Saturday, 12 September 2020

The Avengers on BritBox

In a poignant twist, The Avengers returned to BritBox on Thursday, following an accidental launch in August (highlighted by John Rivers) before being quickly removed, when the sad news of Dame Diana Rigg's passing aged 82, due to cancer, was announced.

The beloved actress, who starred in Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and most recently All Creatures Great and Small, may have been an Avenger first, but she'll always be the best Bond girl to me!

The Avengers (1961)

The two complete surviving episodes of the first season, plus the iconic Emma Peel & Tara King seasons of the series starring Patrick MacNee, Diana Rigg & Linda Thorson as the incorrigible secret agents extraordinaire. Together they defeat criminal masterminds and solve unfathomable mysteries in the original cult TV classic.

BritBox, the streaming service co-owned by the BBC and commercial broadcaster ITV, continues to expand its cult collection and I'll be posting more news soon.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Jump into the future with Discovery

A confession. During lockdown I cancelled my Netflix subscription for the first time since the streaming service launched in the UK in 2012.

Due to the socio-economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, I couldn't justify subscribing to BritBox, NOW TV, Amazon Prime (a necessity whilst shielding), Apple TV+ (free with the purchase of an iPhone), Disney+ and Netflix. Especially when there was a wealth of classic content available on BBC iPlayer, too.

However, with the delayed return of Star Trek: Discovery, on CBS All Access and Netflix outside the US, I'll restart my subscription after cleaning house this October. The first official trailer for season three premiered during an online panel on Star Trek Day.

Here’s the official plot synopsis for season three:

"After making the jump in the second season finale, season three of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY finds the U.S.S. Discovery crew dropping out of the wormhole and into an unknown future far from the home they once knew. Now living in a time filled with uncertainty, the U.S.S. Discovery crew, along with the help of some new friends, must together fight to regain a hopeful future."

Speaking in official Star Trek magazine, actress Sonequa Martin-Green (Michael Burnham) said: “In the… time that I spent alone, I marched to the beat of my own drum, in a way. But then I’ve also always been so duty-oriented.

“So, there’s been this interesting progression of not having to work, not having to be so principle-based, but to just be on this mission to find my crew. We see what it feels like for me to get a little rougher around the edges.”

In the wake of Discovery's success, CBS All Access has released further Star Trek spin-offs including Picard, Lower Decks and the highly-anticipated Strange New Worlds is currently in pre-production.

Are you looking forward to Discovery season three? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Dune is this year's Star Wars

With the nine-part Skywalker Saga complete there's a box office vacancy this holiday season. Hopes for director Denis Villeneuve's two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune are high - perhaps more so given the global pandemic.

The first official trailer suggests Villeneuve's follow-up to Blade Runner 2049, one of my favourite sequels, will deliver an epic space saga starring Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides.

Here’s the official plot synopsis:

"A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence — a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential — only those who conquer their fear will survive."

As I've written previously, David Lynch's adaptation of Dune (1984) failed to capture my imagination despite an excellent soundtrack composed by Toto. Dune reunites Villeneuve with Hans Zimmer who scored Blade Runner 2049 to industrial-sized effect.

Dune is scheduled to be released in cinemas on 18th December.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

The Mandalorian strikes back in EW

The Mandalorian and The Child AKA Baby Yoda are back to save 2020.

Entertainment Weekly (EW) had exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the Emmy-nominated live-action Star Wars series' second season, which had completed principal photography prior to lockdown and benefited from state-of-the-art remote technology.

Series showrunner Jon Favreau (Iron Man) explained:

"The fact that the set is much more contained is a benefit because you can limit the number of people. A lot of the people controlling it are doing it remotely from what we call the Brain Bar, which is a bank of gaming computers, essentially. The amount of people near the camera could be much smaller than [usual]. We also shoot a lot outside, which is helpful, too. We build to a moment in filming more like an animated production, where we have a lot of storyboards, a lot of discussions, and scouting in virtual reality. We use cinematic tools in VR much the same way we did for The Lion King and The Jungle Book. A lot of times the actors you are seeing on the screen aren't actually there on set."

The Mandalorian's mythology is being built a la HBO's Game of Thrones.

Executive producer Davie Filoni (The Clone Wars) said: “Everything gets bigger, the stakes get higher, but also the personal story between the Child and the Mandalorian develops in a way I think people will enjoy.”

There's no further news regarding Rosario Dawson, Timothy Olyphant, Temuera Morrison, Katee Sackhoff and Michael Biehn joining the cast lead by Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), Gina Carano (Cara Dune) and Carl Weathers (Greef Karga). But I like surprises. This is the way.

The Mandalorian's high-anticipated second season begins 30th October on Disney+.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Blake's 7 arrives on BritBox

BritBox, the streaming service co-owned by the BBC and commercial broadcaster ITV, is rapidly becoming the home of cult sci-fi and fantasy film and television series in the UK.

Last month saw Sapphire & Steel, Space: 1999, The Prisoner, UFO and more added. Now, Blake's 7, the two sixties Dalek movies starring Peter Cushing as Doctor Who among other cult classics will be available this September. Blake's 7, from Dalek creator Terry Nation, was a dystopian space opera with a series finale that ruined Christmas 1981 for a generation of geeks (myself included).

10th September

Blake’s 7 (1978)

All 52 episodes and four seasons of the cult British sci-fi show from the mind of Terry Nation. In the third century of the second calendar, after the chaos of the intergalactic wars, a powerful dictatorship has risen to dynamic proportions and engulfed most of the populated worlds. Liberty has become a crime punishable by death, and the majority of the population lives in a drug-induced state of docility. This tyrannical authority fulfils George Orwell's prophecy of 1984 to its most terrifying extremes. This government is known as the Federation. Each world has its share of rebels who either turned to crime or the Resistance. This is the story of one such group of rebels, led by a man named Blake. His group is largely composed of escaped convicts, thieves and smugglers, who are thrown together by chance.

The Avengers (1961)

The two complete surviving episodes of the first season, plus the iconic Emma Peel & Tara King seasons of the series starring Patrick MacNee, Diana Rigg & Linda Thorson as the incorrigible secret agents extraordinaire. Together they defeat criminal masterminds and solve unfathomable mysteries in the original cult TV classic.

Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965)

The first big screen spin-off from the television series featuring the infamous Daleks. Eccentric Earth inventor Doctor Who (Peter Cushing) is demonstrating his space/time craft, the TARDIS, to his niece's boyfriend, Ian (Roy Castle), when he manages to whisk them all off to the planet Skaro. There they encounter two races: the blue-skinned, peace-loving Thals, and the biomechanical Daleks.

Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150AD (1966)

The Earth of 2150 AD is a desolate and hostile ruin of a planet, crumbling at the edge of civilisation, slowly disappearing into the darkness of space. For the future of planet Earth now belongs to The Daleks, a destructive army of alien invaders who have turned the human race into cowering slaves.

Meanwhile deep within the London Underground a group of resistance freedom fighters are planning an attack. But there's only one man who could possibly help them succeed in destroying their extra-terrestrial enemies and take back control of planet Earth. A man of mystery, a man of time and space, a man known only as... The Doctor. Starring Peter Cushing.

One Million Years BC (1966)

This spectacular prehistoric adventure was promoted as Hammer’s 100th production and gave the world the iconic image of star Raquel Welch in a fur-lined bikini. The highlight of the movie was the stop-motion dinosaurs that were subsequently added by legendary special effects animator Ray Harryhausen. The result was Hammer’s biggest commercial success, the most famous dinosaur epic until the release of Jurassic Park 26 years later.

Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

Hobbs End, Knightsbridge, London. Whilst working on a new subway tunnel for the London Underground, a group of construction workers uncover a strangely shaped skull amongst the rubble. Nearby is another discovery: a large, mysterious and impenetrable metal object. Initially mistaken for an unexploded bomb the origins of the object and its strange power are far more horrific and terrifying than anybody could have possibly imagined. Is it of this Earth? Could it be the ancestral link to mankind’s evolution? Or could it be an ancient link to unleashing ultimate evil? There’s only one man capable of unravelling the clues, his name is Professor Bernard Quatermass, a man of science who thrives on the dark mysteries of the world, a man with answers.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Nicolas Roeg directs this classic 70s sci-fi drama starring David Bowie as an alien who arrives on Earth in search of water to save his own dying planet. Assuming the name Thomas Jerome Newton, he soon forms a lucrative partnership with patent attorney Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry) by creating revolutionary products. As their business develops into a hugely successful financial empire, Thomas plans to use the profits to build a ship that will return him to his home world. However, while he waits for his ship to be ready, he begins to fall prey to earthly pleasures and failings.

17th September

Survivors (1975)

All three seasons of Terry Nation's acclaimed BBC science fiction drama in which 95% of the population have been wiped out by a freak plague, leaving the remaining survivors to rebuild civilisation.

BritBox is already the exclusive home of classic Doctor Who. If you've held-off, will the arrival of Blake's ragtag rebels spur you to subscribe? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Nintendo marks Super Mario Bros. 35th anniversary

Nintendo is celebrating the original release of Super Mario Bros. in 1985, on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in America and Famicom in Japan, with a plethora of products this holiday season. Most notably a limited edition Game & Watch (affiliate link), which was the first Nintendo handheld system I owned.

There'll be video game tie-ins with Animal Crossing, Splatoon and Super Smash Bros. Super Mario 3D All-Stars, bundling Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury and much more on the Nintendo Switch.

This 35th anniversary celebration is exciting news for Super Mario fans (myself included) but not without controversy. Mario is arguably the most recognisable video game character of all time and Nintendo's IP the most valuable.

However, critics have opined that Super Mario 3D All-Stars isn't a remaster a la Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection for PlayStation and are questioning the decision to leave Super Mario Galaxy 2 out of the must-have collection. Is Nintendo planning free DLC or a standalone release later? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

I'm looking forward to replaying Super Mario 64, for the first time since owning the game-changing 3D title for the Nintendo 64 (N64) in the late nineties, and playing Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy for the first time ever.

There's also Nintendo's confounding decision to make this a time-limited release. During a global pandemic, this could be viewed as anti-consumer when so many people are struggling day-to-day and a cynical way to bolster earnings during the fiscal year ending March 2021.

As friends and industry pundits have pointed out, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a system seller and Nintendo Switch has an enviable library of first-party titles that eclipses Sony and Microsoft's machines. These titles are rarely discounted and sell year-after-year.

That said. Nintendo has me with all the nostalgic feels since the halcyon days of Donkey Kong on Atari VCS and therein lies part of the problem. As someone who passed on the Wii U, I've picked up all the ports released so far and Pikmin 3 Deluxe will be next.

Will you be getting Super Mario 3D All-Stars? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 4 September 2020

007's all guns blazing in No Time To Die

Daniel Craig returns as James Bond for the final time this November.

No Time To Die was pushed back from April due to the coronavirus pandemic. The latest trailer is electrifying and teases a fitting end for Craig's Bond who's debut gifted fans (myself included) one of the franchise's greatest instalments of all time, Casino Royale. It's worth noting, GoldenEye, also directed by Martin Campbell, brought this fan out of the cold in 1995.

Will No Time To Die be enough to entice cinemagoers back this holiday season? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

The Mandalorian returns in time for Halloween

The second season of The Mandalorian begins streaming on Disney+ in time for Halloween.

The Emmy-nominated live-action Star Wars series returns 30th October and fans (myself included) can't wait for the further adventures of Mando and Baby Yoda AKA The Child. Timothy Olyphant, Rosario Dawson, Michael Biehn and Temuera Morrison are expected to join the cast lead by Pedro Pascal as the titular character.

A teaser trailer was rumoured to drop during Star Wars Celebration, but the official fan event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Season three of The Mandalorian is already in pre-production with showrunner Jon Favreau writing scripts.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Resident Evil live-action series coming to Netflix

An 8-part Resident Evil live-action series is coming to Netflix following the success of The Witcher. Capcom's seminal survival horror multimedia franchise was previously adapted into a live-action film series starring Milla Jovovich.

"Building on one of the most popular, best-selling survival horror video games of all time, Resident Evil will tell a brand new story across two timelines:

In the first timeline, fourteen-year-old sisters Jade and Billie Wesker are moved to New Raccoon City. A manufactured, corporate town, forced on them right as adolescence is in full swing. But the more time they spend there, the more they come to realize that the town is more than it seems and their father may be concealing dark secrets. Secrets that could destroy the world.

Cut to the second timeline, well over a decade into the future: there are less than fifteen million people left on Earth. And more than six billion monsters — people and animals infected with the T-virus. Jade, now thirty, struggles to survive in this New World, while the secrets from her past – about her sister, her father and herself – continue to haunt her."

In a press release, Andrew Dabb (Supernatural) said: "Resident Evil is my favorite game of all time. I’m incredibly excited to tell a new chapter in this amazing story and bring the first ever Resident Evil series to Netflix members around the world. For every type of Resident Evil fan, including those joining us for the first time, the series will be complete with a lot of old friends, and some things (bloodthirsty, insane things) people have never seen before."

In related news. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is coming to Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now this month. A perfect choice during a global pandemic.

Are you looking forward to the Resident Evil live-action series? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

HBO to the Max

HBO Max is the new exclusive home for all things Doctor Who (since 2005) in the US. As Sky has signed a new first-run deal with Warner Bros.; the studio's nascent streaming service won't be available in the UK for the foreseeable future.

So, that's where Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, comes to the rescue once again.

Guest post by Nick Smith

There is such a thing as doing your job too well. Just ask Netflix. They pioneered effective online streaming of movies and TV shows, and had a date line named after them. But an offer to ‘Netflix and chill’ doesn’t sound so fancy now that there are serious competitors – Amazon, Disney+ and Hulu [majority owned by Disney - Ed] amongst them. Will anyone be uttering the words, ‘hey baby, wanna have an Apple and chill?’ [you had me at Apple - Ed]

US-based studios, in particular, want a piece of that Netflix pie. More subscription money means more profit. One of the latest is HBO Max, which not only streams new HBO shows but also has ‘collections’ from Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, Looney Tunes, DC Comics, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Sesame Street, Studio Ghibli and Crunchyroll.

It’s those collections that really have potential. Imagine an archive of all Ghibli’s output, Cartoon Network’s classics, DC Comics series and HBO specials all accessible from one screen? TCM’s offerings are problematic because the current collection is slim (like the old ones you can find on regular telly every Christmas) and it has a rep of paying its actors and filmmakers poorly. I’m just sayin’…

At first blush, there are plenty of shows and movies to ogle over, including the Max Original Doom Patrol. This glossy series initially features Brendan Fraser and Timothy Dalton, although they don’t appear in all the episodes. It captures the out-of-the-box imagination of Grant Morrison’s comics and name-drops DCU elements like STAR Labs and ARGUS. Also available: last year’s gorgeous Watchmen, where the police wear masks as well as superheroes, which takes on a whole new connotation in today’s COVID culture.

Other delights include DC Comics' animated movies; 21 Studio Ghibli flicks; Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack and Primal; the ubiquitous “not dirty” Harry Potter and blockbusters like Doctor Sleep, Birds of Prey, Ad Astra and Midway. The DC Comics section provides the first season of The CW’s Batwoman (although the rest of the Arrowverse has yet to follow her). Diversity is partly acknowledged with a small ‘Back Superheroes’ collection, which includes Watchmen, Doom Patrol and Freedom Fighters: The Ray.

Batman is heavily represented, as well as the Superman live-action movies up to Superman Returns. As Max absorbs DC Universe’s content (per CCO Jim Lee, who recently confirmed the migration to The Hollywood Reporter), we’ll see more goodies. But in the meantime, this is your big chance to rewatch George Clooney starring as the dark knight [Batman & Robin is the only movie I've walked out of during a press screening - Ed].

HBO Max also has all the 21st Century Doctor Who series up to Jodie Whittaker’s premiere season (up to 2019’s New Year special Resolution), plus all of Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. What, no K-9?

The shows are bare-bones, with no behind-the-scenes clips or minisodes, but it’s nice to see each season laid out in rows so you can jump to your fave.

Max’s interface is one of its big draws – think Amazon Prime Video with a cool black background and a lot less content. There’s also an attempt at offering pick ‘n’ mix clips in sections like Sesame Workshop, where there’s currently a row about getting through a storm (in the eye of Laura), another one about making friends (for the new school year?) and one highlighting famous musical guests like Nick Jonas, OK Go, Elvis Costello and Jason Deruuuuulo.

So, lots of goodies are on offer. But are they enough to keep monthly subscribers coming back for more, or will they disappear like Mr. Snuffleupagus? [Snuffy gave me nightmares as a child - Ed]

I’m no technical genius, but it took me over a week to figure out how to watch Max! It isn’t compatible with many brands of TV. I finally figured out, after my free trial had expired, that I can only watch it via my PS4; switching from one to another isn’t a terrible chore but why restrict access when you’re trying to hook entertainment addicts on a new service?

The loading of shows is slow. It took me 4 minutes to pull up the Batwoman pilot. This seems like slow going compared to the immediacy of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV+.

Max’s price point - $15 a month in America – is a lot more than, say, Starz (available for as little as $20 for 6 months) or Disney+, which seems to have a lot more content to offer. HBO has always been a pricey caviar-and-coitus service and apparently it aims to stay that way.

Despite the frustrations, the offerings are good, with the kind of solid acting and production values HBO’s known for [HBO's hitting it out of the park with His Dark Materials, Watchmen, The Plot Against America and Lovecraft Country - Ed]. But Max is one a la carte too many for me and I won’t be renewing after my first month [this so-called cord-cutting malarky is an expensive hobby - Ed].

Subscribers with deeper pockets will enjoy the refreshing change from other streaming services, and the different collections are an amusing way of sifting through viewing suggestions.

As this new rival grows in strength and content, remember: Whatever job you have, slow down a little. Sip on your tea. Take an extra break or two. Never mind what the boss says. Don’t be a Netflix.*

*Note: Generation Star Wars takes no responsibility for the consequences of following bad advice.