Multiverse mania, Southern California day trips, and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southern California day trips

Peasant dress + elf ears = my Ren Faire costume

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

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

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

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

Ren Faire and Academy Museum photos by Earth to Shawna

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Top 10 TV and streaming series of the last 10 years

In the last couple weeks, I’ve reviewed my favorite sci-fi and fantasy books and movies. Today’s list concludes my best-of-the-decade series. Here are my top 10 favorite TV series that were available on TV and streaming from 2010 to 2019:

1. “The Expanse” (Amazon Prime) is my current favorite TV show, despite its somewhat slow first season. If you stick with it, you will be rewarded. There’s all sorts of stuff going on here: drama, mystery, political intrigue, and outer space adventure. Every season is better than the last. It started out on Syfy, but you can now find it at its new home on Amazon.

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Jaime Lannister (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) knights Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) on “Game of Thrones” (HBO).

2. “Game of Thrones.” During its eight-year run, HBO’s epic adaptation of the George R.R. Martin series was not only the best fantasy series on television, but the most compelling thing to watch, period – until the writers ruined it with the last few episodes. Let’s just pretend it ended with its last good episode: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”

3. “Orphan Black.” Like “Game of Thrones,” the last season of “Orphan Black” was not great. But I really enjoyed this series for most of its five-season run. Tatiana Maslany played several identical clones who are nothing alike, and she’s such a great actress I kept forgetting that she is just one person. My favorite “sestra” was Helena, and I dressed as her for Halloween a few years ago.

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Elisabeth Shue and Antony Starr in “The Boys” (Amazon Prime).

4. “The Boys” (Amazon Prime). I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did, mostly because its premise – superheroes who act like villains – sounded like a rip-off of “Watchmen.” (And like “Watchmen,” it’s adapted from a comic book series.) It turns out the titular charcters aren’t the  flashy superheroes, but the vigilantes who are trying to take them down. My only beef is that it’s occasionally a little too graphic for my taste, but that seems to be de rigueur for R-rated and MA-rated series lately.

5. “Mr. Robot.” The USA Network’s hacker thriller starring Rami Malek and Christian Slater also at first glance seemed like a rip-off; it had a lot of similarities to “Fight Club.” But it was suspenseful and unpredictable, and Rami Malek is such an amazing actor that you can’t help but want to keep watching and see what happens next.

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Winona Ryder plays Joyce Byers on “Stranger Things” (Netflix).

6. “Stranger Things” (Netflix). I am not typically a fan of horror, so the fact that this made my list is a testament to how cool it is. It’s set in the ’80s, and is an homage to so many films from that decade. The show also has some actors who were popular in the ’80s: Winona Ryder, Sean Astin, Matthew Modine, Cary Elwes, and Paul Reiser have been in at least one season of “Stranger Things.”

7. “The Witcher” (Netflix). Like the aforementioned series “The Boys,” this show has only been on for one season. But what I’ve seen so far, I like. This was a book series and a videogame first, but I’m not familiar with either, so the medieval fantasy world of Geralt of Rivia was all new to me. The series follows the life and times of a witcher (a monster hunter, played by Henry Cavill), a sorceress, and a princess, whose fates are intertwined.

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Robert Sheehan is Klaus Hargreeves in Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy.” Klaus can talk with the dead.

8. “The Umbrella Academy” (Netflix). Another comic book adaptation, this Netflix series hooked me from the first episode, in which 43 women spontaneously give birth, despite showing no signs of pregnancy. An eccentric billionaire finds and adopts seven of the babies, and raises them as a team of superheroes. But Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters it’s not. The children, now grown, have all sorts of dysfunction, stemming not only from their unique and varied powers, but their strange upbringing. I can’t wait to see what happens in Season 2.

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“The Child” is one of the (cutest) characters on “The Mandalorian,” on Disney+.

9. “The Mandalorian” (Disney+) is a welcome return to early-era Star Wars. It’s set a few years after the events of “Return of the Jedi” and follows the adventures of a Mandalorian bounty hunter. The series was created by Jon Favreau. Not only does it have an adorable “baby Yoda” but great guest stars like Amy Sedaris.

10. “Russian Doll” (Netflix). The always entertaining Natasha Lyonne is a wisecracking videogame developer caught in a time loop. As she re-lives the same day over and over in Groundhog Day-esque fashion, she discovers she’s not the only one stuck in the loop. It’s an entrancing and binge-inducing trip down a rabbit hole.

(Featured photo: “The Expanse,” Amazon Prime.) thumbnail_2019-09-16 20.23.12

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Lyonne does the time loop in her new series ‘Russian Doll’

What could be worse than dying on your birthday? How about dying on your birthday over and over and over and over? That’s the premise of the Netflix original series “Russian Doll.” The first season of the dark comedy, created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, was released Feb. 1.

Lyonne also stars in the series, as Nadia Vulvokov, a witty but troubled New Yorker who keeps dying and re-living her 36th birthday over and over. I’ve been a Lyonne fan ever since “Slums of Beverly Hills” in 1998 and I also love her in “Orange is the New Black,” so seeing her star in this crazy show is a special treat.

It’s great timing – Groundhog Day was Feb. 2, and it does sort of borrow the reset button from the Bill Murray film, but if we’re talking time loops, it’s really more “Edge of Tomorrow,” as Tom Cruise’s character’s day starts over when he dies, rather than the 6 a.m. automatic restart in “Groundhog Day.”

The difference here is an attempt to explain (with science!) why this is happening to her. Maybe it’s not so much a plot gimmick but an exploration of a scientific theory. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The series’ similarities to other movies don’t matter anyway; all you need to know is that it’s an entrancing and binge-worthy trip down a rabbit hole.

Besides the awesome Lyonne, the show also stars Greta Lee, Yul Vazquez, Elizabeth Ashley, Rebecca Henderson, and Charlie Barnett. Chloe Sevigny and Dascha Polanco also make guest appearances.

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Rebecca Henderson, Greta Lee, and Charlie Barnett in the trippy time loop series “Russian Doll.”

The Expanse

Amazon Prime will soon be streaming the first three seasons of the epic sci-fi series “The Expanse,” so get over there and catch up before the fourth season comes out later this year. The first season is a little confusing at first but don’t give up! It gets better, a lot better.

The third season will be available to stream on Feb. 8. Seasons 1 and 2 (already available in the U.S.) will become available internationally on Feb. 8 as well.

The series, about a future in which humans have colonized the solar system, is based on the books by James S.A. Corey (the joint pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who also serve as writers and producers on the show).

There’s an amazing ensemble cast, great special effects, political intrigue, plot twists, love, war, laughter, tears. … You get the idea. Just go watch it.

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Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Cas Anvar, and Steven Strait in “The Expanse.”

Chaos Walking

I previously reported that “Chaos Walking” would be out soon, but the film’s studio confirmed recently that the movie will not make its March release date. Bummer! But this gives you time to catch up on your reading – the movie is based on the books by Patrick Ness.

So far I’ve read the first two books in the trilogy, “The Knife of Never Letting Go” and “The Ask and the Answer.” If you’re a fan of “The Hunger Games,” you’ll probably like these too.

The film will star Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, and Mads Mikkelsen.

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Speaking of books, I highly recommend “Circe,” by Madeline Miller. An epic story based on characters from Homer’s “The Odyssey” and Greek mythology, the tale is told from the viewpoint of the sorceress herself.

Miller’s beautiful writing takes you right into the story, and even at 400 pages, you won’t want to leave when it’s over.

The Titans and the gods and goddesses of Olympus, the demigods and the legends are written so eloquently but are also accessible at the same time. You may think it would be difficult to get into a book about a character whose father is Helios, aka the SUN, and whose aunt is Selene, the moon. But you find yourself thinking things like, “Wow, I never realized the sun is such a jerk. … 

It’s a timely novel, and one which I’d love to see adapted to the big (or small) screen. Fingers crossed.

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Circe was the subject of several paintings by John William Waterhouse. This one is “The Sorceress,” 1913.

Credits: “Russian Doll,” Netflix; “The Expanse,” Alcon Television Group; “Circe,” Little, Brown, and Company. 

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