Tuesday 31 August 2021

The Return of the Rocketeer on Disney+

On Monday, I was discussing my hopes for a spin-off series for The Rocketeer on Disney+ with LiveForFilms' (LFF) Phil Edwards. 30 years after the original movie rocketed into cinemas, Disney's purportedly working on a live-action sequel for Disney+ according to Deadline! How's that for a coincidence?

The original movie, directed by Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger) and starring Billy Campbell as the titular Rocketeer, was a rollicking, rollercoaster ride in the matinee style of Indiana Jones and boasted a spectacular soundtrack by the late Hollywood film composer James Horner (Aliens). Years later, The Rocketeer would serve as a template for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) beginning with Jon Favreau's Iron Man.

The Rocketeer's roots are firmly founded in the Saturday morning serial King of the Rocket Men. Andrew Lewin, blogger and collaborator, heroically donned a jet pack in search of skybound adventure battling Nazis when news of a reboot captured the imagination of fans (myself included) in 2016.

The Rocketeer, starring Billy Campbell and teenage crush Jennifer Connelly (Labyrinth), is streaming now on Disney+.

Are you excited for The Return of the Rocketeer on Disney+ and what are your memories of the fan-favourite original? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 30 August 2021

The Book of Boba Fett over-delivers!

The Book of Boba Fett, starring Temuera Morrison as the titular bounty hunter and co-starring Ming-Na Wen as fan-favourite Fennec Shand, debuts this December exclusively on Disney+.

Director Robert Rodriguez (Alita: Battle Angel) recently spoke to the folks at Collider about the latest live-action Star Wars spin-off.

Rodriguez shared this tantalising tease:

“[I] can’t say anything about it at all right now, but it’s coming out in December… Wait until you see what’s coming. It’s going to blow your mind. That’s all I can say. I can talk it up all I want, because I know it over-delivers. It way over-delivers. People are going to be so pumped when they see it.”

The Alita: Battle Angel and Sin City director goes on to talk about the cutting-edge technology utilised for series such as The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett:

“At first I thought maybe it made the most sense for a series because you could have loads that you could reuse and places you can come back to often that would be impossible to get to on a regular basis in a series. I don't know if I would use it very much in a movie where it's just one-off scenes that are done. They're only a couple minutes long and then you never go back to that location again. Like on a sequel to 'We Can Be Heroes' even I was thinking ‘Would I even use the volume? Or would I shoot a traditional green screen again?’ Because I got some pretty cool stuff.”

The third season of The Mandalorian goes into production in September. But Rodriguez hasn't confirmed whether he's back to helm another episode of the Emmy-winning series.

Are you looking forward to The Book of Boba Fett on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 28 August 2021

Halo Infinite this December

Originally delayed just months before the launch of Xbox Series X|S consoles last November, as promised Halo Infinite will be released this holiday season. However, the co-op campaign, a longtime staple of the series, will not be included at launch. Nor will Forge mode. This has irked some fans, but I'm here for the single-player campaign.

Many fans (myself included) assumed Halo Infinite would launch in late November to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Halo: Combat Evolved's release in North America, but Microsoft has chosen 8th December. Presumably to avoid clashing with Call of Duty: Vanguard, as a friend suggested.

Along with the announcement, a limited edition Halo-themed Xbox Series X and Elite 2 wireless controller were available for pre-order during Gamescom 2021. Needless to say, the Series X console sold out in minutes with listings on eBay at significantly inflated prices. Elite 2 (affiliate link) is available (while stocks last). As someone who has bought countless controllers and joysticks over decades, this will be the most expensive I've owned to date.

For anyone who misses out on the limited edition goodies, there's a free Halo Infinite dynamic background for Series X|S. Settings > General > Personalization, then scroll all the way down to Dynamic Backgrounds, and finally, you'll find Master Chief waiting for you at the end of all the background options. You're welcome.

The next instalment in one of video gaming's most iconic franchises is looking promising (it can't be worse than Halo 5, can it?) and I'll be playing the campaign day-one on Series S on Game Pass Ultimate.

Are you excited about Halo Infinite? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 27 August 2021

The Matrix Resurrections at CinemaCon

Out of left-field, The Matrix broadsided George Lucas' Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in the summer of 1999.

Artfully blending the film noir of Dark City with Alice in Wonderland and Marxist cultural criticism, the Wachowskis breathed new life into late nineties Hollywood action cinema with the release of The Matrix and popularised bullet time in an era where lightsaber duels were tech demos.

It would become the first killer app for the emergent Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) format and necessitated a firmware update for some DVD players (mine included). This was a time before wi-fi-enabled devices and over-the-air (OTA) updates were ubiquitous. Now I can't imagine taking my PlayStation 5 (PS5) into John Lewis for a software update.

The Matrix, like the original Star Wars, was self-contained. However, sequels soon followed with deminishing returns. As much as I enjoyed The Matrix Reloaded, I never bothered seeing The Matrix Revolutions in 2003! Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy had overshadowed all (including the Star Wars prequels).

Fast forward 18 years to 2021.

At CinemaCon on Tuesday, Warner Bros. announced The Matrix 4 is now officially titled The Matrix Resurrections and premiered a trailer, which is yet to be officially released. Lana Wachowski (her sister Lilly Wachowski, who co-directed the original trilogy, is taking an extended break from the entertainment industry) is at the helm with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reprising the roles of Neo and Trinity respectively.

The Matrix Resurrections is in cinemas and on HBO Max on 22nd December. Hopefully, I can entice Nick Smith away from the holiday season festivities to review it for your reading pleasure.

Are you looking forward to The Matrix Resurrections? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday 26 August 2021

LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Spring 2022

The fine folks at WB Games have sent over a new gameplay trailer and updated release date for LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga from Gamescom 2021.

Read the press release from WB Games:

"Warner Bros. Games, TT Games, The LEGO Group and Lucasfilm Games today revealed a new gameplay trailer for LEGO® Star Wars™: The Skywalker Saga where Padawans learn to become Jedi with guidance from their Jedi Masters. In the upcoming game, players will explore the LEGO Star Wars galaxy like never before and experience nonstop action from all nine Skywalker saga films reimagined with hilarious LEGO humor.

Developed by TT Games in collaboration with The LEGO Group, Lucasfilm Games and publisher Warner Bros. Games, LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga will release Spring 2022 for the Xbox One family of devices including Xbox Series X, PlayStation®5, PlayStation®4, Nintendo Switch™ system and PC."

You can read my LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens review and watch LEGO Star Wars Terrifying Tales on Disney+ this October.

Are you still excited for LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (affiliate link), or has the long wait made you lose interest? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 25 August 2021


With the return of The Walking Dead this week, our resident US-based stellar scribe and comic book aficionado, Nick Smith, takes a well-earned break from reviewing all the things to talk about the inherent challenges of making a zombie horror B-movie during a pandemic.

It's not as easy as you might think.

Guest post by Nick Smith

It’s easy to watch a B-movie and ridicule the low budget, DIY production techniques. But making one is no laughing matter, as I was reminded when I agreed to produce a feature film about flesh-eating zombie bees called ZomBeez.

Executive Producer-Director-lead actress Elesia Marie had a good script that didn’t take itself too seriously, a strong cast and a determination to get her project picked up by the SyFy channel. There was only one drawback – we had no money.

While that salient fact has scuppered many movie projects, we soldiered stubbornly on, seeking funding and locations like a barn in the middle of nowhere (we found a farm specializing in ecotourism) and a school that wouldn’t mind being devastated by giant mutant anthophila (we secured an old school office building that was due to be torn down anyway).

Next, we jumped through a carnival’s worth of hoops dealing with the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG), a union that has many rules to protect its actors from making movies. Er, I mean, to make sure they’re taken care of properly, with plenty of tea breaks, pensions and benefits, and fair billing in the credits.

SAG’s paperwork was tougher to take care of than any movie monster but we completed it while working on our next step – filming a proof of concept, in this case, a sequence from ZomBeez that we could use as a teaser trailer, showing the tone and basic concept of the film.

We got a permit to film in a woodland location where we could tell our mini-story about strange bees chasing a pair of hapless joggers. But before the running could happen, there was another unanticipated hurdle.

Our camera didn’t work.

Without a way to repair our Black Magic camera on site, we had to return it to the manufacturer and they couldn’t tell us how long it would be until we got it back. The only proof we would have for our Proof of Concept was proof that we were screwed.

We could have given up. We could have gone home and left the trees to the bees. Instead, a kind colleague lent us his gear and we were able to make our day.

We were almost ready to release our Proof of Concept to an impatient public with our rough footage, bloody makeup, and ‘bee’s eye view’ shots using a Ronin and a superimposed swarm. We needed one more ingredient – and that came from local rock band Nik Flagstar and his Dirty Mangy Dogs, best known for the theme tune to the show Nightmare Theatre. They created a super catchy original song for us and it added to the whole impression we wanted to make with the raw teaser sequence.

There was a lot more work to do. After we completed principal production of the movie this summer, Elesia got stuck into the editing process, rough-cutting a two-and-a-half-hour version of the film. We have to trim that down to 90 minutes, colour grade the footage, add digital effects and clean up the sound.

Only then will we have a finished product to show to distributors and channels like SyFy. We’re starting to talk to sales agents, the first of whom says he’s ‘a sucker for films like Zombeavers and Big Bad Bugs.’

There certainly seems to be an audience for this kind of B-movie.

I’ve focused on our challenges while making this movie but there have been many highlights too – the camaraderie of our cast and crew, the excitement of making a feature in our own neighbourhood instead of having to travel to a different state, the kindness of local businesses and organizations as we looked for locations. All this helps to motivate us as much – if not more – than any A-list movie buzz.

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home teaser

Following a leak on social media on Sunday, Marvel Studios has dropped a teaser trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home, and it's all kinds of awesome.

From Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) to a cackling Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), the multiverse, unleased in Loki, threatens to alter the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) status quo forever.

“It was wonderful,” Alfred Molina told Variety in April. “It was very interesting going back after 17 years to play the same role, given that in the intervening years, I now have two chins, a wattle, crow’s feet and a slightly dodgy lower back.”

There's no official confirmation regarding Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprising the role of Spider-Man alongside Tom Holland in the MCU. But I like fun surprises, especially at Christmas, don't you?

Holland's Spider-Man was memorably introduced in Captain America: Civil War and mentored by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Don't get me started on their respective goodbyes in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Welp! However, in the wake of J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) exposing Spider-Man's true identity in Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter Parker goes in search of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a memory-erasing spell with devastating consequences.

Spider-Man: No Way Home swings into cinemas on 17th December. It's the perfect holiday gift for all true believers (myself included). Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2 and Marvel Studios' Spider-Man: No Way Home debut first on Netflix for those who are still reluctant to venture into a cinema (due to the ongoing pandemic) in 2022.

As with Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Sony has used the Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer to promote PlayStation 5 (PS5) wireless controllers. Jarring but understandable marketing as Marvel's Spider-Man video game franchise is a console exclusive.

Are you looking forward to Spider-Man: No Way Home? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday 22 August 2021

LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga at Gamescom

Geoff Keighley has tweeted the delayed LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga will be featured this Wednesday at Gamescom 2021.

The upcoming video game for PlayStation 4 (PS4), PlayStation 5 (PS5), Nintendo Switch, Xbox consoles and PC was originally announced at E3 2019 before the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

The LEGO Star Wars multimedia franchise continues to be hugely successful and this entry in the long-running video game series, from TT Games, spans all nine movies.

Hopefully, LEGO Star Wars fans (myself included) will see a new gameplay trailer and perhaps an updated release date after publisher WB Games initially delayed the title in 2020 and then again in spring 2021.

Are you still excited for LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (affiliate link), or has the long wait made you lose interest? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 21 August 2021

Mark Hamill in Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian

Luke Skywalker's surprise cameo in The Mandalorian - an impressive feat in this hyper-connected era - was an overwhelmingly uplifting moment in a saga that is renowned for hope in the darkest of times.

Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian reveals the cutting-edge technology that brought a young Luke Skywalker (post-Return of the Jedi) back in the second season finale last Christmas.

“You see your crew just staring at Mark [Hamill], and you realize they’re remembering what [Star Wars] meant to them,” executive producer Dave Filoni said. “And you realize you’ve been part of constructing something that’s giving that experience to people. This good feeling.”

“Fundamentally, Star Wars should deliver a good feeling. An uplifting feeling,” he continued. “In you, in your family, in your kids, whatever.”

The second season of The Mandalorian has received 24 Emmy nominations. The third season is expected to go into production in September.

The Book of Boba Fett and Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off series should satiate fans (myself included) whilst we wait for further details.

Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian debuts on 25th August on Disney+.

Friday 20 August 2021

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Masters of the Universe: Revelation is showrunner Kevin Smith's continuation of the original Filmation series for Netflix. Whereas He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a reboot in the style of Netflix stablemate Trollhunters.

A description for the upcoming Netflix series reads: "On Eternia, the first planet of creation, a demonic tyrant rises: Skeletor! With dark armies at his command, Skeletor is on the march, hell-bent on capturing Eternia’s kingdoms, and its ultimate prize – Castle Grayskull, the ancient fortress of mystery said to contain the greatest power in the universe. It’s up to He-Man and his brave squad of rookie heroes to stop Skeletor and restore the peace.

Both sides come armed with enchanted Power Weapons – transforming them into Masters of the Primal Powers of the Universe. It’s Master vs. Dark Master, He-Man vs. Skeletor – fighting for control of Eternia, Castle Grayskull, and the fate of us all. In the end, who will become MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE?"

"Masters of the Universe is one of the most iconic global franchises of all time, with a 30-year history and a passionate fan base," Fred Soulie, Senior Vice President of Content Distribution and Business Development, Mattel said previously. "The entire team at Mattel is excited to introduce the world of He-Man to a new generation and, together with the talented team at Netflix, to reimagine the classic characters in a way that appeals to kids and families today, while also resonating with the fans who grew up with them."

As with the newly released Masterverse collection, there will be a new line of action figures and accessories for the series available at Walmart in the US. Hopefully, Smyths Toys and Amazon will stock them in the UK.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe will debut on 16th September on Netflix.

Are you excited for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe on Netflix? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday 19 August 2021

Why the Eternals didn't fight Thanos

Marvel Studios has dropped the second and final trailer for Eternals from Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao (Nomadland). It explains why they didn't help the Avengers in their fight against Thanos.

Here's the official synopsis:

"The saga of the Eternals, a race of immortal beings who lived on Earth and shaped its history and civilizations. They have hidden themselves for thousands of years, must re-unite to protect Earth from their enemies, the Deviants."

"I'm a big fan of the MCU. So when they come knocking it's very exciting," Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), who plays Dane Whitman AKA Black Knight, told Sirius XM. "The character, I won't go into why he interests me, because it's more than my life is worth to tell you. But what did interest me about that piece was that it as Chloe Zhao directing. I met her and spoke with her and was so impressed by her. The cast was sort of phenomenal and wide-ranging and diverse. It just looked like they were doing something really different with this movie. I can't tell you much about it but we filmed it pre-pandemic. And it's coming out finally, it was sort of frustrating that it got pushed back so much. But now I'll be going on and doing some press for that soon and it's really exciting."

In related news. Spoiler for the second episode of What If...? on Disney+. Josh Brolin reprises the role of Thanos in a poignant instalment starring the late Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa's Star-Lord.

Eternals will be in cinemas on 5th November.

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

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Anime awakens in Star Wars: Visions

Lucasfilm has released the first trailer for Star Wars: Visions and I've not been this excited about anime since reading Anime UK/FX magazine in the early nineties.

Here's the official series synopsis:

"'Star Wars: Visions' will be a series of animated short films celebrating 'Star Wars' through the lens of the world's best anime creators. The anthology collection will bring ten fantastic visions from several of the leading Japanese anime studios, offering a fresh and diverse cultural perspective to 'Star Wars.'"

As executive producer and Lucasfilm Vice President, Franchise Content & Strategy James Waugh says:

“Lucasfilm is partnering with seven of the most talented anime studios in Japan to bring their signature style and unique vision of the Star Wars galaxy to this inspired new series. Their stories showcase the full spectrum of bold storytelling found across Japanese animation; each told with a freshness and voice that expands our understanding of what a Star Wars story can be, and celebrates a galaxy that has been such an inspiration to so many visionary storytellers.”

Star Wars: Visions will be available in both English and Japanese versions. The English voice cast includes: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises), Alison Brie (GLOW), Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), Lucy Liu (Kill Bill), David Harbour (Stranger things), Henry Golding (Snake Eyes), and Temuera Morrison, who will reprise his role as Boba Fett.

Lucasfilm revealed the nine episode titles during Anime Expo Lite:

Kamikaze Douga - The Duel
Geno Studio (Twin Engine) - Lop and Ochō
Studio Colorido (Twin Engine) - Tatooine Rhapsody
Trigger - The Twins
Trigger - The Elder
Kinema Citrus - The Village Bride
Science Saru - Akakiri
Science Saru - T0-B1
Production IG - The Ninth Jedi

All nine episodes of Star Wars: Visions will be released on Disney+ 22nd September.

Are you looking forward to Star Wars: Visions on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Nerf blaster celebrates Aliens

"Hey, I wanna introduce you to a personal friend of mine!" To celebrate the 35th anniversary of Aliens, Hasbro is releasing a limited edition electronic Nerf blaster based on the iconic M41-A Pulse Rifle used by the Colonial Marines in director James Cameron's spectacular sequel to Alien.

With its Power Loader-inspired livery, electronic dart counter and movie-accurate sound effects, it's too cool to pass up for fans (myself included) of both Nerf and Aliens. The Nerf LMTD Aliens M41-A Pulse Blaster is available to pre-order for £99.99 from Hasbro Pulse and will be released in October 2022. Yes, that's over a year away.

Nerf LMTD is a premium, fan targeted line from Nerf that brings to life some of the most iconic items from entertainment and video games. This will be the first official Aliens collectable I've bought since Kenner's nineties toy line ended.

In related news. Marvel Comics has begun a new comic book series and Aliens: Fireteam Elite video game is released on PlayStation, Xbox and PC this month. The live-action Alien series begins filming in early 2022 for FX on Hulu and Star on Disney+.

It's not game over for the bug hunting multimedia franchise.

Are you excited for the Nerf LMTD Aliens M41-A Pulse Blaster and what Nerf LMTD license would you like to see Hasbro produce next? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 16 August 2021

Danny DeVito returns to the Penguin

“You don’t really think you’ll win, do you?” It's almost 3 decades since Danny DeVito played the Penguin in Tim Burton's sombre sequel to Batman, Batman Returns.

From collecting Kenner's die-cast action figures to the Atari Lynx video game and a faulty CD pressing of Danny Elfman's soundtrack (I'm writing this as it streams on Amazon Music HD), the release of Batman Returns is forever associated with applying to university and the inherent anxieties therein. As I've written previously, imposter syndrome stalks my waking hours. Wearing a mask (to protect others and myself) during the ongoing pandemic has been freeing - much like school drama class - for someone with relatively low self-esteem, which isn’t unique to me.

Whilst DeVito is yet to reprise the role for the big screen (unlike Michael Keaton's return as Batman in The Flash), he'll be penning a new Penguin one-shot story, to celebrate the monocled menace's 80th birthday, for release this November.

Here’s the official outline for Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant #1:

"Gotham City may be protected by the Dark Knight, but this major metropolitan destination is also plagued by some of the deadliest, most nefarious villains in the DC Universe! In this oversize anniversary giant, DC Comics proudly presents tales of Batman’s deadliest foes written and drawn by some of the biggest, most exciting names in comics! 2021 marks an anniversary year for the Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Ra’s al Ghul, Talia al Ghul, the Mad Hatter, Killer Moth, and the original Red Hood, and Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant #1 brings these baddies to life in some big ways! Also featuring the anniversary celebration of the Penguin, written by none other than the man who brought Oswald Cobblepot to life in Batman Returns, star of the silver screen Danny DeVito!"

The Penguin, played by Colin Farrell, will appear in Matt Reeves's The Batman next year.

Are you looking forward to Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant #1, and what are your Batman Returns memories? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 14 August 2021

Tom Hanks stars in Finch on Apple TV+

Tom Hanks follows up last summer’s World War II blockbuster Greyhound with the post-apocalyptic Finch on Apple TV+.

Finch, previously titled Bios and directed by Miguel Sapochnik (Game of Thrones), was bought from Amblin Entertainment and the sci-fi movie is an award season contender.

Here's the official synopsis:

“In “Finch,” a man, a robot and a dog form an unlikely family in a powerful and moving adventure of one man’s quest to ensure that his beloved canine companion will be cared for after he’s gone. Tom Hanks stars as Finch, a robotics engineer and one of the few survivors of a cataclysmic solar event that has left the world a wasteland. But Finch, who has been living in an underground bunker for a decade, has built a world of his own that he shares with his dog, Goodyear. He creates a robot, played by Caleb Landry Jones, to watch over Goodyear when he no longer can. As the trio embarks on a perilous journey into a desolate American West, Finch strives to show his creation, who names himself Jeff, the joy and wonder of what it means to be alive. Their road trip is paved with both challenges and humor, as it’s as difficult for Finch to goad Jeff and Goodyear to get along as it is for him to manage the dangers of the new world.”

Although an extended free subscription to Apple TV+ (included with the purchase of an iPhone SE) has ended, there’s a free 6-month offer for PlayStation 5 (PS5) owners. Serendipitous ahead of Foundation and Invasion series this autumn.

Finch debuts on Apple TV+ on 5th November.

Are you looking forward to Finch on Apple TV+? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 13 August 2021

The Suicide Squad

The future of cinema (as we know it) is at a crossroads enforced by the ongoing pandemic. Studios continue to grapple with the controversial implications of simultaneously releasing movies in theatres and on streaming services.

However, this has allowed for uniquely fan-driven fare Zack Snyder's Justice League, which was the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) recut I didn't know I needed when it premiered on HBO Max and Sky Cinema earlier this year.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, follows Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max with The Suicide Squad in a darkened theatre. Can director James Gunn reinvent these misfits into DC Comics' Guardians of the Galaxy?

Guest post by Nick Smith

I’m in a minority liking the original Suicide Squad movie, released back in August 2016. I was happy to see a comic book I grew up with adapted into a $175 million blockbuster. I admired the cast, which included Will Smith and Margot Robbie, bringing their acting chops to a beat-‘em-up.

I was aware that the film had been criticized for not being all it could be, and that the project had taken 7 years to get to the screen with reshoots thanks to, as actor Joel Kinnaman recently put it, ‘conflicting visions.’ What director David Ayer intended as, ‘a soulful drama,’ Ayer wrote on Twitter, ‘was beaten into a comedy.’ No wonder the result was messy.

Nevertheless, I have a soft spot for scrappy underdogs who don’t fit in with expectations and apparently, I’m not totally alone. ‘I have to give the characters the stories and plots they deserve next time,’ Ayer mope-tweeted, probably while counting his pay – the film earned over $746 million.

Criticisms of that first film ranged from ‘ugly and boring’ (Vanity Fair) to ‘ugly trash’ (Wall Street Journal). Suicide Squad aspired to be punk art; it was a supervillain version of 1967’s The Dirty Dozen, which is an action movie with some great acting and characters, dark humour and nihilistic violence? Were reviewers expecting something deeper, or were they anticipating pretty petals exploding out of soldiers when they died?

If that is what they wanted then 5 years later, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad delivers, complete with the flowers. For consistency’s sake, 4 actors reprise their roles: Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Amanda Waller (perfectly brought to life by Viola Davis). Like the first movie, The Suicide Squad sequel had growing pains – 3 different directors, a switch of one of the main characters in the hopes that Will Smith would return in the future, and helmer James Gunn’s temporary fall out of Hollywood favour for what Christ Pratt called, ‘inappropriate jokes from years ago.’

Despite all that, the new film feels cohesive under the writer/director guidance of Gunn. Like the best parts of its predecessor, it hearkens back to John Ostrander’s 1980s comic book run, featuring a group of losers most of whom the public hasn’t heard of.

Gunn’s major improvement is making his losers more likeable. We worry about them as bullets fly, buildings topple and people get eaten around them. ‘If you don’t care about the characters,’ Gunn told USA Today, ‘the heads exploding don’t really matter.’

The obscurest characters get the most sympathy – Ratcatcher 2 (played by Daniela Melchior) has a backstory that got me quite choked up, Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) has massive mommy issues, King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) suffers pangs of loneliness. This is Hollywood character-building, to be sure – nothing too deep or unrelatable – but in the context of a quirky action flick, Gunn gets it. We are engaged, emotionally and visually.

Gunn’s narrative surprises keep us guessing who will survive and what will be left of them (the teaser posters say, ‘don’t get too attached.’). There’s great attention to detail (a gate leaves grooves in the ground as if it’s been opened and closed thousands of times; realistic gore is pecked from a headless corpse). The film is broken into chapters with Will Eisner-style titles formed out of the landscape. The Squad’s silver age appearances in The Brave and the Bold and Star Spangled War Stories are homaged with a show-stomping villain later in the movie.

In the centre of all this action and affectionate comic-bookery are Bloodsport (Idris Elba), a rewrite of Will Smith’s Deadshot that doesn’t feel like a mere replacement thanks to Elba’s gravitas; and Harley Quinn, in Robbie’s best performance so far as the demented, homicidal but somehow still utterly affable anti-hero.

Audiences might come for the comedy, the vivid imagery and war movie vibes but they’ll leave with feels for the craftily developed characters who are searching for a misfit family of their own, conflicting visions and all.

Have you seen The Suicide Squad? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday 12 August 2021

Retro Games announces Amiga 500

Nintendo popularised mini consoles with its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 2016. The Kyoto-based company wasn't the first to market but captured the imagination of gamers of all ages with its cute time capsule containing classic curated video games.

Others wanted in on the throwback action, too.

PlayStation Classic, Sega Mega Drive Mini (Sega Genesis Mini if you're in the US), PC Engine CoreGrafx Mini (TurboGrafx-16 Mini if you're in the US) and many more soon arrived on store shelves to scratch that nostalgic itch.

Now Retro Games is following up its popular C64 and VIC-20 8-bit home computer minis with 16-bit successor, the Amiga A500.

Read the official description:

“Developed by Retro Games Ltd. and distributed by Koch Media, the THEA500Mini features the perfect emulation of, not only, the original A500 (OCS) and Enhanced Chip Set (ECS) of future revisions, but also the Advanced Graphics Architecture (AGA) of the A1200. The A500 Mini comes with the original style 2-button mouse and newly engineered 8-button precision gamepad, allowing you to choose your control method. To compliment the on-screen keyboard, you can plug in an external standard PC keyboard for additional functionality.”

Commodore's 16-bit dream machine was synonymous with heated high school playground debates during the mid-eighties' Amiga vs Atari ST wars. As I was already the owner of an Atari VCS (Toys "R" Us was still selling games for the system in 1985), Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K and Commodore 64, my parents, rightly, did not indulge my request for an Amiga or Atari ST at Christmas. So, I had to settle for looking at screenshots of the 16-bit conversions of Atari Games' Gauntlet II and Marble Madness in magazines.

Confirmed games include: Alien Breed 3D, Another World, ATR: All Terrain Racing, Battle Chess, Cadaver, Kick Off 2, Pinball Dreams, Simon The Sorcerer, Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, The Chaos Engine, Worms: The Director’s Cut, Zool: Ninja Of The ‘Nth’ Dimension. Further titles are set to be announced before launch.

“In this initial mini version of THEA500, we have created what we believe gaming fans will love, and will see as the evolution of mini games consoles”, said Paul Andrews, Managing Director at Retro Games.

“Retro Games have developed a truly unique product”, said Debbie Bestwick MBE, CEO at Team 17, “and I’m very excited to have our classic games represented in all their original glory”.

Pre-order THE A500 Mini (affiliate link) for delivery in early 2022 with a suggested retail price of £119.99. Koch Media is distributing and I hope to bring you a review in the future.

What are your memories of the Amiga A500? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Marvel Studios’ What If…? this Wednesday

The first season of Loki may have ended but Marvel Studios' first animated spin-off series, What If...?, debuts this Wednesday on Disney+.

How does What If...? tie into the multiverse of infinite possibilities revealed in Loki. TheWrap put this to head writer A.C. Bradley.

“Marvel always has plans, whether or not anyone actually knows what those are and how often they change is anyone’s guess. I have no idea to be honest with you,” she said. “Hopefully, it will tie into the bigger picture more and more as the Marvel Universe expands.”

New episodes of Marvel Studios' What If...? premiere every Wednesday exclusively on Disney+.

Are you looking forward to Marvel Studios' What If...? on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 9 August 2021

Aliens: Aftermath

This year, Aliens celebrates its 35th anniversary and to commemorate Marvel Comics has released a sequel to James Cameron's action-packed follow-up to Sir Ridley Scott's Alien.

Aliens: Aftermath.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, goes on another bug hunt with the help of the fine folks at TBS Comics in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Not content with a monthly Alien comic, Marvel Comics has released a one-shot sequel to 1986’s Aliens and it successfully captures the atmosphere and motifs of James Cameron’s masterpiece. It’s not going to get your adrenaline pumping like the movie unless nostalgia is your epinephrine of choice.

Cleverly, Aftermath is set 35 years after the movie and features Jennette Vasquez’s nephew, Cutter. He explores the mystery of Hadley’s Hope, a lost colony on LV-426. When he and his crew visit the desolate moon it’s suffering a nuclear winter, as if it’s been nuked from orbit. Yet something has survived the holocaust…

The homages come thick and fast. The Weyland-Yutani company is as devious as ever. Writer Benjamin Percy (Wolverine) and artist Dave Wachter (Iron Fist) take the bold step of introducing a different xenomorph that doesn’t have the oily, shadowy camouflage of the originals. Part of their charm – of that’s the right word – is that they can pop out from the shadows at any moment; this one is more ghost-like in appearance. But it is still just as effective at killing hunky heroes.

Story-wise, the perspective is different - Cutter is part of the anti-corporate live-feed guerrilla movement Renegade XM. The tropes are the same as always, however: betrayal, sudden death, corporate greed and using people as ‘space mules’ for chestbursters, as seen in the Alien movie series and the regular comic.

There’s nothing wrong with telling the same story differently; Cameron was an expert sequel-maker (see also Terminator 2). But the universe is vast and there are so many new stories that could be told, new characters to meet and new species to fight. If Aliens and Predators co-exist, what else is out there to threaten humanity and make us scream?

Marvel is staking its claim as the new home of Alien comics and it’s doing it with care and skill. I’m glad they chose Percy, an unashamed Alien fan, to write Aftermath. The publisher quotes him as saying:

“When I was a kid, I had a door-length poster of a xenomorph crashing through the wood, tearing off the hinges, creeping forward with a drippy fanged smile. This is the image I would drift away to every night, which no doubt influenced my imaginative hard-wiring, along with the films and comics that I watched and read over and over and over. To this day, I can't grip a knife without wanting to lay my hand on a table and tick-tick-tick the point between my splayed fingers—I can't play a game of ping-pong or Clue without yelling, ‘Game over, man.’—I can't scratch an orange tabby without whispering, ‘You are my lucky star.... lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky.’ I’ve been in love with these stories most of my life, and it's truly an honour and a delight to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Aliens with a script inked in acid blood.”

Typically, giving a fan the tools to work with his or her favourite franchise usually works to the readers’ benefit. Percy certainly leaves us wanting more and although Aftermath is a double-length comic, it deserves a second issue.

14 years before the adventures of Cutter and Co., Security Officer Gabriel Cruz tries to reconnect with his son in the regular Alien comic. Compared to Aftermath this is a slow burn, spending several issues onboard the claustrophobic Epsilon Station.

Alien writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson (Batman) takes a chance by focusing on Cruz, a sympathetic character who nevertheless is gruff and lonely; if you’re looking for a younger male or female hero to relate to, you have my sympathies [I see what you did there - Ed].

Alien introduces strange xenomorphs with horns and bizarre appendages and refers to ‘others that didn’t exist yet.’

This is what we really need to see, and what will keep the franchise alive, with fresh acid breath and dark ideas to surprise us the same way that the first appearance of the chestburster shocked us, with characters as memorable as the original Vasquez and her fellow ill-fated Colonial Marines. It’s quite a challenge but so far Johnson isn’t doing too bad… for a human.

Aliens is now streaming in the UK on Disney+.

Are you reading Marvel Comics' Alien series? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 7 August 2021

Stranger Things 4 coming in 2022

Hot on the heels of Netflix's surging subscriptions in the UK, the streamer has released a sneak peek at Strangers Things 4.

Whilst doing press for Free Guy, director Shawn Levy offered an update on the upcoming fourth season of Stranger Things. When asked about the suggestion Stranger Things 4 was bigger and more mature, Levy said:

“Both of those are true. It’s epic storytelling. It’s still rooted in character, but the scope of the storytelling is more epic and cinematic than we’ve ever attempted before.”

Stranger Things returns in 2022.

Are you looking forward to Stranger Things 4? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 6 August 2021

Star Wars: The Bad Batch renewed on Disney+

Lucasfilm announced Star Wars: The Bad Batch, the Star Wars: The Clone Wars spin-off following Clone Force 99, has been renewed for a second season ahead of the two-part finale beginning on Disney+ today.

“Fans have enthusiastically embraced the action and drama of ‘Star Wars: The Bad Batch,’ and we are excited to see the Star Wars animated universe continue to expand on Disney Plus,” said Michael Paull, president of Disney+ and ESPN+. “As the dedicated streaming home for the Star Wars franchise, we can’t wait for the second season of this fan-favorite animated series.”

Commenting on the second season renewal, executive producer Dave Filoni said, “The entire Lucasfilm Animation team and I would like to thank Disney Plus and our fans for the opportunity to continue telling the story of the Bad Batch.”

New episodes of Star Wars: The Bad Batch premiere every Friday exclusively on Disney+.

Are you looking forward to the second season of Star Wars: The Bad Batch in 2022 on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday 5 August 2021

Netflix surges ahead of Sky

More people in the UK now subscribe to Netflix than Sky, BT and Virgin Media combined.

Streaming services have been a beneficiary from consumers in lockdown during the ongoing pandemic, and 52% of UK households have taken out a subscription to Netflix.

"TV and online video have proved an important antidote to lockdown life, with people spending a third of their waking hours last year glued to screens for news and entertainment," said Ofcom's group director of strategy and research, Yih-Choung Teh.

"The pandemic undoubtedly turbo-charged viewing to streaming services, with three in five UK homes now signed up. But, with subscriber growth slowing into 2021 and lockdown restrictions easing, the challenge for the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Disney will be to ensure a healthy pipeline of content and keep customers signed up."

I've enjoyed Cobra Kai, For All Mankind, DC's Stargirl and The Mandalorian on Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ respectively.

Which (if any) streaming services have you subscribed to during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 4 August 2021

LEGO Star Wars Terrifying Tales

As part of its Hallowstream celebration, Disney+ has announced LEGO Star Wars Terrifying Tales, which is in the spirit of last year's LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special.

Here's the official synopsis:

“Poe and BB-8 must make an emergency landing on the volcanic planet Mustafar where they meet the greedy and conniving Graballa the Hutt who has purchased Darth Vader’s castle and is renovating it into the galaxy’s first all-inclusive Sith-inspired luxury hotel. While waiting for his X-Wing to be repaired, Poe, BB-8, Graballa, and Dean (a plucky and courageous young boy who works as Graballa’s mechanic) venture deep into the mysterious castle with Vader’s loyal servant, Vaneé. Along the way, Vaneé shares three creepy stories linked to ancient artifacts and iconic villains from across all eras of Star Wars. As Vaneé spins his tales and lures our heroes deeper into the shadowy underbelly of the castle, a sinister plan emerges. With the help of Dean, Poe and BB-8 will have to face their fears, stop an ancient evil from rising, and escape to make it back to their friends.”

Hollywood actor Christian Slater (Mr. Robot) makes his Star Wars debut as Ren. The Ren a young Ben Solo killed in order to become the leader of the Knights of Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Slater previously cameoed in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Here's hoping he'll appear in a live-action Star Wars spin-off, too.

Like the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, LEGO Star Wars Terrifying Tales is a follow-up to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and streams exclusively on Disney+ from 1st October.

Are you looking forward to LEGO Star Wars Terrifying Tales this Halloween? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Amazon's The Lord of the Rings in 2022

Amazon Studios has shared an enigmatic teaser image and announced a release date for its ambitious billion-dollar adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

“The journey begins September 2, 2022 with the premiere of our original ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series on Prime Video,” said Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios. “I can’t express enough just how excited we all are to take our global audience on a new and epic journey through Middle-earth! Our talented producers, cast, creative, and production teams have worked tirelessly in New Zealand to bring this untold and awe-inspiring vision to life.”

The latest live-action adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy epic was announced in 2017 and then seemingly lost, like the one ring, to the mists of time. All the while new competitors entered the streaming space including Apple TV+ and Disney+ and a pandemic engulfed the world.

TheOneRing.net exclusively shared the official synopsis:

"Amazon Studios’ forthcoming series brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone."

“As Bilbo says, ‘Now I think I am quite ready to go on another journey,’” said showrunners J.D. Payne & Patrick McKay. “Living and breathing Middle-earth these many months has been the adventure of a lifetime. We cannot wait for fans to have the chance to do so as well.”

Principal photography for the first season has finished in New Zealand with a year of postproduction to follow.

“I can’t express enough just how excited we all are to take our global audience on a new and epic journey through Middle-earth!” added Salke. “Our talented producers, cast, creative, and production teams have worked tirelessly in New Zealand to bring this untold and awe-inspiring vision to life.”

The ensemble cast includes Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Maxim Baldry, Nazanin Boniadi, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Charles Edwards, Trystan Gravelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Lloyd Owen, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker, Daniel Weyman and Sara Zwangobani.

Are you excited to return to Middle-earth for the first time since Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 2 August 2021

E.T. & Elliott statue from Iron Studios

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Iron Studios is releasing a limited edition statue based on the iconic 'flying over the moon' scene from director Steven Spielberg's (Jaws) beloved 1982 movie.

Here’s the official product description of the E.T. & Elliott statue from Iron Studios:

"Created by Steven Spielberg and written by Melissa Mathison, 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is among the highest-grossing films of all time, winning four Oscars, and added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, being designated as culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

In the film, a group of botanical aliens secretly visit Earth at night to collect plant specimens. With the arrival of US government vehicles, the group leaves Earth in its spaceship, leaving one of its small members behind, who had separated from the group. The creature ends up meeting a local boy named Elliott, who then goes on to hide and protect the little lost being on Earth, creating a tender bond of friendship with a deep empathic connection between them.

This statue marks the debut of another license acquired by Iron Studios, scheduled for 2022, which will also be the 40th anniversary celebration of E.T.’s premiere in theaters."

You can pre-order regular and deluxe editions today.

Will you be adding the E.T. & Elliott statue from Iron Studios to your collection? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday 1 August 2021

35 years of Labyrinth

Labyrinth remains a teenage touchstone and cinematic capsule preserving cherished memories that can be reopened whenever I stream Jim Henson's fan-favourite fantasy film on Netflix.

Sony's celebrating Labyrinth's 35th anniversary with a 4K Blu-ray disc set (affiliate link).

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, faces dangers untold and hardships unnumbered.

Guest post by Nick Smith

While Aliens, Top Gun and Stand By Me all celebrate their 35th anniversary this year, there’s only one film from 1986 that has living cannonballs, talking door knockers and David Bowie songs.

When Labyrinth premiered, it was the latest in an inventive trail of Jim Henson features that included The Muppet Movie and The Dark Crystal. But this one had deeper, more far-reaching themes than Follow That Bird.

I grew up with a younger sister, Becky, who related to the lead character of Sarah (Jennifer Connelly, only 14 years old when she auditioned). Becky marvelled at the friendlier characters in the movie – Ludo (Ron Mueck), Sir Didymus (voiced by David Shaughnessy) – while I enjoyed the Pythonesque wisecracks, written by Terry Jones. His sense of humour seemed to blend perfectly with Henson’s muppet mayhem. I could also relate to Sarah as a resentful babysitter.

It didn’t hurt that the executive producer was George Lucas, the man who had opened my eyes to the fantastical world of filmmaking with Star Wars. So, Labyrinth was as special as a goblin secret whispered to a baby, and its air of hope and innocence seem perfect for the era that spawned it.

As Labyrinth opens, we meet a Sarah who is willful, headstrong and spoiled. She takes too many things for granted and she can’t even remember her lines. She’s got plenty of room to grow and she does, as she enters the realm of the Goblin King (David Bowie) to rescue her infant brother.

Cleverly, director Henson establishes a landscape where a wall can look fake because it is – we’re on a movie set! – and we question what is real and what is true, with some of the characters admitting that they’re liars and others telling Sarah she’s on the wrong track. Sarah is aided by quirky characters like Ludo, Didymus and Hoggle, who all help to add whimsical humour lacking in The Dark Crystal.

Labyrinth is jam-packed with imaginative ideas: the Bog of Eternal Stench, a giant steampunk robot, goblin guards with snapping lizard lances… lest we hail the film for its originality, it must be acknowledged that there are references to and echoes of Maurice Sendak (Outside Over There), Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and artists M.C. Escher and Salvador Dali.

In one scene, King Jareth’s face is formed by rocks, and the film revels in the kind of visual trickery found in Dali paintings like Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach. There’s also the town of the goblins, a delightful exercise in German expressionist architecture.

Beyond the sympathetic characters and creative visuals, there are important themes that gain meaning as time passes for the audience: the inevitable weight of responsibility; the dangers of materialism and hoarding; the allure of fairytales versus the emotional rewards of facing reality.

Combined with Connelly’s wide-eyed innocent performance (she would go on to win an Oscar for her role in A Beautiful Mind) and Bowie’s passing, Labyrinth possesses more dark and glorious magic now than the Goblin King ever did.

Labyrinth is a celebration of art, wit, music and imagination that resonates with the kids who grew up with it.

What are your Labyrinth memories? Let me know in the comments below.