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

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

“Saga,” written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, is the best comic book series in the past 10 years, and I’m guessing it made lots of people’s best-of lists. Its central characters are Marko and Alana, lovers from warring planets, and their daughter, Hazel. The family is chased across the galaxy by an assassin whose sidekick is a giant, hairless, lie-detecting cat; a TV-faced robot prince; and Marko’s ex-girlfriend. See my review of the comic here: ‘Saga’ leaves you wanting more but you’ll have to wait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Binge-watch: 4th seasons of ‘Mr. Robot’ & ‘The Expanse’

“The Expanse” is finally back. Season Four was worth the wait. The suspenseful sci-fi series started out on the Syfy channel, and now it lives on Amazon Prime, where the fourth season was just released Dec. 12.

The first three seasons take place across our own now-colonized solar system: Earth, Luna (our moon), and Mars; and on various spaceraft and asteroids (asteroid belt natives are referred to as Belters).

Season Four takes us to a new planet – called Ilus by the Belters, and New Terra by Earthers. There are four main storylines going on, and they’re all equally fraught with tension:  On Earth, Avasarala is campaigning to keep her seat as UN Secretary General; the Belters are dealing with a pirate who stole a UNN colony ship; on Mars, Bobbie Draper reluctantly becomes involved in some shady gangster dealings; and the crew of the Rocinante is sent to the new planet to see if there’s any alien Protomolecule there, or any other potential dangers.

Of course, these storylines all eventually tie together, and in unexpected ways. There are also some new characters who add a new dynamic to the series. Every season of “The Expanse” is better than the last, and if this trend continues, Season 5 should be even better. Can’t wait!

Mr. Robot

This last season of the mind-bending hacker drama “Mr. Robot” was also its fourth, but unlike “The Expanse,” this was the series’ last. I have mixed feelings about the last season. Some of the episodes were every bit as brilliant as those in previous seasons, but some were uncomfortable to watch, and some were confusing.

One of the best episodes of the season had Elliot and Darlene infiltrating a company that keeps the servers for the bank they’re trying to hack. The episode contains almost no dialogue, and I was biting my nails the whole time.

Honestly, this whole season had me on the edge of my seat, even when I was squirming or scratching my head. My main complaint is that it makes me nervous when someone is trapped or held against their will, but that’s my personal issue. I guess it’s a testament to the realism of the show that some of the episodes gave me anxiety. It is a thriller after all.

The finale had an unexpected twist, but I didn’t love it. It felt somewhat anticlimactic to me. I wanted more from the Whiterose story after it had been built up for so long.

Overall, though, it was as binge-able as “The Expanse.” The plot was unpredictable and exciting, the diversity of the cast was refreshing, and I love the characters. I hope to see these actors in more projects soon.  I also am interested in seeing what Sam Esmail, the show’s creator, does next.

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Credits: “Mr. Robot,” NBC Universal Television Distribution; “The Expanse,” Legendary Television Distribution.thumbnail_2019-09-16 20.23.12

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Anders’ novel optioned for series; plus news & reviews

In cool sci-fi news: I recently read that open-uri20190219-15-r061tbSony Pictures Television has optioned Charlie Jane Anders’ book, “The City in the Middle of the Night,” for series development, with Sharon Hall, who is also an executive producer on “The Expanse.”

I’m super excited about this because Charlie Jane Anders is awesome, and because I love “The Expanse,” so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the adaptation is as cool as the novel, which is set in the future, on the tidally locked planet of January. Because one side is always facing the sun (like our moon), one side of the planet is always dark and cold, and the other is always light and hot. The inhabitants (descendants of humans who fled Earth) live in the strip of dusk between the light and dark sides of the planet.

The main character, Sophie, lives in Xiosphant, an authoritarian city with mandated sleeping hours and curfews. When she gets in trouble with the law, she is thrown into the dark and cold night, and left for dead. But she survives, and is changed by her experience.  There is a lot of crazy stuff going on; I couldn’t put it down. If you like dystopian sci-fi, check it out.

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Charlie Jane Anders

I also read and loved Anders’ other works, her novel “All the Birds in the Sky,” and her short story collection “Six Months, Three Days, Five Others.” You can read my review here:

https://earthtoshawna.com/2018/12/21/short-and-sweet-anders-six-months-and-saunders-fox-8/

No word yet on when we will see the new series. In the meantime, Anders is working on the adaptation of one of my favorite comics, Brian K. Vaughan’s “Y: The Last Man.”

The Vertigo comic centers on Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand. A plague has wiped out every other male mammal, and as far as Yorick knows, he’s the last man on Earth. The series is expected to premiere on FX next year.

Carnival Row

Oh “Carnival Row,” I had such high hopes for you! The Amazon Prime series is about fairies and other mythological creatures forced to flee their homelands to (some version of) Victorian-era London.

I do love cutie pie Orlando Bloom but watching him in his role as a detective is about as thrilling as watching paint dry, and he doesn’t have much chemistry with his love interest, played by Cara Delevingne as adorable fairy Vignette. I’m not sure who was in charge of casting but I suspect the series would be more steamy if they’d found a couple with a little more heat between them. (Is it just me?)

Vignette and Philo phone in the fairy romance on “Carnival Row.”

Don’t get me wrong; I did enjoy the premise of the show (despite the fact that it seems to have stolen Saga’s horns and wings) and it held my interest enough that I wanted to keep watching. There is a lot of mystery, political intrigue and multiple subplots, some of which are really interesting and others which are sort of meh. The big finale was not super satisfying but it seems to have set up a potentially better storyline for Season 2, so I’m still in. 

 The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE

The 1982 film charmed and terrified me when it came out in theaters. (I was 7.) The Netflix prequel series is also charming – and very dark. I guess Netflix is banking on nostalgia. The comical yet smarmy pleading of the chamberlain is here, as is the adorable dog-like creature (known as Fizzgig in the original). I like the Gelfling and Podling puppets. The new series is appealing for those of us who miss Jim Henson’s lovable Muppets.

It’s as true to the original as any  ’80s kid could want, but there’s a lot of emphasis on the “dark” in Dark Crystal. I’m sure this would be hard to avoid in any prequel series, though, as we know from the film that Jen and Kira were the last of their kind – and we know why.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is a little disheartened by the creepiness and oppressive nature of the series. But I am trying to hang in there; I’m only a few episodes in, and I’m reserving final judgment until I’ve seen all 10. Stay tuned.

“Do you think I look Skeksi?”

The Boys

I wasn’t expecting to be so blown away by this Amazon Prime series, based on a comic book. For starters, the story – superheroes as villains – has been done before, in “Watchmen.” But “The Boys” is different enough that it still seems original, and I loved it. It’s (very) grisly, but it’s a binge-worthy thrill ride.

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Jack Quaid and Karl Urban are Hughie Campbell and Billy Butcher, two of the titular “boys,” enemies of the superheroes who turn out to not be so super.

mark-your-calendar-clipart-48 “Ad Astra” opens this weekend. Brad Pitt plays an astronaut who searches for his father in the outer edges of the solar system.

The TV series “Mr. Robot” will return for its fourth and final season on Oct. 6 (USA Network).

“Gemini Man” comes out Oct. 11. Will Smith plays an assassin who is forced to fight a younger clone of himself.

Two sequels will be released Oct. 18: “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” and “Zombieland: Double Tap.”

The new season of the sci-fi series “The Expanse” will air on Amazon Prime on Dec. 13.

And last but not least: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” will be in theaters on Dec. 20.

Credits: “The City in the Middle of the Night,” by Charlie Jane Anders, Tor Books; “Carnival Row,” Amazon Prime, “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance,” Netflix; “The Boys,” Amazon Prime.

 

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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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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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Amazon picks up critically acclaimed series ‘The Expanse’

We have nearly come to the end of Season Three of my new favorite series, “The Expanse.” I’m sure I’m not alone in saying every season has been more exciting than the last! The plot, which was a bit confusing in Season One, is really suspenseful and original, and the characters’ varied personalities and motivations add a dimension of realism that is often lacking in the genre.

I honestly am counting down the days to the next episode, and I’m bummed that there are only three episodes left in this season.

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Shohreh Aghdashloo as the indomitable Chrisjen Avasarala is just one of many reasons to tune in to “The Expanse.”

Unfortunately, perhaps because the show took a while to hit its stride, it lost viewers and Syfy canceled the series on May 11. After news of the cancellation, fans began a campaign to save the show. Because Amazon already owned streaming rights for the show, it seemed like a good fit. The campaign included a petition that collected 150,000 signatures, and a GoFundMe page which collected money for a Save the Expanse banner to be flown over Amazon headquarters.

Some famous fans chimed in too. Rumor has it that Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, even received an email from Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin, asking him to save “The Expanse.”

The cast was recently at a conference for private space entrepreneurs, National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference, doing a panel on the science of “The Expanse,” when they heard the good news.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly on Wednesday, Steven Strait (who plays Jim Holden) explained: “We were there, essentially, just talking about the technicalities of shooting a space show with realistic science, and it just so happened that Jeff Bezos was there. We had planned this trip months ago. It was a total coincidence.”

Before dinner, Bezos told the cast he was a fan of the books and the show, and that he was trying to work something out to pick up the show. He emailed Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios, who had also been hearing great things about the show.

In an interview with Deadline, Salke said Bezos told her, “I’m at an event, a space seminar, I’m looking at the cast of ‘The Expanse’ here, I would like to get up there and order the show.” Once she gave Bezos the green light, he announced it on stage.

Strait said “he announced it right then and there on stage. Just completely took us by surprise. Just crazy excitement. It was a roar from the back of this room. We were just all so tremendously relieved that this insane campaign had worked.”

So are we. Here’s to Season Four!

If you’re not already a fan, you can catch up with “The Expanse” on Amazon (streaming), or on Netflix (DVD only).

Valhalla Renaissance Faire

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My honey and I dressed for the occasion. Arrrr!

While I was on vacation in South Lake Tahoe, I checked out the 25th annual Valhalla Renaissance Faire. I had never been to this particular Ren fair so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at all they had to offer. While not as big as the fair in Irwindale, it was still a good-sized festival, in a beautiful location, and there was plenty to do, see, and buy.

There are about 800 costumed actors who bring the fair to life, and more than 100 vendors sold period attire and accessories, jewelry, swords, daggers, wands, and of course, food and drinks. Fairgoers could get their hair braided, play games, try their hand at archery, and be entertained by music, dancing, storytelling, puppet shows, jugglers, and – my personal favorite – a falconry show.

I highly recommend this fair if you’re planning a trip to Tahoe next year. Go in costume, and bring the kids. The festival runs every year for two weekends in May and/or June. For more information, go to valhallafaire.com.

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Daring Daniel daringly juggles knives while balancing on a rolling board!

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A beautiful owl was just one of the birds featured at the Full Circle Falconry show at the Valhalla Renaissance Faire in South Lake Tahoe. 

Photos: “The Expanse,” Alcon Television Group; Valhalla Renaissance Faire photos by Earth to Shawna. img_20170119_202601

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Virtual reality movie ‘Ready Player One’ is a fun ride

READY. PLAYER. ONE.

I’ve been excited about this ever since I heard they were making it into a movie (it was a novel first – by Ernest Cline).

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When I heard it was going to be directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, my first thought was Wow, Spielberg! That’s perfect! And then my next thought was that I’m not a huge Spielberg fan. So I had my misgivings. Were they going to mess this up?

The main character is an orphaned teenager named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who is competing in a 1980s-themed  VR contest – in the year 2044. The winner will inherit the fortune of the contest’s deceased creator, James Halliday, a Willy Wonka-esque character who created the virtual reality world OASIS.

OASIS is where much of the story takes place, which I imagined could translate to the big screen in a really awesome way – or it could look totally lame.

Luckily, the special effects were great. My other concern was that there are usually two issues with reading the book first. One: I already know what’s going to happen. And two: “That’s not how it was in the book!” Well there’s really no worries about that here. It was still exciting, even though I already knew the plot, and at this point, I understand that they need to change it up from novel to screenplay. As long as it works, I’m happy. And aside from a few minor gripes, it does work.

It’s clever, it’s funny, and it’s a little trip down memory lane for anyone who grew up in the 1980s, because ’80s movie and video game references abound. “Back to the Future,” “Iron Giant,” “Gremlins,” “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” – you will catch snippets of these and many more throughout, but it’s subtle enough as to not be too distracting.

You don’t need to be an ’80s kid to enjoy this movie. The rumor about this being a pop-culture overdose was premature. The ’80s stuff is just background/setting and not the story. (I don’t understand people bitching about this before the movie was even released?)

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Art3mis and Parzival in “Ready Player One.”

For a movie that celebrates ’80s nostalgia, the soundtrack should have been better. There are a couple gems (including New Order’s “Blue Monday”), but the track list is phoned in and too short, especially for such a long movie.

It clocks in at 140 minutes, but it’s so fast-paced you probably won’t notice (unless you have to pee). The pacing is actually perfect, and it’s enough time for our heroes to get to know each other in between all the racing around.

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Tye Sheridan and Lena Waithe

Their friendship is central to the story, and Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, and Lena Waithe were well cast and seem to click. The villains were a little clichéd; Wade’s nemesis, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), is like a high school principal in a John Hughes film but maybe that’s fitting.

“Ready Player One” isn’t deep or profound, but it’s fun, especially if you don’t mind a sprinkle of Spielbergian cheese on the second half of your movie.

Moving on …

‘The Expanse’

I did not read this book series, which is set in a future where humans have colonized the solar system. I was kind of confused/bored at first, but I stuck with it and my patience paid off. This is one of the most interesting, suspenseful series I’ve seen in a long time.

In case you haven’t heard me sing this show’s praises already: It has all the ingredients you want in a sci-fi show – great writing and effects, complex characters, a diverse and talented cast, moral dilemmas, plot twists, drama, suspense, humor. But what I like best about “The Expanse” is that it’s not like anything else – a refreshing change of pace in this era of remakes and sequels.

Season 3 of “The Expanse” premieres April 11 on Syfy.

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Dominique Tipper and Steven Strait star in “The Expanse.”

A match made in the Star Trek Universe

Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Adam Nimoy (Leonard Nimoy’s son) tied the knot on Monday, which would have been Leonard Nimoy’s 87th birthday. They went public with their relationship at the Star Trek convention in Vegas last year. Live long and prosper, newlyweds!

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Photos: Ready Player One, Warner Bros. Pictures; The Expanse, Syfy; Terry Farrell/Adam Nimoy photo by Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

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News and notes on ‘Expanse,’ ‘Guardians,’ and summer sci-fi

The second season of my new favorite TV series,”The Expanse,” is already over! I can’t believe I have to wait another year to see what will happen next! I’m glad I stuck with this show during its confusing beginning.

The second season of the series, which has been nominated for Saturn and Hugo awards, has been awesome. The characters’ storylines have come together, and the newer characters are great additions and fit right in.  Sometimes when you have a big cast like this, it’s annoying when a new character is introduced. But I love Prax (played by Terry Chen, above), and bad-ass Bobbie Draper.

My favorite scene of this season made me tear up. “The Expanse” is no “This Is Us,” so I was caught off guard during Naomi’s emotional scene on Ganymede in the penultimate episode. I know I’m being vague; I don’t want to give anything away. If you’re not watching “The Expanse,” you can catch up on syfy.com or Hulu.

From Toby to Taserface  

Speaking of the aforementioned tearjerker “This Is Us,” Chris Sullivan (who plays Toby), is in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”! Sullivan plays a character called Taserface and is unrecognizable under all that makeup.

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Chris Sullivan is Taserface in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

Also joining the cast for the sequel are Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Debicki (who is in “The Night Manager,” with Tom Hiddleston) and Pom Klementieff.

Reprising their roles as the Guardians are Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, and Dave Bautista.

If you have read my blog before, you know how much I loved the first “Guardians.” Superhero movies are not my favorite sci-fi genre, but that’s because most superhero movies are not as cool, fun, and funny as “Guardians.” I can’t wait until May 5!

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“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

I’m also excited about the other big sci-fi film coming out this year – Star Wars Episode VIII will be in theaters Dec. 15. It will be bittersweet, as it will be our last goodbye to Leia. Carrie Fisher will not appear in Episode IX, despite rumors that she would be edited into the film.

I know, December is still a long way off, but after “The Last Jedi,” we will only have to wait until summer – “Star Wars: Episode IX,” set for 2019, will be released in May.

“Star Trek: Discovery”

That other big sci-fi franchise, Star Trek, needs to learn a lesson from Star Wars about getting it done. The series “Star Trek: Discovery” has been delayed yet again. It was supposed to be coming in May, but Bryan Fuller has left his job as showrunner, and now there is no date for the premiere at all. Will we ever see this show?

On Netflix

The only discovery I’ve, um, discovered is “The Discovery.” The movie, directed by Charlie McDowell (who also did “The One I Love”), takes place after a scientist (Robert Redford) proves there is life after death. Unfortunately, this discovery causes a rash of suicides.

Telling you much more than this will be too spoiler-y. Let me just say if you are interested in weird movies à la “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” or NDE and OBE (near death/out of body experience) type stuff, you will probably like this. I myself find it fascinating, and while the film was not without flaws, it stayed with me for a while – and it didn’t hurt that one of my favorite actors, Jason Segel, is in it. Rooney Mara also stars.

Also coming up on Netflix is Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja,” about a girl and her best friend, or should I say, beast friend? Okja is a “super pig” in danger from a multinational corporation. The film sounds every bit as strange as Bong’s 2014 film “Snowpiercer,” but will be, I hope, less disturbing.

“Okja” stars Tilda Swinton, Ahn Seo-hyun, Lily Collins, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Paul Dano. It will be screened at Cannes in May and then released on Netflix on June 28.

Summer sci-fi

Now that Alien Day (April 26) has put us in the mood for scary monsters in outer space (right?), I’m ready for the new Alien movie. “Alien: Covenant” is in theaters May 19. The studio released a second prologue for the film:

A special bonus: If you go see “Alien: Covenant,” you will get to see a full trailer for “Blade Runner 2049.” Considering “Covenant” will be opening in the U.K. a week before it opens here in the U.S., the “Blade Runner” trailer might be online before May 19, but it will be cooler on the big screen anyway. (The connection here is “Covenant” director Ridley Scott, who also directed the original “Blade Runner” and produced the sequel.)

I’m really hoping they did Wonder Woman justice in the new film (out June 2), because they aren’t going to make more films about women unless we go see them, and we’re not going to go see them if they suck. Enough said.

“Orphan Black” will return for one more season, but later this year than normal. The show won’t be back until June 10, on BBC America. The show was not canceled; it was the creators’ decision to end it, and while I think it was the right decision, it will still be sad to see our favorite clones go. Here’s hoping the fifth and final season will be the best yet.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” (coming to theaters July 14) looks to be everything a big summer blockbuster should be: action, thrills, and cool special effects, and while I don’t care for, say, alien robots that turn into monster trucks, I’m totally on board with talking chimpanzees. Andy Serkis brings his performance-capture magic back with his character Caesar, and Woody Harrelson is “The Colonel,” a soldier who wants to destroy the apes.

“Game of Thrones” will return for its seventh season on July 16 on HBO. Even without the final books in the series, we can tell this story is getting close to wrapping up. The dragons are grown, the zombies are closing in, and they’ve killed off most of the characters. That’s not to say I’ve grown bored of the show – far from it. I’m super excited to see what happens next.

The one thing I am not happy about is the fact that we’re only getting seven episodes this summer, and then we won’t get to see the final six episodes until next year. Bummer!

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” will be in theaters July 21, and I wish it would hurry up because I keep writing about how maybe it’s going to be cool and maybe it will suck on “Jupiter Ascending” level proportions, and I haven’t heard any buzz about it either way. It’s not the same director as “Jupiter” (the Wachowski sibs are responsible for that mess). “Valerian” is written and directed by Luc Besson, so I want to say it will be as awesome as “The Fifth Element,” which is a crazy movie that I love beyond reason and which I have wasted many hours of my life re-watching.

If you haven’t seen “The Fifth Element” yet (or even if you have), you can see it on the big screen (with 4K restoration) on May 14 or 17, in select theaters. The screenings are part of a 20th anniversary celebration of the film, and will include a new introduction by Besson and a sneak preview of “Valerian.”

The 20th anniversary edition will be released on DVD sometime this summer.

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Photos/media: “The Expanse,” Syfy; “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Alien: Covenant,” 20th Century Fox; Game of Thrones, HBO. 

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