All the undead: #SDCC2017 trailers for The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead

(image via IMP Awards (c) AMC)

 

After a very rocky season 7 in which I (a) seriously questioned my sanity and tolerance for torture-porn violence (damn near negligible) and (b) wondered if The Walking Dead had surrendered what was left of its once-philosophical soul to empty, ever-more murderous narratives, season 8’s trailer arrives with an emphasis on war, war, war.

Now as movies like Dunkirk and Saving Private Ryan have shown in all their exemplary glory, it is possible to tell compelling stories of war that move you profoundly as long as there is some kind of beautifully-expressed moral underpinning that makes it more than just a gorefest.

After season 7’s unevenness I am not completely convinced The Walking Dead can do this, saddled as it is too by characters like Rick (Andrew Lincoln) that are so morally-compromised and relativistic that you wonder if there is any difference at all between them and big baddies like Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

That’s a problem since we like our good guys, hate our bad guys and therein likes the sort of drama that draws you back, again and again.

Still this Comic-Con 2017 trailer is pretty damn atmospheric and gripping in its own way, switching between meditative and then all-out rock-soundtrack action, and finishing with a very interesting flash-forward.

So yeah I may watch it and see … fingers crossed this is a war with a reason for being and one that Rick, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Hilltop, effectively led by Paul Rovia aka “Jesus”, actually deserve to win.

The Walking Dead season 8 explodes onto our screens 22 October.

 

 

It wasn’t just The Walking Dead that got all the Comic-Con loving. Fear the Walking Dead, which I now regard as the better of the two shows when it comes to nuanced, clever storytelling and interesting characters, got its own #SDCC2017 trailer and, as expected, it’s an exciting piece of undead television in the offing.

 

Droughtlander no more! Outlander debuts its achingly touching S3 trailer

(image via IMP Awards)


SNAPSHOT

The third season of Outlander picks up right after Claire (Caitriona Balfe) travels through the stones to return to her life in 1948. Now pregnant with Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) child, she struggles with the fallout of her sudden reappearance and its effect on her marriage to her first husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies). Meanwhile, in the 18th century, Jamie suffers from the aftermath of his doomed last stand at the historic battle of Culloden, as well as the loss of Claire. As the years pass, Jamie and Claire attempt to make a life apart from one another, each haunted by the memory of their lost love. The budding possibility that Claire can return to Jamie in the past breathes new hope into Claire’s heart… as well as new doubt. Separated by continents and centuries, Claire and Jamie must find their way back to each other. As always, adversity, mystery, and adventure await them on the path to reunion. And the question remains: When they find each other, will they be the same people who parted at the standing stones, all those years ago? (synopsis via Coming Soon)

 

 

Oh how Outlander, the series based on Diana Gabaldon’s story of a woman caught between two men in two vastly different time periods, keep us hanging on!

Season 2 left us all the way back in July last year, and unless you have read the books of which there are many (though as Paste points out, that may not mean much narrative familiarity-wise), you will have remained in the dark about where Jamie and Claire, and yes poor old Frank, go next.

That is about to change following ten months of filming in Scotland and South Africa – the better to make use of the former sets of the now-defunct Black Sails, another Starz property – when we rejoin Claire who is clearly homesick for her life way back when.

It may seem impossibly dramatic and a little sudsy, but it works, anchored by forensically-accurate historical detail, richly-realised characters and a compelling emotional resonance that makes some pretty outlandish ideas matter and feel appealingly authentic.

Now all I have to do is avoid touching the giant standing stones at Craigh na Dun so I remain in the 21st century to watch the long-awaited new season.

Outlander season three premieres on Starz Sunday, Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. EDT

Fight the unimaginable darkness: Stargate Origins #SDCC2017

(image courtesy MGM)

 

It’s a good time to be a Stargate fan.

Actually it’s always been a good time to be a Stargate fan but right now, it’s more wonderful than usual.

Fresh from immersing ourselves in the series-completing comic book brilliance of Stargate Universe: Back to Destiny issue #1, there’s now word that Stargate will be back on TV.

Well, after a fashion.

A new series Stargate: Origins will launch on a brand-new subscription-based digital platform, Stargate Command which, as an added incentive, will have a host of goodies from the franchise’s 25-year run.

Timed to the 20th anniversary of the premier of Stargate SG-1 in 1997, the new series will take us back to where it all began, according to EW:

Origins … will focus on a younger version of Catherine Langford, played on SG-1 by Elizabeth Hoffman and in Roland Emmerich’s original film by Viveca Lindfors. This next chapter will introduce the early history of the character and the Stargate portal. The younger Catherine will embark on ‘an unexpected adventure to unlock the mystery of what lies beyond the Stargate in order to save Earth from unimaginable darkness,’ according to the official logline.”

No word yet on how this will be carried outside the US – Star Trek Discovery, which will be available on CBS All-Access is being broadcast here via Netflix, making it the likely conduit for Origins too – but come hell or high water or reborn Goa’uld, the on-screen return of the franchise will be greeted with all the fervour of a major discovery at an archeological dig in Egypt in 1928.

 

Game of Thrones: “Dragonstone” (S7, E1 review)

Cersei and the Kingslayer enjoy many a fun moment in court simply staring at the people before them until they creep them the hell out (image courtesy HBO)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND DRAGONS, WEIRD MARRIAGE PROPOSALS, AND A REALLY POOR (OR GREAT, DEPENDING ON YOUR PERSPECTIVE) VINTAGE 

Game of Thrones has always been a BIG show.

A big, epic, grand, expansive show that took in the entirety of the lands of Westeros and then some, a multitude of characters, death on a cataclysmic scale, and more vaulting ambition that you could poke an Iron Throne at.

And while “Dragonstone”, the geographic arrival point for Queen Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) along with entourage of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Varys (Conleth Hill), Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) in Westeros, kept things big and sprawling, it also began to draw things tighter and tighter together.

In turn, we were reintroduced to the remaining contenders for the throne over which much blood has been spilt, evil unleashed, good done, ambitions foundered and soared, and which, with the White Walkers led by the icily-cold Night King (Vladimir Furdik) on a relentless march towards the living, is beginning to look ever more like a rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Let’s start with good old Cersei (Lena Headey) and her brother/lover/chief military consort Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who stand in what’s left of King’s Landing – OK there’s quite a bit left in fact; it just sometimes doesn’t feel that way with the likes of the Red Keep a pile of smouldering rubble – plotting how “the last of the Lannisters who count” will dispatch their enemies to the north, south, west … and well, let’s just say there’s a shit ton of them and none of them are looking to play nice.

To even the odds somewhat, Cersei, who ever the pragmatist, seems to be coping with the loss of all her children just a little too well – being semi-drunk on power will do that to ya I guess; still not a Mother of the Year look really though – has invited the usurper of the Iron Islands throne, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) to put his case forward for marrying her.

It’s such a romantic proposal – I’ll give you 1000 ships and a mysterious present which the cheeky court interloper who seems unfazed by the power and might of the Iron Throne is intent on delivering with no spoilers, if you let me share the power of the Iron Throne.

Of course, by the time Euron makes it back to King’s Landing, there may be no Cersei on the throne, but given her survivability so far, which has surpassed cockroaches living beyond a nuclear apocalypse and beyond, I would put some serious money on the woman who has had a map painted of Westeros in the courtyard for fun, real-life strategy planning, to still be there and kicking.

 

“Stand still everyone!” said Daenerys. “First one to move gets singed by the dragons!” image courtesy HBO)

 

But in power? Ah, there’s the rub.

For while Cersei is determined to hang onto power – Jaime looks rather more ambivalent but then in lots of ways he always has – there are plenty of people looking to take it off her.

Apart from Daenerys who did little more than arrive grandly into abandoned Dragonstone before declaring in grand episode-ending fashion “Let’s get to work!”, the King of the North Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) are readying their forces to defend Winterfell, the Wall and all the lands around them, knowing full well that this is where the first battles with the Night King will be fought.

There’s tension of course but not fatally so, with Jon and Sansa working reasonably well together, protected by Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and the leader of the Wildlings Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), who continue to URST their way through things – lovestruck Tormund more than Brienne naturally – with “Little Finger” Lord Petry Baelish (Aidan Gillen) doing his best to worm his way back into Sansa’s affection (actually, he was never there so count that as a fool’s errand).

With the Night King on the march – one lone sequence sees him leading an unnervingly large column of the rotting undead, including three soulless Giants, across the icy wastes – there’s much to do including mine the hell out of any Dragonglass mines, manning the forts along the Wall and ensuring that Jon Snow’s reign isn’t the most shortlived of all the Starks.

Rather cleverly, and this speaks to how intelligent a man, both emotionally and intellectually, Jon Snow is, he pardons his former enemies including the Carstarks, all too aware that what’s needed now is some good old-fashioned unity, sealed shut with some fear of God (or the Night King, same same).

While he’s plotting all this, Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) arrives back at the Wall with Meera (Ellie Kendrick) looking exhausted on just about every possible level, almost reuniting what’s left of the rulers of Winterfell.

But where you ask, and frankly it’s a damn good, question, is Arya (Maisie Williams)? Why killing off all of Walder Frey’s (David Bradley) family with poisoned wine in the same hall that witnessed the bloody betrayal of the infamous Red Wedding.

As vengeance goes, this was gold standard best-served-cold, with the Frey’s gone, baby, gone, and the Riverlands given notice; job done, and these days Arya is cool as a freaking cucumber, not to mention a dab hand at playing dress-ups, the young woman who mostly does have a name sits down for dinner with Ed Sheeran.

OK not actual Ed Sheeran as Ed Sheeran, thought he does sing a bit, and unsurprisingly rather nicely too, but as a Lannister soldier come to keep the peace.

As is the way of modern social media, his appearance in the show has been ripped apart as badly-acted tokenism, but frankly, as always, this is nothing more than online bullying, and Sheeran, given his small but limited role, acquits himself well.

Haters might be gonna hate, but really it gets them nowhere and achieves nothing, and while his appearance doesn’t set the episode alight, it doesn’t diminish it either, and people should frankly worry more about the intractable conflict in Syria or Trump’s cancerous presidency than whether a pop star gets a cameo in the world’s biggest show right now.

 

Meera was beginning to seriously doubt whether pulling Bran through the snow was actually optimum cardio as her PT had advised (image courtesy HBO)

 

Far away from all the jockeying for power but rather integral to it all the same is Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) who is spending his time at the Citadel studying to become a Maester, under the tutelage of the Archmaester Ebrose (Jim Broadbent) himself.

You could be forgiven for thinking that it was more about emptying bedpans – Bradley does a fine job of acting retching that should be given an award of some kind – and cooking food and putting away books than studying but that is the price of climbing the rungs of learning right?

Maybe, but Samwell, still adorably in love with Gilly (Hannah Murray), is a determined young man, and turns out to be rather adept at some below-the-radar educational skullduggery, going into the maester-only books section and doing some research on the White Walkers, whom most of the people in the Citadel believe to be figments of Sam’s yet to be maestered imagination.

Success! He finds out that’s there a mountain, yes a mountain, of dragonglass underneath Dragonstone – could be a bit of an issue getting to it what with Daenerys now smugly ensconced there – and sets off a note to Jon Snow to skedaddle and go get it.

It’s refreshing to see Sam again, given he is one of the few characters in the snow who is genuinely pure and kind and of noble intent; even better, it looks like he will play a pivotal role in saving Westeros, if indeed it can be saved, or more importantly, should be saved, from the frozen menace to come.

“Dragonstone” is, on the whole, a jigsaw puzzle set-up, readying Westeros and the titanic battle to come, but it does it damn well, even giving us a look at Sandor “The Hound” Clegane who’s still somewhere in the mix, with that one harrowing shot of the Night King and his undead kin framing all the other power struggles being set into play.

It’s a reminder that, in the end, all the jockeying for position may amount to nought, and that everyone should be doing what Jon Snow is doing and getting ready for a messy battle for sheer survival now that winter has well and truly come.

  • There’s more drama, intrigue and bloody Machiavellian posturing in the next episode “Stormborn” but then you’d expect nothing less than that right?

 

Special bonds live on: Big Hero 6 The Series set to launch

(image courtesy Disney)

 

SNAPSHOT
“The series picks up immediately following the events in the movie, and continues the adventures of 14-year-old tech genius Hiro and his robot Baymax. Joining the pair on their journey is control freak Wasabi, scientist Honey Lemon, fanboy Fred and no-nonsense Go Go, who together form the Big Hero 6 superhero team.

“As the new prodigy at San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, Hiro faces daunting academic challenges, not to mention the social trials of being the little man on campus. The stakes are also raised for the high-tech heroes when they must protect their city from an array of scientifically enhanced villains.” (synopsis via Den of Geek!)

One of the most delightful perks of being an uncle is going to see childrens movies with my nieces and nephews. (In all honesty, I’d go anyway since they’re so much fun but having the kids along for the ride amps up the enjoyment factor by a considerable degree.)

Among the many films I’ve seen with them, usually at Christmas when I’m home for a while, is Big Hero 6, a beautiful film about love, loss and belonging and a gorgeous robot call Baymax.

Emotionally resonant, vibrantly and imaginatively-drawn and populated by well-rounded characters you give a passionate damn about, it’s one of the highlights of Disney’s recent long list of animated triumphs.

 

 

While rewatching the film is always an option, fans such as myself can now watch a while series of new adventures by Baymax, his human friend Hiro (younger brother of Baymax’s creator Tadashi) and their quirky but passionate superhero gang.

Big Hero 6 The Series, which picks up the movie’s fantastically and colourfully over the top but emotionally-rich finale – the film has all the feels and then some, a cut above the plasticky emotionalising of many other films in the genre – the show will give us many more chances I’m sure to fall in love with the bravest and most endearingly idiosyncratic of San Fransokyo.

Big Hero 6 The Series launches on Disney XD in 2018.

 

Saturday morning cartoons: Rocko’s Modern Life

(image courtesy Nickelodeon)

 

I have always liked my cartoons larger-than-life, super-absurd, colourful, silly and full of clever ideas and witty oversized characters.

In other words, just like Nickolodeon’s ’90s classic Rocko’s Modern Life.

Created by Joe Murray, who originally invented the character of Rocko the wallaby for a comic book series that never saw the light of day, the series rang for 4 season (1993-1996) and 52 episodes, sporting a theme song by none other than the B-52s.

Every single one of those 52 episodes was an exercise in imaginative insanity, taking a basic idea such as O-Town residents  Rocko (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui) and his best pal, super excitable steer Heffer (Tom Kenny), joining a gym or going shopping with a credit card they couldn’t afford and … RUNNING WITH IT.

It didn’t matter how outlandish, madcap or downright nuts, the idea was, it often made it in which is how you end up with episodes such as “Jet Stream” which has just about every outlandish, weird thing that can happen in airline travel such as misplaced bags (off in space being with by aliens), annoying kids (off to the overhead luggage compartment with you) and dubious maintenance standards (plane held together by tape anyone?) parodied like there is no tomorrow.

It’s that element of deliciously-realised parody of the beige-mundanities of life that makes Rocko’s Modern Life such an effervescent, technicolour delight.

Lampooning was not simply done for the sake of a great visual gag, although there were many of those, but with a clear intent in mind to expose the absurdity of consumer culture (“Who Gives a Buck?”) or lack of understanding of where our food really comes from (“The Good, the Bad and the Wallaby”).

In other words, all that screwball, hyper-real absurdity had a point and damn good, finely-realised one that meant you were laughing, and laughing often, but always with your brain engaged too which made all the pleasure of Rocko’s company all the more rewarding.

It was silliness with brains, and it worked an absolute treat.

 

 

But all that inventive parodying, and imaginative artwork – everything resembled a warped Salvador Dali-creation from the doors and furniture to the buildings and car; O-Town was not a town in love with symmetry – wouldn’t have meant nearly as much without characters you gave a damn about.

In that respect, Rocko’s Modern Life excelled too.

Central to the absurdist theatre was the enduring friendship of thoughtful, cautious Rocko and garrulous, impetuous Heffer.

Like many BBFs, they annoyed the heck out of each other at times – to be fair it was mostly Heffer annoying Rocko who ended up in all kinds of weird scrapes and situations thanks to his ill-thinking “woohoo let’s do it!” friend – but they always had each other’s backs, were solid company for each other and got through the oddities of life in O-Town, one fuelled by its owner Conglom-O Corporation which had as its not entirely reassuring slogan “We Own You”.

Their relationship gave the show, which was known for its racy humour – it once has a chicken outlet called Chokey Chicken, changed to Chewy Chicken when its connection to a particularly pleasurable solo act was made a thing of – and Looney Tunes-esque scenes, a great deal of its emotional resonance.

With that anchoring of real, solid, true friendship, Rocko’s Modern Life would not have had anywhere near as much appeal.

After all, all the great over the top parodies have always had a central emotional core underpinning their adventures in the out-there and the extreme, and Murray’s creation was no different, giving something to care about as we clutched ourselves laughing.

Throw in a neurotic turtle named Filburt (Mr. Lawrence), Rocko’s adorably faithful dog Spunky (Alazraqui) and the toad couple next door Ed and Bev  Bighead (Charlie Adler) and you had an impressive cast of characters that made watching the show as nourishing for the soul as it was a treat for the eyes and the mind.

This was cartooning writ large, with bold ideas, a willingness to push the envelope until everything crazy and colourful burst through, brilliantly-outsized characters and narratives that went there and back and then all way back there again, an underrated cartoon series that showed us clever the artform can be if you have a bunch of people brave enough to play around with it and see what happens.

For more detail on Rocko’s Modern Life, check out Wikipedia and Mental Floss.

 

 

 

 


* For lots more fantastic Rocko’s Modern Life clips, go to NickSplat on YouTube.

But wait! There’s more …

 

(image courtesy Nickelodeon)

 

Putting the “modern” back into Rocko’s Modern Life is a brand new reboot movie from the original creators and with the original voice cast that sees the gang grappling with an altogether different decade to their beloved ’90s as EW details:

“After having been blasted into outer space with Heffer and Filburt in 1996, Rocko returns to Earth and struggles to fit into the world that the 21st century has long since accepted. Food trucks, iPhones, energy drinks, 3-D printers, and social media are all ripe for skewering by the gang.”

Rocko, heffer and Filburt with iPhones, superhero blockbusters and food gone mega-sized and postmodern? This will be a hoot of a parody!

For more on the reboot, slated to debut in 2018, go to Entertainment Weekly.

 

Ozark: Delve into the dark, dangerous, and sometime quirky, world of money laundering

(image via YouTube (c) Netflix)

 

SNAPSHOT
Ozark is an upcoming American drama series created by Bill Dubuque. Jason Bateman will play financial planner Marty Bird, who suddenly relocates from a Chicago suburb to a summer resort community in the Missouri Ozarks, and who must pay off a debt to a Mexican drug lord, with Laura Linney playing his wife Wendy. (synopsis via Wikipedia)

Many a TV show has been set in delightfully odd country towns where fish-out-of-water city folk usually struggle, with humorous results to find their place, usually do with life lessons and warm-and-fuzzy moments for all.

Ozark does not look to be that show at all.

Yes there is the quirky locale but beyond that, Ozark looks quite bleak, dark, not altogether surprising given its subject matter.

After all, it’s not all that often that processing money for the mob, and the inherent dangers that entails is a thigh-slapping moment of guffawing merriment.

Even so, there are lovely little moments of humour woven – see the clip below, particularly the reference to getting three moving quotes – which give the show the levity it will need to live up to its quirky setting, at least in part, and make it one of those gripping dramas that will make for compelling viewing.

Ozark premieres 21 July on Netflix.

(source: Bleeding Cool)

 

 

 

 

Toying with expectations: Michael Tucker examines the storytelling of #GameofThrones

Jon Snow at the Battle of the Bastards (image courtesy HBO)

 

With season 7 of Game of Thrones mere nanoseconds away from kicking off – a slight bit of hyperbole but after waiting so long, it does feel like that – Michael Tucker aka Lessons From a Screenplay arrives with a timely look at the way HBO’s ratings juggernauts frames its narratives for maximum effect.

Using the storytelling lessons of Robert McKee’s Story, which says that “a scene is unified around desire, action, conflict and change“, Tucker expertly dissects a number of key scenes from Game of Thrones, including the epic 23 minute long Battle of the Bastards which sees Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), illustrating in the process how this most complex of shows skillfully uses the most simple of narrative devices to powerful effect.

In doing so, he underscores why this show is so successful – it’s not just epic for epic’s sake, a mistake made by many hollow modern blockbusters; rather, it employs great characters in extraordinary situations well-told where there are real issues at stake.

This creates a deep and compelling emotional resonance that invests people in the fate of the characters, and ultimately, the show itself.

But hey don’t take my word for it since Michael Tucker, who you can sponsor via Patreon, does it so much better.

 

Rikki Tikki Tavi! Rick and Morty have some new non-canonical adventures

(image via YouTube (c) Adult Swim)

 

Rick and Morty is, hands, and other sundry body parts, down, one of the most fabulously weird, gloriously and delightfully over the top cartoons on anywhere.

There is nothing I don’t like about it – it’s witty, clever, gleefully crass, spectacularly imaginative (the world-building and characters are nothing short of gobsmackingly good), laugh-out hilarious and packed from start to finish with captivating storytelling, brilliant sight gags and a willingness to sacrifice everything on the bonfire of technicolour intelligent parody.

And while we still have some way to go before we can sample the delights of season 3 – which, happily, looks suitably, wonderfully nutty as hell – we do have some super-quick claymation shorts to tide us over.

They reflect, as io9 rightfully observed, Rick and Morty‘s willingness to soak up everything up in the pursuit of great madcap storytelling:

“Rick and Morty’s willingness to blatantly riff on and make fun of narrative tropes seen in scifi/pop culture is a large part of what makes the show so fun … These are the latest series of claymation Rick and Morty shorts that reenact a number of iconic scenes from Aliens, Blade Runner, and Re-Animator.”

They are a joy to watch, and given they’re collectively over in just under a minute, you’ll have plenty of reasons to hit “replay” till Mr. Meeseeks comes home.

 

 

 

Welcome to Hawkins huh? New Stranger Things S2 poster presages ominous things to come

(image via Twitter (c) Netflix)

 

SNAPSHOT
It’s 1984 and the citizens of Hawkins, Indiana are still reeling from the horrors of the demagorgon and the secrets of Hawkins Lab. Will Byers has been rescued from the Upside Down but a bigger, sinister entity still threatens those who survived. (Official Netflix synopsis)

The arrival of Stranger Things into the zeitgeist last year was one of those rare modern pop culture phenomena – expected but surprising all the same.

Set in the ’80s in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, all small shops, mom and apple pie moments on the surface but all manner of weirdness below (helped along by a secret lab in their midst), and mixing horror with suspense and some good old-fashioned Spielberg-esque family politics, the first series was a sleeper hit that went from barely noticed to pretty much everywhere and then some in no time flat.

If you were standing around talking about Eleven, Barb or unorthodox uses for Christmas lights, then you weren’t spending enough time around the watercolour, real world or digital.

Now the show that gave Netflix an otherworldly glow of pop culture buzz is back, and as the poster indicates, things look like they will be just as weird, just as frightening and all about the close bonds of friendship as last time.

Cannot wait … just don’t dive in the pool in the meantime OK?

Stranger Things season 2 premieres 27 October on Netflix.