all this new merchandise from the movie. I don’t really know much about it.

I’m kidding, of course. I’m super excited about the new movie too. But can we please admit that Star Wars fever has gotten a bit out of control when someone is selling Han Solo frozen in carbonite Pop-Tarts? And they aren’t edible – they are made out of resin. And they cost $30. For a replica of a Pop-Tart.

I think we need to take a few deep breaths and put the Star Wars frenzy on hold until Dec. 18. Then we can dress up like stormtroopers and camp overnight for tickets. Like normal people.

In the meantime, there are dozens of great sci-fi flicks to watch while you wait for the new film. Here are some of my favorite outer space adventure movies:

All the Star Wars movies. If you can think of nothing else but Star Wars, just have a Star Wars marathon. Again. My husband and I grew up with the original trilogy, so those are our favorites. And they are better, let’s face it. But we watch all of them, because as you know, you can never have too much Star Wars. Although you can definitely have too much Star Wars memorabilia. And you can definitely have too much Jar Jar Binks, so maybe stay away from that one.

All the Star Trek movies. I love what J.J. Abrams did with the last two Star Trek movies, lens flares and all. If you’re not a fan, you’re probably worried about what he’ll do to George Lucas’ legacy. But if “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” are any indication, I think “The Force” will be awesome. If you’re a huge Trek fan, you could boldly go where probably others have gone before and binge watch all 12 of the Trek movies. But that would be like, 24 straight hours of movie watching, which would be, um, illogical.

“The Fifth Element,” Luc Besson’s wacky outer space action flick is one of my all-time favorites. Bruce Willis is perfect as Korben Dallas, a futuristic cab driver who ends up rescuing a beautiful alien (Milla Jovovich) sent to save their planet. Ian Holm is great as priest Vito Cornelius, and Gary Oldman, as always, is the perfect villain. “You’re a monster, Zorg,” the priest tells him. His deadpan reply: “I know.”

“Moon” is an underrated movie starring an underrated actor, Sam Rockwell. Rockwell is always to fun to watch, whether he’s playing a two-headed alien in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or the alcoholic coach of a high school girls’ basketball team in “The Winning Season.” In “Moon,” Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut nearing the end of a solitary three-year job mining helium-3 on the moon. If you haven’t seen it yet, go see it. Right now.

The Alien movies. I really don’t like scary movies, or monster movies, so I will admit the first time I was coerced into watching these movies, I was less than thrilled. But after repeat viewings, they grew on me. Sigourney Weaver is a total badass. Enough said.

“Starship Troopers.” Loosely adapted from the Robert A. Heinlein novel and directed by Paul Verhoeven, this satire is campy and smart at the same time. Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards and Neil Patrick Harris star as military recruits tasked with fighting a war on Bugs. Giant Bugs. This is one of those guilty pleasures that comes on TV and you can’t help but watch it again.

“Gravity.” Watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney float around in space sounds boring, but it’s so not. It’s a suspenseful, inspiring story, and I loved it. “Gravity” was written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who also wrote another one of my favorite movies, the dystopian thriller “Children of Men.”

“Interstellar” had mixed reviews but I thought it was amazing. Matthew McConaughey leads a team of astronauts who travel through a wormhole to search for a new planet after Earth’s resources have been depleted. It’s one of those movies you need to pay attention to, like “Inception” (also written and directed by Christopher Nolan). You can’t just go to the bathroom and then come back and say, “What did I miss?” It’s also almost three hours long, but I was so absorbed in the movie, I didn’t notice.

“Guardians of the Galaxy.” The film adaption of the Marvel comic book was a huge hit, and deservedly so. A cocky Han Solo wannabe, a green-skinned warrior woman, a simple-minded brute bent on revenge, an alien that looks like a tree, and a genetically engineered raccoon team up to save the galaxy; it seems like there were a thousand ways this could have gone wrong. The plot is predictably cheesy, but the movie is saved by the cool ’60s and ’70s soundtrack and a wry sense of humor. It turns out that “Guardians” is a comedy. I can’t wait for the sequel. Let’s just hope no one makes a Groot Pop-Tart.