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. 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.