First Photo From Star Wars Episode IX

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The as-yet untitled (publicly, at least) Star Wars Episode IX director, J J Abrams, has celebrated the first day of filming by dropping the first production photo from the film on his Twitter feed.

Feast your no-doubt eager eyes on this and we’ll talk after the break:

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Along with the photo, dominated by the camera but carefully showing John Boyega’s Finn in conversation with someone in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, Abrams left the following touching message:

Bittersweet starting this next chapter without Carrie, but thanks to an extraordinary cast and crew, we are ready to go. Grateful for @rianjohnson and special thanks to George Lucas for creating this incredible world and beginning a story of which we are lucky to be a part. #IX

Star Wars Episode IX will see newcomers Richard E. Grant, Naomi Ackie and Keri Russell join series regulars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo and Billie Lourd, alongside Billy Dee Williams returning as Lando Calrissian and the final appearance for Princess/General Leia Organa, using unseen footage (originally shot for The Force Awakens) of the late Carrie Fisher.

Expect to start seeing a lot more information creeping out (which I’ll be happy to bring you) as we reach the home stretch for the final film in the current Star Wars trilogy.

The film will open around December 18, 2019.

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She’ll Be Back

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Empire Magazine has just shared the first image of Linda Hamilton as the iconic Sarah Connor, from forthcoming sequel/reboot/whatever Terminator Film Without A Title.*

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The full picture reveals her standing alongside co-stars Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes, in the new film produced by James Cameron (while simultaneously making four hundred back-to-back Avatar sequels) and directed by Deadpool’s Tim Miller.

Whether this is a film anyone actually wants to see is still undecided, after the last three sequels (Rise of the Machines, Salvation and, ugh… Genisys) failed to deliver the goods in ever worse ways. The irritating mangling of the word Genesis alone explains my wariness towards this project, despite the always welcome presence of Hamilton (returning to the franchise for the first time since Terminator 2: Judgement Day in 1991).

The new Terminator movie is released in November 2019.

*Likely to be changed before release

Black Brings Back The Predator

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Let’s get this clear: I straight-up love Shane Black and the original Schwarzenegger Predator is a stone-cold classic!

The following Predator movies are mostly harmless fun of varying quality (though there’s not really any need to speak again of the execrable Aliens vs Predator movies, right!?) so while we might not actually need another movie featuring the unearthly hunters,  having Black at the helm raises the  anticipation levels considerably.

The first trailer has just dropped, so see what you think and we’ll talk more after:

This doesn’t set my pulse racing, but it does intrigue me. Black’s trademark snappy dialogue is certainly in place and bringing the Predator to surburbia is a concept ripe for gnarly fun. And let’s face it, the (uncredited) co-screenwriter of the original Predator is certainly more equipped than most to shape another go round with these guys and has yet to deliver an unsatisfying movie – though I’m going to be mighty disappointed if there isn’t at least one scene set at Christmas.

I’m giving this the benefit of the doubt and betting on Black to deliver suitable thrills and chills. The Predator will be unleashed on September 14th.

Are You Getting A Good Feeling About The New Solo Trailer?

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Disney have just dropped the full-length trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story and, well, it’s pretty good.

Take a look and see what you think…

So the main take here is that we actually get a little more of Alden Ehrenreich’s performance as Han Solo, in the unenviable position of taking over from screen legend, Harrison Ford. While this trailer still doesn’t sell me completely, I have to admit he’s looking a little more promising. It seems to be an approximation of Ford’s swagger without being a slavish imitation.

The main problem is that Donald Glover (taking over Lando Calrissian from Billy Dee Williams) absolutely steals every shot he’s in, leading me to wonder why this film isn’t actually called Lando. Still, there’s the added value of Woody Harrelson, and that’s never a bad thing.

Will Solo overcome its highly troubled production problems and give us the high-spirited heist movie the trailer promises? And will Ehrenreich win us over as our beloved rogue? We’ll find out in just over six weeks. Meanwhile, sound off in the comments below with your thoughts on the trailer…

Solo: A Star Wars Story punches its way into cinemas on May 25th.

“You in…?” Disney Finally Proves Solo Is An Actual Movie

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With all the industry scuttlebutt that’s been hanging over the production of Solo – A Star Wars Story (Miller and Lord being fired from directorial duties at the eleventh hour, incoming director Ron Howard seemingly reshooting swathes of material) , and with so little little visible evidence of the actual film (we’re just three months from this sucker arriving at our local multiplexes, for goodness’ sake) it was beginning to feel like we were being sold a fake bill of goods.

But now, just to prove cynical old naysayers like myself wrong, here’s an actual trailer and proof that Solo is a film and really exists. See for yourself…

See? Alden Ehrenreich really is playing Young Harrison Ford and Donald Glover really is Young Billy Dee Williams. Woody Harrelson is playing Grizzled Old Career Criminal and Emilia Clarke is The Woman (hopefully her role will be better than that but not judging from this first trailer).

Difficult to tell from this whether this actually real movie will be any good after all the backstage shenanigans, but Howard is – at the very least – a steady pair of hands.

We’ll be able to judge for ourselves when the film really does hit cinemas in just over 90 days…

 

 

There’s Something Happening Here – The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Trailer

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If you haven’t yet caught Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, starring the brilliant Elisabeth Moss, you’ve missed out on one of the finest TV dramas of 2017.

Now would be a good time to catch up with this harrowing story, as Hulu have dropped the trailer for the second season and announced an airdate of April 25th.

This timely series takes place in a brutal, dystopian future of gender politics and the new season steps into new territory as it expands the storyline past Atwood’s novel. Thankfully, the author is very much involved and if season two is even half as good as the original then the TV landscape for 2018 will be shaping up very nicely.

Meanwhile, here’s the trailer to whet your appetite…

“This Is Not Going To Go… The Way You Think!” – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Spoiler Free Review)

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“This is not going to go… the way you think!”

Luke Skywalker’s ominous words, highlighted in the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, could easily stand as the film’s throughline.

The overwhelming message of Star Wars: The Last Jedi is that families are complicated and move in unexpected directions. It also has a lot to say about being screwed up by our fathers.

Overwhelming also accurately describes what I felt about the film at the end of its two and a half hour journey. It’s somewhat overlong but it features some astonishing action sequences, is one of the visually richest Star Wars films and contains what might be my single favourite moment from the entire franchise.

In many ways, The Last Jedi mirrors both the darkness and structure of the Original Trilogy’s middle film, The Empire Strikes Back, but writer and director Rian Johnson is smart enough to take off into some truly wild new directions during the final third.

Picking up right where The Force Awakens left us, this new installment hits the ground running and the pace barely lets up. The expanding group of characters, old and new are pretty successfully juggled so that everyone is given satisfying arcs, this particularly benefits Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron, and Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill as Leia and Luke. Daisy Ridley continues to command the screen, especially in her dealings with Adam Driver, their interactions are electric.

John Boyega gets to play off new-to-the-franchise Kelly Marie Tran – both of who are great value but unfortunately shuffled into the film’s weakest thread – a trip to a casino world that’s given a decent barbed comment on the social structure of the Star Wars galaxy but feels rather unnecessary, structurally, and also, dare I say it, feels rather like an outtake from the dreaded Prequels. Indeed, this thread also manages to waste the always welcome presence of Benecio Del Toro.

While Johnson’s generosity to give everyone breathing room is commendable it does also see The Last Jedi surrender some of Empire’s structural elegance in favour of a more scattershot approach that leaves the film feeling a little overstuffed.

Still, this is a film with more on its mind than just rehashing the franchise for a new generation or showing off special effects. The relationship dynamics established are nicely developed, and not all in ways you might be expecting, Johnson keeps things surprising, and manages that to the very last frames. The Last Jedi is drenched in darkness but garnished with light and hope.

The consequences of familial actions, in particular those of fathers, is a deep running vein through the film, but it also suggests that family finds its own shape and can be forged in new ways.

Alongside all the drama Johnson gives us breathless action and some of the most gorgeous filmmaking and visuals of the series, using the colour red to particularly strong effect. An opening space battle and a dizzying lightsabre battle are among the highlights.

There are lots of callbacks (visually and thematically) to both Empire and Return of the Jedi, and a beautiful closing moment for one character which returns us right to the heart of Star Wars (Episode IV). To say any more would involve spoilers, but suffice to say there are some big emotional pay-offs.

As I mentioned before, The Last Jedi also features a sequence, possibly my favourite of the franchise, so balls-out audacious that it more than makes up for any deficiencies the film might have. You’ll know it when it arrives, a moment so glorious and exciting it will leave you very happy that Johnson is forging the future of Star Wars with his upcoming new trilogy.

I’m not certain The Last Jedi is quite the masterpiece many have been proclaiming, it’s too inelegant for that, but it’s eager to please and will leave you exhausted as you emerge from the cinema. It’s a shot of pure Star Wars adrenaline.

Like family, The Last Jedi is messy and doesn’t go the way you think. Ultimately though, you can’t help but love it.

Star Wars – The Last Jedi Trailer

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Let’s face it, I could pretty much be writing my shopping list here but you’ll be skipping past my no-doubt exciting consumer needs to take a look at the final trailer for Star Wars – The Last Jedi. Okay, off you go…

Well, there’s certainly a lot to unpack, with a great deal more of the story hinted at than in previous trailers. Personally, I’m rather excited to see what Rian Johnson has in store for us at Christmas, to the point where I’m actually rather disappointed that Disney/Lucasfilm decided to go with J J Abrams again for the final episode of this trilogy in the latest round of Hire-And-Fire-The-Director.

Will this be a simple nostalgia retread, like The Force Awakens, or will we get some real development in the saga this time? I guess we’ll see soon enough…

Star Wars – The Last Jedi opens on December 13th (at least, here in Norway, your country’s mileage may vary). Book your tickets now.

Okay, so… cereal, two pints of milk, brunost…

More Human Than… Blade Runner 2049

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Let’s get this out of the way first: Blade Runner 2049 has not resulted in the kind of film I feared it would be when I first heard that this belated sequel would happen and thought: “That has to be the worst idea in the history of bad ideas.”

Quite the opposite, in fact. Director Denis Villeneuve, screenwriters Hampton Fancher (also partly responsible for the original) & Michael Green, executive producer Ridley Scott and their crew have offered up one of the most powerful science fiction films of the new millennium. It’s been a long time, in fact, since we’ve been given a cinematic experience as pure as this.

Set 30 years after Scott’s classic, the sequel sees a mystery set in place when Ryan Gosling’s Blade Runner retires a Replicant-in-hiding who has been guarding a secret which could change the course of the world forever.

From just that plot description it’s clear this is no mere retread of the first movie, which had a fairly contained hunter versus hunted narrative.

Villeneuve and company paint on a much broader canvas, and this time the questions seem to revolve around not what it is to be human, but what it is to be more than human. It has an utterly palpable mood of tense gloom, giving you the constant feeling that something big and awful is about to happen, but it does this by widening the scope of Scott’s world, which is quite an act to pull off.

The music (by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, with plenty of nods to Vangelis) is bold and wonderful, the sound design by Theo Green and Mark Mangini is overwhelming and the cinematography by the cinematic god that is Roger Deakins is dazzling and beautiful, all of which work together to produce something that absolutely demands to be seen on the big screen. As big a screen as possible.

Gosling is great in the lead (as ‘K’), and while it’s a little difficult to go into depth on his role while avoiding spoilers, he finds just the right balance of what must have been a tricky character to get right. The rest of the cast is filled out by superb actors who know how to make the best of smaller roles, but the film really belongs to Gosling and, of course, Harrison Ford.

Ford returns as Blade Runner, Deckard, and I honestly can’t recall when I last saw him so fully engaged and fully immersed in a role. He is magnificent, Deakins’ camera loving every deep crag and crevice on his sandblasted face, and is a full-on the movie star of the old guard. I hope this is the beginning of a renaissance for the actor, because I’ve missed seeing him do great work onscreen.

There is a slight thorn in this rose, however. An unfortunate element that stands out is that the future as presented here is very much patriarchal: street-walkers roam in packs, artificial women are everywhere, as companions and toys for men, their sole aim to pleasure. And there’s a great deal of violence towards women (four female characters are brutally murdered). This troublesome theme pushes to the forefront of the story with Jared Leto’s Wallace, as he casually kills one of the synthetics his company has just given birth to. It’s a (deliberately) horrific scene, and I’m still trying to decide whether this is a deliberate part of the texturing, a barbed comment on misogyny in society and even if so, whether it was a necessary choice for the film. I’m not so sure.

I love the original with a vengeance, and while I’m glad they didn’t attempt to replicate (…sorry…) that film, what results is a somewhat colder effort than Scott’s remarkable and enduring tone poem, and only time will tell whether this will similarly work its way into my affections.

It’s rather like hearing  a new track by Led Zeppelin, riffing on one of your favourite Beatles songs, you know you’re getting something astonishing but you’re not sure if you’ll grow to love it.

However, against all the odds, Blade Runner 2049 is a towering achievement, a smart, powerful juggernaut of a movie which ultimately suggests something akin to hope for mankind. In an era of cookie cutter sequels that we’ve been given a sequel to a great movie that forges it’s own unique path is close to a miracle, which means that, much like the original, it’s a film which comments on its own premise (you’ll need to see the film to fully understand that).

Movies like this don’t come along too often and when they do we should celebrate them. Go to a cinema and experience it.

 

It’s Star Trek, Jim, But Not As We Know It – Discovery Arrives

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Star Trek: Discovery finally arrives, after troubling tales of behind the scenes problems and somewhat less-than-thrilling trailers, and I suppose the first question to ask is whether it’s the disaster many were expecting?

Happily the answer is no. The first two episodes, which dropped yesterday on CBS and the network’s CBS All Access subscription service in the U.S.A. and on Netflix almost everywhere else today, are generally exciting and well-told, with high production values and a decent cast. However, at least with the evidence at hand, it does veer away from creator Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful spirit of exploration, and this may be an issue for some.

Taking place some ten years or so before the original series’ tales of Captain Kirk and co (a point I’ll come back to later), Discovery features as its focus not the traditional Starfleet Captain (though there is one, played by Michelle Yeoh) but instead on the first officer of the USS ShenzhouMichael Burnham, as portrayed by Sonequa Martin-Green.

Burnham’s parents were killed by Klingons, which resulted in her being raised by Spock’s father, Sarek, on the planet Vulcan. This becomes important in the opening episode when Burnham’s ship is the first to engage in a direct encounter with the Klingons in almost one hundred years. Needless to say, the encounter quickly goes pear-shaped and we’re treated to a pretty epic space battle, alongside some interesting twists and turns for the characters (particularly in the second episode).

Michelle Yeoh is good value, and thankfully brings more humour and emotion to her role than the stilted trailers led us to believe, Science Officer Saru, played under heavy prosthetics by the always welcome Doug Jones, is also immediately likeable. Without these two the show would definitely have been lacking the human touch, as the rest of the crew singularly fail to register anything beyond dark-haired man, red-haired woman and grizzled admiral who only appears as a hologram, etc.

Viewers should be advised there’s also a lot of Klingon grousing about purity of race and what a rum lot we humans are. With subtitles. Of course, looking at the state of the world right now, it’s difficult to disagree with their summation of mankind. Let’s hope the show gives us enough of an opposing viewpoint to feel better about ourselves as it goes on.

Jason Issacs, another actor I usually enjoy, didn’t make an appearance in the first two episodes, so we have that treat to look forward to.

My biggest problem with Discovery was with Martin-Green, who faces the tricky problem of engaging us with a human raised by the emotion-subsuming Vulcans. It’s a delicate balance pulled off marvellously over the years by the late, great Leonard Nimoy, but across the first two episodes I found that balance to be weighted in favour of some stiff-sounding line readings and an inability to connect with the character.

Martin-Green faces a difficult task, especially being the viewer’s eyes through these shenanigans, but the cliff-hanging climax to the second episode at least suggests she’ll be getting a promising arc as we move forward. Of course, some better dialogue might help too. *cough*

My second big issue comes with the show’s setting. As mentioned above, we’re rolling around a decade before Kirk and co, but everything here looks WAY more advanced than the original series. Again, this was always going to be a tough nut to crack: you either embrace the 1960s-produced vibe of the original series or you say “Screw it, no one will buy that in the age of shiny CGI” and go for a modern design ethic. The producers of Discovery have chosen the latter.

Is this a geek-only problem? Will more casual viewers give a hoot that it looks more like the new timeline-set, JJ Abrams movies (particularly in its annoying overuse of lens flare) than a prequel show? Casual viewers may not care but this decision is baffling when so much of Discovery’s Klingon Cold War setting relies on understanding its place in Star Trek’s chronology. If nothing else it smacks of indecision at best, and downright carelessness at worst. The large number of producers and executive producers listed in Discovery’s opening credit sequence may suggest an answer to this…

What is for sure is that most of Roddenberry’s idealism is gone, as Discovery has more in common with a Game of Thrones viewpoint that humans suck and war is hell than it does with discovering Tribbles and dallying with green-skinned dancing girls, while it rams home analogies about fundamentalism with all the subtlety of a Klingon punch to the face.

Finally then, Discovery shows some promise in its set-up, but it’s likely to tick-off many long-term Star Trek fans. Personally, we have endless hours of Star Trek in its various forms before this, so I’m happy enough to see the franchise try something different. However, it’s so mired in Star Trek history (while simultaneously contradicting it left, right and centre) that I’m not certain how much it will appeal to Trekkies or non-Trekkies. Which could be something of a problem.

Whether or not that different feel is enough to sustain my interest in the long run remains to be seen, or to bring in those obviously much-hoped for casual viewers, but I’m certainly intrigued enough to see what this… sorry to use the word, but… grittier take on the final frontier has to offer. I had fun for its duration, and there’s something to be said for that, plus it’s good to see Star Trek back on television, its spiritual home.

Beam me up, at least for now…