Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Stormtroopers patrol Disney Springs

Disney Springs has enlisted First Order Stormtroopers to enforce social distancing as lockdown eases during the coronavirus pandemic. Ordinarily, this would be fun for Star Wars fans (myself included), and the playful banter between the troopers and crowd interaction is wholly appropriate.

However, due to current socio-political events unfolding in the US, the optics are inherently problematic and seemingly shows the House of Mouse as tone deaf. Now, there's no suggestion that this is the intention, but perhaps it would be an act of good faith to immediately change tack for the foreseeable future?

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Digging Eight Graves

Nick Smith, our resident US-based stellar scribe, has a new movie out and is eager to share the macabre making of Eight Graves (available on Amazon Prime).

Guest post by Nick Smith

On a remote former plantation in South Carolina, two actresses are performing an intense scene. One of them is playing a scaredy-cat character, wary of the house she’s staying in. The other character is more cynical but she listens to her friend’s fears. The sun is setting and the wind barely gasps through tall marsh grass. The scene must be completed before the natural light of the ‘golden hour’ is lost to the night.

‘Cut!’ the director has to stop the scene. Something’s rustling in the marshland.

It’s not a ghost or a murderer as the movie’s title, Eight Graves, suggests. It’s not a coyote either. As the crew takes a closer look, a head pops up from behind a bush. On the other side of the actresses, another head pops up. It’s the gamekeepers who cultivate the land around that scary house. They wanted to have a ringside seat on the shoot and they have just photobombed a feature film.

Once the rubberneckers have been cleared away, the scene gets completed just as the last drop of light fades. It’s time to rest up; the cast and crew watch horror flick The Descent - research - before getting some sleep. The next day has another long list of shots to cover.

There’s nothing shockingly new about Eight Graves’ storyline – a group of young women stranded in a haunted house – although there is a spine-tingling twist. As screenwriter, I focus on making the characters distinctive. A bossy lawyer. A poor little rich kid. A new parent with baby daddy issues. A mouse and a cynic. The women all have a unique voice but they all look forward to a getaway in the country, away from kids, money worries, job angst, all responsibilities.

And what a country. The first sight for the film crew driving into Georgetown, SC is the old steel mill, faded and eaten by Robocop rust. The crew, pumped up with a hearty Burger King breakfast, marvel at the old town, a skeleton of its former industrialized self.

Georgetown has a low-run local newspaper, an independent movie theatre, a Main Street and a barbecue joint or two. But it’s the plantation house that attracts us, old and full of stuffed hunting trophies. The house creaks and settles in the night. We don’t get much sleep.

We have fun during filming, though. To escape the tropes of our horror film, I’ve injected plenty of humour into the dialogue and early character interactions before people start… disappearing. The one joke I’m not sure about is from the director, Gus Smythe. A girl from Eastern Europe must be starving because she’s from…

Hungary? I groan, but Gus keeps it in (it turns out to be one of the audience’s favourite gags). There’s also an oddball character called Mitch, an oily hick of a tow truck driver played by Braxton Williams. Brax makes the guy highly memorable but chews a little too much tobacco and makes himself nauseous. Don’t try that at home kids!

Other cast members include Daniel Jones (Logan Lucky, Revolution) and Jessica Slaughter (One Tree Hill). Jessica plays one of the heroines who spends part of the movie drunk. We don’t ask her how she prepares for those scenes.

Surviving sleepless nights in a house we become convinced is haunted are a minor inconvenience compared to our postproduction problems. Our original editor drops out; some original footage goes missing, presumed wiped (luckily we have different-quality copies); a flood in our editing HQ in Charleston, SC delays us further, while our location in Georgetown is also threatened with flooding, hopefully washing any wraiths away. It’s only thanks to the unceasing hard work of Gus and Braxton, the latter taking on the challenge of completing the film, that it gets released at all.

Eight Graves is my third feature film and like the others it’s a labour of love, the fulfilment of a dream that began with experiencing the thrills and chills of Spielberg and Lucas films as a kid and greedily reading copies of Starburst, Monster Monthly and Fangoria. Even though the project cost my friends and I a cemetery’s worth of time and money, I would make another horror movie in a heartbeat… but it would mean going back to that dark, foreboding house.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

PS5 future of gaming event 4th June

PlayStation 5 (PS5) is, literally, emerging from the shadows on 4th June. Sony has announced a 'future of gaming' livestream showcasing PS5-only titles and seemingly teased the new console's startup chime.

Ordinarily, flaming June would be a month of major events. From the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) to the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it isn't safe and practicable for people to gather in large groups.

So, events like E3 have been cancelled and others, like WWDC, will be livestreamed. Incidentally, I mostly use the official Remote Play app for iPhone and iPad, since native DualShock 4 support was added with iOS 13, to stream games from my PS4.

"I’m excited to share that we will soon give you a first look at the games you’ll be playing after PlayStation 5 launches this holiday," writes Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO and president Jim Ryan on the official PlayStation Blog.

"This digital showcase will run for a bit more than an hour and, for the first time, we will all be together virtually experiencing the excitement together. A lack of physical events has given us an amazing opportunity to think differently and bring you on this journey with us, and hopefully, closer than ever before. This is part of our series of PS5 updates and, rest assured, after next week’s showcase, we will still have much to share with you."

Scans of the July issue of the Official PlayStation Magazine (OPM) have appeared online, revealing some of the games bound for PS5 with more expected to be announced exclusively during the livestream.

A Rat's Quest: The Way Back Home (ETA 2021)
Assassin's Creed Valhalla (ETA 2020)
Battlefield 6 (ETA 2021)
Chorus (ETA 2021)
Cygni: All Guns Blazing (ETA TBA)
Dauntless (ETA TBA)
Dirt 5 (2020)
Dragon Age 4 (ETA TBA)
Dying Light 2 (ETA TBA)
FIFA 21 (ETA 2020)
Godfall (ETA TBA)
Gods & Monsters (ETA TBA)
Gothic Remake (ETA TBA)
Madden 21 (ETA 2020)
Moonray (ETA Summer 2021)
MicroMan (ETA TBA)
NHL 21 (ETA 2020)
Nth'O Infinity Reborn (ETA February 2021)
Observer: System Redux (ETA 2020)
Outriders (ETA 2020)
Path of Exile 2 (ETA 2020)
PsyHotel (ETA TBA)
Quantum Error (ETA 2020)
Rainbow Six Quarantine (ETA TBA)
Rainbow Six Siege (ETA TBA)
Redo! Enhanced Edition (ETA 2020)
Scarlet Nexus (ETA TBA)
Sniper Elite 5 (ETA TBA)
Soulborn (ETA Late 2021)
Starfield (ETA TBA)
The Elder Scrolls 6 (ETA TBA)
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum (ETA 2021)
The Sims 5 (ETA TBA)
Ultimate Fishing Simulator 2 (ETA 2020)
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 (ETA TBA)
Warframe (ETA TBA)
Watch Dogs Legion (ETA TBA)
WRC 9 (ETA 2020)

Aside from software. Will PlayStation fans (myself included) get to see the 'box' itself? Well, the Tokyo-based company could borrow from late Apple CEO Steve Jobs' playbook with one more thing... Given manufacturing of the upcoming console is rumoured to have begun, Sony won't want someone to leak a photo of the PS5 and lose control of the messaging.

Sony's PS5 strategy will eclipse Microsoft's Xbox Series X as The Last of Us Part II is tracking to become the fastest selling first-party exclusive in the company's history, and the PS4 has dominated this console generation. Of course, I've championed Game Pass and PlayStation Now still lags behind.

The PS5 is on track for a holiday 2020 launch. The pre-order countdown starts now.

What are you hoping to see? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 29 May 2020

First look at Darkseid from Justice League

On Wednesday director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) teased Darkseid, played by Ray Porter (Argo), from his forthcoming Justice League recut for the newly launched HBO Max. The DC Comics supervillain can be seen standing in the midst of a lava field on Apokolips.

Following years of petitioning from fans. Warner Bros. has given Snyder carte blanche to refashion Justice League closer to his original vision before bowing out, due to a personal tragedy, and handing directing chores to Joss Whedon (Avengers). At the time of release, Justice League was met with derision by fans and critics alike failing to emulate Marvel Studios' Avengers blockbuster behemoth.

Are you excited to see Darkseid take on the Justice League? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Dr Strange director helms Labyrinth sequel

Jim Henson followed up The Dark Crystal, considered too dark for children, with the more commercial Labyrinth in 1986. Executive produced by George Lucas (Star Wars), the live-action musical fantasy film starred Jennifer Connelly (Sarah) and David Bowie (Jareth), and utilised tropes from popular tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).

My most indelible memory of seeing the film, with high school friends at the local Odeon, is the opening sequence featuring a computer-generated owl and buying Citadel Miniatures' Chaos Marauders from a local model shop.

Labyrinth quickly became a touchstone of teenage lives (mine included) and I played the Lucasfilm Games' tie-in for Commodore 64 whilst listening to the iconic soundtrack. Talk of a sequel soon followed, but nothing materialised on the silver screen. Return to Labyrinth was an English-language manga series that ran between 2006-2010.

Fast forward to 2020. Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange) will direct a sequel for Sony's TriStar Pictures. Without the late Jim Henson and David Bowie, it's almost impossible to envisage a follow-up to the beloved original as the world falls down...

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

The Last of Us Part 2 State of Play this Wednesday

This Wednesday's State of Play is a deep dive into The Last of Us Part II (affiliate link) from PlayStation first-party developer Naughty Dog.

The livestream, with director Neil Druckmann, will be available across multiple platforms including Twitch and YouTube.

North America: 1pm PDT / 2pm MDT / 3pm CDT / 4pm EDT
UK/Ire: 9pm BST
Europe: 10pm CEST / 11pm EEST
Asia/Oceania: 5am JST / 4am AWST / 6am AEST

The Last of Us Part II review embargo lifts 12th June and is released 19th June.

Are you looking forward to this Wednesday's State of Play and The Last of Us Part II? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Star Trek: Lower Decks is not a parody

The official confirmation from CBS All Access of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has fans (myself included) excited to see Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn and Ethan Peck reprise the roles of Captain Pike, Number One and Science Officer Spock respectively. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the spin-off series is some way off.

In the meantime, Star Trek: Lower Decks, an animated series from Mike McMahan (Rick and Morty), is coming to CBS All Access later this year.

SlashFilm spoke to McMahan about the animated series and not turning it into a parody of the beloved franchise. Here's an extract from the interview:

“I’m a huge Star Trek fan, and nobody needs a Star Trek comedy that made fun of Star Trek or punched down on Star Trek, nor was I interested in doing that that. I was interested in writing a Star Trek that could be canon, that follows the rules of other Star Trek shows that I loved, and has everything that you love about Star Trek, including the way you tell stories. But I’m a comedy writer. I’m never gonna write a serious Star Trek, so the way that we handled it is it’s on a ship that isn’t the capital ship. It’s not about the bridge crew. It’s about the lowest officers on that ship. But when we’re breaking stories for the lower decks, every episode also has a proper Star Trek episode that’s happening to the bridge crew, and our lower deckers aren’t involved in it. However, you can’t have a big sci-fi thing happening on a starship and not have it effect them because that’s their whole world. So if you’re watching Lower Decks, you’re getting a full Star Trek episode from the perspective of people who are having their own social and emotional stories and their own sci-fi stories, but they just aren’t on the bridge. They don’t have the information the bridge is getting, and they don’t have the responsibility.”

Star Trek: Lower Decks is expected to premiere later this year on CBS All Access. It's unclear whether the spin-off will stream on Amazon Prime or Netflix outside the US.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Zack Snyder's Justice League coming to HBO Max

The much-maligned Justice League (2017) is getting a $20 million dollar do-over for HBO Max by director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) who had to bow out of the production due to his daughter’s suicide. However, sources have subsequently suggested that there were studio concerns over the movie’s overly dark direction prior to Snyder’s familial tragedy.

Joss Whedon (Avengers) was parachuted in to finish Justice League but failed to replicate the critical and commercial success of Marvel Studios’ Avengers (2012) that would culminate in the Russo Brothers' Avengers: Endgame (2019). Following the movie's lukewarm reception - I bailed after the first ten minutes on Sky Cinema - fans have championed a 'Snyder cut' and their wish will be granted as a 4-hour event on HBO Max.

“I want to thank HBO Max and Warner Brothers for this brave gesture of supporting artists and allowing their true visions to be realized. Also a special thank you to all of those involved in the Snyder Cut movement for making this a reality,” Zack Snyder said in a statement.

Whilst I've been a lifelong fan of both DC Comics and Marvel, the DCEU has failed to capture my imagination on the big screen. Snyder's own Watchmen, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam! are notable exceptions.

Will Justice League usher in a new era of exclusive extended cuts direct-to-consumers? Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the most recent Hollywood blockbuster to witness rumours of a 3-hour cut that was subject to studio interference prior to release last December.

HBO Max launches on 27th May into an increasingly fragmented streaming market with Disney+ an unprecedented success. The new streaming service will carry content from across Warner Bros. brands including Cartoon Network, DC Entertainment, The CW and more.

“We’re going to put all of our muscle behind HBO Max,” Bob Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer, said in an interview. “We think we have a really good and valuable product to offer.”

It is unlikely HBO Max will be released in the UK anytime soon as Sky only recently renewed its first-run film and television deal with Warner Bros. So, expect Justice League to appear on Sky Cinema or Sky Atlantic in 2021.

Are you looking forward to Justice League on HBO Max? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Muppets Now this July on Disney+

The Muppet Show was as much a staple of Saturday teatimes as Doctor Who in the mid seventies. So much so, Jim Henson’s creations played a profoundly personal role in my early life. If we ever meet, I may tell you the full story of the boy who lived.

So, it’s wonderful news Muppets Now will introduce a new generation of fans to their unique brand of mischief and mayhem on Disney+.

""Muppets Now” is The Muppets Studio’s first original series for Disney+. In the six-episode season, Scooter rushes to make his delivery deadlines and upload the brand-new Muppet series for streaming. They are due now, and he’ll need to navigate whatever obstacles, distractions, and complications the rest of the Muppet gang throws at him.

Overflowing with spontaneous lunacy, surprising guest stars and more frogs, pigs, bears (and whatevers) than legally allowed, the Muppets cut loose in “Muppets Now” with the kind of startling silliness and heartfelt fun that first made them famous."

Muppets Now streams on Disney+ 31st July.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Conan causes chaos at Lucasfilm

To mark Star Wars creator George Lucas' birthday on 14th May, Conan O'Brien shared a classic clip featuring his visit with producer Jordan Schlansky to Lucasfilm in 2007.

The Star Wars Show wasn't a thing. Schlansky is Conan's resident Star Wars expert and took a Lucasfilm employee to task.

Given the current lockdown, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it's great that talk show hosts are sharing archive footage to bring some cheer. I hope someone fixed that AT-AT model.