Archives for category: Science Fiction and Fantasy Movies

Call me a fan girl and an SF geek, but I loved the Marvel Studios film, “Captain Marvel” (CM). This delightful film is the most woman-centric comics piece I’ve seen since “Wonder Woman” with the wonderful Gal Godot, who was born for the part. I truly hope she isn’t typecast for the rest of her career but that’s a risk actors take when they sign up to be a superhero.
While WW has more of an ethereal superhero plot, CM has the most personal storyline I’ve seen in quite a while in a comics film (caveat: I haven’t seen them all, but quite a few), exploring, as its central themes, the empowerment of women, friendship between women, and warm relations between black and white folks. My favorite themes in fiction and my own fiction (especially my novel, Summer of Love). The main character’s personal journey of discovering her true self, discovering her personal empowerment dovetails well with the greater plot.
Brie Larson is terrific as the lead, Carol Danvers. She captures the unruly emotions of her character, is funny, tender, and kick-ass deadly when she needs to be. Samuel Jackson, as Shield Agent Fury, is adorable (if digitally “anti-aged”), and there’s an even more adorable ginger tabby cat (a nod to “Alien”).
The story was created by a woman and a man, the screenplay written by the same woman, the same man, and an additional woman, and the film was directed by the woman story-screenplay writer and the man. No wonder it’s so good. Woman power is bred in its bones.
The screenplay is practically a perfect textbook example of what you should accomplish in your screenplay. (Note: you want to sell your screenplay, not a shooting script, which is a much different entity.) After the first screening, to acquaint me with the content, I sat through a second screening with a stopwatch and a notepad and pencil to take notes. I’m presently working on a screenplay adapting my print story that I sold to a major studio and needed some guidance and inspiration.
The rules about three-act structure aren’t arbitrary; they work to present the viewer (or reader) with a dynamic creation that carries you from start to finish. I’ve observed many effective books and stories that consciously (or unconsciously) follow the three-act structure. When I analyze my own work, stories and books, I see that I’ve consciously (or unconsciously) written often according to that structure.
A bonus: after the usual montage of Marvel Comics heroes, we see a 60-second montage of the cameos of Stan Lee in films, followed by a black page with red lettering THANK YOU STAN, and one final shot of his joyfully smiling face. As a young man, Lee started writing and drawing comic books around World War II. The comics industry had its ups and downs, publishers went out of business, but Lee persisted to create the powerhouse that is today Marvel Studios. His hilarious cameos in the films were always something to anticipate (like spotting Alfred Hitchcock in his movies). Lee died at age 95 last year. Sure enough, Stan makes a cameo in CM but I don’t know if it’s digital or was filmed before he died.
Now then: in Act One we open with Carol, known only as “Vers”, is beset by scattered disturbing dreams that seem to indicate an unknown life she had. This is always a tricky proposition to portray. The viewer has to pay attention, but attention is rewarded throughout the film, as we revisit the dreams—her fragmentary memories of a mysteriously lost life—in Act Two and Act Three and by the end make total sense of them.
Vers finds herself on HALA, the high-tech home planet of the Kree (a nod to “Forbidden Planet” and the high-tech Krell). The high-tech city, with dynamic images scrolling across the sides of buildings, is reminiscent of the futuristic Los Angeles in “Bladerunner.”
She is in training to “become the best she can be,” according to her mentor (played by Jude Law) as soldier in an on-going war fought by the Kree. She reports in to the Supreme Intelligence—an A.I. who rules the Kree and who appears as a woman. Vers’s problem is that she’s too emotional, too ready to laugh.
The Supreme Intelligence tells her “to serve well and with strength,” which is reminiscent of the oath in “Gladiator”, “Strength and honor,” and sure enough in the next scene, the African hunter from “Gladiator” appears as a member of a Kree military team.
She’s sent on a mission with the Kree team, there’s fighting (the writer-director is wise enough not to let any of the fight scenes go on too long—a problem for me in many comics films) with an alien race, the Skroll, whose appearance strongly resembles certain beloved aliens in “Star Trek”.
The Skroll capture Vers and probe her mind—more of those fragmentary memories emerge, including a woman who was once her mentor (the Supreme Intelligence takes the mentor’s appearance) and her best friend, a young black woman training to be a fighter jet pilot with Vers.
Then, at twenty minutes almost to the second, there’s a huge plot point that marks the end of Act One and spins the story around in a totally different direction.
Vers finds herself on C 53, Earth, Los Angeles in 1995. She crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, curiously picks up a video of “The Right Stuff,” blasts off the head of a cardboard Arnold Schwarzenegger display, and searches for communication equipment from a nearby Radio Shack so she can contact her mentor back in the Kree universe. This is a humorous nod to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” with Pan Am as the brand on the space shuttle taking people from Earth to the Moon. The screenwriters of “2001” didn’t know the brand not only wouldn’t last until what was then the far future, Pan Am didn’t last past the 1970s. Blockbuster and Radio Shack, which seemed like indestructible brands in 1995, similarly didn’t last past the 2000s. So we viewers got a laugh out of that.
Enter Shield Agent Fury, Sam Jackson, in a scene reminiscent of “Men in Black”. Complications ensue. Certain personal details about Fury and Vers are skillfully revealed and then pay off a little later in plot points. I love it when writers pay off a setup and I become very annoyed when a setup doesn’t go anywhere.
CM also pokes fun at what appears to us now as clunky computer tech in 1995 (Carol awkwardly pecks with two fingers at a keyboard). There’s a fight between Vers and an alien enemy (the Skroll can shapeshift, taking on the appearance of whomever they see) atop a subway train reminiscent of “Indiana Jones.”
Act Two continues for fifty-five minutes with more complications circling around the storyline. There’s a midpoint at twenty minutes into Act Two. The script doctor, Linda Seger, is a big believer in the midpoint of a screenplay as a restatement of the overall themes. In CM, the two lead characters, seeking Carol’s long-lost best friend, travel in a futuristic jet plane from Los Angeles (L.A.) to Louisiana, (La.) where the friend lives. (“L.A.” to “La”—that’s a nice touch.) Vers is “going home” to her friend who has an appealing and intelligent young daughter, so we get some mother-daughter development. The personal relationships and Carol’s story of personal discovery, her personal empowerment are ramped up.
Then at fifty-five minutes, a HUGE mind-boggling plot point spins the story into a totally different direction, signaling the end of Act Two. I am NOT going to spoil the plot at this point, but my fedora is tipped at the screenwriters for a superb, memorable plot twist.
Act Three then lasts forty minutes, which is a bit long. But because of the HUGE plot twist, the writers have to re-establish certain back-stories and the forward momentum of the overall plot. Be assured the pace never flags. There are more fight scenes with multiple characters (as in all the comics films) and plenty of video-gamish space jets chasing and shooting at each other like in Star Wars. Because of the length, the writers cleverly slip in a hilarious midpoint twenty minutes into Act Three. (Okay, plot spoiler alert: the adorable cat isn’t really a cat.)
The conclusion for Carol, reinforcing her friendship with her best friend and her daughter, and for Agent Fury are fully satisfying (and the cat makes one last adorable cameo) and yet open the door to more of Captain Marvel. Indeed, a coda notes she will continue in “Avengers: Endgame”. We look forward to the film and intend to see it for Tom’s birthday in December, if the film is out on DVD.
With Captain Marvel by itself, though, a great time was had by all. If you don’t catch the film allusions (I probably missed many more), that’s okay. The film stands firmly by itself. Recommended.
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December 5 is the birthday of Wassily Kandinsky, the pioneering Russian abstract expressionist painter in the early 1900s; Walt Disney, who started out as a humble cartoonist and built the greatest animation studio the world has ever seen, and my husband Tom Robinson, an acclaimed San Francisco Bay Area artist, jeweler, and sculptor. Feast your eyes on Tom’s art here and his bespoke jewelry here.

We mostly don’t watch TV or movies. As independent business folk, we’re working all the time!

Since we go so long without, I wanted to have two movie nights for Tom Robinson’s birthday bash! (I think everyone should celebrate his or her birthday for at least two days, don’t you?)

Movie Night One: “Skyfall” (loved it), “The Great and Powerful Oz” (almost loved it), and a real gem of a find on Silver Screen’s wall, “A Cat in Paris” (adored it). (Silver Screen is a local video rental place about two miles walking distance from our house. We believe in patronizing our local business folk whenever possible.)

If anyone doubted whether Daniel Craig can act, “Skyfall” proves his ability beyond doubt. After his brilliant cameo as the assassin in “Elizabeth,” he hasn’t fared so well outside of the Bond franchise. I didn’t like “Cowboys and Aliens,” declined to see “Dream House.” The Bond in “Skyfall” is the closest yet to Ian Fleming’s Bond. In the book, “Thunderball,” Bond starts out as a chain-smoking, hard-boozing, gambling-addicted wreck, hardly the suave Sean Connery.

“The Great and Powerful Oz” is highly entertaining and true to the tropes of the most popular movie of all time (that would be “The Wizard of Oz, of course!), but marred here and there by excessive sentimentality. Still, the values—that people can use their everyday talents to defeat tyranny and that love and loyalty are the highest gift we can give—are very heartening to see in a business that has traded with darkness and depravity too many times.

“A Cat in Paris,” a French-produced film, is a total delight. It’s an animated film but not at all the CGI-laden animation of Hollywood. The animation looks hand-drawn and is highly styled; I call this film a “Mondrian cartoon.” The story is terrific, and the eponymous cat is loyal, brave, witty, and loving, as all my own cats have been over the years. Absolutely wonderful!

Next up for Day 2 of the Birthday Bash was “Iron Man 3,” “Oblivion,” and another animation I couldn’t wait to see, “Epic.” The warrior hummingbirds in the previews sold me. The hummingbird feeder on my patio and the birds who feed there are a daily delight. A few years ago I was inspired to write a pretty tough story about cancer, “Hummers,” that got chosen for Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 5th Annual Collection (St. Martin’s Press).

Movie night 2 for Tom Robinson’s birthday bash (and then we probably won’t see movies or TV for another six months). “Iron Man 3” (loved it); “Epic” (adored it), “Oblivion” (liked it).

Robert Downey Jr. has the kind of masculine face that can be enlarged a hundred times to swooning effect. “Iron Man 3” has plenty of believable twists and turns, and (like “Skyfall”) a charming, handsome villain who is a very scary cold-blooded psychopathic madman.

“Epic” is a wonderful animation based on a book, William Joyce’s “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs.” Like the film “Brave,” we’ve got girl-power and family drama with a beautiful story of Good (Life, Growth, Nature, and Family) versus Evil (Death, Destruction, Rot, and Blight).

As for “Oblivion,” the film started out suh-lowww. I’m a fan of a good setup, but 33 minutes before we get to the first Plot Point is 13 minutes too long, and after that, Tom Robinson kept asking, “When is the plot going to happen?” The complicated not completely coherent plot gets jammed into the rest. But Tom Cruise does well, I like him as an actor, and if you want to while away 165 minutes of your life on movie sci fi, I suppose you could do worse.

So there you have it, my friends. I love smart animated movies. It’s my inner child, I guess.

From the author of Summer Of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Sony;

The Gilded Age, A Time Travel on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords;

The Garden of Abracadabra, Volume 1 of the Abracadabra Series, on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords;

Celestial Girl (A Lily Modjeska Mystery) on Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Sony;

SHAKEN on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords;

Tomorrow’s Child on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords,

U F uh-O, A Sci Fi Comedy is on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords; and

Strange Ladies: 7 Stories on Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Sony.

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