Monday 25 November 2019

Top Trumps for Star Wars Christmas gifts

Star Wars fans (myself included) growing up in the seventies and eighties will have halcyon memories of owning packs of Top Trumps cards. So, what better way to celebrate the conclusion of the Skywalker saga this Christmas than with Star Wars Top Trumps Quiz (affiliate link).

"Are you a Star Wars expert? Can you identify the difference between Episodes 4-6 & 1-3? Can you remember specific scenes from Episode 7: The Force Awakens? Travel to a galaxy far, far away and test your Star Wars knowledge to see if you are a force to be reckoned with. With 500 questions to answer, it’s great for the whole family, whether you want a quick game on the go or to spend some time seeing how much you really know! With a Top Trumps twist at the end to test your memory, can you remember what you learned just moments ago?"

There's also the excellent Star Wars Top Trumps Match (affiliate link), which makes for an excellent stocking filler.

"Top Trumps Match is the crazy cube game. Match 5 of your favourite Star Wars characters in a row to win, but everything could change when the cards are turned!"

Special thanks to Top Trumps for sending this lifelong Star Wars fan sets of Top Trumps Quiz and Top Trumps Match.

Friday 22 November 2019

NOW TV Boost with Full HD and 5.1 ahead of Disney+

Since NOW TV launched in 2012, the Sky-owned streaming service has lagged behind competitors Netflix and Amazon Prime by offering only 720p and stereo sound. With new entrants including Apple TV+ and Disney+ entering the fray, NOW TV has to level up.

Today the company has announced NOW TV Boost, which adds 1080p and 5.1 surround sound (on compatible devices) for an extra £3 per month and works with the Entertainment, Sky Cinema, Sky Sports and Kids Passes. That's £62 combined!

"NOW TV Boost is an important step in offering our customers a higher quality viewing experience," said NOW TV's managing director, Marina Storti.

"It’s launching ahead of the Christmas season so you can enjoy the best and biggest blockbusters and box sets of the year, together with live coverage of your favourite sports in Full HD with surround sound."

Whilst this is a welcome improvement, behind a questionable paywall, NOW TV falls short of 4K with HDR and Dolby Atmos + Vision already available on Sky Q and its competitors. Disney+ will launch in the UK with 4K support in March 2020.

I'll be trying out a free 7-day trial of NOW TV Boost with the premiere of Captain Marvel on Sky Cinema Disney.

Will you be subscribing to NOW TV Boost in addition to the existing Passes? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Rey is full of the Force says The Force Awakens writer

Rey's (Daisy Ridley) enigmatic affinity for the Force has been a point of fevered discussion among fans since The Force Awakens (2015). Co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, talking exclusively to Entertainment Weekly (EW), sheds some light on the pivotal moment when Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber flies into her hand, sparking speculation she was a clone of Luke's father.

"Rey is full of the Force — you know that pretty early on," he said, adding that the signs had always been there: "We've seen other demonstrations that she did earlier in the movie that she has in her. You know she's not unimportant.

"The saber flies into her hand because it belongs in her hand. While the secret to Kylo is that he's massively insecure. He wants to be Darth II, but he isn't because he's very conflicted about everything he wants."

Kasdan went on to tease that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a conflicted character.

"[Kylo] says right before, 'That lightsaber, it belongs to me'," he continued. "So when it flies by him into her hand everything he worries about is confirmed."

Following the events of The Last Jedi (2017), fans won't know exactly how Rey and Kylo's story will end in The Rise of Skywalker this December. Will there be a surprise twist given the return of the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid)?

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Entertainment Weekly shares new Star Wars images

A month from today Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be in UK cinemas and I've booked tickets for a day-one IMAX with Laser screening at Cineworld.

Entertainment Weekly (EW) has shared new exclusive photos featuring Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adama Driver) and more here.

Are you looking forward to the conclusion of the Skywalker saga? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 16 November 2019

The subscriber Force is strong with Disney+

Disney+ launched last Tuesday in the US, Canada and the Netherlands (following a free 2-month trial) and has garnered over 10 million subscribers. This will only increase when the House of Mouse's nascent streaming service launches in Australia and New Zealand on 19th November. Expanding, exponentially, in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain from 31st March 2020. It's not difficult to foresee an embattled Netflix merging with another competitor such as Apple.

Among exclusive fare such as Jon Favreau's live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian. Disney's Gargoyles and Darkwing Duck are enjoying a new lease of life on Disney+.

There's an option to suggest other Disney-owned properties. So, Star Wars fans (myself included) are urging the Walt Disney Company to add mid-eighties Lucasfilm curios Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, and animated series Ewoks and Star Wars: Droids.

What classic Lucasfilm titles would you like to see added? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 13 November 2019

The Good, the Bad and the Mandalorian

So, the first episode of Star Wars live-action series The Mandalorian is now streaming on Disney+ and it's a love letter from filmmaking fans Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and Dave Filoni (The Clone Wars) to George Lucas' sprawling space opera.

My review contains only the mildest of spoilers. Over a surprisingly brisk 35 minutes, Favreau and Filoni deliver a shimmering multimillion-dollar masterclass in spaghetti western genre tropes popularised by director Sergio Leone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), much like Lucas did with the original Star Wars in 1977. Underscored by Ludwig Göransson's (Black Panther) ode to the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone.

The pilot episode is an homage to the executive producers' childhoods. The Star Wars Holiday Special, introducing bounty hunter Boba Fett, looms large as does Marvel's Star Wars Weekly and the celebrated Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson comic strip set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. It's tantamount to unleashing the contents of a Kenner toy box with the power of Epic Games' Unreal Engine.

The titular Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) channels the steely cool of fan-favourite Boba Fett (The Empire Strikes Back). However, this is a bounty hunter with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from a tragic past that will serve as a rich backstory as the season continues.

Gamification has influenced production. The silent protagonist levelling up as the story progresses with an armour upgrade courtesy of the Armorer (Emily Swallow).

Like the original trilogy, there's much humour here too. None more so than during a barnstorming shootout with IG-11 (Taika Waititi). Hope we see more of the assassin droid as it's the perfect foil to the droid hating Mandalorian as he carries out a bounty for The Client (Werner Herzog).

Longtime Star Wars fans (myself included) will relish countless Easter eggs from the franchise's rich lore. See it on the biggest screen you can and brace yourself for the ending...

Episode two is released this Friday on Disney+.

Have you seen The Mandalorian? Did it evoke original trilogy feels? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Disney+ launches with The Mandalorian

This will be a day long remembered in the streaming wars. Disney+ launches with the first-ever Star Wars live-action series The Mandalorian in the US, Canada and the Netherlands. Controversially, there are no plans to stream Jon Favreau's series on DisneyLife in the UK before 31st March 2020.

Ahead of today's launch, Lucasfilm released an exclusive clip from The Mandalorian during Monday Night Football on ESPN.

The Mandalorian stars Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Gina Carano, Werner Herzog and Nick Nolte.

In related news. The entire Star Wars saga will be available for the first time ever in 4K on Disney+. George Lucas' space opera has a storied history with Dolby since the original trilogy. Fans of all ages will be able to enjoy mesmerising space battles and lightsaber duels in Dolby Atmos + Vision.

Aside from Star Wars. Disney+ will be the exclusive home for Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) spin-off series including Loki, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision.

The launch has been dogged by technical issues that will keep Disney CEO Bob Iger awake at night. Disney in a tweet on Tuesday morning: “The consumer demand for Disney+ has exceeded our high expectations. We are working to quickly resolve the current user issue. We appreciate your patience.” Really? Nick Smith, our resident US-based roving reporter, will be looking into the new streaming service soon.

Without posting any spoilers for folks (myself included) who are unable to watch The Mandalorian. What are your initial reactions to the series and Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday 10 November 2019

Jim Henson’s Dark Materials

In the early eighties, Jim Henson and Frank Oz transported cinemagoers to a world without human inhabitants in The Dark Crystal. The film took an audacious artistic twist by populating its tale with puppets only and eerily foreshadowed events in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi the following year.

Whilst The Dark Crystal failed to ignite the box office, considered uncommercial and too dark for children, over subsequent decades Henson's opus has built a cult following.

Sequels were often mooted but seemingly mired in development hell. Forever. Then, out of nowhere, Netflix announced a live-action prequel series chronicling the rise of evil that would envelop the world of Thra...

Guest post by Nick Smith

1982 was the year of E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Tron and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Sci-fi fantasy movies were the big box office draw of the time, just as Marvel rules the airwaves today. So, at the tender age of ten, I took my little sister, Becky, to see an ostensibly sweet little flick called The Dark Crystal. It came from the house of Jim Henson, manufacturer of the must-see Muppet Show [a pivotal series in my life - Ed] that was such a hit. But, the movie we saw was cut from a different cloth than Miss Piggy and her felt friends.

Becky and I watched a twisted tale about back-stabbing bipedal vultures, raving pod people and a soul-sucking electric chair. Independent from Disney’s family fare, this film was no Mickey Mouse operation. It depicted the end of a decaying civilisation, rotten from the core. As we left the cinema humming impressions of the UrRu Mystics, The Dark Crystal left an indelible impression on our young minds.

Apparently, it had a lasting effect on other members of our generation too, as 37 years later, Netflix has gone all-out with a prequel series called Age of Resistance. While this initially seems an unlikely candidate for a contemporary series with an hour-long pilot, it’s an effective fantasy packed with thrills, a careful balance of toy store charm and Henson’s grotesque touch.

The Age of Resistance builds on the mythos of The Dark Crystal, fleshing out the original movie’s backstory. We find out how the antagonists’ soul-sucking machine was made and where the hero’s crystal shard came from. We see more of the celestial beings that split, Jekyll and Hyde-like, into gentle Mystic and rotten Skeksis – the same luminous form they will eventually return to. While the feature film showed a desolate world with a few good Gelflings left, the series is full of the little rascals, some peace-loving, some militant, all cute as a button.

The new series follows the adventures of do-good Gelflings Rian, Brea and Deet, opposing the crafty Skeksis. Aughra the grunting old Keeper of Secrets is back, younger and more powerful than she can admit. We catch a flash-forward glimpse of Jen, the hero from The Dark Crystal, and other beloved characters.

The series uses its lengthy 10 episodes to build a twisty-turny tragic plot, but also to develop its characters in a way the feature film could not; we get up close and too personal with the ugly Skeksis in their fortress, giving plenty of rancid meaty dialogue for the voice actors to get their teeth into. Mark Hamill (Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker) is the standout as the hard-hearted skekTek, simply because Hamill seems to be having so much fun playing the Scientist. Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter’s Lucius Malfoy) is convincing as the Emperor, while Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible) relishes the role of the snivelling Chamberlain.

The Gelflings are voiced by equally dependable actors such as Helena Bonham Carter, Taron Egerton and Eddie Izzard. Thanks to their skill and the lifelike puppetry, we grow to care about the creatures. Although there are no humans on the planet Thra, where Age of Resistance takes place, the characters are very human, with relatable feelings and goals. With their selfish plotting and in-fighting, vain beauty treatments, mistreatment of their environment and focus on industry over nature, the Skeksis are sadly the most human of all. As we explore Thra with Rian and his pals through amazing landscapes, facing danger, cruelty and loud Podling music, it’s hard not to shed a tear when some of the heroes die or even sacrifice their lives for the greater good [proper choked me up - Ed].

The series isn’t perfect. The adventure plot can be repetitive and unoriginal at times. It’s hard to take the Fraggle-like Gelflings seriously when they bounce around the screen. There are a lot of characters to keep track of and a lot of death. The show has a delicious sadistic streak that will have you watching some scenes through your fingers. Others, like the one where a little Gelfling almost gets his head crushed and a Mystic risks his existence to save the day, had me blubbing. So, be prepared for a Kermit-in-a-blender emotional whirlwind.

The Dark Crystal movie has a distinct ending, with the Skeksis empire ending its ragged reign. So far, most attempts at a spin-off have been prequels: the four novels by J. M. Lee, Barbara Kesel’s manga and Archaia Entertainment’s graphic novels. There’s obviously something rich and appealing about the world of Thra and since Age of Resistance has a big Roman numeral I in its title logo, there will be more prequel series [exploring Deet’s dark fate - Ed] to come.

Like all the best fantasy and sci-fi, The Dark Crystal turns an orrery lens on our own society. Thra is a scrambled almost-version of Earth, with greedy creatures reflecting the evil that men do. We are the Skeksis. But at our best, when we wake up feeling honourable and kind, we can be Gelflings… just for one day.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is streaming now on Netflix.

Saturday 9 November 2019

Classic Doctor Who materialises Boxing Day on BritBox

Whilst Star Wars fans (myself included) wait for the launch of Disney+ with The Mandalorian in March 2020. There's the exciting prospect of streaming every surviving episode of classic Doctor Who this Christmas on BritBox!

BritBox is a joint venture between the BBC and commercial broadcaster ITV, which launched in the US in 2017. The subscription service features an extensive catalogue of past and present television and film series for £5.99 per month.

Alas, there is currently a dearth of British-made genre material on BritBox in the UK. For example, Sapphire & Steel and Blake's 7 are missing, presumably for licensing reasons. However, it could become a go-to destination for Doctor Who fans (myself included) when the vintage back catalogue (1963 - 1989) arrives on Boxing Day.

BritBox is entering an increasingly fragmented streaming space with Apple and Disney the latest entrants to compete with Netflix, Amazon Prime and NOW TV. The app is available for selected Samsung smart TVs, Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Android phones and tablets, Mac and PC.

Alas, I'm in the midst of a free 1-month trial. So, urge fellow Whovians to wait until Christmas before starting their subscription. You're welcome.

Friday 8 November 2019

The Mandalorian on Disney+ in the UK this March

The Walt Disney Company confirmed on Twitter that Disney+ is coming to the UK on 31st March 2020. As expected, DisneyLife will be rebranded and existing subscriptions migrated to the new streaming service.

Now, how will UK-based fans (myself included) be able to watch Jon Favreau's live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian in the meantime? Avoiding spoilers will be all but impossible and piracy an issue once the highly-anticipated series starts streaming exclusively on Disney+ next week. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a thing in this era of instant gratification and it's surprising DisneyLife isn't streaming the Star Wars series day and date with Disney+.

Disney CEO Bob Iger has announced that Disney+ will be available on a host of devices at launch including Amazon Fire TV, LG and Samsung smart TVs. “We’re pleased to announce partnerships with Amazon Fire [TV], LG, and Samsung devices.”

Disney+ launches in the US, Canada and the Netherlands 12th November and Australia and New Zealand 19th November.

Thursday 7 November 2019

Avengers: Endgame streaming at launch on Disney+

It was inevitable. Avengers: Endgame has moved from 11th December to 12th November on Disney+. The record-breaking conclusion to the Infinity Saga will be available to stream at launch in the US, Canada and Netherlands from next Tuesday.

According to a report from the BBC, Disney+ launches in the UK in March 2020.

Are you looking forward to the launch of Disney+? What will you be streaming first? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Ming-Na Wen's Fennec Shand in The Mandalorian

With less than a week to go until the launch of Disney+ in America, Canada and the Netherlands, Lucasfilm has released a new TV spot for the Star Wars live-action series The Mandalorian. Ming-Na Wen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) enters the fray as Fennec Shand.

“We got our inspiration really from the name. The idea of a fennec fox came to mind,” Wen tells Vanity Fair. “She’s tricky, and yet she’s able to maneuver and survive, and be stealthy—so very graceful and agile. I just love that whole image with the name.”

“It will evolve, it will change. I mean, I think that’s what’s so wonderful about creating a new character,” she continues. “I think she has a good sense of humor about it all as well, which is also fun. You can’t really pinpoint which direction she’s going to go.”

Executive producer Jon Favreau (Iron Man) recently spoke to CNBC about the upcoming series, the impact Star Wars has had on his life and the implications of fragmented streaming services.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Disney CEO says less is more with Star Wars

Disney CEO Bob Iger, in an exclusive interview with BBC Radio Four, admitted: “I have said publicly that I think we made and released too many Star Wars films over a short period of time.

“I have not said that they were disappointing in any way.

“I’ve not said that I'm disappointed in their performance.”

Looking to the future of the franchise, Iger added: “I just think that there’s something so special about a Star Wars film, and less is more.”

The Skywalker saga ends this December with JJ Abrams' (The Force Awakens) The Rise of Skywalker. The next trilogy is slated for 2022, 2024 and 2026. Game of Thrones' showrunners have left the project. However, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige is producing the next Star Wars movie with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy.

So, will a director or directors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) take the helm of the new trilogy? The Russo brothers (Avengers: Endgame) are firm favourites with Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi) purportedly still working on his own trilogy.

Whilst Star Wars is taking a break from the big screen, Jon Favreau's (The Lion King) live-action series, The Mandalorian, is an exclusive launch title on Disney+ from 12th November. And Marvel is rebooting the long-running comic book series in 2020.

Saturday 2 November 2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse sequel coming 2022

Producer Christopher Miller (The LEGO Movie) took to Twitter to announce a sequel to the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The animated Spider-Man spin-off quickly became a darling of both critics and fans when it was released in cinemas last December.

During the long hot summer, I saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse on Sky Cinema and was awestruck by its audiovisual fidelity, and bittersweet storyline given life by a stellar cast including Mahershala Ali (Alita: Battle Angel) and Hailee Steinfeld (Bumblebee).

Are you looking forward to a sequel? Let me know in the comments below.