Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Jim Broadbent cast on GAME OF THRONES

Respected British actor Jim Broadbent has been cast for the seventh and penultimate season of Game of Thrones.

Broadbent is a veteran of stage, television and film, having won a Oscar, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. In 2002 he was named an OBE, but turned it down.

Casual viewers will recognise him as Horace Slughorn from the Harry Potter movies, but he has also appeared in films such as Iris, Hot Fuzz, Time Bandits, Brazil (alongside Game of Thrones actor Jonathan Pryce), The Crying Game, Moulin Rouge, Gangs of New York and Cloud Atlas. On television he was a mainstay of British comedy programmes for most of the 1980s and 1990s, but has also appeared in drama series.

HBO have declined to say who Broadbent will be playing. At this point we are so far off-book it's hard to pick out a role, but I do wonder if we'll be seeing more flashbacks to the Mad King Aerys Targaryen. Broadbent would do excellently in that role. And yes, that role was cast with another actor in Season 6 (itself the second time the role had been cast, as he'd been cast for Season 1 for scenes ultimately cut out of the show) but that's hardly stopped HBO before.

Another possibility might be that Broadbent is playing either the new Grand Maester or the new High Septon (both are needed after the explosive Season 6 finale), or possibly a new maester at Winterfell. Another possibility is that he is playing a Northern lord. Finally, he could be an Archmaester at the Citadel, potentially Marwyn if that character is being retained?

We'll find out next summer when Game of Thrones returns.

STRANGER THINGS renewed for a second season

Althought it was pretty much a done deal the second it launched to rapturous reviews and a huge number of views, Netflix have now formally renewed Stranger Things for a second season.

They confirmed that the second season will last for nine episodes, even going as far as to announce the episode titles in the preview video. Those episode titles are:
  1. Madmax
  2. The Boy Who Came Back to Life
  3. The Pumpkin Patch
  4. The Palace
  5. The Storm
  6. The Pollywog
  7. The Secret Cabin
  8. The Brain
  9. The Lost Brother

The Duffer Brothers have already been working on and planning the second season for a while. They've started submitting the scripts to Netflix and are looking to cast four major new characters for Season 2. However, they've confirmed that most of the major Season 1 characters will return but would not be drawn on if Eleven will be back, which given the ending of Season 1 is understandable.

To avoid the curse of bad sequels, the Duffer Brothers have apparently been studying the works of James Cameron, judging Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgement Day to be the finest sequels ever made. Hopefully something rubs off and the second season of Stranger Things is as good as the first, if not better.

Season 2 of Stranger Things - and apparently there's a good chance it will be called Stranger Things II - is expected to air in late 2017.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Peadar O Guilin's THE CALL available now

I reviewed Peadar O Guilin's The Call a few months ago and found it to be one of the best SFF novels I've read in a while. A smart coming-of-age story infused with the darker side of Irish mythology and based on a killer concept (the Sidhe return, imprison Ireland in a magical field and relentlessly hunt every teenage human inside down for sport), it's well worth a read.

The Call is out today in the United States from Scholastic and at the end of the week in the UK and Ireland from David Fickling Books. Reviews are already out in the wild:

Publisher's Weekly (starred review): "This is a bleak, gripping story, one where only the most muted of happy endings is possible."

Kirkus Reviews: "Where the book excels is in its worldbuilding, which imagines a realistically multicultural, modern Ireland unified by the Call and where the Irish language is no longer spoken and Sídhe is replacing English."

The Bookbag:  "There are a good many survival game stories about at the moment, but The Call feels fresh and interesting and powerful. It's beautifully paced, remorseless and is peopled with characters you can believe in. I couldn't put it down. I understand a sequel - The Cauldron - will follow, and I'll be first in line to read it."

Mugglenet:  "The Call is a stunner of a book. I was taken in immediately, and was so riveted that I flew through the entire thing in just a couple of hours...Many readers might immediately draw comparisons to The Hunger Games, but The Call has much more in common with 1999’s Battle Royale by Koushun Takami...The Call is enchanting, compelling, and utterly horrifying. I loved it."

Queen of Teen Fiction: "It was gory and twisted, definitely not for the faint-hearted, but it was hard to turn my eyes away. I was desperate to learn more about these faeries and their history. Since I’m pretty sure this book is the first in a series, I’m highly anticipating another trip into this world that O’Guilin has created, and I’m equally excited to see and dreading what nightmares await the characters next."

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

The Six Duchies are troubled by internal strife. King Shrewd's eldest son and heir, Prince Chivalry, has fathered an illegitimate son. Riven by guilt and controversy, Chivalry abdicates his position and goes into into exile. His son, Fitz, is raised in Buckkeep and tutored in the ways of becoming an assassin. For King Shrewd, Fitz is a weapon he can use to further the cause of his kingdom. But all Fitz wants is a home and a place to belong.

Assassin's Apprentice, originally published in 1995, is the first volume in The Farseer Trilogy, the first of nine books focused on the character of Fitz and also the first book in a sixteen-volume series entitled The Realm of the Elderlings. For a book that launched an enormously successful series, it is relatively small-scale and restrained.

This is traditional epic fantasy, but one that is slanted a little from the standard. It's medieval faux Europe, but the land of the Six Duchies is based on Alaska (albeit a slightly warmer one) and the neighbouring Mountain Kingdom is more inspired by Tibet. There are existential threats - the Red Ship Raiders who ravage the coastline and the threat of civil war - but for the most part these are kept firmly in the background. Assassin's Apprentice is primarily the coming of age tale of FitzChivalry Farseer as he grows up, gains allies, masters the art of the assassin and encounters two forms of magic: the Skill, a form of telepathic communication and control, and the Wit, a bond of empathy with animals.

Robin Hobb's greatest strength is her deft hand with charaterisation and her naturalistic way of presenting the world. Her greatest weakness is a tendency to meander, to have characters sitting around talking about the plot rather than getting on with things and taking a hundred pages to do what a more concise author would do in ten. These weaknesses manifest much more strongly in the later volumes of the series, however. Assassin's Apprentice is, at 480 pages in paperback, relatively short and breezy by Hobb's standards with both a strong character focus and clarity of storytelling.

Much of your enjoyment of these books relies on your engagement with the main character, Fitz. Fitz is an introverted, introspective young man who spends a lot of time reacting to events rather than taking decisive action (this changes in later novels, in which he is a lot less passive). This can be frustrating, but it is also realistic: Fitz occupies a place less than nobility but more than being a peasant, and this dichotomy leaves him isolated and almost friendless, his position in the world uncertain and unreliable. It is only towards the end of the volume, when he visits the Mountain Kingdom and encounters people less concerned with rank and pomp, that he is able to come out of his shell a little. As it stands, Fitz is a mildly engaging but far-from-compelling central character. However, he does serve as an effectively unreliable narrator: the further things and events are from Fitz's perspective, the less reliable they are. This serves to upset reader expectations several times over the course of the trilogy. It's not exactly Gene Wolfe, but it is an effective way of getting the reader to share in Fitz's biases and ignorance before presenting them with the truth of events later on.

Hobb is a superior prose writer and a gifted communicator of emotions and atmosphere. Although it's not a primary focus of her writing, she is also a good writer of horror: the Forged, people with their morals stripped away to be turned into monstrous echoes of their former selves, are a truly disturbing fantasy creation. In terms of politics she stumbles a little. Concluding events in the Mountain Kingdom are highly implausible and the way that Fitz escapes retribution for the events people genuinely believe that he has committed is extremely unconvincing. Fitz should be dead three times over before the book ends and the fact he isn't stretches the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

But there's also a lot to enjoy here. Fitz's tortured upbringing, his relationship with Burrich and Chade, and his punishing tutelage under Galen are all vividly (and sometimes painfully) described. The Red Ship Raiders are an intriguing enemy and the Forged a horrifying creation. Certainly the novel leaves one wanting to move onto the sequel, Royal Assassin.

Assassin's Apprentice (****) is thus a conflicted book: extremely well-written with a interesting backdrop and a terrific atmosphere, but with a plot that is a bit start-stop and political intrigue that is rather undercooked. But in terms of emotional engagement and its use of an unreliable narrator, Hobb is a formidable writer. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Friday, 26 August 2016

R. Scott Bakker's PRINCE OF NOTHING trilogy optioned for TV

According to the author, a television production company has optioned the rights to the Prince of Nothing trilogy: The Darkness That Comes Before, The Warrior-Prophet and The Thousandfold Thought.

More details are to follow, but this is startling news. Given the overwhelming "heaviness" of the books, with their dark atmosphere, brooding introspection and at times scenes of stomach-churning horror, this is neither an easy sell nor an easy project to get on the screen. There's also the fact that this series would require a budget, at the very least, as high as Game of Thrones in order to sell its scenes of vast armies marching, demons being summoned and sorcerous forces clashing in the skies.

Hopefully we will get more information soon so we can see how serious the offer is and how likely this is to happen. But interesting news nonetheless.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Season 2

The Clone Wars continue to rage across the galaxy. The Separatist robot armies and the Republic's clone troopers mean that both sides can feed millions of troops into the fray, raising fears that the war may continue indefinitely. The Jedi Knights attempt to bring about a final victory, even as Count Dooku and General Grievous press home their attacks...

The first season of The Clone Wars was enjoyable enough, but limited assets and a low (ish) budget meant that it was more of a proof of concept for what the series could be. In its second season, The Clone Wars starts to fulfil that promise. The animation is more impressive, the space battles more epic, the stories longer and more involving, interspersed with some quite effective (and occasionally even moving) stand-alones.

The big stories revolve largely around the activities of bounty hunters, particularly recurring enemy Cad Bane, major military campaigns on Geonosis and Christophisis, and political intrigue on Coruscant and Mandalore. There is also a ludicrous but entertaining multi-part homage to Godzilla and King Kong, when a gigantic "Zillo Beast" is defeated in battle and transported to Coruscant, where naturally it escapes and mayhem ensues. The big stories are well-written and entertaining, although some are more interesting than others: the different bounty hunters the show is trying to set up this season can be a bit interchangeable and therefore less effective as villains.

The stand-alones are extremely good. One episode where a Republic officer finds a clone deserter hiding out on a planet and resolves to turn him in, only to have his moral certainty tested, is very well-handled. An episode where Ahsoka loses her lightsabre and enlists the help of an elderly and apparently past-his-best Jedi to aid her is also extremely entertaining. Another episode sees Ahsoka, Obi-Wan and Anakin reluctantly joining forces with a band of mercenaries in a homage to Seven Samurai.

There's also a renewed focus on more realistic politics (at least compared to the prequel movies, which isn't saying much) and a solid season-ending arc which sees Boba Fett infiltrate the clone ranks in an attempt to avenge the death of his father Jango at the hands of Mace Windu (in Attack of the Clones).

The result is a stronger season overall that delves further into the nature of war and the morality of conflict. There is some excellent character development, particularly of Obi-Wan, Anakin and Ashoka, and a scaling back of less successful elements: Jar-Jar doesn't have much to do this season, thankfully. There is also a lot of excellent battle sequences, great voice acting and some marvellous production design.

On the negative side of things, the way the story jumps backwards and forwards between times and locations occasionally risks confusion. Fans of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe will also probably be less than thrilled to see what's become the Mandalorians, the battle-hardened super warriors from numerous video games, comics and novels now reduced to pacifistic, squabbling fools.

Aside from that, Season 2 of The Clone Wars (****) is a major improvement over the first season in every way and makes for excellent pulp fun. It is available now as part of the Complete Season 1-5 box set (UK, USA).

Sunday, 21 August 2016

James Purefoy cast in Netflix's version of ALTERED CARBON

Netflix has announced casting news for Altered Carbon, its cyberpunk TV series based on the Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard Morgan.

Joining Joel Kinnaman, who has already been cast as Takeshi Kovacs (or rather his Earthbound "sleeve" or body), are James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Dichen Lachman and Leonardo Nam.

James Purefoy is best-known to genre fans from his excellent turn as Mark Anthony in HBO's Rome. Since then he has starred in Blackbeard, Camelot and The Following on TV and is currently starring in Hap & Leonard for Sundance TV. His film credits include Ironclad, John Carter, Solomon Kane and the recent High-Rise.

Purefoy will be playing Laurens Bancroft, a centuries-old super rich member of the elite class known as Methuselahs. This is the kind of finely-characterised, meaty role that Purefoy revels in.

Mexican actress Martha Higareda (Royal Pains) will play police officer Kristin Ortega, whilst Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse, The 100, Agents of SHIELD) will play Reileen Kawahara, Kovacs's sister. Leonardo Nam (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Westworld) will play the young Takeshi Kovacs (the original body Kovacs was born into) in flashback sequences.

The first episode of Altered Carbon will be directed by Miguel Sapochnik (Game of Thrones) and the series is expected to debut in late 2017.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

The Future of the STAR WARS Movies

In four months Star Wars: Rogue One will hit cinema screens. It will be the biggest risk in the forty year history of the franchise. It'll be the first movie in the series which does not revolve around lightsabres, the Force or the Skywalker family. A Dirty Dozen in space, it will carefully explore whether mass audiences are willing to watch stories in that universe which are not related to the characters or premise of the original movies.

"That's a nice eclipse. But wait, this planet has no moon, how can we have an eclipse?"
"That's no moon..."

That said, it's not that much of a risk. The film will be partially set on the Death Star and characters like Mon Mothma and even Darth Vader will appear (if only, in the latter case, for what sounds like an effective cameo). And whilst cinema audiences may not be used to Star Wars without the Skywalkers, it's something many millions of more dedicated fans have experienced for decades in mediums like the comic books, novels, video games and animated TV series like The Clone Wars and Rebels. Even if, somehow, Rogue One does badly, it'll only be another year before Episode VIII (still, curiously, not titled by Lucasfilm) hits cinema screens to continue the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren, Finn, Rey and everyone else from The Force Awakens.

We know that Disney wants to release a Star Wars movie every year from now until the end of time (probably) and this will mean them telling completely original stories in the setting. It's actually a clever move, because after Rogue One the other planned spin-off movies are actually dove-tailing into the main saga by exploring the backstories of major characters, which gives them time to see if Rogue One is a success before committing to more original movies. So here's a look at what we know about the upcoming movies and throw some ideas about for films beyond that:

In Production

Star Wars: Rogue One
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Release Date: 16 December 2016
Status: Late post-production

You should have already seen the trailers for this. Rogue One is a prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy, taking place just weeks before the events of A New Hope. The film chronicles the completion of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance getting wind of the Empire's new superweapon and a crack team of morally dubious commandos being dispatched to steal vital technical data on the weapon. It's this data that eventually gets into the hands of Princess Leia and R2-D2, kicking off the entire saga.

This film is unusual in that it focuses on non-Force-using characters, with Edwards describing it as a war film more in the vein of The Dirty Dozen than the fantasy adventure fun of the previous movies. The film will apparently have a slightly "grittier" tone than the main films and will probably not even have a scene-setting opening crawl. It will also be the first Star Wars movie to not be scored by John Williams. The film is likely to be a big success but whether it will match the heights of The Force Awakens remains to be seen: the marketing for this film has been extremely restrained so far, compared to where we were a year ago for Episode VII.

Star Wars: Episode VIII
Directed by Rian Johnson
Release Date: December 2017
Status: Early post-production

This film picks up after the end of The Force Awakens, with Rey trying to convince Luke Skywalker to train her in the ways of the Force, Finn recovering from the injuries he sustained in the battle with Kylo Ren and Ren, himself badly wounded, being taken to Supreme Leader Snoke to be healed and learn more of the Dark Side of the Force. The Resistance is reeling from the destruction of Hosnian Prime, but the First Order has also been dealt a serious blow with the destruction of Starkiller Base, likely leading to renewed fighting between the two sides.

The second of the new Star Wars episodes is directed by Rian Johnson, who is extremely well-respected for his original SF movies Brick and Looper, not to mention his excellent work on Breaking Bad. This movie will be huge - potentially bigger even than The Force Awakens - and hopefully a bit more original on the story side of things.

Star Wars: Han Solo
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Release Date: 15 May 2018 (likely, in my opinion, to change)
Status: Pre-production and casting

This film will explore the backstory of everyone's favourite smuggler, Han Solo. The movie is apparently set ten years before the events of A New Hope and will explain how Solo acquires the Millennium Falcon, with a young Lando Calrissian also expected to appear. You'd also expect Chewbacca to show up, but that has not yet been confirmed.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have a huge amount of both geek cred and studio support, having taken The Lego Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street (plus its sequel) to box office success and critical acclaim. They recently announced that Alden Ehrenreich will be starring as the young Han Solo, and the Internet approved mightily of the (unconfirmed) rumour that Community actor Donald Glover will be playing Lando. Lawrence Kasdan, co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, is also co-writing this movie with his son. This seems like a pretty strong project, with Han Solo's roguish adventures being the perfect setting for a Star Wars movie. Interestingly, this may also be a relatively small-scale Star Wars movie without the planet-destroying superweapons and galaxy-spanning wars of the other movies. Some rumours have suggested it may also take cues from Ocean's Eleven, which would be interesting although possibly self-defeating (why make a Han Solo, er, solo movie if you then immediately add lots of other main characters?).

Even the suggestion that Disney might spin this out into a trilogy of films ending shortly before the events of Episode IV isn't necessarily a bad thing, providing the writers, directors and, most impotantly, the actor all deliver on the tremendous promise.

Star Wars: Episode IX
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Release Date: December 2019
Status: Pre-production and writing

Given that Episode VIII is still sixteen months away, it's probably premature to speculate too much about Episode IX. But this film will likely resolve the fates of Kylo Ren, Finn and Rey and the First Order and finally bring peace to the galaxy, at least until such time that Disney's finances require the inevitable Episode X-XII trilogy be made.

Colin Trevorrow was a bit of an eye-opening choice for this film, with only two previous movies on his resume and, unlike Rian Johnson, neither were critical successes. But when one of those movies was the franchise-rejeuvenating, money-making machine Jurassic World, that doesn't really matter. What is more hopeful is that Rian Johnson is hanging around to co-write the script.

In Development

These ideas have all been thrown around by Lucasfilm in interviews before, so we can assume that they have at least been discussed.

Star Wars: Boba Fett

A film revolving around everyone's favourite space mercenary Boba Fett has been mooted several times before. Fett was the break-out star of the original trilogy, a background character with a bare handful of words who was defeated by Han Solo by accident and eaten by a giant hole in the desert, but somehow retained his cool aura. The Clone Wars animated series actually did a reasonable job of filling in his character and backstory.

I'm a bit torn on this one. On the one hand, Boba Fett worked in the original trilogy because he was hardly in it. He showed up, showed some sass to Darth Vader and then apparently died. Both the Expanded Universe and the new canon have ruled that he survived his fall into the Sarlaac, but the Expanded Universe novels did arguably then over-use him, particularly in trying to make him a morally-justified Mandalorian warlord. Part of me thinks Fett should remain firmly off-screen.

But the approach suggested by Lawrence Kasdan is also interesting. Kasdan, who is known not to be a fan of the prequel trilogy, apparently penned a treatment in which the Boba Fett from Attack of the Clones is attacked and killed by a Clint Eastwood-esque "man with no name" who then steals Fett's identity before the events of the original trilogy. It's a nice idea, but I get the impression that Lucasfilm vetoed it, possibly feeling it was a bit of an insult to George Lucas (who clearly intended them to the be the same character, even redubbing all of Fett's lines in the original trilogy with the Attack of the Clones actor's voice). Kasdan later announced that Han Solo will be his last movie, so the Boba Fett project - which appears now to have been moved to the backburner - will have to find another writer.

Star Wars: Yoda

A Yoda-centric Star Wars story has actually been on the cards since George Lucas made Return of the Jedi. When the Expanded Universe took off a few years after that movie came out, Lucas forbade any of the novel authors, RPG designers or TV scriptwriters from giving any information at all on Yoda or his species. The closest anyone got was when Knights of the Old Republic II featured an alien of the same race. So clearly Lucas wanted to carefully protect Yoda's backstory for another time.

That said, a Yoda-centric movie might be a hard sell. The prequel trilogy didn't really endear audiences more to the character (who was rather more humourless and less relatable than his appearances in the original trilogy) and, like Fett, Yoda works more in small doses. Maybe a film that explores his 900-year backstory without necessarily featuring him in every scene might work. I suspect this film is also now on the backburner as Lucasfilm debate how to handle it.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan

This project doesn't appear to have been on Lucasfilm's radar, but came up as a possibility after Ewan McGregor enthusiastically endorsed the idea in interviews. McGregor had been lukewarm on his experiences filming the prequel trilogy (noting his numerous emotional scenes where he had only a tennis ball to react to), but apparently is keen to revisit the character with a better writer and more meaty material to handle. This film would presumably be set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope and see Obi-Wan called away from Tatooine to undertake a new adventure. It is also possible that this film could dovetail into either (or both) the proposed Boba Fett and Yoda projects. There's also the fact that in A New Hope Luke notes he has met Obi-Wan before, so this movie could also explore that first meeting.

Mostly, I think a lot of people feel bad that an actor of McGregor's calibre was let down by poor material in the prequel trilogy and want to give him another shot with the character.

Possible Ideas

These are ideas that fans and writers have thrown around, with variable amounts of plausibility.

Star Wars: Rogue Two

Probably not revolving the character from The Empire Strikes Back (although at this rate, in another fifty movies' time that may actually be a viable idea). More plausibly, this could be another adventure with the Rogue One crew, or whoever survives that movie, perhaps going after the Death Star II plans (presumably helped by many Bothans) or getting involved in more between-movie shenanigans.

More likely would be a film that tries to do the same kind of thing as Rogue One: a completely new adventure with a whole new cast, just set in the wider Star Wars universe.

Star Wars: Mace Windu

Like Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson has expressed interest in reprising his prequel trilogy character of Mace Windu, famed for his purple lightsabre. Unlike the proposed Obi-Wan movie, this would be rather more difficult since Mace Windu dies in Revenge of the Sith when his arm is chopped off by Anakin Skywalker and he is then blasted out of the window of the Chancellor's office with Force lightning.


No, he does, but Jackson has heroically argued that Windu could have survived his multi-mile plummet onto the streets of Coruscant and gone into hiding, emerging many years later to wreak havoc on the Empire, presumably before dying for real (to explain why he's not in the original trilogy). It's a nice idea, but given the already-ridiculous return of Boba Fett from the dead I think this is probably an idea best avoided.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

BioWare's classic 2003 computer RPG is widely-cited as the finest piece of Star Wars material ever created outside the movies, with its 2004 sequel from Obsidian Entertainment (which explores a much more morally murky idea of the Star Wars universe) not far behind it. These two games have spawned enormous numbers of popular spin-offs, including the current online multiplayer game The Old Republic. A film version of the story, or exploring the same time period (4,000 years before the original trilogy) when the Jedi and Sith are both numerous and engaged in galaxy-spanning conflicts, could be quite interesting.

Star Wars: Thrawn

Grand Admiral Thrawn is the most popular Star Wars character not to appear in the films, instead having been the star villain of Timothy Zahn's early 1990s novels which launched the Expanded Universe. The EU is gone but Thrawn has been carried forwards into the new continuity, with him set to appear as a villain in Season 3 of the Rebels animated series and Zahn writing a new novel about him.

A movie featuring Thrawn as a villain would be very popular. Hugo Weaving was previously a fan favourite to play him, but Benedict Cumberbatch now seems to be the actor of choice to take on the role. Such a film would also, if set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, explore a time period which is still a bit murky and may allow other EU characters like Mara Jade to appear in the new canon.

This assumes that Thrawn won't just be killed off in Rebels, but that would appear to be a waste of an excellent villain.

Star Wars: The Huttfather

Jabba the Hutt stars in a Godfather-riffing trilogy exploring his backstory, rising from a poor young Hutt in the swamps of Nal Hutta to an immigrant to the Vertical City of Nar Shaddaa to his rise to a powerful crimelord of the Outer Rim, based on Tatooine. Robert De Niro will play the young Hutt in lengthy flashbacks.

Okay, I made that up. But at this rate this will be a viable project in about ten years or so.

Tucker and Dale Versus Evil

A group of college kids head out into the woods for a weekend of tomfoolery at the same time good-hearted hillbillies Tucker and Dale take possession of their new holiday shack. When Tucker and Dale rescue one of the college girls after she injures herself, her friends think she's been abducted. Misunderstandings escalate out of control, until both groups believe they're being hunted by psychopaths and resolve to defend themselves no matter what.

Comedy movies which riff off horror themes have been around for a while now, starting with the magnificent Evil Dead movies in the 1980s, continuing with the likes of Scream and Shaun of the Dead, and recently resurging thanks to the excellent Cabin in the Woods. Tucker and Dales Versus Evil is a fine addition to this pantheon of movies which seek to scare and amuse at the same time.

This is a quite clever movie which invokes almost ever single trope on the horror table: a bunch of teenage kids out in the woods drinking alcohol and taking drugs, chainsaws, people being picked off one-by-one, buildings burning down and a final confrontation in a sawmill. What makes the movie work so brilliantly is that the whole thing kicks off due to misunderstandings and the belief of the characters in what will happen based on their own exposure to horror movies. In fact, you could re-edit the movie to take place entirely from either Tucker and Dale's POV or that of the kids and you'd entirely get where each side is coming from.

That said, the movie doesn't hold an entirely unbiased view of what's going on: our sympathies are firmly with Tucker and Dale throughout the picture. Alan Tudyk (Firefly) plays Tucker, the somewhat more savvy of the two hillbillies (or so it first appears), with his usual brilliant comic timing but the heart of the picture belongs to Tyler Labine (Reaper) as Dale, whose early dumb schtick masks a much smarter and more resourceful person. One of the underlying premises of the movie is that Dale is trying to woo college girl Allison (a sympathetic performance by Katrina Bowden) which initially seems ridiculous but the actors actually sell the idea they might be just about right for one another. These kind of relationships are usually contrived in both horror and comedy films, but this one works just fine.

The college kids are less sympathetic, bringing about most of their stupidity and ludicrously gory deaths on themselves. Debut director Eli Craig seems to take glee in working out how each one is going to meet their end and then outdoes himself with the next one (although the woodchipper scene remains the most memorable death in the movie).

So the film is well-played, hilarious and takes a wry, smart look at the tropes of horror movies that pays homage to them (even fellow horror-comedies, as The Evil Dead 2 gets several shout-outs). The film does have two, relatively minor, weaknesses. First is that it is a little too quick to cut to the chase. Based on the effectively frantic pacing, the movie should really be over at around the 70 minute mark and the team then have to drag out the finale to get the film up to feature length. Perhaps a little more scene-setting at the start and making the college kids more interesting and sympathetic would have helped the audience care more when they start expiring.

Secondly, the film doesn't entirely have the courage of its convictions and ultimately drops in a real murderous killer into the story. I agree that it would be tough to let the carnage keep playing out as the result of a case of mistaken identity (although they do manage it for more than half of the movie), but it would have been interesting to see them try. Having a real bad guy in the film does kind of feel like it's going against its own premise.

Tucker and Dale Versus Evil (****) is spectacularly gory, extremely funny and cleverer than it first appears, but can't quite maintain the brilliance of its first half all the way to the end. But it's still an outrageously entertaining slice of horror-comedy. It's available now in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and USA (DVD, Blu-Ray). It's also available on Netflix in many territories.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Amazon releases pilot episode of THE TICK

Ben Edlund's cult-classic superhero comic The Tick is getting another swing at becoming a TV show. It was previously an excellent animated series running from 1994 to 1996 and a brief live-action show in 2001. Amazon are behind this latest revival and have just released the pilot episode to view for free.

I absolutely loved the animated series of The Tick when it first aired, and must admit I found the notion of a live-action version somewhat absurd. That feeling lasted for as long as it took for them to announce they had cast the sublimely brilliant Peter Serafinowicz (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, The Phantom Menace, Guardians of the Galaxy) in the lead role and then that they had cast Jackie Earle Haley as arch-villain the Terror. The pilot also takes an interesting approach by showing things through the POV of the Tick's long-suffering sidekick Arthur (Griffin Newman).

As pilot episodes go, this is fast, smart and very, very funny. Hopefully this will go to series.