The Return of Mystery Science Theater 3000!

Fans of the the cult favorite TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 were justifiably upset when it was canceled back in 1999. But now they can rejoice as Netflix has revived the quirky, sci-fi satire for an eleventh season with fourteen new episodes that just started airing.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K) is one of those shows that cannot simply go quietly into the land of cancellation. Ever since it debut on a local TV station, KTMA, back in the late ’80s, the comedy has bounced around Comedy Central then the Sci-Fi Channel until it finally went dark. But its creator Joel Hodgson (who played the lead character Joel in the early seasons) would not let the show be forgotten and tried to revive it. He championed the show over the years and started a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $5 million to fund a revival. The result was that new episodes were produced in 2016 and are now available for hungry fans and those curious enough to see what the hoopla is about.

The new MST3K follows the same basic format of the old shows. An average Joe-character (this time it’s Jonah Heston played by Jonah Ray) is trapped in a spaceship by a mad scientist who wants to experiment on him by making him watch really bad genre films. What keeps Jonah Heston from going insane is that he has a group of wise-cracking robots who watch the films with him and together they heckle the films to shreds. As we watch the bad films we see the silhouettes of Jonah and the robots sitting in the front row on the bottom of the screen and we get to hear all their putdowns and puns.

 

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is one of those shows that is best enjoyed if you can appreciate the fact that it’s actually a celebration of the cheesy side of sci-fi, horror and fantasy. The jokes and commentary are non-stop; some hit, some miss. With that rapid pace, many jokes are topical or may go over the heads of some viewers, but that is part of the fun. Sure, some jokes may become dated (as seen in older episodes), but that’s the way it is.

The show follows the tradition of the previous incarnations in that it uses distinctly below average production values with sets and model effects that are clearly fake. But that is part of its charm and how it tributes the films Jonah and his robot friends make fun of. The only difference is that the villains in this version of MST3K are played by more recognizable actors. Felicia Day as Kinga Forrester (the daughter of the older show’s head villain) and the great Patton Oswalt as Max or TV’s son of TV’s Frank are terrific in their roles. You can tell they’re having a great time playing evildoers, and they have lots of fun torturing poor Jonah Heston. In fact, the ultimate torture for Jonah is that Kinga Forrester tries to force him to marry her in one episode.

Of course, the big draw of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are the films themselves. And boy did they pick a bunch of stinkers who deserve the ribbing! The choices this time are mostly newer films that came from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s like Starcrash, Reptillicus, Carnival Magic, Avalanche and those “classic” Dough McClure epics The Land That Time Forgot and At The Earth’s Core. MST3K must be Edgar Rice Burroughs’ method of getting the last laugh on the last two films that adapted his works! And let me add that the choice of these films makes me feel old because I remember watching a couple of them in theaters back in the day.

The only thing lacking with the new episodes is that the original main heroes (Joel Robinson and Mike Nelson) are absent. But the new MST3K does feature guest appearances by former baddies like Pearl Forrester, Bobo and Observer. Of course, the robots and co-stars from the older episodes, Gypsy, Cambot, Crow and Tom Servo, are co-stars in the revival and pick up right when we last saw them in 1999.

Even though Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been gone for a good while, it’s fantastic that it has been able to pick up where it last left off and continue delivering the laughs. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish watching their skewering of At The Earth’s Core, a guilty pleasure of mine.

Waldermann Rivera

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Teaser Is Finally Unleashed

After much anticipation and wait, the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi is finally here and is about two minutes or so in length, longer than usual teasers. It starts with glimpses of Rey on an island being trained by Luke Skywalker similar to his own training from Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back.  Not much happens for the first minute or so, besides a shot of General Leia (from behind), until the second minute when we see fast cuts of space battles which look very nice and shots of new landspeeder-type vehicles in a snow-covered desert environment. We also see Finn in some kind of stasis, but we don’t know why.  Maybe he’s still healing from the wounds he received from Kylo Ren.

 

We also see Poe Dameron in action with his custom black X-Wing caught in an explosion inside a hangar potentially putting him in harm’s way. The trailer finally leaves us with a tantalizing plot point at the very end of it when Luke Skywalker states that he knows that the Jedi must end. This is an interesting idea that maybe Luke is disillusioned from the seemingly endless battles between the light and dark side of the Force, which always leads to suffering for the whole galaxy. Perhaps seeing his nephew and former protégé Kylo Ren succumb to the dark side finally pushed him over the edge. This may lead to an inevitable confrontation with Ren as is hinted with the teaser poster showing both Luke and Ren divided by a lightsaber. How this will affect Luke’s relationship with Rey is to be seen and should be something to look out for.

rey the last jedi

Overall, this first look at Star Wars: The Last Jedi has some intriguing bits but was a bit lacking in action. Nevertheless, it should keep Star Wars fans satisfied until the next trailer surfaces in a few months. Hopefully some of the new characters  played by Benicio Del Toro and Laura Dern will appear along with a clearer picture as to the plot of the movie. This is usually what full length theatrical trailers are for and should be something to look forward to. Take a look down below and leave a comment or two on your thoughts of the teaser for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

C.S. Link

The Expanse Pushes Beyond Its Horizon

As its second season draws to a close, it is very clear that The Expanse, arguably the flagship TV series on Syfy, has thrived and become must-see TV.

Based on James S.A. Corey’s series of novels, The Expanse tells several related stories that take place two centuries from now in our solar system as it has been colonized by humanity. From Earth to the the asteroid belt to Jupiter’s moons we see how life is for humans living under different conditions. People living in the Belt deal with harsh conditions and are stigmatized, while those on Mars appear war-like and disdainful of everyone else, especially Earthers. Meanwhile, life on Earth isn’t exactly a picnic from the few glimpses we’ve been shown as it seems that the citizens live under a severe dichotomy where most people are unemployed and destitute while the privileged few control the planet under luxurious conditions.

protomolecule julie mao and miller

The Expanse has many interesting characters with segments devoted to their diverse locales. Tying everything together is the mystery of the protomolecule. It’s an extra-terrestrial substance discovered on Saturn’s moon Phoebe by an Earth-based company called Protogen. It interacts with living tissue and radically alters it, and of course, the company tries to weaponize it. What happens is that the protomolecule is difficult to contain and quickly threatens humanity as it infects anyone that comes into contact with the substance.

Rocinante Crew

There are roughly three storylines devoted to the impact of the protomolecule. Out in the Belt and Jupiter’s moons, we follow the story of the crew of the Rocinante, who try to contain the spread of the protomolecule. The best way to think of them is to look at Firefly, meaning the characters are supposed to be your average joes who live in space in a hard-scrabble existence. The crew is made up of citizens from different planets such as the Rocinante’s Earth captain James Holden (Steven Strait), his lover and ship’s Belter engineer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), Martian pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), and Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), the ship’s Earther mechanic. The four have distinct personalities ranging from easy going (Alex), to brutish (Amos). In the first season, the protomolecule overran a colony on Eros and nearly consumed the Rocinante crew. Now, they’re on an unsanctioned mission to hunt down all traces of the protomolecule elsewhere and to destroy it. Thanks to their likable nature and heroism the crew are effectively the heart of The Expanse.

Bobbie Draper

We also follow the story of a tough-as-nails Martian marine, Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams). Introduced in the beginning of the second season, she came off as an unlikable thug who was itching for any opportunity to fight Earthers. But she saw firsthand the destructive nature of the protomolecule as a solider intentionally altered by the substance wiped out her team on Ganymede. This incident nearly starts a war between Earth and Mars as the two powers are bitter rivals. This experience has a profound impact on Draper and she starts to question her way of life. Out of all the characters in The Expanse, hers is the one that has grown the most and her development has made Draper a quick fan favorite.

Chrisjen Avarsarala

The other storyline is devoted to the United Nations assistant secretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who is trying to get to the bottom of the protomolecule and to prevent a war from breaking out between her planet and Mars. Aghdashloo easily provides the best acting in the show and presents a mature, regal presence that is so captivating to watch thanks in part to her husky, hypnotic voice that vaguely recalls Lauren Bacall. While the Rocinante crew are the show’s heart, and Draper the soul, Chrisjen Avarsarala represents its mind as her scintillating dialogue  with diplomats and corporate heads provide much needed food for thought.

The Expanse has another distinguishing element and that is its adherence to hard science. Although we still hear the sounds of spaceships flying about great pains are taken to show life under microgravity. We see the perils and fragility of life outside of Earth where being able to breath can be a life-or-death situation. There is time-delayed communications between colonies and Earth. One interesting segment had a group of Martians (including Bobbie Draper) arriving on Earth and having to deal with life under alien conditions. The gravity was hard on them, the sun was too bright for their eyes and they needed medication to be able to breath Earth’s air. These were nice, realistic touches. It’s not always accurate but kudos to the producers for trying their best.

martian marines on ganymede

Syfy should be applauded for championing The Expanse early on and allowing it to prosper in its second season. It has pushed the envelope in its story and given us fascinating characters. On a side note, it is regrettable that Thomas Jane’s hard-boiled detective Joseph Miller died this season but his final actions helped save Earth from being infected by the protomolecule. On the other hand, The Expanse’s second season has introduced interesting new characters that have kept its momentum. Add terrific scripts and superb production and special effects and it is easy to see why The Expanse is the best science fiction TV show airing right now.

Lewis T. Grove and José Soto

Spider-Man’s Short-Lived Homecoming?

spider-man homecoming posters

Spider-Man fans have been in on an emotional rollercoaster in recent days with the increasing hype over the new film Spider-Man: Homecoming and with Sony Pictures’ plans for the Marvel Comics character with their own series of spinoff films. The reaction to the new film’s second trailer has been extremely positive, surpassing that of the initial trailer released last year. On the other side of the coin, the reception to Sony’s plan has been decidedly mixed. But the worst reaction has been to the speculation that Spider-Man will no longer be in the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) following a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming. What started the ruckus was a recent interview of Amy Pascal in Comic Book News. As the former head of Sony Pictures and now a producer of the Spider-Man films. She stated the following:

“One of the things that I think is so amazing about this experience is that you don’t have studios deciding to work together to make a film very often. In fact, it may never happen again–after we do the sequel.”

This has given many fans reasons to panic, especially given the recent announcements of Sony continuing to develop Spider-Man spinoff films about Venom and the Black Cat. The reason is due to the film studio’s mishandling of the beloved character. We all remember that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a creative disaster, micromanaged to death by Sony who only wanted to use the film to launch other films; none of which have come to fruition. Then there was the public flailing by the studio after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn’t perform as well as they hoped. The non-stop announcements of films starring the Sinister Six and even Aunt May (!) made fans cringe. These embarrassing PR releases were only rivaled by Warner Bros/DC’s constant notices about upcoming DC films and who has been cast years before a film has even entered pre-production. Everything came to a head with the hack of Sony in 2014/15, which revealed in emails that the studio wasn’t sure what to do with their superhero franchise. They learned, as other film studios have, that it is not easy to replicate the success of the MCU.

the amazing spider-man

Sensing correctly the disinterest in their spinoffs, the bad feelings from The Amazing Spider-Man 2, overall poor box office from all their films, and the embarrassing emails, Sony decided to cut a deal with Disney/Marvel Studios. The result was a revamped Spider-Man, now played by an actual teenager, and the breakout star of last year’s Captain America: Civil War. Most fans and critics loved the authentic portrayal of the eager and earnest young superhero. Now that he is officially part of the MCU, Spidey could interact with Marvel Comics’ other great superheroes. All seemed well, Spider-Man made a smashing re-introduction, his next solo film was firmly in the MCU, and the trailers were well received, so nothing could go wrong.

Venomous Reception

Sony probably felt that same way when they announced that a Venom film was not only being developed but that it is coming out in October 2018. Before this revelation, Sony scheduled an animated Spider-Man film to feature Miles Morales, and the news was well received since after all it’s just a cartoon. The Venom news, however, was a mixed bag. Those who have clamored for a hard-edged Venom solo film were excited, while others feared another mismanaged superhero film that would dilute Spider-Man. The slipshod way the character was handled in Spider-Man 3 was all the proof the fans needed that Sony would screw up again. Adding to this trepidation was the news that Venom would not be in the MCU and whether or not Spider-Man would even appear.

Perhaps Sony was emboldened by the success of Deadpool and Logan, two films that are not necessarily part of their shared universes and were hits despite being R-rated. They obviously feel they can learn from their mistakes and duplicate this formula. Maybe they can and maybe they will be successful with their announced Black Cat/Silver Sable film. The key has to do with who is hired to make the film. Continue reading

Logan & The Future Of The X-Men

Logan is the swan song for Hugh Jackman in his seventeen-year film portrayal of the iconic Wolverine superhero. The film is resonating with filmgoers and critics and especially fans of the X-Men films and comics. For 20th Century Fox’s X-Men Cinematic Universe (XCU), Logan’s success combined with last year’s Deadpool points to a bold and fresh direction for the cinematic universe.

X Men Films Roster

Ever since its debut in 2000 with X-Men, the X-Men film franchise has seen its share of ups and downs. Creative and commercial highs like X-Men: Days of Future Past or X-Men: First Class were quickly followed or preceded with disappointments such as X-Men: The Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine. On the whole the XCU films are exciting and colorful but it seemed as if these superhero films had hit a creative wall as seen with X-Men: Apocalypse. By itself the film was fine, but it had a nagging feeling of déjà vu. We’ve seen these theatrics before; a big, bad mutant comes along and threatens the world while the superheroic mutants complain about how they’re ill treated by humanity, yet go out of their way to save it because, well, they’re the X-Men!

Along Came A Merc

As we all know that template changed with Deadpool. Funny, gross, self mocking and full of vigor and pizzazz, the film proved that something new can be created from the standard X-Men superhero formula with the Merc with the Mouth. Deadpool was a gamble for 20th Century Fox who resisted the idea of greenlighting the film in the first place. Executives worried about funding a superhero film that was vulgar, violent and comedic. After all, an R-rated superhero film is considered blasphemy to studio execs and marketing departments. They feared that the under-18 crowd wouldn’t be able to see, rather spend money to see the film. But to not allow that in a Deadpool film would betray the character.

Of course, Deadpool surprised the industry and delighted giddy fans who wanted an accurate film portrayal of this beloved character that stayed true to his violent, fourth-wall-breaking roots.

Deadpool’s success helped give Fox execs the confidence to allow Logan’s creators to take a creative gamble. This resulted in the film being an adult, hard-hitting, violent film that truly reflected the dark comic book story that inspired it, “Old Man Logan”.

Requiem For Logan

However, Logan’s creative success is not just due to its grim and violent tone. Rather this mature film is more than that, it is about facing mortality and Logan feels so poignant because of the nature of the title character. Logan aka Wolverine, played so skillfully by Hugh Jackman, is a broken, old man who realizes that the world has moved past him. Having long given up the good fight, Logan simply wants to be left alone and face his last days in peace with his mentor Charles Xavier.

Logan at his hideout

Like Logan, Xavier is grappling with the challenges of old age and both men know they are reaching their twilight. Having seen these two characters on film for nearly two decades, it is rather heartbreaking to see the indignities they face as we are reminded of our own mortality. Meanwhile, we have to admit that after seeing Jackman playing this iconic hero for 17 years, it is hard to see him go, but we must, which is why the film’s ending hits so hard.

Logan, Xavier and Laura

At the same time, Logan is looks at the issue of how an adult deals with a degenerating parent. It is a part of life that most will face and by taking care of an ailing Xavier, a man who is not his father makes Logan more heroic than he realizes. Further adding to his growth is the realization of how he has bonded with Laura, aka X-23, the young mutant he and Xavier are protecting. By the film’s end, he has come to not just feel responsible for her but to accept her as his child, which is a bittersweet conclusion to his emotional growth that Xavier urged him to explore earlier in the film.

Logan at hotelDiscovering these themes in a superhero film is actually surprising and gives Logan much more gravitas than the standard superhero film. In many ways, it seems more like a western thanks to its themes of the harsh consequences of violence and beautiful outdoor cinematography. That is why many are proclaiming it to be a film that has outgrown its genre and is now compared to The Dark Knight or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is needless to add that this modern classic is already considered by many to be the greatest X-Men film to date.

So now that Logan has reinforced the idea that an XCU film can be unexpectedly original, where does Fox go from there? Continue reading