Saturday 29 February 2020

Hasbro celebrates 40 years of The Empire Strikes Back

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The critically-acclaimed sequel to Star Wars (1977) is regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made, and Hasbro is releasing a Kenner-branded vintage collection to celebrate.

Has it really been four decades since AT-ATs attacked the Rebel base on Hoth and Luke Skywalker learned Darth Vader was his father on a city in the clouds? The Empire Strikes Back is not only my favourite Star Wars instalment, but it's also my favourite film. Period.

During the 3 year gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, I amassed a sizeable collection of Palitoy action figures and accessories. From Luke Skywalker's battle-damaged X-Wing to Darth Vader's Star Destroyer playset. However, Boba Fett's iconic Slave 1 was a big omission. So, the vintage collection Slave 1 (affiliate link) is a must-have for the study despite the eye-watering price.

Aside from the Black Series vintage collection, Hasbro's also announced retro action figures at the New York Toy Fair. Happy hunting and let me know what merchandise you're looking for in the comments below.

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Bob Iger steps down following Disney+ success

Without any fanfare, Bob Iger abruptly stood down as Disney CEO on Tuesday, handing the reins to Bob Chapek, effective immediately.

Iger will remain at The Walt Disney Company through the end of 2021, but as chairman, and he told CNBC that in his new role he will focus on the creative side of the company.

“As we looked at the businesses, we felt we have a great set of assets, we have a great strategy,” Iger said. “What’s next? And what was next in terms of my own priorities is making sure that the creative pipeline of the company was really rich, that all of our creative engines were working extremely well, and I wanted to spend more and more of my time on that. The only way I was able to do that was to give up the day-to-day running of the company, to pass the torch on to Bob [Chapek].”

Iger has overseen a successful acquisition strategy since 2005. Beginning with the purchase of Pixar from the late Steve Jobs to Lucasfilm in 2012 from George Lucas and most recently 20th Century Fox from Rupert Murdoch. The latter has given Disney a majority stake in Hulu.

This has bolstered Disney's content portfolio and culminated in the launch of Disney+ last November. The nascent streaming service continues to expand into new markets and threatens established streamers such as Netflix (with whom Disney had previously partnered).

During Iger's 15-year tenure as Disney CEO, Marvel Studios has emerged as a dominant box office force and Star Wars has enjoyed a renaissance despite the fandom menace and perhaps questionable creative choices such as overexposing the brand, which Iger has conceded to.

Like Jobs at Apple, Iger will be a tough act to follow and Disney's stock dipped.

Tuesday 25 February 2020

The Simpsons stay on Sky despite Disney+

The Simpsons won't be available on Disney+ in the UK. D'oh!

Managing Director of Content Zai Bennett was interviewed on Radio 5 Live and confirmed The Simpsons would remain on Sky One for the foreseeable future. Fans have been in an uproar regarding Disney+'s silence on the matter. Discussing how the launch of Disney+ will affect Sky, Bennett said: “For the immediate term – for the next year or so – our customers will not notice any difference at all to what they have got.”

Evidently, an existing first-run deal is in place until 2021 at the earliest. Sky Cinema Disney has proven to be lucrative and it would be a stretch to assume Sky would want to end a deal with The Walt Disney Company. Further to this. There's a rumour the Disney+ app is coming to Sky Q and NOW TV devices. It's a win-win for both companies.

Are you subscribing to Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 24 February 2020

Pre-order Disney+ for £49.99

Disney+ launches in a month and early-bird subscribers can avail themselves of an annual subscription discounted to £49.99. This makes the nascent streaming service cheaper than established rivals such as Netflix and NOW TV.

Disney+ will be on the following devices at launch and supports 4K with HDR and Dolby Atmos + Vision at no extra cost to subscribers:

Apple TV
Amazon FireTV
Android mobile devices
Android TV
Desktop web browsers
LG WebOS Smart TVs
PlayStation 4 (PS4)
Roku streaming players
Samsung Smart TVs
Xbox One

Due to existing distribution deals, Disney+ will not offer the same content in every territory. No announcement has been made regarding the availability of The Simpsons in the UK as Sky has a first-run deal. So, it may be a while before all seasons show up (if at all). This isn't a dealbreaker for me and I've pre-ordered ahead of 24th March. The Marvel Studios and Star Wars live-action series are the biggest draws.

DisneyLife subscribers will need to create a Disney+ account if they wish to benefit from this limited time offer (ends 23rd March). For more information and to subscribe, visit here.

Sunday 23 February 2020

Locke & Key is a millennial The Goonies

Netflix's latest fantasy series Locke & Key, adapted from IDW’s graphic novel series created by writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez, is a spellbinding spin on haunted house and familial trauma tropes, underscored by a lush soundtrack channelling the devilish whimsy of composer Danny Elfman (Batman).

To my comic book reading shame, I'd never heard of Locke & Key until it appeared on Netflix!

Over the past twenty years or so, local comic book specialist stores have closed down, my personal life was subsumed by a family tragedy (from which I will never recover) and haven't set foot inside Forbidden Planet since the nineties.

So, I was curious to see what this new series entailed. Would it be The Haunting of Hill House lite meets The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina? Well, in a manner of speaking, yes, and that's a really good thing as Netflix has cornered a niche for supernatural nostalgia beginning with Stranger Things.

Locke & Key follows the fallout from a father's brutal murder, school guidance councillor Rendell Locke (Bill Heck), and how a family copes in the aftermath. Teens Tyler (Connor Jessup) and Kinsey (Emilia Jones) and kid brother Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) move, with their mother Nina (Darby Stanchfield), to a grand gothic pile in the tradition of The Addams Family.

Here, mysterious keys start to appear: gateways to dreams, fears and the fantastical. Thus begins a coming of age tale that draws influences from Harry Potter to The Goonies as our intrepid band of heroes try to thwart a merciless evil and demons within.

Friday 21 February 2020

Hasbro's animatronic Baby Yoda is star of toy fair

This year, Star Wars fans are in for a treat with merchandise from Disney+'s The Mandalorian flooding toy aisles around the globe. From Funko to LEGO, there's something for fans of all ages.

Hasbro's animatronic The Child AKA Baby Yoda stole the show at this year's New York Toy Fair when it appeared on Good Morning America (GMA).

“You can pretend to harness the power of the Force as he closes his eyes, raises his arm, and sighs as if exerting a great amount of energy,” wrote Tony Morrison for GMA. “Lay him down and he will close his eyes and take a ‘Force nap.’”

The Child animatronic edition will be this holiday season's must-have gift. Pre-order from Amazon (affiliate link) today.

The second season of The Mandalorian is set for release in October and the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars premieres today on Disney+.

Thursday 20 February 2020

Westworld trailer teases war of the machines

HBO has released a new trailer for Westworld season 3. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy's sci-fi thriller ups the ante with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve (Thandie Newton) coming to blows. It's the Battlestar Galactica prequel series, Caprica, writ large.

The new season stars Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Paul, Jeffrey Wright, Tessa Thompson, Thandie Newton, Lena Waithe, Marshawn Lynch, Kid Cudi and Vincent Cassel.

Season 3 begins 15th March on HBO and 16th March on Sky Atlantic.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

The Mandalorian to stream weekly on Disney+ UK

Disney+ has launched a dedicated UK Twitter account ahead of the 24th March launch of the House of Mouse's nascent streaming service.

Episodes of the first live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, will seemingly be released weekly as they were in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and The Netherlands. So, there's no official way to binge-view the entire first 8-part series unless you're prepared to wait. Be sure to check back for updates should the situation change.

Disney has confirmed existing DisneyLife subscribers, in the UK and Ireland, will be migrated to Disney+, which was expected. Although unconfirmed, Disney+ will be available to Sky Q and NOW TV subscribers in a similar deal that sees Netflix on both Sky-owned subscription-based platforms.

There's no sign of The Simpsons on Disney+ in the UK. However, classic animated series DuckTales, Chip 'n' Dale, Darkwing Duck, Gargoyles and The Gummi Bears will be available at launch. These titles are currently available on DisneyLife. Now, where are the Wuzzles?

In related news. Disney has released a Star Wars narrative timeline ahead of the seventh and final season of The Clone Wars this Friday on Disney+. The Rise of Skywalker is coming soon to the streaming service and bows on Blu-ray (affiliate link) next month, just 3 months after its theatrical release.

Monday 17 February 2020

Apple TV+ teases Amazing Stories

Director Steven Spielberg (Jaws) is bringing Amazing Stories, his eighties anthology television series, back to Apple TV+.

Apple has released a nostalgia-filled teaser, featuring the late Robert Forster (The Black Hole) in one of his final roles, for the upcoming 10-part series and it includes John Williams' original opening theme. All the feels.

Amazing Stories starts streaming exclusively on Apple TV+ this March.

Friday 14 February 2020

From Russia with Love... Stranger Things 4 first look

Netflix has released a first look trailer for Stranger Things 4, which sees fan-favourite Jim Hopper (David Harbour) alive and well in Russia. Hopper seemingly sacrificed himself at the end of Stranger Things 3.

“We’re excited to officially confirm that production on ‘Stranger Things 4’ is now underway — and even more excited to announce the return of Hopper!” the Duffer brothers wrote in a statement. “Although it’s not all good news for our ‘American;’ he is imprisoned far from home in the snowy wasteland of Kamchatka, where he will face dangers both human…and other. Meanwhile, back in the states, a new horror is beginning to surface, something long-buried, something that connects everything. Season 4 is shaping up to be the biggest and most frightening season yet, and we cannot wait for everyone to see more. In the meantime, pray for the American.”

Netflix has not announced a release date for Stranger Things 4. Are you excited to see the return of Hopper? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Rian Johnson's thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker

Director Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi) spoke to MTV, on the red carpet at the Academy Awards, about his thoughts on JJ Abrams' The Rise of Skywalker:

“I want to sit down like a Star Wars fan and just get my popcorn and just be 10-years-old again and see this whole thing brought home in a beautiful way that surprises me… it’s Star Wars. It takes you there. It transports you. The instant that John Williams score comes up, the instant you’re back in that world and hear those lightsaber sounds, it’s just [snaps] – you’re back to being ten.”

Eloquently put in the wake of the fandom menace surrounding the conclusion to the sequel trilogy. Johnson is currently developing a new Star Wars trilogy at Lucasfilm.

Monday 10 February 2020

Westworld Season 3 premieres this March

Game of Thrones and His Dark Materials may be over. But, fans of HBO's prestige dramas won't have to wait much longer to return to Westworld. Season 3 begins 15th March on HBO and 16th March on Sky Atlantic.

Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have an endgame, as Joy tells Den of Geek:

“We have an ending in mind; we’ve had it from the pilot. It’s very emotional, I think. I can’t tell you exactly when that ending will come… but I think for every season what we try to do is tell a chapter of the story that gives you closure and then opens a door to a new chapter… The overarching question of the series is, what will become of this new lifeform? So I feel it would be irresponsible to not have an end goal in mind.”

Looking forward to Westworld season 3? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 8 February 2020

Baby Yoda is Funko's best-selling pre-order

Star Wars fans can't seem to get enough of Baby Yoda! Funko Pop's official The Child merchandise is the best-selling pre-order in the company's history. Funko art director Reis O'Brien revealed the news on Thursday via a Twitter video in which he discussed the development of the upcoming toy.

"It's bananas," O'Brien said of the figure's popularity. The tiny tyke took the world by storm when it was revealed at the end of episode one of The Mandalorian. Fans clamoured for merchandise, but none was ready in time for the holiday season due to secrecy surrounding the new character.

Pre-order on (affiliate link)
Pre-order on (affiliate link)

Don't forget Hasbro and Mattel are also launching Baby Yoda merchandise from The Mandalorian this spring.

What Baby Yoda merchandise are you looking forward to most? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 5 February 2020

The Mandalorian returns in October on Disney+

The second season of the first Star Wars live-action spin-off, The Mandalorian, begins this October on Disney+. Disney CEO Bob Iger made the announcement during The Walt Disney Company’s quarterly earnings call.

Iger went on to confirm the second season of The Mandalorian has been in production for a while, and the House of Mouse is considering further Star Wars spin-offs to bolster its Lucasfilm offerings alongside a slate of Marvel Studios productions including Loki, WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

Baby Yoda has captured the zeitgeist and Iger promises further merchandise announcements from official licensees later this year. Mattel's The Child is the most popular Star Wars-related pre-order on Amazon (affiliate link).

Disney+ picked up 29 million subscribers in the three months since it launched in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia. This is predicted to increase to over 60 million by 2024 as the service expands into more markets including the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland. I'd argue that's a conservative estimate and it'll surpass that figure with ease.

Tuesday 4 February 2020

Star Wars fan film: The Last Stand

Stormtroopers have always had a bad rep in the Star Wars saga. So, director Sekani Solomon wanted to envisage them in a more serious fashion.

"Star Wars: The Last Stand is a dynamic, gritty and somewhat over the top full CGI depiction of battle-worn storm troopers facing off against an unknown enemy."

Solomon writes on YouTube: "Stormtroopers are often portrayed as somewhat silly and incompetent, so I wanted to create a film to showcase troopers as skilled fighters, which is how I see them. Having the simple idea of showing Stormtroopers fighting, I knew the crux of the project would be to illustrate the battle in an interesting way. To do this I wanted to use dynamic camera angles, focusing on moments and scenes we don’t usually see in Star Wars films. I worked on this piece on and off for 3 years, mostly by myself."

If you have a Star Wars fan film you'd like to share, please contact me.

Monday 3 February 2020

Marvel's Disney+ first look during Super Bowl

Marvel Studios dropped a teaser trailer for its upcoming live-action Disney+ spin-offs during Super Bowl LIV.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision debut on Disney+ fall 2020 and Loki premieres in 2021. All the spin-offs star original Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) cast members and will tie into Phase 4 beginning with Black Widow this May.

Disney+ has been a huge success in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand since launching last November and launches on 24th March in the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland with Jon Favreau's live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian and the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Disney+ is available on a range of devices including Android, iOS, Apple TV, Roku, Xbox One, PS4 and selected smart TVs.

Which Marvel live-action spin-off are you looking forward to most on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 1 February 2020

Make it so, Star Trek: Picard!

Star Trek: Picard, the latest CBS All Access spin-off, premiered on my birthday on Amazon Prime almost thirty years since The Next Generation on BBC2. Two episodes in, and I'm totally hooked on this tale of a forgotten champion of Starfleet caught in the middle of an intergalactic conspiracy.

Sir Patrick Stewart is back as an ageing Admiral Jean-Luc Picard without a ship or crew as he's now an outsider, with a terminal illness (due to his time as Locutus of Borg?), in a synthetic-fearing universe in search of Data's (Brent Spiner) daughter, Soji (Isa Briones), after her twin sister, Dahj, finds Picard before being killed by Romulan assassins.

Picard begins tracing the whereabouts of Soji with the aid of a Romulan ally, Laris (Orla Brady). All the while, the Romulans are dismantling a Borg cube.

Synthetics were banned by the Federation following a massacre on Mars. However, unlike the Cylons in the lauded Battlestar Galactica reboot or the Geth in Mass Effect, it is made clear, in a flashback, rogue synthetics are reprogrammed and the Utopia Planitia shipyard attack is not out of free will. So, by whom and for what insidious purpose?

The consequences lead to Starfleet abandoning its pledge to rescue the Romulans, a sworn enemy of the Federation, from a natural catastrophe and precipitated Picard's resignation on ethical grounds.

There are countless Easter Eggs from the franchise's rich storied history, but there's nothing here to alienate new or casual fans. This only serves to further enrich a beautifully paced character-driven drama that sees a beloved sci-fi figure shaken out of exile and back exploring the final frontier.

CBS All Access has hit another home run with its latest Star Trek spin-off. Certainly, I'm excited to see what happens next and how Picard ties into the third season of Discovery. Since Viacom recently merged Paramount and CBS, it's one big glittering unified Trek universe once more.

What do you think of Star Trek: Picard so far? Let me know in the comments below.