Mark your calendar: 10 new sci-fi films to see this year

I love the smell of fresh science fiction in the movie theater. It smells like popcorn and … stardust. As I’ve likely said elsewhere in this blog: It’s a great time to be a nerd.

There are a few exciting sci-fi films that have release dates yet to be announced, but are supposed to come out this year, including writer/director Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja.” Bong wrote and directed the dystopian (and disturbing) thriller “Snowpiercer.”

“Ex Machina” writer/director Alex Garland’s next film, “Annihilation,” is also expected to be released this year.

But most of the movies I want to see have dates, which are already in my datebook. Let’s go to the movies!

March 10 – “Kong: Skull Island”

It seems like everything is a sequel or a remake lately. Everything from “Beauty and the Beast” to “CHiPs” to “Jumanji” is coming to the big screen this year. Do we really need another King Kong movie? An argument could be made for this viewpoint, but I’m not going to be the one to make it. There’s a reason giant lizards and gorillas don’t ever go away.kong-skull-island-2017-brie-larson-tom-hiddleston1

This is the second film in Legendary’s Godzilla-Kong film series. The first was “Godzilla,” in 2014. “Skull Island” stars Tom Hiddleston (which, let’s face it, is reason enough to see this), Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Goodman.

March 24 – “Life”

I think it’s possible we are nearing the saturation point with all the astronaut movies lately, but … oh well. Bring on another! This one is called, simply, “Life.” (I think it could use a catchier name but no one asked me.) Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal star as crew members of the International Space Station who are about to discover evidence of life on Mars.

April 7 – “Colossal”anne-hathaway-colossal-550x600

Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, a young woman who discovers she has a strange connection to a kaiju halfway across the world.

“Colossal” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and was written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo (“Timecrimes”).

It has been described as a kaiju disaster movie combined with an indie rom-com. It really doesn’t get any cooler than that, right? I’m thinking “date night.”

May 5 – “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-teaser-poster

I’m not super excited about all the superhero movies coming out this year. They’re all starting to run together at this point. (I did love “Deadpool” and “Dr. Strange” though.) I will go see “Wonder Woman” in the theater (because girl power!) but I’ll wait for “Thor,” “Logan,” “Spider-Man,” and “Justice League” to come out on DVD.

There is one comic book movie I am excited about: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” I loved the first one. It’s funny, and it has cool retro music and a talking raccoon. You really can’t go wrong with that formula. Or can you? Don’t disappoint me, sequel!

May 19 – “Alien: Covenant”

I’m not a big fan of horror movies, but my husband loves the “Alien” films, so I’ve seen them all. While they’re not my favorite, I can appreciate H.R. Giger’s artistic vision, Ridley Scott’s filmmaking talent, and Sigourney Weaver’s bad-ass portrayal of Ellen Ripley.

“Covenant” is the sixth of the “Alien” movies, and the second of the prequels. Ridley Scott directs, and Michael Fassbender reprises his role as an android. While Ripley was absent from “Prometheus,” Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) took up her mantle as the resident bad ass. Rapace reportedly has only a small role in the new film. With the exception of Fassbender, most of the cast members are new to the franchise, including Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride.

Interesting note: Neill Blomkamp (“District 9,” “Elysium”) was working on a sequel for this franchise as well, but it remains to be seen what will become of that project.

June 2 – “Wonder Woman”

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My sister and I loved watching “Wonder Woman” on TV back in the early ’80s. We made our own starred tiaras and bulletproof bracelets out of tinfoil, and took turns using the Lasso of Truth (one of our mom’s scarves). I’m sure we weren’t the only little girls who wanted to be Wonder Woman. So why has it taken soooo long to give her her own feature film? Well, that’s a loaded question, I guess, and a topic for another day.

Even though I grew up with Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, she’s now played by Gal Gadot, and the new film is set in World War I. The trailer looks pretty cool. I can’t wait to see her kick some ass on the big screen. I’m going to see it with my sister.

July 14 – “War for the Planet of the Apes”mv5bmjazmti3nti5m15bml5banbnxkftztgwnzm2nje4mdi-_v1_sy1000_cr006321000_al_

Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the other apes are at war with the humans in this third installment of the reboot series. If you haven’t seen the first two films, I recommend you check them out. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” are very well done. The visual effects are amazing and the stories are worthy of them, which is, as you know, not always the case with these summer blockbusters.

Matt Reeves directs, and the film is written by Reeves and Mark Bomback. Judy Greer returns as Caesar’s wife, Cornelia, and Steve Zahn will play a new ape. Woody Harrelson and Gabriel Chavarria have human roles.

July 21 – “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is based on the French comic book series Valérian and Laureline, by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. The film was produced, written, and directed by Luc Besson, who also did “The Fifth Element,” which I love. From what I’ve seen so far, it looks very similar in style to “The Fifth Element” as well. (It also sort of reminds me of “Jupiter Ascending,” but let’s hope it doesn’t veer in that direction.)

Oct. 6 – “Blade Runner 2049”

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A sequel to the original “Blade Runner” (from 1982), this one is set 30 years after the events in the original, which was based on a novel by Philip K. Dick. Harrison Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard. In the original, Deckard was a blade runner – a cop tasked with hunting down androids called replicants. The lead role, however, belongs to Ryan Gosling, and the director is Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) rather than Ridley Scott, who directed the original.

They’ve been talking about doing a sequel since 1999, but the project kept getting scrapped due to issues concerning rights to the novel and funding problems. Here’s hoping it’s worth the wait.

Dec. 15 – “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

The official name of “Star Wars: Episode VIII” was revealed on Monday. “The Last Jedi” is expected to pick up right where Episode VII left off, after Rey finds Luke. (Does this count as a spoiler? I imagine if you haven’t seen “The Force Awakens,” you’re probably not reading my blog.) “Rogue One” didn’t do much for me; this is the one I’m waiting for.

Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, and Andy Serkis return, and we will get to see Carrie Fisher on screen, in her last Star Wars film.

New cast members include Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, and Kelly Marie Tran.

NEWS AND NOTESgeorge-lucas-museum

In other Star Wars news, it was recently announced that the George Lucas museum, The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, will be built in Los Angeles, in Exposition Park (which is also home to the California Science Center and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles).

The $1 billion museum will house George Lucas’ personal art collection, which includes memorabilia from the “Star Wars” films as well as works from artists such as Norman Rockwell and R. Crumb. The museum is expected to be completed in 2021.

“Star Wars Celebration” will be in Orlando this year, from April 13 to 16, at the Orange County Convention Center. Tickets will go on sale May 25. The convention will celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Star Wars: A New Hope.”

I was shocked and saddened to hear about Carrie Fisher’s death. She inspired so many of us, not just as the tough-as-nails Princess Leia, but with her honesty and wit. (Her books are funny as hell.) She was one of a kind.

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Carrie Fisher

Photos: “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (top photo),  STX Entertainment; “Kong: Skull Island,” Warner Bros. Pictures; “Colossal,” NEON; “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Wonder Woman,” Warner Bros. Pictures; “War for the Planet of the Apes,” 20th Century Fox; “Blade Runner 2049,” Warner Bros. Pictures; artist rendering, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, design by Ma Yansong, MAD Architects. 

Film release dates are subject to change.

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Four new sci-fi flicks – coming soon to a theater near you

Lots of promising science-fiction films are in the works right now – “Replicas”; “Annihilation”; “Blade Runner 2”; “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Pacific Rim” and “Planet of the Apes” sequels;  and film adaptations of “Ready Player One,” “Station Eleven,” “Descender,” and “Chrononauts” – but we’re going to have to wait a long time for most of those. For now, let’s look at some new films coming out in the next few months:

First up, we have “Arrival,” adapted from a short story by Ted Chiang. The story, about deciphering alien communication, is directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer and stars Amy Adams as a linguist hired to communicate with aliens, Jeremy Renner as a mathematician, and Forest Whitaker as a U.S. Army colonel. The film, which had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, has had mostly good reviews thus far.

Sasha James at The Mary Sue said the movie “proves to be much more than the standard first contact flick, and Villeneuve maintains his track record of turning all expectations of genre on their head.”

“Arrival” will be released Nov. 11.

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Above, Amy Adams stars in “Arrival.” Below, Asa Butterfield in “The Space Between Us.”

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“The Space Between Us” has an original, intriguing concept: Asa Butterfield plays a teenager born on Mars who goes to Earth for the first time, experiencing our planet with fresh eyes. (You may remember Butterfield from “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas,” “Hugo,” or “Ender’s Game.”)

The movie also stars Carla Gugino, Britt Robertson, and Gary Oldman, who plays a character inspired by Elon Musk.

It could be a hit, as long as it doesn’t veer too far into schmaltzy territory. Another potential problem is timing – right now it’s up against the new Stars Wars film which has the same Dec. 16 release date.

Don’t expect to see Luke Skywalker or R2 in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” These are (mostly) new people in a sort of side project to tide you over till the next chapter of the saga.

Set sometime between episodes III and IV, “Rogue One” stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, and Forest Whitaker.

Jones plays Jyn Erso, a Rebel fighter who teams up with Cassian Andor (Luna) and some other Rebels to steal the Death Star plans.

There are a couple familiar faces: Genevieve O’Reilly will reprise her role as Mon Mothma, and Jimmy Smits is back as Bail Organa. There will also be a familiar voice – James Earl Jones as Darth Vader.

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“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” will be released Dec. 16.

“Passengers,” a sci-fi romance/thriller, stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as astronauts accidentally awakened from hibernation 90 years too early.

The original script (by Jon Spaihts) has been floating around for years and at one point had Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon set to star as the stranded pair.

The film is directed by Morten Tyldum, who also directed “The Imitation Game” and “Headhunters” (a cool film starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from “Game of Thrones” – check it out if you haven’t seen it).

“Passengers” is slated for a Dec. 21 release.

Photos: “Passengers,” Columbia Pictures; “Arrival,” Paramount Pictures; “The Space Between Us,” STX Entertainment; “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” Lucasfilm/Disney

 

‘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

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.