Top Ten Films & TV Shows Of 2020

2020 has certainly been a strange and troubling year with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the entertainment industry.

As the film studios and theaters suffered greatly from the mass closures for public safety, the television arm of the entertainment industry saw a boon since they had literal captive audiences eager for any new content.

Films

Even though many films scheduled for 2020 were postponed for the year, there were many other films that either had limited theatrical releases or managed to come out in the early months of the year before COVID-19 created the lockdowns. Hopefully as the now-availalbe vaccines are administered throughout the population, 2021 will see more of a return to normalcy as theaters will be able to safely re-open.

Please note many films that were released solely digitally or through streaming platforms were not considered for this list; a film had to have some kind of theatrical release even if it debuted in few theaters at the same time they were released digitally. Here are the ten best theatrical films of 2020.

10. Onward

Pixar’s other animated cinematic offering for 2020 was an uplifting and fun adventure that took place in a world where mythical and magical beings and creatures exist today. In the film, two elf brothers set out on a road trip across the country to temporarily resurrect their deceased father. As with most Pixar films, the characters and their emotions took center stage as the two realized their brotherly love for one another. 

9. The New Mutants

The sole Marvel film of 2020 turned out to be the coda of the Fox X-Men films, which was a surprise given it has been delayed so many times. Fortunately, The New Mutants turned out to be a decent superhero film about teenagers coming to grips with their superpowers and life as the film was tinged with chilling horror elements.

alone at the midnight sky

8. The Midnight Sky

George Clooney directed and starred in this introspective sci-fi film based on a book by Lily Brooks-Dalton. Clooney played a lone scientist in an arctic outpost who tries to warn the crew of a returning spacecraft not to come to Earth because it has undergone an extinction-level event. The film was a quiet and captivating character study of the scientist and the spacecraft crew as they struggled to survive in their hostile environments.

7. Underwater

Director William Eubanks is perhaps the most underrated director of sci-fi films today and his latest film continued to demonstrate this. Underwater may be filled with the usual tropes of a crew in an underwater research station being hunted by unknown, Lovecraftian creatures, but it was well crafted, claustrophobic and had the right amount of jump scares and unexpected character studies which elevated this film. 

6. Greenland

Gerard Butler starred in a surprisingly effective disaster film that smartly focused on a single family when cometary fragments crashed into the Earth. By staying with the family as they tried to make their way to safety, Greenland was able to directly show how the catastrophic event affected the family as they grappled with fear, uncertainty and confusion. 

5. Sonic the Hedgehog

Who would have thought that 2020 would have given us a winning film based on a popular video game character? It is more remarkable given the negative reaction to the first trailer which led to Sonic being radically re-designed more to fans’ liking. The effort paid off as Sonic the Hedgehog was a fun and endearing road trip/buddy film that delighted many viewers and not just fans. The road trip/buddy aspect of the film may be familiar but it worked as Sonic, the cartoonish alien, experiences life on Earth for the first time. 

4. #Alive

This South Korean film took a tired zombie/survival trope and reinvigorated it. In the film a young adult gamer is trapped in his apartment during a zombie apocalypse and as he undergoes bouts of loneliness and struggles to keep his sanity, he learns about survival and finding one’s inner strength. This character study made the film very engaging as we found ourselves rooting for the young gamer.

 

3. Color Out of Space

Nicolas Cage was in rare form in this macabre adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story. This horror/sci-fi yarn was quite unsettling in its first half which told the story of a crashed meteor’s unearthly physical effect in a nearby farm. By the second half, Color Out of Space metamorphized into a vivid and disturbing body-horror ordeal that was literally mind bending and shattering as the meteor’s alien influence transformed all life surrounding it, including the hapless farmer and his family. 

love and monsters dog

2. Love and Monsters

This exciting and more light-hearted post-apocalyptic film was a actually a coming-of-age story about a young man who learned to believe in himself as he set out across the ruined landscape of the U.S. to find his supposed true love. Sometimes it is compared to Zombieland, though that is not entirely accurate. In truth, Love and Monsters focused less on laughs and more on its endearing characters and imaginative, giant mutated animals that the film’s hero and his companion dog had to face during his difficult journey.

1. Soul

Two big films were released on streaming platforms (and had very limited theatrical releases), even though one of them (Wonder Woman 1984) had much more buzz and attention, Soul was not only the better of the two films but the best film of the year. The underlying themes may go over the heads of the younger viewers, though they and everyone else will be delighted by the film’s plot of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), as a struggling musician who dies and refuses to go to heaven. From there, he sets off on a spiritual and metaphysical quest to return to life filled with solid characters and relationships. 

Not only is Soul perfectly animated and chock full of visual delights, but like the best of Pixar, it examines the larger questions in life and its script is unexpected. At its heart, Soul is about…life and what one makes of it. However, it also forces the viewer to contemplate and appreciate the simpler and most relevant aspects of life, and in this tumultous year, this may be the most important message of all. 

Honorable Mentions:

Bill & Ted Face the Music, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), The Invisible Man, Peninsula, Possessor, Vivarium

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Star Trek: Lower Decks Lacks Humor & Wit

Trek Lower Decks poster

The newest Star Trek TV series, Star Trek: Lower Decks, is the first animated Trek series since the 1970s and while that old show for the most part lived up to Star Trek, this animated show does not, unfortunately. There are many reasons why Star Trek: Lower Decks is just not up to par with Trek standards, but the most glaring is with its humor, or lack of.

Star Trek: Lower Decks, which streams on the CBS All Access app, was promoted as a comedy that takes place on the starship Cerritos, an unexceptional Starfleet ship assigned to mundane missions throughout Federation space . The show focuses on a crew of young Starfleet ensigns who for the most part dream of being promoted to senior officers while burdened with humdrum tasks like cleaning the holodeck, changing carbon filters and so on. The problem is the show just is not funny.

It tries its best, sometimes too hard, to be humorous and slapsticky, but at best the show elicits a few chuckles or wry smiles that only Trek fans can appreciate. The show is saddled with trying to be funny while telling traditional Star Trek stories and the tone winds up being very inconsistent. Some story lines are kind of interesting and could have worked in a normal Star Trek episode but then they gets thrown off with uninspired sight gags and jokes that are not especially witty and ruin the story. Take for instance this episode called “Moist Vessel”. The Cerritos is supposed to tow an ancient generational ship that has a substance that turns inorganic material into organic ones, which would be useful for terraforming purposes. This substance is accidently unleashed on the Cerritos and uncontrolled growths of organic material threatens the ship. This would have worked in a regular Star Trek episode, but in this case the plot is used for cheap laughs, though it did provide a platform for some character study.

mariner and boimler

As for the characters, they are not outstanding except for Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome). Unlike her overeager shipmates, she is more of a disillusioned slacker who complains nons-stop about Starfleet life. This is an interesting way to go for a Star Trek character, except it leaves you wondering why does she still stay onboard the ship? Why not just quit Starfleet? How is it she is still allowed to remain on the ship? For that last question, there is more to her story; her mother is the captain of the Cerritos and she is especially hard on Mariner, but that is about it. Her partner is an overeager and over-annoying Ensin named Boimler (Jack Quaid whose talents are better used in The Boys), who comes off as those petty buttkissers that no one likes, so it he is hard to empathize with. There are a few more ensigns who are alien or enhanced with cybernetic parts, but they do not stand out at all.

Star Trek: Lower Decks would have benefitted with wittier and funnier scripts that went all out and perhaps even meta. Perhaps a different animation style would have served it better because right now the show looks so cartoony that you expect it to be stuffed to the bulkheads with outrageous, LOL moments and jokes or even oulandish scenes that would have been too expensive to film in live action.

The show is not the worse thing out there and some revamping would salvage the endeavor. It does have potential, so it may be worth keeping an eye on. However, if fans want something to tide them over in between regular Trek productions like Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery, they are better off watching The Orville, at least that show has better wit, humor and characters.

 

 

Top Ten Sci-Fi Vacation Spots

Sigh, the summer is almost here and we cannot enjoy it, much less think about a vacation. One thing for sure is that after this crisis is over the last thing anyone will want to do with time off from work is have a staycation! While most vacation hotspots are unavailable right now it’s always fun to dream of an ideal place to visit. But nevermind places like Aruba or Disney World or cruises, think big, out-of-this-world big. Let your imaginations and dreams go wild as you consider these sci-fi vacation spots. Sure, they’re not without problems; ahem, like out-of-control androids, malfunctioning cruise ships or rampaging dinosaurs. However, these prime vacation spots will ease tired minds or excite anyone seeking a vigorous adventure.

10. Carillon (Battlestar Galactica “Saga Of A Star World”):

Imagine you’re a weary war refugee and need a resort planet with people to welcome you with open arms, food, drink and great chances to win fortunes. Look no further than Carillon and don’t mind the fact that the indigenous Ovions only want to wine and dine you in order to fatten you up for their children’s menu.

9. The Avenue Five (Avenue Five“): 

Want to book a voyage on an interplanetary cruise ship with five-star amenities and breathtaking views of Jupiter? Be sure to book passage onboard the Avenue Five. Commanded by the famously heroic Ryan Clark, this is the ship for you. It’s posh, elegant and can get you back to Earth after a rugged adventure in just three years…more or less.

8. The Fhloston Paradise (The Fifth Element):

So the Avenue Five with its faulty equipment may not be your thing. How about a magnificent, state-of-the-art space cruise ship that takes leisurely anti-g sails on alien oceans? For entertainment the ship features charismatic blue aliens that sing opera! And hey, you may get a chance to help Korben Dallas save the universe!

7. Naboo (Star Wars Episode I and II):

Forget about that so-called vacation world Canto Bight with its morally ambiguous entertainment. Now, this a planet of royal luxury! Verdant plains, magnificent waterfalls, and majestic Mediterranean-like architecture are just some of the highlights in your trip to Naboo. Just don’t mind those pesky Trade Federation android armies or those underwater Gungans.

6. The Axiom (WALL-E):

Ahh, gluttony, hedonism and instant robotic service at your fingertips are on board the Axiom. Make sure to run a few laps around the giant vessel’s jogging track or you’ll wind up looking like its permanent residents. Otherwise enjoy the advanced resort and spa, take in spectacular galactic sights and lend a hand to a certain beat-up little garbage robot, who’s out to save humanity.

5. Time Safari (A Sound Of Thunder):

Go anywhere in time with the Time Safari. The most popular temporal destination is the prehistoric past where guides on marked above-ground trails help you hunt down a vicious tyrannosaurus rex just before its natural death. Please make sure not to leave anything behind, not even footprints, and don’t step on any butterflies.

4. Westworld (Westworld):

The Delos Corporation’s amusement park also features Medievalworld and Romanworld, but Westworld is the most memorable spot to visit. For a mere $1,000 per day, you can indulge yourself in your most primal desires. Have a shootout (and win!) with gunslingers, do some hard drinking and bar fighting or spend time with a lovely partner. Don’t let those recent glitch with the human-looking androids to keep you from visiting. Cowboys aren’t your thing? There are plenty of other time periods and locales like Shogunworld, WarWorld, Fantasy World, and more.

3. Jurassic World (Jurassic World):

Located on Isla Nublar, this is a must-visit theme park that blows away all the others. For anyone tired of fake-looking audio-animatronics, Jurassic World has actual, living dinosaurs! Resurrected after millions of years of extinction thanks to genetic engineering, these gigantic beasts are a wonder to behold for the young and old. Visitors can view them in their natural habitats from the safety of perimeter fences and rugged jeep vehicles. Back at the park’s facility take a behind-the-scenes tour of how these reptilian giants were recreated. Or indulge yourself with top-notch amenities, petting zoos, and be sure to visit the gift shops and restaurants.

2. The Amusement Park Planet (Star Trek “Shore Leave”):

Located in the Omicron Delta system, this planet’s highly advanced facilities can literally create your ideal dreams just by scanning your thoughts. Want to get even with the school bully? Here’s your chance to find him and give him a beat down! You can also be a part of imaginative fairy tales, fight a samurai, evade dangerous wildlife, or spend time with the person of your dreams. Just be mindful of your thoughts.

1. Risa (Star Trek: The Next Generation “Captain’s Holiday”, and other Star Trek shows):

This is the resort planet that everyone talks about and visits. No wonder Risa is the most relaxing of sci-fi vacation spots. From Captain Archer in the 22nd century to Captain Picard and the Deep Space Nine crew in the 24th century. Why would so many people visit Risa? Well, imagine a planet with a plethora of white-sand beaches, luxurious resorts, rich gardens, outdoor activities, nightclubs, perfectly controlled weather and unforgettable twin sunset views. Risa is the best spot in the galaxy for couples wanting to get away from it all and for amorous singles. Here’s a travel hint for vacationing singles looking for romance: be sure to have a Horga’hn statue ready.

Here is a bonus. If these sci-fi vacation spots are out of your price range or you are unable to travel, why not visit a local Rekall and live out the wildest adventure in the comfort of a lounge chair through Rekall’s innovative memory implants? You don’t have to leave your locale and can have your pick of the ideal vacation spot on Earth, Mars or anyplace else.

Any of these places and options would be ideal vacations for all of us.

Star Trek: Picard – A Season In Review

second picard poster

The first season of Star Trek: Picard has just concluded and it’s time to take a look at the season and the show itself. There will be many spoilers coming up, so if anyone has not seen the show streaming on CBS All Access or Amazon Prime then turn back. Otherwise, read on!

Star Trek: Picard naturally centers on the ongoing story of Admiral (retired) Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) as he left behind a tranquil existence at his French vineyard for one more grand adventure/mission which will reshape the galaxy.

The show takes place in 2399, twenty years after the film, Star Trek: Nemesis, and the death of the android Starfleet officer Data (Brent Spiner). Jean-Luc Picard angrily resigned from Starfleet fourteen years earlier and tends to his vineyard along with his Romulan employees, Zhaban (Jamie McShane) and Laris (Orla Brady). Picard meets Soji Asha (Isa Briones), a young woman who turned out to be a synthetic person and Data’s daughter. She is killed by Romulan secret agents but Picard learned that Soji had a twin sister, Dahj, and sets out to rescue her before the Romulans get to her. It turns out that Dahj is working in a deactivated Borg cube operated by Romulans and ex-Borg drones.

During his sojourn to find Dahj and protect her from the Romulan agents, a team forms around Picard who come in and out of his story. They include Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), a cyberneticist; Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a former Borg last seen nearly twenty years ago in Star Trek: Voyager, and is now a space vigilante; Picard’s former crewmate Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) who has a bit of an addiction problem; Elnor (Evan Evagora), a noble Romulan warrior devoted to protecting Picard; and Chris Rios (Santiago Cabrera), a former Starfleet commander who pilots his own private spaceship La Sirena and is a roguish space pirate in the Han Solo/Malcolm Reynolds mode.

sirena and old romulan ship

The Romulans secret agents are after Dahj because they believe her to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy that spells doom for all organic life in the galaxy. They hope to learn from her the location of her homeworld in order to obliterate it and prevent the prophesy. Obviously it is up to the nonagenarian Picard to get back into the captain’s chair and save Dahj and the galaxy before time runs out.

Star Trek: PIcard is another welcome Star Trek spinoff that effortlessly picks up the story of Star Trek after the events in Star Trek: Nemesis and parts of the Star Trek reboot. Doing this gives weight and meaning to the Star Trek Prime universe by exploring the ramifications of the destruction of the Romulan homeworld shown in the Star Trek reboot and the subsequent refugee status of many Romulans though their overall status of their government was unclear.It also gives a well balanced exploration of the Romulans themselves; something most of the other shows and films failed to do. Not all of them are one-dimensional, sneering villains.

The show is undeniably a sincere tribute to fans of the Star Trek Prime universe and of course, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some may complain that it’s too much of a tribute with its numerous references, Easter eggs and cameo appearances, but they’re all just background layering for the uninitiated while rewarding for fans.

The show is clearly a Star Trek show, yet it isn’t. How can that be? Well, the show is not focused on current Starfleet personnel but on civilians and former officers. Freed from regulations and decorum the characters give us a feel for how life is like in the Federation and nearby regions for non-Starfleet people. The vaunted Federation is not as revered or as noble as presented in other Star Trek shows. In fact, there is an underlying notion that the Federation may be entering a period of decay; that it’s best times are past. Hence, one of the reasons why Picard walked away from Starfleet. Star Trek: Picard is edgier than the typical Star Trek show; there is a lot of cursing including F bombs. Most of the characters are deeply flawed including the humans, which goes vehemently against the idealistic and ultimately unrealistic Roddenberry future utopia where humanity is completely without fault. This will make some fans uncomfortable but it helps make the show more real and relatable to most viewers.

What we’re left with is a show that feels a bit like Firefly in that it stars roguish types who disdain authority. These are some truly interesting characters with their own complex back stories. Standouts include Rios and Raffie, who are both broken souls with troubled pasts and unwittingly gain redemption by joining Picard’s quest. It doesn’t hurt that both characters are well performed. Other characters like Elnor seek a just cause or for something to believe in. And holding the group dynamic is Picard himself, the moral glue that holds them together.

It goes without saying that Patrick Stewart puts in a bravura performance in the role that made him famous. As always, he eloquently portrays the bitter and defeated old man who finds a real reason to go out and make a difference in the galaxy. Stewart is so comfortable and elegant playing Jean-Luc Picard, it truly is a shame he has not done the role in so long. But at least he is back to usher in a new era of the Star Trek Prime universe.

Unlike most Star Trek shows, Star Trek: Picard follows a serialized format that is essentially a mystery. The payoff in the final episodes (“Et in Arcadia Ego, Parts I and II”) felt a bit predictable but it had its fist-pumping moments with cinema-quality effects and cinematography; one of those standouts was when Admiral William Riker (Jonathan Frakes, who also turned up in the season’s best episode “Napenthe”) literally shows up with the cavalry. Still, the payoff wasn’t as invigorating or as intense as “Such Sweet Sorrow” the second season finale of Star Trek: Discovery. Coming way from the finale its realized that certain plot elements were unresolved, which was annoying. Mother bit of a copout was how the show resolved the personal journey of Jean-Luc Picard. Without giving anything away, it was an interesting twist but it robbed much of the emotional impact of the fate of the former Starfleet admiral. Let’s leave it at that.

picard takes charge

Star Trek: Picard is a welcome return to the classic heyday of the uplifting era of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its immediate spinoffs. In these times, the show provides a much-needed reminder of the wonderful potential of humankind and what we should aspire to.

José Soto

The Triumphant Return of Jean-Luc Picard

Star Trek: Picard showcases the return of the iconic Jean-Luc Picard to television after Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) ended in 1994 and the film Star Trek Nemesis in 2002 and has an older and somewhat bitter former captain who is in retirement at his family winery in France. Spoilers will be included in this look at the pilot episode of Star Trek: Picard, which is called “Remembrance.”

This show takes place about 20 years after the events of Star Trek Nemesis, which featured the death of Data, an event that plays a part in what happens in this pilot episode. “Remembrance” tells us that Captain Picard led a rescue effort to save the population of Romulus from an impending supernova many years ago and was hailed as a hero for his actions. However, the episode also states that a group of synthetic humanoids went rogue and attacked colonies on Mars, killing thousands. This led Starfleet to abandon the rescue effort, which Picard saw as both dishonorable and criminal and he resigned his commission in protest, and also resulted in the Federation outlawing synthetic life forms. All of this is told during an interview with Picard during a commemoration of the rescue effort and shows Picard’s anger at Starfleet for their actions.

He is then visited by a mysterious girl named Dahj, who was attacked by Romulan assassins in Boston, but she fends them off and makes her way to Picard in France, who eventually finds out that she is the daughter of Data, which was accomplished through some kind of a cloning technique. The assassins eventually tracker her down in San Francisco where Picard was looking through his archives for information about Data. Picard later discovers that she has a twin sister Soji, who is a scientist working on a Romulan reclamation site, which at the end of the episode is revealed to be a Borg cube. All of this is setting up Picard’s return to action shown in the upcoming preview where he will attempt to help Data’s surviving daughter and unravel the mystery behind the assassins and along the way gather a new crew that will help him in his return to action.

Patrick Stewart’s return to his signature role is a real treat to see. He is much older now obviously but can still show Picard’s humanity and strength as well his regrets over how his life has ended up, after a self-imposed exile on Earth. The episode also has Brent Spiner returning as Data, in a dream sequence where Picard and Data are playing cards which is a nice shout out to TNG’s numerous scenes of the crew of the Enterprise playing poker and bonding. All of this hints that ideas like aging and a yearning for the past will be major themes that will be explored. This harkens back to previous Trek movies where Captain Kirk was struggling with his place in the galaxy after losing his ship and friend in Star Trek II and a return to form in later films. It will be interesting to see Picard go through this journey and show how he can get back to his younger, more idealistic self in a Federation that seemed to have lost its way.

The preview for later episodes also show both Will Riker and Deanna Troi returning to help Picard and is something to look forward too, as well as Seven of Nine, the former Borg from Star Trek: Voyager. Her role in all of this is unknown, but the revelation of the Borg cube at the end of the episode obviously means that TNG’s ultimate villainous race will have a role to play and Seven’s history as a Borg will no doubt be a major part of this.

Ultimately, it is great to see a sequel to TNG and to see the Star Trek timeline move forward after many years of series that were set in the past. This show is supposed to take place in 2399, so we will finally see the 25th century in the Star Trek universe, which is something new and highly anticipated. Having the Federation and Starfleet in a different place than what was shown in TNG is also interesting and timely. Meanwhile, Picard’s role in bringing them back to their original idealistic version should be a highlight for Star Trek: Picard.

C.S. Link