Tuesday 28 April 2020

The Skywalker Saga on Disney+ May Fourth

Lucasfilm is celebrating Star Wars Day with The Clone Wars series finale, Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian and the entire 9-part Skywalker Saga on Disney+.

The Rise of Skywalker is being released early on Disney+ and Sky Cinema due to the coronavirus lockdown. The Blu-ray (affiliate link) was released earlier this month.

May also marks the 40th anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back. Not only my favourite Star Wars instalment, but also my favourite film.

Are you looking forward to watching the Skywalker Saga on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 27 April 2020

Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious

Brace yourselves fellow Whovians for some timey-wimey transmedia storytelling later this year.

Much like Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire or similar event stories, Time Lord Victorious will be told over 12-weeks in multiple mediums: from books to audio spin-offs and action figures to video games.

"Time Lord Victorious will tell a new and untold story, set within the Dark Times at the start of the universe when even the Eternals were young. Following several Doctors across space and time as they defend their home planet from a terrible race, this is a story like no other."

The story seemingly sees Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant reprising the titular role alongside Billie Piper as Rose Tyler. Expect more cast members to be announced nearer release.

“BBC Studios’ Doctor Who licensees have come together to tell an amazing epic – one that’s full of monsters, fun and heart,” producer James Goss said in a press release.

“All strands of the story unite into a mighty patchwork that ranges from one end of the universe to the next. There’s more to be revealed, but the enthusiasm and ideas which the licensees have come up with are breath-taking. It’s going to be such fun.”

Are you excited for Time Lord Victorious? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 24 April 2020

Wrestling with Lockdown

With cinemas closed around the world, due to the coronavirus lockdown, more and more of us are watching movies from the comfort of our own home. So, what better time to re-enlist the aid of Paul Moxham who reviewed Spider-Man: Far from Home.

Guest post by Paul Moxham

Wrestling. And in one word I have almost entirely exhausted my knowledge of the subject. I haven’t entered the world of full nelsons, diving clotheslines and sunset flips since my early teens. So it is with great surprise that this sport featured so heavily in both of the films that made up my lockdown viewing this week.

Fighting With My Family and The Peanut Butter Falcon are exactly the sort of films that go straight on my must-watch list, and then stay there, never finding the time or mood to properly appreciate them.

Fighting With My Family is a title that does exactly what it says on the tin; sibling rivalry takes on new meaning when Florence Pugh’s Saraya makes the cut to the elite world of American wrestling’s WWE, whilst her equally passionate brother played by Jack Lowden, doesn’t. Based on real-life events, being written and directed by Stephen Merchant assures the drama and the humour within it are grounded and earned. The family’s passion is never mocked and the commonly held belief among non-fans that it’s all “faked” is dealt with swiftly. The importance of training (including an obligatory montage), both at the top level and the benefits to the community via the local gym show the reality behind the spectacle.

The film is balanced deftly with good-spirited humour that provides Frost and Headley, as the head of the family some of the best lines, whilst an extended cameo from Dwayne Johnson (who also produces) adds a layer of gloss only he can provide.

The Peanut Butter Falcon focuses more on the family you make for yourself. Zack Gottsegen is a young man with Down’s Syndrome, struggling with wanting more from life, chiefly becoming a pro-wrestler, whilst being locked away in a care home. After escaping and winding up in Shia LaBeouf’s boat the two set off to make Zak’s dream a reality.

What follows is a Huck Finn-style yarn on a river, both men finding friendship and level of understanding, that whilst wasn’t clear to them at the beginning, will be to anyone watching. That’s not to say what follows feels in any way contrived; how both characters slowly liberate each other from their cages both physical and metaphorical is an absolute joy. Gottsegen gives a compelling and warm performance, making everyone he comes into contact with question their own attitudes and perceptions. He also provides the most heartfelt put-down in recent cinema history.

Most films could easily be at least 20 minutes shorter, in the case of The Peanut Butter Falcon being on the raft in real-time seems the least one would want. Although in the present situation I’d settle for a return trip on the Torpoint ferry.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Dance your cares away as Fraggle Rock is back!

One of my most enduring childhood memories is of watching Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock at my late Canadian grandmother's house after school. She would always pour me a glass of orange juice and I'd have a choice of biscuit (usually choosing a Jammie Dodger years before Doctor Who made them cool again).

So, I was delighted to learn Apple is rebooting the beloved series for families around the world during the coronavirus lockdown. Fraggle Rock: Rock On! is recorded on iPhones by self-isolating artists across America.

“The beloved stars of the classic Eighties series — Gobo, Red, Boober, Mokey, Wembley and Uncle Traveling Matt — join together again for new stories and classic Fraggle songs that show everyone how we are all connected through friendship,” reads the Cupertino-based company's synopsis.

“While the Fraggles might be in different parts of the Fraggle Rock caves, they can still find ways to have fun together, with music, silliness, special guests, and of course the help of devices created by the industrious Doozers — lovingly called the Doozertubes!”

New episodes of Fraggle Rock: Rock On! stream for free every Tuesday on Apple TV+.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Zoom call from Tatooine with Star Wars backgrounds

Make your next Zoom video call from the bridge of Darth Vader's Super Star Destroyer or Tatooine during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. Lucasfilm has released a free collection of official Star Wars backgrounds for use with Zoom.

Which Star Wars background will you be using? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday 19 April 2020

This is the way for Star Wars

The Gunslinger cemented The Mandalorian as one of my all-time favourite Star Wars spin-offs.

The previous episode Sanctuary, featuring a menacing AT-ST stalking unarmed villagers through a fairytale forest, solidified the series' status as not only an homage to George Lucas' beloved space saga, but also spaghetti westerns and Jim Henson's The Storyteller.

Nick Smith, our resident stellar scribe from the US, picks up a puck and goes in search of intergalactic bounties and untold riches from the franchise's storied history.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Where would The Mandalorian be without Baby Yoda?

The Disney+ streaming show would be inhabiting a smaller galaxy of niche fan love if not for the adorable green tyke, capturing the hearts of viewers on a multigenerational level. He’s just so damned cute – and if there’s one thing Star Wars can pull off without losing all credibility, it’s cute [don't mention Ewoks - Ed].

It’s not known whether “Baby Yoda” is the secret love child of “Regular Yoda” or another of his kind, he be. Since The Mandalorian is set five years after the empire has fallen in Return of the Jedi, it remains to be seen where the kid comes from – and what his destiny might be.

Right now, he’s a foil for the title character, played by Pedro Pascal. While The Child might draw us in, the bounty hunter’s interstellar adventures in babysitting keep us engaged and will bring Disney+ subscribers back in October 2020 when the second season is due to air.

Writer/Executive Producer Jon Favreau (Iron Man) has had a lifelong fascination with the opening Tatooine sequence from A New Hope - specifically the cantina scene. What was the backstory of Mos Eisley’s denizens? His inquiring mind wanted to know [as did we - Ed].

Hence we meet scoundrels like Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) and villains like The Client (Werner Herzog). Striding through all this is the honourable Mandalorian, Din Djarin. But for a bounty hunter, honour can get complicated. Complete an assignment or save a youngling from experimentation or worse? Din, aka “Mando,” has a tough choice to make, one with far-reaching consequences.

Despite its dark tone, The Mandalorian is driven by hope and optimism. Mando, a member of a seemingly cold guild, shows he has tenderness and a conscience. He can’t leave The Child to its fate. He risks everything – life, career, code - to rescue this unknown creature. He is rewarded when the creature uses its affinity with the Force to get him out of scrapes (though it could be argued that B.Y. gets him into those scrapes in the first place). In mythological terms, the hero risks his life and gets a magical reward.

From the first episode or “chapter” onwards, the show has a Wild West flavour, as if it’s directed by Sergio Leone with a dash of red Kurosawa sauce. Leone mythologised bounty hunters (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), made powerful use of flashbacks (For a Few Dollars More and Once Upon a Time in the West) and remade Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo as A Fistful of Dollars. The Mandalorian revels in its roots and Star Wars creator George Lucas’ homages to those genres… and has a lot of fun doing it.

While it’s not playing like a meaty version of ‘60s Italian cinema – a Spaghetti Bolognese Western, if you will – the show kowtows to Lone Wolf and Cub, an entertaining and sometimes brutal series of manga and films featuring a wandering samurai who pushes his toddler around in a pram while he chops his enemies into pint-sized pieces, the cub watching the violence with wide innocent eyes. This contrast between the inhumanity of men and the guilelessness of children can be very powerful and moving, as seen in films like the Harrison Ford thriller Witness and the George Lucas fantasy Willow. Whatever the nods, Favreau knows that a good action scene isn’t just about the fight – it’s about the tension building up to the first shot fired.

Also important: character portrayal and development. This is Star Wars’ first series not aimed directly at kids, so there is time and opportunity to develop Mando and Cara Dune (former MMA fighter Gina Joy Carano). However, the emphasis is on cinematic visuals rather than dialogue; Mando’s actions, especially as a reluctant parent, speak louder than words. The pace is slow enough for us to soak up the atmosphere. This show. Takes. Its. Time. But it’s never dull.

The Mandalorian also benefits from a big budget ($100 million, give or take a dime), credible acting, its popular, highly recognised source (Star Wars) and the fact that it works on more than one level – excitement for the kids, moral ambiguity for the grown-ups. It also helps that Favreau is a fan [a super fan - Ed].

Kuiil's (Nick Nolte) beasts of burden, the blurrgs, are recognisable from the Ewok TV movie The Battle for Endor [you had to mention Ewoks - Ed]. Life Day from the Holiday Special is mentioned. There are vibroblades, which originated in the spin-off novel Han Solo at Star’s End. There are clever references pulled from cartoons, video games and RPGs, making many elements canon for the first (or second) time.

One of the most noticeable is the troop transporter [first seen in Star Wars Rebels - Ed] that arrives to trap our heroes on Nevarro. The vehicle was created by Kenner in the 1970s, brought to life four decades later on the streaming screen. Alas, unlike the toy, there isn’t a button you can press on it that squawks, “There’s one, set for stun!” [probably my favourite Star Wars toy after the AT-AT - Ed]

All these Easter eggs are little rewards for Star Wars groupies who have read the books, played the games and watched the animated shows [and reenacted scenes and have the battle scars to prove it - Ed]. Their bounty hunting has finally paid off with a series that manages to be reverent but not staid, carefully paced but always entertaining, full of scope but satisfying too. This is the way a saga should be told.

Friday 17 April 2020

LEGO Star Wars A-wing joins the fleet May Fourth

LEGO has announced a new A-wing Starfighter, from Return of the Jedi, will be joining the Ultimate Collector's Series fleet this Star Wars Day.

"Launching just in time for May the 4th, the annual Star Wars fan holiday, The LEGO Ultimate Collector Star Wars A-wing Starfighter construction set measures 10.5” (27cm) high including the display stand, 16.5 inches (42cm) long and 10 inches (26cm) wide and is sure to make a statement in any Star Wars display – whether it’s at home, in the office or in a galaxy far, far away…"

Look out for other collectible build-and-display models, including the Stormtrooper Helmet (affiliate link) and Boba Fett Helmet (affiliate link).

The LEGO A-wing is available to pre-order for £179.99GBP from Lego.com (affiliate link).

Wednesday 15 April 2020

The Mandalorian documentary series on Star Wars Day

The Mandalorian is the breakout series on Disney+ and Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, chronicling the making of the first live-action Star Wars series, premieres on 4th May AKA Star Wars Day.

The 8-part documentary series, hosted by executive producer Jon Favreau, will cover all aspects of production. From the cast and crew to George Lucas' legacy and the groundbreaking use of Epic Games' Unreal Engine in pushing the envelope of real-time special effects.

“Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian is an opportunity for fans of the show to take a look inside and get to see a different perspective, and perhaps a greater understanding, of how The Mandalorian came together and some of the incredibly talented contributors throughout Season One,” said Favreau. “We had a great experience making the show and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you.”

The Clone Wars series finale also drops on Star Wars Day. A bittersweet ending to one of the greatest chapters in the franchise's storied history.

The second season of The Mandalorian is expected to premiere this October. However, the coronavirus pandemic may push back the release.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

First look at Timothée Chalamet in Dune

Vanity Fair has released the first enigmatic photo from director Denis Villeneuve's (Blade Runner 2049) highly-anticipated Dune remake depicting Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides. The role was previously played by Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) in David Lynch's movie adaptation of Frank Herbert's novels.

Chalamet instantly reminded me of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) from the Star Wars sequels. The Dune novels influenced George Lucas' space opera.

“The immediately appealing thing about Paul was the fact that in a story of such detail and scale and world-building, the protagonist is on an anti-hero’s-journey of sorts,” Chalamet told Vanity Fair.

“He thinks he’s going to be sort of a young general studying his father and his leadership of a fighting force before he comes of age, hopefully a decade later, or something like that.”

In the movie, Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) and Rebecca Ferguson play Paul's parents Duke Leto and Lady Jessica Atreides respectively, whilst Josh Brolin (Avengers: Endgame) is Gurney Halleck, a veteran soldier mentoring Paul in the ways of war.

“Dune was made by people from all over the world. Many of these people are like family to me, and they’re very much in my thoughts,” Villeneuve said. “I’m so proud to showcase their hard work. I look forward to a time when we can all get together again as Dune was made to be seen on the big screen.”

Dune, part one of two instalments, is in cinemas 18th December. Hopefully, it will fill the void vacated by Star Wars more successfully than Lynch's film in 1984. Infamously, Dune merchandise piled up in toy store bargain bins as kids (myself included) had no interest following the conclusion of the Star Wars saga the year before with Return of the Jedi.

Monday 13 April 2020

Ahmed Best says Star Wars is no longer for kids

Ahmed Best portrayed the divisive Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels and recently spoke to YouTuber Jamie Stangroom about the upcoming Disney+ Obi-Wan Kenobi live-action series. During the conversation, Best argued Star Wars has 'skewed older' in recent years, adding: “There isn’t very much for the kids anymore in Star Wars.”

He explained: “It’s very much for the millennials and gen-Xers like myself ... Kids are kind of left out of these, and the kids have to go to the animated series in order to get their dose of Star Wars, or they do like Phantom Menace. Phantom Menace is very much a kids movie.”

Best also suggested that George Lucas, who created the blockbuster franchise that revolutionised the way movies are made and seen in cinemas, believed that the long-term viability of Star Wars was predicated on younger fans.

“The new iterations of Star Wars are not really skewed towards kids, which is not something that George ever really wanted to do,” Best said. “George was always about the kids, and he used to say that if you get the kids, you have fans for the next 20 years. He was very much about kids.

“This idea that the movies are for adults is a very new thing, to be honest.”

Do you agree with Ahmed Best? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 11 April 2020

Watch selected Apple TV+ original series for free

Apple TV+ has largely been overshadowed by Disney+, which has already surpassed 50 million subscribers since launching last November. However, both media giants are in it for the long run and Apple has produced several compelling series for a diverse and inclusive audience.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Cupertino-based company has announced several of its exclusive original series are now available to stream for free for a limited time using the Apple TV app. The Apple TV app is available on a range of devices including iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Roku and selected smart TVs.

The following are currently available to watch without an Apple TV+ subscription: Wildlife documentary The Elephant Queen, narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor; Little America, the anthology series about immigrant life in America, created by Lee Eisenberg and executive produced by Kumail Nanjiiani, Emily Gordon and Alan Yang; Servant, M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller series about a couple mourning a tragedy; astronaut alternative-history drama For All Mankind; Alena Smith’s half-hour Dickinson, starring Hailee Steinfeld; live-action preschool series Helpsters, from the makers of Sesame Street; the Ghostwriter reboot; and Snoopy in Space.

Which Apple TV+ originals will you be watching for free? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 10 April 2020

Disney+ surpasses 50 million subscribers

Disney+ has surpassed 50 million paid subscribers since launch last November.

The House of Mouse's nascent streaming service is buoyed by launching in new markets this year and the global lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. The closure of cinemas has witnessed a surge in streaming with The Walt Disney Company releasing Frozen 2 and Onward early on Disney+.

Artemis Fowl will be skipping cinemas entirely and heading directly to homes soon. Former Disney CEO Bob Iger teased more movies may go directly to Disney+.

“In terms of movies going ahead after ‘Artemis,’ there may be a few more that we end up putting directly onto Disney+, but for the most part a lot of the big tentpole Disney films, we’ll simply wait for slots. In some cases, we’ve announced new ones already, but later on in the calendar,” Iger told Barron’s on Tuesday.

"What Disney+ has achieved in five months took Netflix seven years," said Chris Fenton, a movie industry analyst. "Disney+ possesses all the ammunition needed to surpass Netflix, and it also has the potential bazooka of China. If any American streaming service can gain access to the 1.4 billion people of China, it's Disney+."

The Force Friday double bill, featuring The Mandalorian and The Clone Wars, is a weekly treat.

Thursday 9 April 2020

DualSense controller teases PS5 form factor

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Sony is still on course to release the PlayStation 5 (PS5) this holiday season. Although expect it to be in very limited supply at launch.

Earlier this week, the Tokyo-based multimedia company revealed the DualSense wireless controller for the upcoming console and I was instantly reminded of Detroit: Become Human.

SIE President & CEO Jim Ryan says: “DualSense marks a radical departure from our previous controller offerings and captures just how strongly we feel about making a generational leap with PS5. The new controller, along with the many innovative features in PS5, will be transformative for games – continuing our mission at PlayStation to push the boundaries of play, now and in the future. To the PlayStation community, I truly want to thank you for sharing this exciting journey with us as we head toward PS5’s launch in Holiday 2020. We look forward to sharing more information about PS5, including the console design, in the coming months.”

DualSense has met with mixed reactions, but I really like its sleek anime design cues. Whilst gamers won't know how the premium-looking controller handles until in-hand, the latest evolution of DualShock looks larger and should appease fans (myself included) of the Xbox One controller. Subjectively, the DualShock 4 has never been comfortable for long gaming sessions and curtailed by poor battery life.

Sony has piqued my interest far more than Microsoft with its Xbox Series X. I've no need to replace my Xbox One X for the foreseeable future. A two-tone PS5 would be a welcome addition to my home gaming setup this Christmas. Let's hope it's whisper-quiet compared with its noisier predecessors.

What do you think of the DualSense wireless controller? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

At Home With Olaf

Whilst many productions are halted as we all self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. Disney is releasing a series of short films featuring everyone's favourite snowman, Olaf.

Josh Gad is reprising the beloved role of Olaf from Frozen. The short films, under the umbrella title of At Home With Olaf, will be free to watch online. Beginning with Fun With Snow, animated by Hyrum Osmond.

Even in these troubling times, creatives can work remotely on a little much-needed magic.

Saturday 4 April 2020

Artemis Fowl to debut on Disney+

With cinemas closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing the new norm, studios are pushing back the release of blockbuster movies and dipping a toe in streaming selected titles as audiences self-isolate.

Beginning with Universal Picture's Trolls World War and now Disney is releasing Artemis Fowl directly on Disney+. This isn't something entirely new as Netflix has released movies including Annihilation and Bird Box.

“Director Kenneth Branagh and his spectacular cast take viewers right into the vibrant, fantasy world of the beloved book, which fans have been waiting to see brought to life onscreen for years," said Disney+ President of Content and Marketing Ricky Strauss in a statement. "It’s great family entertainment that is the perfect addition to Disney+’s summer lineup.”

Frozen 2 and Onward are already on Disney+ in the US and Canada. However, self-isolating families remain frustrated at Disney's reluctance to release its movies everywhere day-and-date on Disney+. There's still no news regarding when Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be available. How about using Disney+ as a force for good for all in these troubling times, eh? It's all about optics.

Friday 3 April 2020

Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney+ series finds a new writer

The Obi-Wan Kenobi series, starring Ewan McGregor (The Phantom Menace) as the titular character, was put on hiatus earlier this year. However, a new writer has been tapped for the live-action Star Wars spin-off, which will join The Mandalorian and Rogue One prequel on Disney+.

The Hollywood Reporter (THR) reports Joby Harold will be the writer. Harold is known for executive producing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, as well as producing King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Trumbo.

Lucasfilm announced Deborah Chow will direct the new live-action Star Wars series. Chow, who recently worked on stablemate The Mandalorian, has also directed episodes of Mr Robot, American Gods, Jessica Jones, Fear the Walking Dead, Better Call Saul and The Man in the High Castle.

“We really wanted to select a director who is able to explore both the quiet determination and rich mystique of Obi-Wan in a way that folds seamlessly into the Star Wars saga,” Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said in a press release.

“Based on her phenomenal work developing our characters in The Mandalorian, I’m absolutely confident Deborah is the right director to tell this story.”

Looking forward to the Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off series? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday 2 April 2020

Fans animate Colin Trevorrow's Star Wars

Whilst Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker may have ended the saga that George Lucas started. Director JJ Abrams (The Force Awakens) didn't appease all fans - an impossible task for anyone at the helm. And Colin Trevorrow's (Jurassic World) leaked treatment for Episode IX, Duel of the Fates, has inspired this awesome animated fan film.

What do you think of this animated fan film based on Colin Trevorrow's script? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Netflix renews supernatural series Locke & Key

Netflix has renewed its spellbinding live-action adaptation of Locke & Key for a second season, which should please self-isolating fans (myself included).

Based on the graphic novel series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez, Locke & Key had a long and winding road to television screens. But, the wait was worth it. I binge-viewed the first season back in February before the coronavirus lockdown and have championed the series on social media.

"We are thrilled to be continuing the journey of Locke & Key alongside all of our amazing collaborators," showrunners Carlton Cuse and Meredith Averill said in a statement. "We are grateful to Netflix for all their support, especially at this difficult time, and look forward to bringing you the exciting next chapter of our story."

Like other studios, Netflix suspended all production in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. So, the second season of Locke & Key doesn't have a release date.

Are you looking forward to the second season of Locke & Key? Let me know in the comments below.