Friday 30 April 2021

Next-gen Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

In celebration of Star Wars Day, Lucasfilm Games has announced Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will be receiving the full next-gen console treatment for PlayStation 5 (PS5) and Xbox Series X|S this summer.

“Coming this summer, we’re excited to announce the next-gen release of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, bringing a number of technical improvements to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S console versions of the game. This will be a free cross-generation upgrade to current owners. More details will come soon.” a blog post on said.

Given existing owners of Respawn Entertainment's award-winning video game will get the update for free, I may pick up an Xbox Series X or S sooner than I planned (subject to availability).

In related news. Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast for PlayStation 4 (PS4) is on sale. As I have PS Store credit it would be rude not to. Especially as I've never played the second sequel to Star Wars: Dark Forces.

Will you be playing next-gen Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on PS5 or Xbox Series X|S? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday 29 April 2021

DC FanDome returns this October

DC FanDome, a stay-at-home 24-hour online event covering all things DC Comics, was a major success last August and is coming back this October.

The official announcement from Warner Bros. reads: “Having reached fans across 220 countries and territories with over 22 million views, this year the innovative, global fan experience returns on October 16, 2021!”

Hopefully, Batman fans (myself included) will learn more about director Matt Reeves' upcoming reboot starring Robert Pattinson (Tenet) as the titular dark detective.

Stay tuned for further coverage of DC FanDome.

Wednesday 28 April 2021

30 years of Heir to the Empire

May 1991 will be long remembered amongst Star Wars fans (myself included) of a certain age. A new sequel trilogy began with author Timothy Zahn's Star Wars: Heir to the Empire set 5 years after Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

The best-selling novel ushered in a new Star Wars golden age and the nineties would culminate with the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

The trilogy is most notable for introducing Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade. Thrawn has subsequently appeared in further novels, Star Wars Rebels and most recently namechecked in the second season of The Mandalorian on Disney+.

Speaking to Star Wars Insider for the 30th anniversary of Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, Zahn outlined how he created the fan-favourite character.

“I wanted to capture the Star Wars feeling, but I did not want to go over the same territory that George Lucas had already gone over, so that meant no superweapon, no Death Star, no Darth Vader-type, no Emperor-type. Which left me thinking, ‘Okay, so what else have we got? Vader and the Emperor ruled by manipulation and fear, so, how about somebody who would lead through loyalty? What kind of character could inspire that type of loyalty?”

Zahn continues.

“He needed to be a strategic and tactical genius, so that they’d know they had a good chance of winning. He cared about his troops. He was willing to accept good suggestions from subordinates. And then, finally, since we did not see a lot of aliens in the Empire, I wanted to make him a non-human, on the grounds that, if he got to be a Grand Admiral, he had to be something very special.”

What are your memories of reading Star Wars: Heir to the Empire? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 26 April 2021

Celebrate Alien Day on Fortnite

It's Alien Day celebrating all things xenomorph on LV-426 and they're invading Fortnite. Play as Ripley or as a xenomorph.

"They mostly come out at night... mostly." An iconic line from Aliens, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

Director James Cameron's action-packed sequel to Sir Ridley Scott's haunted house in space remains one of my all-time favourite films. At the time of Aliens' original release, I was too young to see it in a theatre.

However, I remember cycling to the newsagents whilst on school summer holiday staying with grandparents, picking up a copy of Starburst magazine and excitedly leafing through its pages, reading Alan Dean Foster's novelisation out on store deliveries with dad and playing the 8-bit video game tie-in on Commodore 64. Being blessed with a cool mum meant I was able to see Aliens (on rental video) a few months later to the envy of high school friends.

In related news. Twitter experienced a xenomorph infestation of its own when folks argued whether or not Alien was a horror movie? Kevin Smith stepped in to save the day. Prometheus is now streaming on Star on Disney+. And Nick Smith will be reviewing Marvel Comics' Alien series soon.

Here's hoping Fortnite does something similar for Star Wars Day on 4th May.

What are your favourite Alien franchise memories? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 24 April 2021

Marvel's M.O.D.O.K. coming to Star on Disney+

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has concluded on Disney+. A spectacular spin-off series exploring themes of racism, trauma and more in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Loki, starring Tom Hiddleston as the titular God of Mischief, continues Phase 4 this June. However, Marvel's M.O.D.O.K. is coming to Hulu and Star on Disney+ this May.

Hulu has released a trailer for the upcoming stop motion adult animated series spin-off starring Patton Oswalt as the titular villain.

Read the official synopsis:

"An egomaniacal supervillain struggles to maintain control of his evil organization after it is bought by a multinational tech company, all while juggling the needs of his demanding family."

Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. is on Hulu and Star on Disney+ on 21st May.

Friday 23 April 2021

Spider-Man swinging onto Disney+

As the ink dries on an exclusive first-run deal between Sony and Netflix beginning in 2022. The Tokyo-based company has announced Marvel Studios' Spider-Man will be coming to Disney+ and Hulu in the US.

Spider-Man's standalone movies, in particular starring Tom Holland as the titular webslinger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), have been conspicuous by their absence on the House of Mouse's streaming platform. The deal means Sony's movies from 2022-2026 can be shown on Disney+ following a first-run on Netflix.

This is great news for Marvel fans (myself included).

Thursday 22 April 2021

LEGO R2-D2 for May the Fourth

This is the droid building set LEGO Star Wars fans are looking for.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Lucasfilm, LEGO is introducing a new large-scale R2-D2 for May the Fourth AKA Star Wars Day.

Commenting on the new set, Jens Kronvold Frederiksen, creative lead of LEGO Star Wars at the LEGO Group, said: “We have had the pleasure of creating hundreds of Star Wars-inspired models over the past two decades since we first launched LEGO Star Wars sets.

“As Lucasfilm celebrates its 50th anniversary, it seemed fitting to challenge ourselves and push the limits of what is possible with LEGO bricks by recreating a fan-favourite Star Wars character in great detail like we have never achieved before. We are delighted with the result and hope our fans get as much joy out of building the sets as we did designing it.”

R2-D2 is available exclusively from LEGO AU, UK and US (affiliate links) on 1st May. Fans purchasing orders over £85 will receive a free Tattoine Homestead Micro Build.

Will you be adding LEGO R2-D2 to your collection? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Emilia Clarke joins Marvel’s Secret Invasion

Variety exclusively reports Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones, Solo: A Star Wars Story) has joined Marvel Studios' Secret Invasion series starring Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Olivia Colman.

The upcoming Disney+ series is shrouded in secrecy but is said to follow a group of shape-shifting aliens, Skrulls, who have been infiltrating Earth for decades. The Skrulls were first introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in Captain Marvel and most recently appeared in WandaVision.

Who do you think Emilia Clarke will play in Secret Invasion? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Ahsoka Tano and Grogu from Hot Toys

Whilst Star Wars fans await The Clone Wars version of Ahsoka Tano (affiliate link) from Hot Toys, the Hong Kong-based studio has announced The Mandalorian incarnation of the fan-favourite character.

Ahsoka Tano made her live-action debut in the second season of The Mandalorian on Disney+. This time played by actress Rosario Dawson in the Star Wars spin-off series as she hunts down Grand Admiral Thrawn.

“Grogu and I can feel each other's thoughts.” - Ahsoka Tano

In the widely acclaimed The Mandalorian, our hero Din Djarin was quested to return the mysterious baby Grogu to his kind. In his journey across the galaxy, he was guided to seek out the former Jedi Ahsoka Tano on the forest planet of Corvus where Star Wars fans were elated to see the Togruta hero depicted in live-action for the first time!

To further expand The Mandalorian collectible series, Sideshow and Hot Toys is delighted to introduce a new sixth scale collectible set from the DX Series, featuring Ahsoka Tano and Grogu for all Star Wars fans to enjoy!

The highly-accurate Ahsoka collectible figure features a meticulously crafted head sculpt with separate rolling eyeballs features and articulated head-tails, specialized physique, skillfully tailored outfit with fine details, a pair of lightsabers, interchangeable lightsaber blades emulating the weapon in motion, and a cloak.

The Grogu collectible figure is featuring a newly developed head sculpt with great likeness, articulated head and arms.

This special set specially features a forest theme backdrop and display base along with a lantern to recreate the memorable scene when Ahsoka and Grogu first meet.

Enhance your Star Wars collection now with this amazing collectible set that captures the memorable scene between two beloved characters!

Will you be adding Ahsoka Tano and Grogu (affiliate link) to your Hot Toys collection? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 19 April 2021

Victorian X-Men in HBO's The Nevers

The Nevers, currently streaming on HBO Max, marks the return of Joss Whedon (The Avengers), which is marred in controversy.

Is it a televisual triumph like Whedon's previous series Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly? Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, goes in search of the supernatural in Victorian times.

Guest post by Nick Smith

1890s England was full of grime, poverty and danger. Queen Victoria ruled with an iron will. Children swept chimneys and cried a lot. Life was short. The only people regarded as truly special were the rich and well to do, the aristocrats and industry magnates. Everyone else hoped for a better tomorrow in a new century. The Church offered optimism; above its steeples, the skybound solace of heaven beckoned. If congregations couldn’t be graced with money or breeding, they could be touched by an angel.

Religious concerns are not foremost in The Nevers, created by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly). Ironically, it’s streaming on HBO Max alongside Zack Snyder’s Justice League and The New Mutants.

Snyder’s Justice League is considered superior to the more light-hearted, PG-13 version of the film that Whedon got embroiled in. New Mutants is about a school for gifted youngsters, not unlike the gladiator training grounds of old, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Umbrella Academy, or Miss True’s orphanage in The Nevers.

All the above feature a motley bunch of exceptional youths thrust together, similar in their differences from ‘normal’ people.

The Nevers differs in its setting, eschewing the grit and desperation of Dickensian London for optimism. This is a place of wonders such as a new kettle that whistles when its water boils, new French words entering the English vocabulary, new modes of transport (motor cars are rare). Along with the sense of wonder, we’re reminded that the Londoners of the time were new to scientific learning and quick to fear what they didn’t understand.

Rather than have women strive on their own merits, the Nevers are underdog heroes who have been ‘touched,’ given magical powers from above. This adventure-packed version of our world has an Erich von Daniken slant, suggesting that humankind isn’t capable of great inventions, feats of engineering or leaps of imagination by itself.

Nevertheless, Whedon, who wrote and directed the pilot episode, has made a show that appeals to viewers who don’t watch Ancient Aliens or superhero shows, just as Buffy appealed to those who weren’t all that into horror tropes.

Will the new-fangled, burgeoning 20th Century bring more technology, more ugly opponents and more superheroes – er – touched people? Does the show have enough potential tales to fill more than its initial 12 episodes?

The Nevers is intriguing, and the central cast of Baker Street Very Irregulars are likeable. We don’t know what all their powers are yet and there are a few mysteries left unsolved. These unanswered questions make The Nevers worth watching, not least to see Whedon’s slick modern style taking a history trip to Old Blighty.

The Nevers is currently streaming exclusively on HBO Max and begins on Sky Atlantic on 17th May.

Saturday 17 April 2021

Zombies invade the White House in Resident Evil

Earlier this week Netflix released an official trailer for Zack Snyder's Army of the Dead. The streamer continues the zombie theme with a Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness trailer revealed during the Resident Evil Showcase.

Here’s a synopsis:

"In 2006, there were traces of improper access to secret Presidential files found in the White House’s computer network. American federal agent Leon S. Kennedy is among the group invited to the White House to investigate this incident, but when the lights suddenly go out, Leon and the SWAT team are forced to take down a horde of mysterious zombies. Meanwhile, TerraSave staff member Claire Redfield encounters a mysterious image drawn by a young boy in a country she visited, while providing support to refugees. Haunted by this drawing, which appears to be of a victim of viral infection, Claire starts her own investigation. The next morning, Claire visits the White House to request the construction of a welfare facility. There, she has a chance reunion with Leon and uses the opportunity to show him the boy’s drawing. Leon seems to realize some sort of connection between the zombie outbreak at the White House and the strange drawing, but he tells Claire that there is no relation and leaves. In time, these two zombie outbreaks in distant countries lead to events that shake the nation to its very core."

With a story set several years after the events of Resident Evil 4, both Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield are brought together when their paths cross after investigating two seemingly separate incidents. What awaits them in the darkness that looms large before them?

“Being involved in a work with such a long history and so many fans gave me more joy than it did pressure,” said director Eiichiro Hasumi. “While this is a full CG anime, I strove to adjust the camerawork and lighting atmosphere to resemble the live-action filming I usually do to instill this work with a sense of realism. I hope that both fans of the Resident Evil series and non-fans alike can enjoy watching the series in one go.”

A Resident Evil live-action spin-off series is also in development at Netflix. Sony is rebooting the film franchise with Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City in cinemas this November, which will be shown first on Netflix as part of a multi-year deal from 2022.

Are you looking forward to the various Resident Evil video game, film and television spin-offs as part of the franchise's 25th anniversary? Let me know in the comments below.

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness arrives on Netflix this July.

Friday 16 April 2021

The Bad Batch assemble in Disney+ poster

It's Force Friday so to speak, fellow Star Wars fans!

Star Wars: The Bad Batch begins streaming on 4th May AKA Star Wars Day on Disney+. A new poster has been released to celebrate the upcoming animated spin-off series.

Read the official synopsis for Star Wars: The Bad Batch:

""Star Wars: The Bad Batch" follows the elite and experimental clones of the Bad Batch (first introduced in “The Clone Wars”) as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the Clone War. Members of Bad Batch—a unique squad of clones who vary genetically from their brothers in the Clone Army—each possess a singular exceptional skill that makes them extraordinarily effective soldiers and a formidable crew."

Star Wars: The Bad Batch is executive produced by Dave Filoni (The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Athena Portillo (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels), Brad Rau (Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars Resistance) and Jennifer Corbett (Star Wars Resistance, NCIS) with Carrie Beck (The Mandalorian, Star Wars Rebels) as co-executive producer and Josh Rimes as producer (Star Wars Resistance). Rau is also serving as supervising director with Corbett as head writer.

The misfit band of clones will be joined on their adventure by fan-favourite Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) who appears in The Mandalorian and upcoming The Book of Boba Fett.

The Star Wars spin-off begins with a 70-minute special on 4th May. New episodes drop weekly exclusively on Disney+ from Friday 7th May.

Are you looking forward to Star Wars: The Bad Batch? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday 15 April 2021

Zack Snyder's Army of the Dead on Netflix

Zack Snyder's upcoming movie isn't based on a DC Comics property. Army of the Dead was filmed for Netflix and sees the director return to the zombie genre, which is exciting as I'm a fan of his Dawn of the Dead remake. Netflix has released an official trailer.

Read the official synopsis:

"From filmmaker Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s Justice League), ARMY OF THE DEAD takes place following a zombie outbreak that has left Las Vegas in ruins and walled off from the rest of the world. When Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a former zombie war hero who’s now flipping burgers on the outskirts of the town he now calls home, is approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), it’s with the ultimate proposition: break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the city is nuked by the government in 32 hours. With little left to lose, Ward takes on the challenge, assembling a ragtag team of experts for the heist. With a ticking clock, a notoriously impenetrable vault, and a smarter, faster horde of Alpha zombies closing in, only one thing’s for certain in the greatest heist ever attempted: survivors take all."

Starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Huma Qureshi, Samantha Win, Michael Cassidy, Richard Cetrone, and Garret Dillahunt.

"This was the most gratifying experience making this movie," Snyder said, during a Q&A hosted by Netflix. "This is the movie. There are no other cuts of the movie. I didn't have to fight them. It was the opposite. This is the director's cut, and you're going to see it first. You don't have to see the bastardized version first, there's just the awesome version."

Army of the Dead is due to be released on Netflix and in selected cinemas on 21st May.

Are you looking forward to Army of the Dead? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Captain America's shattered legacy

Spoilers for Marvel Studios' The Falcon and the Winter Soldier streaming on Disney+. If you haven't caught up with, or started watching, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and don't want to find out what's going on, please look away from the screen now.

WandaVision, with its mystery box storytelling and multiverse speculation amped to the nth degree by a certain cameo, was water-cooler television. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier initially garnered a slightly more muted response on social media as it premiered the same week as Zack Snyder's Justice League on HBO Max. However, the Disney+ series serves as a compelling sequel to Captain America: Civil War.

The spin-off series deftly explores Sam Wilson's (Anthony Mackie) reluctance to adopt Captain America's iconic shield and Bucky Barnes' (Sebastian Stan) PTSD as the infamous Winter Soldier now freed of Zemo's (Daniel Brühl) brainwashing.

However, John Walker’s (Wyatt Russell) Captain America has disrupted the status quo and is a superhero with the moral compass of The Boys on Amazon Prime. Blood was spilt following the death of Walker's right-hand man Lemar Hoskins AKA Battlestar (Clé Bennett), which is something Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) would never have countenanced.

Like WandaVision, grief and loss haunt our intrepid band of heroes in the wake of the cataclysmic Thanos Blip, and I welcome these recurring themes as they're eminently relatable. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has avoided the temptation of a simple reset for Phase 4 following the decade-spanning Infinity Saga.

Marvel Studios has shared a mid-season sneak peek teasing an epic showdown between Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes and Captain America - not my Captain America.

New episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiere every Friday exclusively on Disney+.

What are your The Falcon and the Winter Soldier theories? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 12 April 2021

The hunt for Han Solo begins May

Whilst Star Wars fans (myself included) wait for The Book of Boba Fett, starring Temuera Morrison as the titular bounty hunter and co-starring Ming-Na Wen as fan-favourite Fennec Shand, this December on Disney+. Marvel Comics is publishing an epic Star Wars crossover event entitled Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters running from May through October.

Like Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, War of the Bounty Hunters chronicles events between Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi as Boba Fett transports Han Solo in carbonite to Jabba the Hutt.

War of the Bounty Hunters will crossover into all Star Wars comics including Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra and a Jabba the Hutt one-shot special this July.

“Getting to work on a comic at Marvel, especially a Star Wars comic about one of the most perpetually under-appreciated criminal masterminds in the whole galaxy, has been a trip,” Justina Ireland told “It’s exciting, a little scary, and really makes me wish I could time travel to tell my twelve-year-old self reading comics in the grocery store self ‘All of this will pay off one day.'”

Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters Alpha #1 hits newsstands 5th May and is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Are you looking forward to Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 10 April 2021

Self-transforming Optimus Prime is a thing

During Friday's first-ever Hasbro Pulse Fan Fest, the Pawtucket-based company announced the most advanced Transformers toy in history.

For $700, Transformers fans (myself included) can purchase a 19-inch app-controlled self-transforming Optimus Prime. Filmmaker Kevin Smith and longtime friend Jason Mewes demonstrated the voice-controlled fan-favourite Autobot Leader (featuring the voice of Peter Cullen). This is the stuff of childhood dreams.

"After over 11 years of rigorous R&D, the talented team at Robosen was able to produce the first-ever consumer robot that features a comprehensive set of functions, including automatic convertible movement from vehicle to robot, bipedal walking ability in robot form, race function in vehicle form, programmable/code development, and robot control/commands by either voice or mobile app," reads the press release from Hasbro.

The transforming technology is impressive and would make Sphero's Star Wars app-enabled droids blush.

"We are thrilled to collaborate with Hasbro and look forward to ushering in a new standard of robotics with the most advanced Transformers robots for consumers ever created," said Robosen USA director Sean Tang. "The team is working hard to deliver an amazing user experience for fans of this esteemed franchise and produce Transformers that will be a premium addition to their collection with its superior functionality."

Optimus Prime is currently only available in the US and beyond my price range as a casual collector. So, I've pre-ordered Kingdom Commander Rodimus Prime and evil Autobot Blurr from IDW's Shattered Glass for toy photography on Instagram.

What do you think? Would you spend $700 on a robotic Optimus Prime? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 9 April 2021

Netflix becomes first-run home for Sony

The streaming space is reaching saturation point with Apple TV+, Disney+, Discovery+, Paramount+, HBO Max... You get the cord-cutting picture.

So, it makes sense for Sony, which has had a chequered history adapting to a digital era disrupted by tech titans such as Apple, to form a multi-year distribution deal with streaming incumbent Netflix.

“At Sony Pictures, we produce some of the biggest blockbusters and the most creative, original films in the industry. This exciting agreement further demonstrates the importance of that content to our distribution partners as they grow their audiences and deliver the very best in entertainment,” said Keith Le Goy, Sony’s president of worldwide distribution.

Netflix dominates but is losing ground to competitors during the pandemic.

Netflix film head Scott Stuber added, “This not only allows us to bring their impressive slate of beloved film franchises and new IP to Netflix in the U.S., but it also establishes a new source of first-run films for Netflix movie lovers worldwide.”

With competing studios releasing theatrical films, simultaneously in cinemas and direct-to-consumers, this is a smart move.

Disney+ doesn't get to play with all the Marvel toys.

It's a win-win for both companies and will see PlayStation Productions' live-action Uncharted, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2 and Marvel Studios' Spider-Man: No Way Home debut first on Netflix from 2022.

Thursday 8 April 2021

The Nevers on Sky Atlantic

The Nevers, from Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), begins on HBO Max and Sky Atlantic this spring.

However, given the recent controversy surrounding the show's creator, the upcoming sci-fi series is distancing itself ahead of the first season premiere this Sunday on HBO Max.

Read the official synopsis:

"In the last years of Victoria’s reign, London is beset by the “Touched”: people - mostly women - who suddenly manifest abnormal abilities - some charming, some very disturbing. Starring Laura Donnelly (Amalia True) and Ann Skelly (Penance Adair) as the champions of this new underclass, on a mission to make room for those whom history as we know it has no place."

For good or bad, The Nevers is seemingly filled with Whedon's established tropes (Buffy, Dollhouse) set against a steampunk backdrop. We'll know for sure when the series begins (I haven't been sent a press screener but might give Nick Smith a nudge).

The Nevers begins on HBO Max on 11th April and Sky Atlantic on 17th May.

Wednesday 7 April 2021

Batman: The Long Halloween

Warner Bros. has released a trailer for the upcoming 2-part animated adaptation of DC Comics' Batman: The Long Halloween (affiliate link). The original 13-issue comic book series inspired The Dark Knight Trilogy and The Batman.

The first trailer premiered on IGN.

Read the official synopsis:

"Inspired by the iconic mid-1990s DC story from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One begins as a brutal murder on Halloween prompts Gotham’s young vigilante, the Batman, to form a pact with the city’s only two uncorrupt lawmen (Police Captain James Gordan and District Attorney Harvey Dent) in order to take down The Roman, head of the notorious and powerful Falcone Crime Family. But when more deaths occur on Thanksgiving and Christmas, it becomes clear that, instead of ordinary gang violence, they’re also dealing with a serial killer – the identity of whom, with each conflicting clue, grows harder to discern. Few cases have ever tested the wits of the World’s Greatest Detective like the mystery behind the Holiday Killer."

Batman: The Long Halloween features the voice talents of Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) as Batman, Naya Rivera (Glee) as Catwoman, Josh Duhamel (Transformers) as Harvey Dent, Billy Burke (Most Dangerous Game) as James Gordon, Titus Welliver (Bosch) as Carmine Falcone, David Dastmalchiann (The Suicide Squad) as Calendar Man, Troy Baker (Batman: Arkham Origins) as Joker, Amy Landecker (Your Honor) as Barbara Gordon, Julie Nathanson (Elena of Avalor) as Gilda Dent, Jack Quaid (Star Trek: Lower Decks) as Alberto, Fred Tatasciore (Devil May Care) as Solomon Grundy and Alastair Duncan (Spider-Man) as Alfred. Also featuring are Frances Callier, Greg Chun, Gary Leroi Gray and Jim Pirri.

DC Comics has an award-winning animation pedigree with Batman: The Animated Series regarded as one of the greatest series ever produced. Are you looking forward to Batman: The Long Halloween? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 6 April 2021

Q returns in Star Trek: Picard

After a mixed first season of Star Trek: Picard, which gave us one of the best episodes in the franchise's storied history, I had little interest in seeing the second season.

However, that's changed with the First Contact Day (a fan celebration marking the first contact between humans and Vulcans) announcement of John de Lancie reprising the iconic role of Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The omnipotent Q first appeared in Encounter at Farpoint and subjected the crew of the USS Enterprise to ongoing trials throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation's seven seasons. Most notably, Q Who in which Captain Jean-Luc Picard's (Patrick Stewart) arrogance is challenged in an inaugural confrontation with the Borg (foreshadowing events in The Best of Both Worlds Part I).

Wil Wheaton, who played Ensign Wesley Crusher, introduced de Lancie as a surprise guest during an official Zoom chat with Sir Patrick Stewart.

Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds are all in production for Paramount+. Star Trek: Picard is on Amazon Prime (affiliate link) outside the US.

Are you looking forward to the second season of Star Trek: Picard in 2022? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 5 April 2021

Beast Wars: Godzilla vs. Kong

Godzilla and King Kong have been thrilling moviegoers for decades. Flattening foes from the Empire State Building to Tokyo. But will the pandemic stop these big screen icons?

Back from hunting shadows aboard Babylon 5, Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, is ringside for a blockbuster monster smackdown on HBO Max.

Guest post by Nick Smith

In Godzilla vs. Kong, we find the jumbo-size King of Skull Island locked in a holographically enhanced dome. Man has messed up the weather on the rest of the island, turning it as grey and stormy as Glasgow on a good day. Beyond the Thunderdome, Godzilla wreaks havoc on Pensacola, Florida. Only one beast can stop him from causing more trouble in a globe-spanning adventure that takes us to Antarctica and Hong Kong, where the titans clash and destroy a crazy amount of real estate.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the apex of Legendary’s MonsterVerse, a cinematic ’reboot’ franchise that has been roaring across our screens for seven years. Over that time, plots have become simpler as the filmmakers aim for as wide-ranging an audience as possible. The latest effort stays true to Godzilla and King Kong’s monster movie origins, culminating in a satisfying knockdown conflict involving the two bad boy behemoths.

2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island were enjoyable, specifically because of their impressive effects and their focus on class actors Brian Cranston and Samuel L. Jackson respectively. With its kaiju-foreshadowing ending, Skull Island built anticipation for 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Sadly, the latter wasted the talents of Stranger Things' Millie Bobby Brown, who starred as Madison Russell. Madison’s mom (Vera Farmiga), a misguided scientist, seemed motivated by plot rather than any credible maternal instincts and the movie was epically forgettable.

Two years later, Godzilla is fighting King Kong in a movie no one really asked for. After all, they both have their fans who don’t want their favourite monster to get mashed. Will they find out their mother’s name is Martha and bond against a common foe? Or is the film’s title just an excuse to squeeze both their names on the poster? They’re too busy crushing tower blocks to care.

If the competition is for Best Animation, Godzilla’s the clear winner. One could argue that it’s easier to digitize reptilian scales than ape fur, but early on in the film Kong’s sloppy animation includes the objects around him (trees, chains) giving a video game feel that’s more Donkey than King.

I was pleased to see Pensacola featured – it’s an hour west of where I live – although this beach ball-loving little town has transformed into an industrialized megacity. Godzilla vs. Kong is apparently set in the near future, with Elon Musk-esque technology and Kong’s holodeck home. Hong Kong is depicted as a party city of multi-coloured neon, ripe for razing by the titans. Part of the fun of Skull Island’s period setting (1973) was to see that era’s weaponry struggling against King Kong. The new movie seems to suggest an alternate timeline where kaiju tech has helped the human race to progress.

Unfortunately, that’s the only progress the humans make. There’s no overt character development for them; any emotional growth is left to the titans. The original monster movies, from 1933’s King Kong on, had us caring about the humans as well as the strange creatures; in that classic, Kong was given relatable traits, desires, and a fatal flaw. Almost a century later, five men get writing credits on Godzilla vs. Kong, although apparently, they watched a kid bashing toys against each other and transcribed the result. OK done, here’s your screenplay to sell toys!

There’s definitely a sense that the filmmakers are worried about the short attention span of their target audience. Cue overly dramatic music when the bad guy makes his big speech – y’know, in case viewers get bored. The composer is telling us, “this is exciting stuff, y’all!”

The characters may not be fully developed but they are, on the whole, charming and worth rooting for. Little girl Jia (Kaylee Hottle) is reminiscent of Meiying in The Meg (2018), with trailer-worthy scenes that show Kong’s scale-up against her, rain falling, tears falling, motion slowing… it’s all very dramatic. Why not? After all, The Meg earned over half a billion dollars at the box office and Kong’s banana rations ain’t cheap these days.

For all Hollywood’s attempts at diversity (Hottle is deaf and she plays a deaf character) in some ways, it hasn’t progressed since the ‘30s heyday of Stepin Fetchit. Godzilla vs. Kong includes a scene with a comic relief African American looking scared and running. Brian Tyree Henry rises above such material, depicting Bernie Hayes as an intelligent, likeable and slightly bonkers character who is one of the more memorable in the film.

Godzilla vs. Kong repeats the formula of anchoring its plot with a good, solid actor (Alexander Skarsgard) and Millie Bobby Brown is given more to do. The same cannot be said for Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) and Madison’s dad Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) who do what they can with underdeveloped roles.

The animation seems to improve over the course of the film, offering us a breathtaking Hollow Earth landscape and gravity-defying vehicles. There’s an optimism present in this timeline, a world where cybernetics coexists with prehistoric monsters and there’s hope for our future (except for that whole destruction of ecosystems part, which has apparently displaced the indigenous population of Skull island).

More importantly, there’s hope for the MonsterVerse’s future – it has opened with a reported $50 million box office take – and for movie-going, despite its availability on HBO Max. Hence hyperbolic headlines like, “Godzilla vs. Kong Defeats Pandemic” (The Hollywood Reporter) and “Godzilla vs. Kong Propels Domestic Box Office Out of Pandemic Depression” (Deadline).

Godzilla vs. Kong deserves its mantle as a savage saviour. It’s fun, better than Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and continues the legacy of both beasts in a respectful manner. It’s a treat for those who find the Transformers franchise too Dostoyevskyan, and for monster movie fans of all ages.

Watch Godzilla vs. Kong (affiliate link).

Have you seen Godzilla vs. Kong? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday 4 April 2021

Black Widow confronts her past

Happy Easter to those who celebrate!

Marvel Studios has dropped a new trailer for the much-delayed Black Widow starring Scarlett Johansson as the titular character and features Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz.

Here's the official synopsis:

“In Marvel Studios’ action-packed spy thriller ‘Black Widow,’ Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.“

The Phase 4 Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie is set between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.

Black Widow will be in cinemas and available exclusively on Disney+ with Premier Access on 9th July.

Are you looking forward to Black Widow? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 3 April 2021

Star Wars Vintage Collection on Disney+

It's the Easter bank holiday weekend, and Lucasfilm has dropped the Star Wars Vintage Collection on Disney+ as part of its 50th anniversary celebration!

Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure

The Towani family's starcruiser crashes on the forest moon of Endor and the separation of two children from their parents sets into motion an incredible adventure that takes four-year-old Cindel, and her older brother, Mace, into the unfamiliar world of the Ewoks.

Ewoks: The Battle for Endor

The exciting adventures of the Ewoks continue as the heroic Wicket and his young friend Cindel escape the evil Marauders with the help of their new allies, the gruff hermit Noa and his swift-footed sidekick, Teek.

Story of the Faithful Wookiee

After Luke Skywalker and Han Solo succumb to a suspicious sleeping virus, Chewbacca hunts a cure with help from an unlikely ally -- the bounty hunter Boba Fett. Chewie's Wookiee instincts warn him that all is not what it seems. This rare, animated short features the voices of the original Star Wars cast.

Star Wars: Ewoks

Journey to the forest moon of Endor for an out-of-this-world visit with your favorite, furry Star Wars heroes -- the small-but-mighty Ewoks -- in their own action-packed, animated series! Join Wicket, his friends Princess Kneesaa, Teebo, and Latara, and their entire tribe, as they experience fantastical adventures in Bright Tree Village.

Clone Wars 2D Micro-Series — Volume 1 & 2

Feel your heart race and your pulse pound as every chapter of this Emmy award-winning animated series envisions the story arc between Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Packed with action, this landmark "microseries" is essential viewing for all fans of the Force!

Star Wars: Droids will arrive later this year exclusively on Disney+. The beloved animated series was an afterschool favourite and spawned a range of colourful action figures and accessories from Kenner. Alas, by the time of its release in the mid-eighties, I'd outgrown 'childish things' and didn't collect any of them.

What will you be watching first from the Star Wars Vintage Collection on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 2 April 2021

ILM showcases StageCraft for The Mandalorian

The fine folks at Lucasfilm have given Star Wars fans (myself included) a peek behind the curtain at The Mandalorian on Disney+. The Volume, an LED-based virtual set technology, will define special effects for years to come.

"A behind the scenes look at the groundbreaking virtual production technology used on The Mandalorian, season two.

For the second season of Lucasfilm’s hit Disney+ series, The Mandalorian, Industrial Light & Magic reengineered their StageCraft virtual production platform rolling out version 2.0 in which ILM introduced among other things, Helios, Industrial Light & Magic’s first cinematic render engine designed for real-time visual effects. Engineered from the ground up with film and television production in mind, Helios offers incredible performance, high fidelity real-time ray tracing, the ability to rip through scenes of unparalleled complexity, all while leveraging ILM’s unrivaled color science, and was designed from the start to work seamlessly with ILM StageCraft.

The purpose-built, production-hardened platform allows filmmakers to explore new ideas, communicate concepts, and execute shots in a collaborative and flexible production environment."

The Volume will be utilised next for the Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off series starring Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Hayden Christensen (Darth Vader), which begins filming this month.

Thursday 1 April 2021

Babylon Burning Bright

Babylon 5, a seminal space opera instrumental in popularising long-form storytelling, has a new lease of life on iTunes, Amazon (affiliate link) and HBO Max.

As I've written previously, the sci-fi series will always be synonymous with undergraduate study and culminated in a letter (co-written with friends) published in Starburst magazine around the time I first saw my name in print in Dark Horse Comics' Classic Star Wars.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, goes on a mysterious mythic quest in deep space.

Guest post by Nick Smith

"Life’s full of mysteries," says Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) in the ‘90s space opera Babylon 5. One of those mysteries is, why doesn’t the show get more love?

Warner Bros’ Babylon 5 has a lot going for it – likeable heroes, mysterious aliens, galaxy-shaking secrets and political shenanigans. Its imprimatur can be seen in more recent shows like 2004’s Battlestar Galactica and The Expanse. But unless you’re a hardcore fan, chances are B5’s slipped off your radar if it was ever blipping there in the first place.

By the time Babylon 5 premiered in 1993, TV audiences were used to glossy space operas thanks to Paramount’s Star Trek: The Next Generation. The latter was so popular that it spawned its own spin-off in the early ‘90s, Deep Space 9. B5 and DS9 were both set on space stations, featuring the interaction of different aliens who didn’t always get along, energized by a rivalry to match that of Warner Bros. and Paramount.

The show does seem dated, with a more leisurely pace than we’re used to in our fancy new-fangled shows and computer-generated space vessels that look… computer generated. Nevertheless, thanks to the amiable acting and ambitious writing, B5 deserves a revisit and HBO Max apparently agrees, as it’s currently streaming a remastered version of all five seasons.

According to Warner Bros., the episodes have been scanned in 4K from the original Super 35mm negatives, cleaned up, colour corrected and released in 4:3 HD. That means we can see Sinclair’s impressive eyebrows comin’ at us in Hi-Def; marvel at the great makeup job on aliens like the Soul Taker, who really looks like he has a jewel embedded in his forehead; and cringe at some of the regular, human makeup, now you can see the (lack of) blending around the eyes or a wee bit too much blush on the cheeks. And that’s just the guys.

Babylon begins with its vaguely ponderous pilot episode The Gathering, introducing main characters like Sinclair (Michael O’Hare), Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle), Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) and G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas).

Show creator J. Michael Straczynski seems concerned that the general public will be turned off by sci-fi, so he includes a murder mystery plot and a courtroom drama (Sinclair accused of the mysterious murder).

The story serves its purpose of familiarizing us with different alien races and indicating the tension between them. The Minbari fought the humans but surrendered at a pivotal moment in the war; G’Kar and Londo have an inculcated hatred for each other that might take, oh, five years to work through.

There’s a sense that the story would be better if it stuck with one trope instead of three but Straczynski knows what he’s doing – he is, after all, the author of my well-thumbed copy of The Complete Book of Scriptwriting – a Save the Cat for space heads.

After The Gathering, the show quickly improves, with a more relaxed cast, more fluid camerawork and tighter editing. There are some fun aliens like N’Grath, who puts the ‘man’ into praying mantis. CGI creatures were not really feasible back in Grandpa’s day so we get good ol’ fashioned practical BEMs instead. The humanoid alien makeup is great, as evidenced by formerly mentioned, gem-headed Soul Hunter – more on that bad boy in a moment.

Episode two highlights the rivalry between G’Kar and Londo and introduces a few new characters, including Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) and psychic Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson). Like Sinclair before her, Ivanova will grow on the audience and all the characters become likeable over time.

Episode three features the Soul Hunter, who represents an immediate threat to the Minbari and becomes the second ‘killer on the loose’ in the show so far. Tellingly, the Hunter is not an out-and-out monster; he wants to save souls. The rest of the series develops in a similar manner, with sympathetic villains and moral dilemmas explored in fascinating arcs, with pay-offs begun in the pilot (Sinclair is told he has ‘a hole in his mind’) leading to a satisfying conclusion.

J. Michael Straczynski wrote the majority of the episodes, taking a grown-up approach to space stuff. I admired him. I really wanted to like his saga and I read about it religiously in DreamWatch Bulletin magazine [I miss the fanzine and not solely because my words were reprinted in its pages - Ed]. But it was hard to follow Babylon 5 on British TV, partly because of its scheduling on Channel 4 and also because I was in university at the time, spending my time with ne'er-do-wells like a certain Mr John Hood!

So, it’s great to be able to see this epic streamed in order without interruption, showcasing Straczynski’s masterclass in story development, inspiring sci-fi fans and providing a new best hope for some quality entertainment.

What are your favourite memories of Babylon 5 or are you discovering the series for the first time? Let me know in the comments below.