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

Despite Controversy & Flaws Iron Fist Hits Its Mark

The latest Netflix/Marvel TV show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is Iron Fist. The main character and his story are based on the Marvel Comics hero created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. As the final piece of the superhero puzzle that will make up this year’s Netflix mini-series, The Defenders, Iron Fist has been mired in controversy. Most of it having to do with charges of that the title character is just another white savior type since he emulates a stereotypical Asian monastic lifestyle. Other complaints about Iron Fist are that it is slow moving and uninvolving.

These criticisms levied at Iron Fist are unfortunate because it’s generally an enjoyable, well-produced entry of the MCU. It does have its share of problems and is not as engaging as Daredevil or Jessica Jones. On the other hand, after last year’s disappointingly dull and overacted Luke Cage, Iron Fist is a course correction for the Netflix/Marvel shows.

danny rand at kun lun

The TV show centers on Danny Rand (Finn Jones), a homeless heir to a multinational corporation who reappears in the company’s Manhattan headquarters after he was believed to have died fifteen years ago. In his backstory, he and his parents were in a plane crash in the Himalayas that killed his folks, but he survived and was rescued by monks. They take Danny to K’un-Lun, a mystical, extradimensional city that appears every fifteen years on Earth. Once there, Danny is raised by the monks, learns martial arts and eventually becomes the latest in the line of a mystical warrior called the Iron Fist, the Living Weapon. His duty was to protect K’un-Lun from an evil mystical group called the Hand but is shocked after his return that the Hand are on his native world.

It takes some time for him to convince the world that he actually is Danny Rand. What doesn’t help is that when we first see him he’s barefoot, unkempt and disheveled. He spends much of his energy trying to reconnect with two childhood friends, the siblings Joy and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup), who run Danny’s company and are a couple of corporate douchebags, especially Ward. They see him as either a fraud or worse a genuine threat to their hold on the company that was founded by their fathers. The twist is that Meachum’s father, Harold (David Wenham), who supposedly died years ago, is alive and in hiding. An amoral and abusive type himself, the father takes an interest in Danny Rand’s re-emergence. This is because he sees Rand as an opportunity to take on his enemy the Hand (featured in Daredevil), who have a hold on him. With this in mind, Harold forces Ward to allow Danny into the company. Once in place as a majority shareholder, Danny begins righting the wrongs done by the company.

Rand wing and night nurse

As this corporate plotline unfolds, Danny meets a downtrodden karate instructor Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who operates a dojo, and the two connect. She becomes his partner as he tries to get behind the reason of the Hand’s purpose on Earth and how they are connected to his company.

Iron Fist may not be immediately engaging at first. The first couple of episodes are actually frustrating with drawn out flashbacks of the plane crash and Danny trying to convince people of his identity. While he is sympathetic, Rand comes off as being too naïve and trusting. This leads to a dull stretch where he is imprisoned in a psychiatric ward and the narrative injects a pointless notion that he may be insane. While this works so well in Legion, here the subplot is plodding. But in the end, after he exhibits his first manifestation of his superhuman martial arts the show picks up momentum.

iron fist attack

Speaking of martial arts, a major drawback to Iron Fist is that for a TV show about martial arts many of the fight scenes lack power and energy. They look too choreographed and listless. This is seen in the first few minutes of the first episode “Snow Gives Way” when Danny has a by-the-numbers fight with some guards as he tries to contact the Meachums. This is a dangerous flaw for a show of this type. We are supposed to be shown that he is a superhuman martial artist, but the show has a hard time showing this to viewers. There are some good fight sequences though, many of which involve Wing, who is one of the best characters on the show, but they pale when compared to Daredevil or even Arrow.

But take heart in knowing that whenever Danny’s hands start glowing, you will be treated to some climatic displays of raw power. One drawback to keeping this show in the gritty and grounded MCU shows from Netflix is that it prevents the more mystical aspects of Rand’s backstory from being shown. It might’ve lightened the show’s mood and better matched Danny’s persona.

Of all the heroes in these shows, he seems to be the most optimistic and exudes an inner calm. This presents a challenge in that it makes it difficult to showcase any of the inner turmoil and demons which plague the stars of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. In reality, this different kind of personality is a welcome change of pace from all the brooding and conflicted heroes, though it makes him a bit one dimensional. Danny just wants to do good for others during his return to our world. He just has to go through these hurdles to achieve this goal.

Once the show gets going after the early episodes, it picks up the pace and becomes more action-oriented as we want to see what happens next to these characters. The villains are not the greatest but there are attempts to give them some layering, which keeps things interesting. In Joy’s case, groundwork is laid for making her more amendable to Danny’s cause. While we try to figure out what is Harold’s ultimate agenda and though Ward comes off as one dimensional at first, there is more to him than being a corporate tool.

When compared to Daredevil (season one) or Jessica Jones, Iron Fist does not reach their levels of quality. Yet, it has its merits and is a welcome addition to the MCU. Frankly, much of the criticism is unfortunate because Iron Fist is being faithful to the source material, in the comic books he is a white man who grew up practicing martial arts in an Asian-inspired dimension. Although on the surface it may seem like it, he does not embody the white savior cliché in the comics or this show despite what some critics may want to believe.  Others may simply be tiring of the MCU and are looking for a reason to take it down a notch. Whatever the case may be, try to keep an open mind and sample this show. Iron Fist takes a while to engage you, but once it does it’s worth binge watching.

José Soto

Kong Rules Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island is new feature film starring the famous giant gorilla, King Kong. It is set up to be part of a new shared cinematic universe that focuses on giant monsters and by itself Kong: Skull Island is quite an exciting thrill ride.

The film opens in the early 1970s as Bill Randa (John Goodman) launches an expedition to an uncharted island surrounded by perpetual storm systems. He is coy about the expedition’s purpose, claiming it’s a geological study, but we find out later his real reason for undertaking the voyage. Joining him is an all-star cast including Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, a former soldier turned expert tracker, Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, a crusading photojournalist, and Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Preston Packard, the military head of the expedition. Once they and several others make it to the island they incur the wrath of Kong, a gigantic gorilla that strands them on the dangerous island. As the expedition survivors make their way to a pick up point on the island, they meet a marooned, World War II-era pilot, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) and learn first hand of the true danger of Skull Island: gigantic beasts that are a bigger threat than Kong himself.

Kong: Skull Island is an exciting and brisk-moving ode to those great old monster movies from the bygone era where hapless people are stranded on an island and have to contend with giant monsters. It does what it sets out to do: show us lots of scenes of giant monsters attacking and eating people and there are many invigorating action pieces with Kong that are the film’s highlights. The standout scenes include Kong’s attack on the Vietnam War-era helicopters carrying the film’s stars, and anytime Kong shows why he’s the king of Skull Island. That is any scene where King Kong fights with giant monsters. The creatures are wonderfully unique creations and quite imposing like the two-limbed skull crawlers that are Kong’s main monstrous enemies.

His other chief antagonist is Col. Packard who quickly becomes obsessed with killing Kong after his people are wiped out by Kong. This Ahab-like obsession is the driving force for this character and the people around him while an opposing viewpoint develops from Conrad and some others who just want to get off the island.

Admittedly, Kong: Skull Island isn’t a terribly deep or thought-provoking film and the characters are written on the flimsy side, but the film delivers on what it is supposed to be a fun giant monster film. Even then, some characters do stand out and that is largely due to the star power of the actors playing these roles. The standouts include Reilly, who provides quirky comedy relief though he does have a sad backstory, Hiddleston turns out to be a hard-fisted action hero, while Larson, Goodman and Jackson do their best with their limited roles. The only other gripe about Kong: Skull Island is that it doesn’t feature any dinosaurs. Aside from a triceratops skull, there isn’t a t-rex or other prehistoric monster to be seen. But in the end, the creatures conjured up by the effects them makes up for this. By the way, the creature effects were well done as were the production values and the film’s groovy early ’70s soundtrack is a plus. Any giant monster film that features Creedence get bonus points!

Of course, the real star of this film is King Kong himself. The film wisely let the big ape hog the spotlight and there are plenty of scenes featuring him to keep the film moving along briskly. Even the moments when Kong isn’t fighting humans or other monsters are awesome and there is a well thought out sense of scale to his enormous size.

kong vs skull crawler

 

Kong: Skull Island is an entertaining giant monster film that might’ve been a better fit for a summer viewing. Some critics are being unfair to this film with their complaints. But don’t let that stop anyone from going out, turning off their brain and worries, and enjoying themselves with this giant monster romp. Bottom line, this film delivers many great Kong action scenes of him stomping and smashing monsters and puny humans, and that is enough to keep any giant monster film fan entertained. And stick around for the post-credits scene that promises an eagerly anticipated meeting of Kong with the other great giant monster.

Waldermann Rivera