Monday 30 March 2020

Star Trek in a time of need

So, when Star Trek: Picard was first announced, I warmly embraced the return of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) for a final swan song in the captain's chair.

Spoilers ahead. Engage.

As the latest CBS All Access spin-off series started and Picard’s inoperable brain tumour was revealed, as a direct consequence of his assimilation into the Borg collective in The Best of Both Worlds, I braced myself for a contemplative, lyrical, denouement by season’s end to parallel the heroic death of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Marvel Studios' Avengers: Endgame.

Whilst season one unfolded, a real-world pandemic took hold, social distancing, self-isolation and lockdowns became the new reality making the need for nostalgia more pertinent than ever. So much so, when Picard finally met Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna (Marina Sirtis) in Nepenthe, I found the episode profoundly moving.

Aside from reuniting the fan-favourite trifecta from The Next Generation. It was also an excellent opportunity to deconstruct Commander Data's (Brent Spiner) synthetic twin daughter Soji (Isa Briones) as an inverse female Pinocchio, she's only recently discovered she's a synthetic with the help of Romulan boyfriend Narek (Harry Treadaway), through the wide-eyed wonder of Will and Troi's daughter, Kestra (Lulu Wilson). Culminating in one of the best Star Trek episodes in the franchise's storied history. By the time the main theme from The Next Generation is heard, like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the series has earned its stripes.

At this point in the season, Picard has undergone a soft reset, took a diversion into a Romulan/Borg/Starfleet detective story and is about to go full-on original Mass Effect trilogy with the threat of Cthulu-inspired mechas destroying all organic life in the galaxy, but then doesn't in one of the most rushed, tonally-jarring, two-part finales committed to the small screen.

Romulan Narissa (Peyton List), a member of the ultra-secret Zhad Vash tasked with destroying all synths, is one of the best Trek villains in years and she's karate-kicked off a gantry on the Borg cube by Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) who is about to come out as queer - pleasing inclusive fans (myself included). Perhaps Narissa survived the fall like Emperor Palpatine did in Star Wars?

Its saving grace was Data and Picard's poetic deaths. The latter was ruined by Hollywood's current obsession with fake-out deaths to appease the fandom menace and, you know, keep shareholders happy. Plus, in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1, Dr Altan Inigo Soong (Brent Spiner) reveals he's developed a golem in the synth enclave. So, there was no surprise twist when Picard's mind was transferred to a duplicate synth body before the end credits rolled.

Ultimately, I'm in no rush to see the second season of Picard. Perhaps, once the coronavirus pandemic is safely over and the world has shifted on its socio-economic and political axis, I'll be in a better frame of mind.

What did you think of Star Trek: Picard and how does it compare to Discovery? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Hasbro releases G.I. Joe animated series on YouTube

Hasbro is the latest company to offer free content whilst we self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic.

G.I. Joe fans (myself included) can watch the first three 5-part story arcs (15 episodes): The M.A.S.S. Device, The Revenge Of Cobra and The Pyramid Of Darkness on YouTube.

"G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero follows an elite team of soldiers as they battle the evil Cobra organization. These heroes thwart the COBRA's desire for world domination at every turn, cleverly stopping them from controlling the weather, creating unstoppable weapons, and genetically engineering super-warriors."

G.I. Joe became a staple of my childhood when Palitoy licensed the toys from Hasbro in the early eighties and created Action Force. Action Force comprised Q Force, SAS Force, Space Force and Z Force (doubled as U.N.I.T. from Doctor Who) who were pitted against the Red Shadows lead by the diabolical Baron Ironblood.

Baron Ironblood was the forerunner to Lord Buckethead and became Cobra Commander when the Battle Action Force comic ended and Action Force moved to Marvel comics in the wake of Palitoy's closure with Hasbro producing toys directly.

What are your favourite memories of Action Force and G.I. Joe? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 27 March 2020

Aliens and Terminator star joins The Mandalorian

If it wasn't enough that Rosario Dawson is playing fan-favourite Ahsoka Tano from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Michael Biehn, star of Aliens and The Terminator, joins the cast of The Mandalorian.

Biehn is expected to play a bounty hunter pursuing the titular character, played by Pedro Pascal, in the second season of the live-action Star Wars series on Disney+.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, The Mandalorian wrapped principal photography on its second season and will premiere this October on Disney+. Meanwhile, the first season continues every Friday on Disney+ in the UK.

Thursday 26 March 2020

Star Wars Episode I: Racer on Nintendo Switch

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace may have divided fans decades before The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, but it spawned Darth Maul and podracing.

Star Wars Episode I: Racer was well received on the Nintendo 64 (I owned the Sega Dreamcast port) and it's coming back on Nintendo Switch later this year.

In related news from Nintendo Direct. Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is available on the Nintendo eShop from today.

Are you excited to play Star Wars Episode I: Racer when it arrives on Switch? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Disney+ is the streaming service the world needs

Disney+ launched at 1:00AM (GMT) in the UK and I was wide awake to install the apps and watch the original series of DuckTails until dawn.

The House of Mouse's streaming service is, like Nintendo's Animal Crossing, much-needed delight during the coronavirus pandemic. Empathy with everyone who is at high-risk and is self-isolating for at least 3-months, too. Where possible, I’ll be proactively helping others using social media and technology. Heartfelt thanks to frontline staff (including family & friends).

So, Olaf and Baby Yoda are warmly welcomed into my home. Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, has a headstart on Disney+.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Four months ago, Disney+ launched in the United States, as well as Canada and the Netherlands. Spearheaded by Disney and Pixar movies, an original Star Wars series and classic shows like Boy Meets World and Darkwing Duck, there was enough content to excite the most casual Disney viewer. Now the channel is sizzling into British screens like a wayward travelling Tron. But is there enough content to keep Brits coming back in the months to come?

The answer is yes, as my non-Disneyphile friends are learning as they’re brought to the fold. Some come to enjoy childhood favourites like Splash and Willow. Others like the shiny new Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series and its live-action stablemate The Mandalorian. There’s also the lure of National Geographic and Marvel movies, shows and ‘Ultimate’ motion comics, although the latter are limited in length and detail.

Where Disney+ really succeeds is in the way it packages its products. Hoary old flicks are ‘Nostalgic Movies.’ Cartoons like X-Men and Gummi Bears are ‘Throwbacks.’ Best of all, subscribers can dig into ‘Collections’ that include the Herbie movies, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Muppets. Aside from new content, this repackaging suits the bingeing culture nurtured by Netflix, where it’s harder to find a series of movies in chronological order.

Surprisingly, Netflix still has a handsome handful of Disney films on offer, including Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet and Christopher Robin. Original Marvel series like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, which proved the popularity and viability of streaming superhero sagas, are chilling in a little Netflix ‘Marvel Collection.’ But these offerings are scant compared to a year ago. It would be good to see Disney sharing with other streaming companies, using them as testing grounds for darker shows like The Punisher.

Right now, viewers caught in the mousetrap of a monthly subscription are scarfing up cheese made of mature, dependable flavours that keep them coming back for more: Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. There’s a lot more to Walt’s world than these second-hand brands, though, and Disney+ has to do more than ape its competitors. More archival material, like vintage black and white cartoons, would be great to see, as well as unique, imaginative content – the kind that put Disney on the map in the first place.

Saturday 21 March 2020

Rosario Dawson to play Ahsoka in The Mandalorian

Slashfilm has exclusively revealed Rosario Dawson (Daredevil) is joining the cast of The Mandalorian for season 2.

Dawson will be playing fan-favourite Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker's Padawan from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, in the live-action series. Whilst showrunner Jon Favreau (Iron Man) is the public face of The Mandalorian, Dave Filoni's (Star Wars Rebels) creative influence is palpable. Perhaps we'll see a live-action Sabine next?

The Mandalorian's second season will start streaming on Disney+ this October.

Are you excited to see a live-action Ahsoka? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 20 March 2020

Pixar's Onward is coming to Disney+

Disney Pixar's Onward, starring Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Far from Home) and Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy), was released on 6th March to critical acclaim.

However, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and cinema closures, Disney is making the movie available for digital download from today and on Disney+ from 3rd April.

The House of Mouse has already released Frozen 2 on Disney+. Now, please add Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Thursday 19 March 2020

The first two episodes of The Mandalorian on Disney+

Disney+ launches on Tuesday in the UK and Disney has confirmed the first two episodes of the live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, will be available day-one.

This may make sense business-wise to keep folks subscribing, but makes no sense, to me as a fan, given season one ended last December in the US, and the Star Wars series is one of the most pirated since Game of Thrones.

It will only further frustrate fans during the coronavirus pandemic. Some much-needed levity, spearheaded by a pop culture phenomenon such as Baby Yoda, is required when so many of us are self-isolating and practicing social distancing, and this has been gravely misjudged. The internet remembers.

New episodes of The Mandalorian, along with the final season of The Clone Wars, will stream every Friday from 27th March.

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

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Black Widow may release on Disney+

With the impact of coronavirus rapidly growing around the world, Disney, along with other major Hollywood studios, is delaying the release of upcoming blockbuster movies including Mulan and The New Mutants. This is in tandem with cinema closures during the pandemic.

Now, there is a rumour Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow could bow on Disney+ this May. This would be a fillip for the streaming service and an opportunity for the House of Mouse to trial a straight-to-consumer blockbuster release with a pay-per-view window.

In the wake of Frozen 2 streaming early on Disney+, early-bird subscribers (myself included) have asked if the UK launch could be brought forward by a week as many people are self-isolating. The official Disney Plus UK Twitter account acknowledged this and apologised that it wasn't possible.

Disney+ launches 24th March in the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland.

Sunday 15 March 2020

Westworld creators preview third season

Westworld season 3 begins today on HBO and tomorrow on Sky Atlantic. Personally, I'm really looking forward to seeing the hosts outside in the real world and the upcoming war.

Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy recently spoke to Variety about the direction of the third season of their sci-fi series.

Saturday 14 March 2020

Frozen 2 this Sunday on Disney+

With coronavirus a worldwide pandemic, Disney has brought forward the release of Frozen 2 by three months on Disney+.

“Frozen 2 has captivated audiences around the world through its powerful themes of perseverance and the importance of family, messages that are incredibly relevant during this time,” said Bob Chapek, who recently replaced Bob Iger as Disney CEO, in a press release.

Frozen 2 will start streaming in the US on 15th March. International subscribers, including Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand will be able to stream on 17th March.

Given the current crisis, many families and workers are self-isolating at home, streaming services such as Apple+, Disney+, Amazon Prime and Netflix may see a steep rise in subscribers.

Thursday 12 March 2020

LEGO brings Super Mario Maker to life

As teased on Mar10 Day, LEGO Super Mario sets are a thing and can be played as a game without needing to own a Nintendo Switch.

Takashi Tezuka, executive officer at Nintendo said: "The new product we created together with the Lego Group seeks to combine two different styles of play – one where you freely build the world of Mario and the other where you play with Mario in the very world that you have created."

The new LEGO Super Mario sets will go on sale later this year. Here's hoping more Nintendo first-party franchises get the brick and click treatment including The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

"It's-a me, LEGO Mario!"

As the fandom menace continues to divide Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars fans, there may be an unwitting hero to unite the geek community in these troubling times.

LEGO Mario!

Nintendo has used Mar10 Day (get it?) to announce a new licensing deal with the beloved brick building company. Looks like LEGO sets are on the way, but there's no official confirmation. Stay tuned for more news on this exciting development.

Would you like to see LEGO Super Mario DLC for Super Mario Maker 2 or a LEGO Super Mario video game? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 9 March 2020

Flash Gordon actor Max von Sydow dies aged 90

Max von Sydow, the legendary Swedish actor, died on Sunday. The news was broken on Monday by his wife, the producer Catherine Brelet, who told Paris Match: “It is with a broken heart and with infinite sadness that we have the extreme pain of announcing the departure of Max von Sydow on 8 March 2020.”

Sydow may have appeared in The Exorcist, Minority Report, Game of Thrones and most recently Star Wars, but he'll always be Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon (1980) to me.

Saturday 7 March 2020

When Clones Attack!

I dismissed the Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie as direct-to-video bantha fodder when it was originally released in theatres alongside WALL-E in 2008. How wrong I was.

The subsequent Emmy award-winning animated series, chronicling the titular wars set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, is a fan-favourite and the final seventh season is streaming, weekly, on Disney+.

Nick Smith, fresh from his panel appearance at Pensacon, braves the battlefield in search of heroes Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi as the clock counts down to Order 66...

Guest post by Nick Smith

They say that after a while, dog owners look like their pets. For the cloned dogs of war, fighting intergalactic separatists in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it’s an established fact that they mirror each other. The troops in the new season all have the same face – perfect for animators and toy manufacturers [give me all the things - Ed]. But the storytellers of this final season want to break the mould, so they give the soldiers different hairstyles, tattoos, war paint or scars to help identify them.

The Bad Batch takes this further, giving a misfit team of mis-hatched clones varying deformities or distinguishing features. One has lost an eye, another is a hulking brute. Apparently, in space, everyone can hear them howl like Sgt. Fury’s commandoes.

While this rag-tag bunch add colour to a show heavy on military grey, they are not the focus. Commander Cody and Captain Rex, both voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, are on a mission to steal military intelligence from the Separatist Cyber Center. Reminiscent of the Mind Spider from the original Marvel Star Wars comics, the data-drenched Center may hold the key to a mystery Rex is obsessed with solving.

The Clone Wars offers new content to die-hard Star Wars fans and fresh viewers lured by the cuteness overload of Baby Yoda alike. It also fills in gaps before the events of Revenge of the Sith. At this point in the galactic conflict, Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) is still a good man although he does resort to subterfuge to hide his relationship with Padme Amadala (Catherine Taber). Companionship? Love? A Jedi craves not those things. But Annie does. Lanter’s Anakin comes across as much more likeable than Hayden Christensen’s sullen version [I blame George Lucas' direction - Ed].

Compared to, say, season one’s premiere hot Yoda episode Ambush, the animation in The Bad Batch is far more detailed, from a dazzling opening space battle to the wrinkles on Rex’s forehead. The characterization is more complex and fully developed as well. That doesn’t make the characters more relatable than they were in Ambush, necessarily; it’s hard to compete with Yoda, whatever age he’s at. However, there’s more potential here, and more backstory since the troops have been through six seasons of strife.

The Bad Batch, developed from an idea by George Lucas, has been shown before in animatic form and released on the official website Eight years after production started, the full episodes are finally seeing the light of the day exclusively on Disney+.

The second episode, A Distant Echo, shows why Dave Filoni and crew pushed to complete this mini-arc. It sees the return of a character from previous Clone Wars shows who is important to Captain Rex. More essentially, there’s an exciting battle between Anakin and the troops versus a horde of droids in a sequence that highlights the fluidity of this CGI artform.

The Bad Batch and A Distant Echo aren’t just buying time until the events of Revenge of the Sith, and the next season of The Mandalorian. There’s attention to character and a sense of adventure that will hopefully lead to a satisfying emotional payoff before the clone troopers pack up their boots for good.

New episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars stream every Friday on Disney+.

Friday 6 March 2020

Chernobyl creator adapts The Last of Us for HBO

HBO is developing an adaptation of The Last of Us with Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Naughty Dog's Neil Druckmann. HBO's series will cover the events of the original video game, which was written by Druckmann, with the possibility of additional content based on the upcoming sequel, The Last of Us Part II (affiliate link), which is released 29th May.

"Getting a chance to adapt this breathtaking work of art has been a dream of mine for years, and I'm so honored to do it in partnership with Neil," said Mazin in a statement about the upcoming series.

“This is a true thrill for us at Sony Pictures Television. ‘The Last of Us’ is a brilliant achievement in storytelling and character development, and we are lucky to have the opportunity to work with this team to adapt it,” said Chris Parnell, co-President of Sony Pictures Television Studios. “This is the first of many shows we intend to develop with our friends at PlayStation Productions.”

HBO is synonymous with prestige television including Game of Thrones, Westworld, Chernobyl and most recently His Dark Materials.

“This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for us to partner with Craig, Neil, Carolyn and the teams at Sony, Naughty Dog and PlayStation to bring the virtual world of this acclaimed game to life,” said HBO programming president Casey Bloys.

A movie adaptation has been in development for some time, but a mini-series is the perfect medium for a character-driven story such as Ellie and Joel's journey.

Are you looking forward to The Last of Us on HBO and the upcoming video game sequel? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 4 March 2020

The Simpsons is coming to Disney+

Contrary to earlier reports, Disney+ is getting The Simpsons in the UK after all. Over 600 episodes will be available at launch on 24th March. This comprises seasons 1 to 29.

The Simpsons is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Disney+ may offer in the years to come. Disney now owns 20th Century Fox, which means it also owns the rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, 24, Modern Family, How I Met Your Mother, This Is Us and New Girl, to name but a few.

Will you be subscribing to Disney+ now The Simpsons is confirmed? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 3 March 2020

Disney+ is coming to Sky Q and NOW TV

As expected, Disney+ will be available on Sky Q and NOW TV devices at launch on 24th March. This follows Netflix integration since the Comcast takeover of Sky last year.

Jeremy Darroch, chief executive of Sky, said: "We’ve built a strong partnership with Disney over three decades and we’re pleased that our customers in the UK and Ireland can continue to enjoy their world-class content – all in one place on Sky Q."

The Walt Disney Company and Sky have enjoyed a successful long-term relationship and this multi-year deal makes sense. However, it is not believed to be exclusive.

“We are delighted that Sky is selling the Disney+ service on their platform and, along with our other distribution partners, will deliver exceptional reach at launch,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman of Walt Disney Company’s direct-to-consumer and international business.

The deal between Disney and Sky will also see some of Disney’s first 20th Century Fox titles arrive on Sky Cinema, including Le Mans ‘66 and Terminator: Dark Fate, after the takeover last year.

Monday 2 March 2020

Netflix announces Transformers: War for Cybertron

During the New York Toy Fair, Netflix announced a new animated series based on the popular Transformers toy franchise from Hasbro.

Netflix has provided the synopsis for Transformers: War for Cybertron:

"TRANSFORMERS: WAR FOR CYBERTRON TRILOGY: SIEGE begins in the final hours of the devastating civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons. The war that has torn apart their home planet of Cybertron is at a tipping point. Two leaders, Optimus Prime and Megatron, both want to save their world and unify their people, but only on their own terms. In an attempt to end the conflict, Megatron is forced to consider using the Allspark, the source of all life and power on Cybertron, to “reformat” the Autobots, thus “unifying” Cybertron. Outnumbered, outgunned, and under SIEGE, the battle-weary Autobots orchestrate a desperate series of counterstrikes on a mission that, if everything somehow goes right, will end with an unthinkable choice: kill their planet in order to save it."

According to John Derderian, Netflix’s director of anime, this new series has a lot to offer for Transformers fans old and new.

“In this Transformers origin story, we will explore the expansive universe of Cybertron in a way that audiences have never seen before — to the delight of both existing fans and those coming to the franchise for the first time,” he explained.

Tom Warner, Hasbro’s Senior Vice President for the Transformers franchise, also shared his excitement about the project. “We’re thrilled to work with Rooster Teeth’s new premium studio division to bring an all-new Transformers fan-oriented series to Netflix," Warner said. "Transformers has a rich history of great storytelling and War for Cybertron is an exciting new chapter in the Transformers Universe.”

Are you looking forward to watching Transformers: War for Cybertron? Let me know in the comments below.