Review: Our favorite trickster god is charismatic as ever in Loki premiere

Tom Hiddleston stars in the latest MCU series, <em>Loki</em>, which premiered last night on Disney+.

Enlarge / Tom Hiddleston stars in the latest MCU series, Loki, which premiered last night on Disney+. (credit: Marvel Studios)

It’s hard to write a killer TV pilot that compels viewers to come back for more. You have to establish a fictional world, introduce the main characters and core premise, and set up a compelling trigger for the subsequent chain of events—all without making things seem frenetic or incoherent and without employing labored explanatory riffs. That’s true even in the case of a well-established fictional universe like the MCU. Fortunately, the first episode of Loki, Marvel’s new series reviving Tom Hiddleston’s beloved Asgardian trickster god, mostly gets it right—even if it does occasionally lapse into lecturing narrator mode (“talky, talky”).

(Only mild spoilers below, with a bit of spoiler-y speculation below the gallery.)

We all remember that scene in Avengers: Endgame when a 2012 version of Loki snags the tesseract containing the Space Stone and vanishes through a portal. That’s where the series opens, with our trickster materializing in the middle of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, much to the bemusement of a gaggle of locals. It’s not long before another portal opens to bring forth a team of armed guards who “arrest” Loki on behalf of an entity known as the Time Variance Authority (TVA). TVA agents are the so-called “custodians of chronology” in the MCU, monitoring violations to the timeline. Catch their attention by trying to change history, and you just might meet the wrong end of the Retroactive Cannon (Ret Con) and have your entire history deleted from the historical timeline.

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The world is rocked by the arrival of aliens in Invasion teaser trailer

Sci-fi drama Invasion follows multiple storylines across different continents, providing “a global look at how one alien invasion would affect us all.”

Apple TV+ has a solid hit with its alternative-history sci-fi drama For All Mankind, which just wrapped its second season, and the streaming platform clearly hopes to repeat that success with a new forthcoming sci-fi drama Invasion.

Don’t confuse this ambitious project with the 2005 ABC series of the same name about water-based creatures taking over the bodies of people living in a small Texas town after a severe hurricane (basically an aquatic riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Apple TV+’s Invasion is more of a 21st-century riff on War of the Worlds. Shot on four locations on four different continents—New York, Manchester, Morocco, and Japan—the series is intended to “make you question what you would do under extraterrestrial threat,” per the official premise, and “takes a global look at how one alien invasion would affect us all.”

Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Peaky Blinders) plays Sheriff John Bell Tyson, described as “a weathered rural lawman on the verge of retirement.” Shamier Anderson (Awake, Wynonna Earp) plays Trevante Ward, a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Golshifteh Farahani (Extraction) plays Aneesha Malik, a first-generation Syrian immigrant living in Long Island, while Firas Nassar (Fauda) plays her Syrian immigrant husband Ahmed Malik, a successful businessman. Shioli Kutsuna (Deadpool 2, The Outsider) rounds out the main cast as Mitsuki, who works in mission control in Japan’s space program, JAXA.

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Apple TV’s summer preview includes tantalizing glimpses of Foundation series

Last summer, we got our first glimpse of Apple TV’s hotly anticipated adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series of novels when Apple released a teaser trailer during the 2020 Worldwide Developers Conference. Production on the new show, which stars Jared Harris and Lee Pace, shut down last March due to the pandemic, but filming resumed last October. No official air date besides “late 2021” has surfaced, but there are a few tantalizing extra glimpses in the streaming platform’s new summer (and beyond) preview trailer, per the eagle eye of The Spaceshipper on Twitter.

Mild spoilers for the first book in the Foundation series below.)

The series started as eight short stories by Asimov that appeared in Astounding Magazine between 1942 and early 1950. Those stories were inspired in part by Edward Gibbons’ History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and the first four were collected, along with a new introductory story, and published as Foundation in 1951. The next pair of stories became Foundation and Empire (1952), and the final two stories appeared in 1953’s Second Foundation. Asimov’s publishers eventually convinced him to continue the series, starting with two sequels: Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986). Next came a pair of prequels: Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993), the latter published posthumously (Asimov died in 1992).

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Review: zombie heist thriller Army of the Dead is Zack Snyder at his best

A team of mercenaries ventures into zombie-infested Las Vegas in hopes of recovering millions in cash from a casino vault in Zack Snyder’s zombie heist horror thriller, Army of the Dead. It’s a stylish mix of Zombieland (especially the opening montage) and Ocean’s Eleven, with a smattering of The Dirty Dozen. While Snyder’s distinctive directorial style is plainly evident, he’s reined in his worst impulses to give us a clever, entertaining twist on the zombie apocalypse, featuring all the flesh-eating carnage one expects from the genre.

(Some spoilers below but no major reveals.)

As I wrote previously, in a sense, Snyder has come full circle. His directorial debut was 2008’s Dawn of the Dead, an entertaining reboot of the original George Romero classic from 1978. Army of the Dead started out as a joint project between Universal Studios and Warner Bros. back in 2007. But like so many films, it got stuck in development hell until Snyder signed on as director in 2019. Netflix picked up the distribution rights from Warner Bros. soon after.

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Our fave gentleman thief is back for revenge in trailer for Lupin part 2

Omar Sy is back as Assane Diop, a modern-day gentleman thief who models himself on the classic French fictional character Arsène Lupin, in part 2 of Lupin, coming to Netflix on June 11.

The Netflix French original series Lupin proved to be an unexpected hit when it debuted earlier this year, purportedly racking up views in 70 million households in its first month. And there’s good news for those frustrated by part 1’s cliffhanger ending: we’ll soon find out what happens next, as Netflix just dropped a full trailer and release date for part 2 of the saga. Alas, the trailer is dubbed in English—quelle horreur!—which means we miss out on star Omar Sy’s dulcet tones. (Dear Netflix: it’s OK to have subtitled trailers for your foreign fare. In fact, it’s far, far preferable to bad dubbing.)

(Some spoilers for part 1 below.)

As I’ve written previously, Arsène Lupin is the creation of Maurice Leblanc, who based the character partly on a French burglar/anarchist. Relentlessly pursued by a detective named Ganimard, Lupin is captured stealing a woman’s jewels while on board a ship. Although he is imprisoned, he ultimately escapes before standing trial and goes on to pull off many other colorful heists.

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Stranger Things hints at return of Eleven’s “Papa” in new teaser

We might see the return of Matthew Modine’s Dr. Martin Brenner in Stranger Things S4.

Our favorite psychokinetic, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), might be confronting her childhood tormenter and “Papa,” Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), in the fourth season of Stranger Things, based on a brief one-minute teaser that was just released. We knew it was coming, since an initial teaser appeared yesterday, featuring a simple piano score and a wall of TV screens, cutting between static and brief images. The YouTube description simply read, “Due to technical difficulties, Hawkins National Laboratory will be closed until further notice. We will be back in service tomorrow at 9:00AM ET.”

(Some spoilers for prior seasons below.)

Series creators Matt and Ross Duffer (collectively, the Duffer Brothers) already hinted that S4 would open up the storytelling to include plot lines outside of Hawkins, with the Russians and their captive Demogorgon playing a major role. A mid-credits scene following the S3 finale showed two Russian guards approaching a prison door. “Not the American,” one guard says. Instead, the guards drag off a Russian prisoner and lock him in a room with a captive Demogorgon, which proceeds to devour the screaming prisoner.

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Review: Shadow and Bone is a worthy adaptation of the Grishaverse novels

A lowly orphan and military cartographer in a war-torn world discovers she may be the key to her country’s survival in Shadow and Bone, a new Netflix series based on young adult author Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling “Grishaverse” novels. Those YA roots are mostly hidden in this lavish, entertaining adaptation, which boasts strong performances, terrific production design, and compelling mythical storytelling. Think Cursed meets The X-Men, with embellishments from Doctor Zhivago.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

As we’ve reported previously, Bardugo published Shadow and Bone, the first of a trilogy, in June 2012, followed by Siege and Storm in 2013 and Ruin and Rising in 2014. She told Entertainment Weekly in 2012 that she deliberately avoided the usual medieval fantasy motifs and drew inspiration for her fictional kingdom of Ravka from the Russian Empire in the early 1800s. In 2015, Bardugo published Six of Crows, followed by a sequel, Crooked Kingdom, the following year. This duology is set in the 17th-century equivalent of the Dutch Republic, a town called Ketterdam. Ravka is also bordered to the north by the Scandinavian-inspired Fjerda and to the south by Shu Han (inspired by Chinese and Mongolian cultures).

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Review: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier aims high, but falls a bit short

Confession: I wanted to like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier more than I ultimately did. The various trailers seemed so promising, giving off vibes of a “buddy cop” action flick, with a bit more room to flesh out the character development and themes. What we got was a show that was trying to do too many things at once—including setting the stage for the Phase 4 films coming down the pike—and as a result, it never did any of those things as well as it could have done.

(There are a few major spoilers below the second gallery. We’ll give you a heads up when we get there.)

F&WS picks up in the wake of Avengers: End Game, when Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) handed his Captain America shield to Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (The Falcon) and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes (The Winter Soldier), having chosen to remain in the past and live out his life with Peggy Carter. Sam and Bucky must grapple with losing Steve and the burden of his legacy. Meanwhile, the US government has named their own new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell), a decorated veteran and ultimate “good soldier” who thinks he can better embody “American values” than Rogers. (The nerve!)

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Sherlock Holmes takes a back seat to street kids in The Irregulars trailer

Sherlock Holmes takes a back seat to a ragtag group of street kids in the new Netflix supernatural drama The Irregulars.

The public’s appetite for all things Sherlock Holmes—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed fictional detective—appears to be limitless, with film, TV adaptations, and/or reinventions being released almost every year. The latest offering is The Irregulars, a new supernatural drama from Netflix, that focuses on the the ragtag group of street urchins the Baker Street sleuth often relied upon to gather useful information.

Netflix also ventured into Holmesian lore last year with the film Enola Holmes, starring Millie Bobby Brown as the young (and equally brilliant) teenaged sister of Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill). It garnered generally positive reviews, and vague plans are circulating for a sequel, despite a lawsuit filed by the Conan Doyle estate over the portrayal of an overly “emotional” Holmes. (The lawsuit was dismissed last December.)

Netflix greenlighted The Irregulars in 2018, created by Tom Bidwell (who also produced an adaptation of Watership Down for the streaming platform). Bidwell had long had the idea for a series centered on the Baker Street Irregulars, led in the original fiction by a boy named Wiggins. The group is first mentioned in the 1887 story “A Study in Scarlet,” in which Holmes pays them each a shilling to track down a particular cabbie. They also feature in a chapter of the 1890 novel The Sign of the Four, and one member of the group briefly pops up in the 1893 short story “The Adventure of the Crooked Man.” Holmes described the Irregulars as being “sharp as needles… all they want is organization.”

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #netflix, #sherlock-holmes, #streaming-television, #the-irregulars, #trailers

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Marvel drops one last trailer for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier debuts this Friday on Disney+.

With WandaVision now in the rearview mirror, Marvel fans have turned their attention to the imminent premiere of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier this Friday. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan reprise their roles as Sam Wilson (the Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) for a series set after the events of Avengers: Endgame.

As we’ve reported previously, after the Avengers and their many allies finally defeated Thanos in Endgame, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) handed over his shield to Sam so he could take on the mantle. But will Sam accept it? That’s a big part of what The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will explore over the course of its six episodes, and showrunner Malcolm Spellman has said the tone will be similar to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Sam and Bucky will “team up on a global adventure that tests their abilities—and their patience.” The primary villain will be Baron Helmut Zemo, a Sokovian colonel-turned-terrorist who is obsessed with defeating the Avengers, with Daniel Brühl reprising the role from Captain America: Civil War. Director Kari Skogland has said that his appearance in the series shows him “paying for his crimes” and “in a very sad place.”

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Review: Boss Level offers a witty, bloody take on the time loop trope

Frank Grillo is stuck in a time loop in which he is being hunted by dozens of assassins in Boss Level.

A man is stuck in a time loop and doomed to repeat the same day over and over again, all while being hunted by a group of deadly assassins, in Boss Level. We’ve been deluged with time loop-centric fare the last few years, with Happy Death Day (2017), Happy Death Day 2U (2019), Russian Doll (2019), and Palm Springs (2020) representing the best of the recent offerings. Add Boss Level to that list, not because it’s particularly deep, or because it boasts an innovative new twist, but because everyone on-screen is clearly having a blast and their enthusiasm is contagious, making this film just plain fun to watch—and ultimately that’s what entertainment is all about.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Director Joe Carnahan (The Blacklist, The Grey) started working on a script for a film with the working title, Continueback in 2012. He envisioned making “Groundhog Day as an action movie,” but the project apparently foundered at 20th Century Fox. Later that year, he posted footage from screen tests with eventual star Frank Grillo—who had worked with Carnahan on 2011’s The Grey—”to show you how cool this movie could have been.” (Carnahan deleted his Twitter account in 2019 after attacking multiple critics who gave his film, El Chicano, mixed reviews, and receiving considerable blowback for doing. His account is currently listed as “suspended.”) Fortunately, the project was revived in 2017, and Hulu snatched up the distribution rights last year.

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#boss-level, #entertainment, #film, #film-reviews, #frank-grillo, #gaming-culture, #hulu, #mel-gibson, #streaming-television

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Review: WandaVision sticks the landing with a very Marvel-esque finale

For all its touted meta-elements celebrating different TV decades, WandaVision wrapped up its nine-episode run in classic Marvel fashion, with Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda and Paul Bettany’s Vision valiantly defending their suburban nuclear family from the nefarious forces lined up against them. It was a satisfying, quite moving finale to this imaginative series. But fans expecting a surprise big-name cameo—Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange was a favorite of the pre-finale rumor mill—were disappointed.

(Some spoilers below; major reveals for finale below the gallery. We’ll give you a heads up when we get there,)

Frankly, I was skeptical of the WandaVision concept when the studio offered a brief sneak peek during D23 Expo 2019, Disney’s annual fan extravaganza. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige—a fan of classic sitcoms—envisioned the series as a love letter to the golden age of television, with each episode channeling a sitcom style from a particular decade. Head writer Jac Schaeffer (Captain Marvel, Black Widow) championed the concept from the start, despite a brief backlash against the perceived silliness of the title. Schaeffer thought viewers would change their minds once they actually saw the series, and she was right: WandaVision currently boasts a 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It even won over my skeptical soul.

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Netflix drops extended Shadow and Bone teaser, announces release date

Jessie Mei Li stars as Alina Starkov in Shadow and Bone, a new Netflix fantasy series adapted from Leigh Bardugo’s worldwide bestselling “Grishaverse” novels, premiering April 23.

Netflix unexpectedly dropped an extended teaser trailer for its forthcoming fantasy series Shadow and Bone during a panel at IGN Fan Fest. The hotly anticipated series is adapted from Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling “Grishaverse” novels and will premiere on April 23.

(Mild spoilers for the books below.)

Bardugo published Shadow and Bone, the first of a trilogy, in June 2012, followed by Siege and Storm in 2013 and Ruin and Rising in 2014. She told Entertainment Weekly in 2012 that she deliberately avoided the usual medieval fantasy motifs and drew inspiration instead from the Russian Empire in the early 1800s. “As much as I love broadswords and flagons of ale—and believe me, I do—I wanted to take readers someplace a little different,” she said. “Tsarist Russia gave me a different point of departure.”

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Review: The Stand starts out strong and then whiffs the landing

James Marsden, Alexander Skarsgård, Whoopi Goldberg, and Amber Heard are among the ensemble cast of a new miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's sprawling 1978 novel, <em>The Stand</em>.

Enlarge / James Marsden, Alexander Skarsgård, Whoopi Goldberg, and Amber Heard are among the ensemble cast of a new miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling 1978 novel, The Stand. (credit: CBS All Access)

A deadly virus wipes out most of the human population, and the survivors find themselves caught in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil in The Stand, the latest miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling 1978 novel. But despite a strong start, terrific performances from the all-star ensemble cast, and impressive production values, as a story, The Stand starts unraveling midway through, culminating in a meandering, seemingly pointless finale.

(Spoilers for the book below; a few major spoilers for the new miniseries below the gallery. We’ll give you a heads-up when we get there.)

As we reported previouslyThe Stand is widely considered to be among King’s best work, with a sprawling cast of characters and multiple storylines. It’s also his longest, with the 1990 Complete and Uncut Edition surpassing even It in page count. King has said he wanted to write an epic dark fantasy akin to The Lord of the Rings, only with a contemporary American setting. “Instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg,” King wrote in his 1981 nonfiction book, Danse Macabre. “The land of Mordor (‘where the shadows lie,’ according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas.”

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#cbs-all-access, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #stephen-king, #streaming-television, #television, #the-stand

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Black Panther director Ryan Coogler developing Wakanda series for Disney+

Promotional image for Black Panther.

Enlarge / We’ll be getting more Wakanda-centric stories thanks to a new development deal between Black Panther director Ryan Coogler and The Walt Disney Company. (credit: Marvel/Disney)

Following on the success of The Mandalorian and WandaVision on Disney+, The Walt Disney Company has tapped Black Panther director Ryan Coogler to develop an as-yet-untitled new series for the streamer focusing on the fictional nation of Wakanda. Deadline Hollywood reports that the planned series is part of an exclusive five-year deal between Coogler’s Proximity Media production company and the Mouse House to develop the new TV series, including shows for other divisions of the company.

“Ryan Coogler is a singular storyteller whose vision and range have made him one of the standout filmmakers of his generation,” said Bob Iger, executive chairman of The Walt Disney Company, in a statement. “With Black Panther, Ryan brought a groundbreaking story and iconic characters to life in a real, meaningful and memorable way, creating a watershed cultural moment. We’re thrilled to strengthen our relationship and look forward to telling more great stories with Ryan and his team.”

Coogler earned praise for his films Fruitvale Station and Creed before helming Black Panther. The film grossed a whopping $1.3 billion worldwide—the highest-grossing film by a Black director and the ninth-highest-grossing film of all time—and became the first MCU movie to win multiple Oscars (Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design). It was nominated for Best Picture, although it didn’t win.

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GoT alums among announced cast for Netflix Sandman adaptation

Tom Sturridge has snagged the coveted role of Dream, aka Morpheus, in the Netflix adaptation of <em>The Sandman</em>.

Enlarge / Tom Sturridge has snagged the coveted role of Dream, aka Morpheus, in the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman. (credit: DC Comics)

At long last, Netflix has announced several cast members for its hotly anticipated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s award-winning graphic novel series Sandman. As Deadline Hollywood reports, Tom Sturridge (Being Julia, Pirate Radio) snagged the coveted role of Morpheus, Lord of the Dreaming, while Game of Thrones alums Gwendoline Christie and Charles Dance will play a gender-swapped Lucifer and the charlatan magician Roderick Burgess, respectively.

(Mild spoilers for the graphic novel series below.)

As we’ve reported previously, the titular “sandman” is Dream, aka Morpheus, among other names. He is one of seven entities known as the Endless, and he is seeking to set right his past mistakes. The other Endless are Destiny, Destruction, Despair, Desire, Delirium, and Death, portrayed as a perky punk/goth young woman. They became almost as popular as Dream himself (especially Death) and were featured in several spinoff comics. The series opens when Morpheus, the King of Dreams, escapes from a 70-year imprisonment by an occultist (who actually wanted to capture Dream’s sibling Death but trapped the Sandman by mistake).

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #neil-gaiman, #netflix, #sandman, #streaming-television, #television

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Lunar war brews and NASA gets militarized in For All Mankind S2 trailer

The space race in an alternate timeline continues in the second season of For All Mankind, returning to Apple TV+ in February.

Apple TV+ has dropped the trailer for the second season of For All Mankind, its science fiction drama about an alternate history where the space race never ended. The series was the linchpin of the Apple TV+ launch in 2019, and proved popular enough with viewers to warrant a second season.

(Some spoilers for the first season below.)

Series creator Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) has made a point of trying to keep the show reasonably close to reality, despite the science fiction concept, often consulting the original NASA plans for guidance, and incorporating archival footage throughout the season. Moore said the following during a 2019 panel Q&A after an IMAX screening of the first two S1 episodes at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC:

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Roku acquires Quibi’s content

Quibi is dead, but its shows will live on.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Roku was in talks to acquire the short-form video service’s content. And this morning, Roku announced that it has indeed reached a deal for the exclusive distribution rights to all of Quibi’s programs.

Roku said it will make this content available for free with ads on The Roku Channel. That doesn’t just include the shows that were previously available on Quibi, but also “more than a dozen” programs making “their exclusive debut on The Roku Channel” — in other words, they were created for the service but unreleased due to the app’s shutdown.

“Today’s announcement marks a rare opportunity to acquire compelling original content that features some of the biggest names in entertainment,” said Roku’s vice president of programming Rob Holmes in a statement. “We’re excited to make this content available to our users in The Roku Channel through an ad-supported model. We are also thrilled to welcome the incredible studios and talented individuals who brought these stories to life and showcase them to our tens of millions of users.”

While Roku is best known for its streaming TV devices and software, advertising is a growing part of its business. And it says The Roku Channel (which offers both free content and subscription channels) reached 61.8 million U.S. viewers in the fourth quarter of last year.

Quibi, meanwhile, announced its shutdown in October, just six months after its splashy launch. The service was focused on creating video episodes that lasted 10 minutes or less and were designed for viewing on-the-go — a poor fit for a period of pandemic and lockdowns.

In their farewell note, executives Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman suggested that the service failed due to a combination of bad timing and the fact that “the idea itself wasn’t strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service.”

“The most creative and imaginative minds in Hollywood created groundbreaking content for Quibi that exceeded our expectations,” Katzenberg said in today’s announcement. “We are thrilled that these stories, from the surreal to the sublime, have found a new home on The Roku Channel.”

It’s also worth noting that the service was initially focused entirely on mobile viewing, with no way to watch the shows on smart TVs. That eventually changed, starting with the addition AirPlay support. Now, with the Roku acquisition, it seems that shows designed to be watched on your smartphone will instead be viewed primarily on your TV.

#entertainment, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #mobile, #quibi, #roku, #startups, #streaming-television

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TV Technica 2020: Our favorite shows and binges in a year of living distantly

TV stepped in to fill the pandemic-fueled gap in new movie releases with a broad array of entertaining series.

Enlarge / TV stepped in to fill the pandemic-fueled gap in new movie releases with a broad array of entertaining series. (credit: Photo collage by Aurich Lawson)

Warning: This story includes major spoilers for the series finale of The Good Place. Although we’ve otherwise done our best to avoid spoiling anything too major, please note this list includes specific references to The Mandalorian, The Flight Attendant, Lovecraft Country, The Boys S2, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and The Queen’s Gambit, among others.

This was the year that going to the movies suddenly became a rare event. As we observed in our roundup of the best films in 2020, “The pandemic has ransacked reliable sources of new films, like theaters and film festivals. And any number of major titles we may have looked forward to on January 1, 2020 (from Dune to Top Gun) have instead chosen to push back by at least 12 months.” Fortunately, TV was there to pick up the slack and keep pandemic-weary viewers entertained at home with more quality content than ever before—much of it from streaming platforms rather than traditional broadcast television.

It’s a trend that has been building for some time, but the streaming wars are now in full swing. Just two broadcast offerings made our year-end list, although CBS’ streaming platform, CBS All Access, made its mark with two of its Star Trek franchise programs. Netflix dominates with nine entries, followed by HBO/HBO Max (5), Amazon (3), and Disney+/ESPN+ (2), with Hulu/FX getting a category all its own. Heck, even YouTube gets a nod this year with Philadelphia Sixers Matisse Thybulle’s series of videos documenting life in the NBA bubble.

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#best-of-2020, #entertainment, #features, #gaming-culture, #streaming-television, #television, #tv-technica

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Review: Alice in Borderland takes us down a deliciously bonkers rabbit hole

Tokyo residents find themselves trapped in a post-apocalyptic parallel world called Borderland, where they must compete in deadly games to survive.

Enlarge / Tokyo residents find themselves trapped in a post-apocalyptic parallel world called Borderland, where they must compete in deadly games to survive. (credit: Netflix)

In the carefree, pre-pandemic Before Times, escape rooms were all the rage as fun group activities, where people had to solve a puzzle or mystery, or complete a series of tasks, in order to escape. Alice in Borderland, a hugely entertaining new Netflix series from Japan, takes that concept to a whole new level, transforming Tokyo into an alternate dimension called “Borderland.” Those trapped therein must compete in deadly games to survive, and escape is by no means guaranteed. This is an emotionally intense, addictive series you’ll definitely want to binge.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

As previously reported, the series is based on the Japanese manga by Haro Aso. It has elements of  Alice in Wonderland and Ready Player One, with a dash of Lord of the Flies and the 1997 sci-fi horror film, Cube, thrown in for good measure, but it’s very much an original vision. The TV adaptation is directed by Shinsuke Sato, best known for 2001’s The Princess Blade and last year’s Kingdom, and co-written by Haro Aso and Yasuko Kuramitsu. The manga tells the story of Ryōhei Arisu (Arisu can be translated as “Alice”), a bored high schooler who longs for a more exciting life. Arisu’s wish is granted during a fireworks celebration: he and his two best friends find themselves in a post-apocalyptic parallel world known as Borderland, where they must play a series of dangerous games to survive.

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What makes The Expanse so great: Good science, balancing epic with personal

<em>The Expanse</em> returns to Amazon Prime for another epic season.

Enlarge / The Expanse returns to Amazon Prime for another epic season. (credit: Amazon Prime)

Amazon Prime’s epic science fiction series The Expanse is back for its fifth season. In her review last week, Ars’ Tech Policy Reporter Kate Cox called it “the best [season] since its first, a long-awaited high-stakes payoff to several seasons’ worth of setup,” adding, “if you drifted away from the show during earlier seasons, like something accidentally dropped in microgravity, this new season makes it worth finding a way to come back.”

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

As we’ve noted previously, The Expanse is based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), exploring interplanetary tensions that are breaking out all over a Solar System long since colonized by humans—mostly between Earthers, Martians, and “Belters.” Part mystery, part political thriller, part classic space opera, The Expanse has earned almost nothing but praise from critics and its devoted fans alike, not just for its gripping storytelling but also its excellent use of accurate physics.

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #science-fiction, #science-fiction-television, #streaming-television, #the-expanse

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We’ve got our first real look at Loki as Disney drops lengthy teaser trailer

Marvel’s Loki trailer.

Among the many (many!) tidbits unveiled during Disney’s Investor Day was a lengthy teaser trailer for Loki, the Marvel spinoff limited series featuring Tom Hiddleston’s charismatic trickster demigod and (adoptive) brother to Thor, last seen in Avengers: Endgame. Marvel Studios had vowed to provide “hefty” budgets for its various limited series, like WandaVision (which also has a new trailer), and this Loki teaser definitely has the high cinematic production values to show for it.

(Some spoilers below for Avengers: Endgame in particular.)

Marvel Studios announced the development of its various limited series for Disney+ in 2018, all featuring supporting characters from the films who were not given their own standalone films within the MCEU. Details have largely been kept tightly under wraps, but we do know that both Loki and WandaVision will tie into the forthcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Fan favorite Loki has always been one of the most multi-layered, psychologically complex characters, so we’re keen to see what the limited series has in store for him.

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#disney-plus, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #loki, #marvel-studios, #streaming-television

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Disney+ drops Andor teaser, announces gazillion other Star Wars projects

Promotional image for multiple upcoming Star Wars series.

Enlarge / Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy unveiled a slew of forthcoming Star Wars projects at Disney’s Investor Day. (credit: Lucasfilm)

Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy gave updates on a slew of forthcoming Star Wars film and TV projects at Disney’s Investor Day—including a behind-the-scenes teaser for Rogue One-spinoff series, Andor, set five years before the events of the 2016 blockbuster film.

“With The Mandalorian on Disney+, we’ve ushered in an entirely new era for Star Wars,” Kennedy said. “These interconnected shows, along with future stories, will excite new audiences, embrace our most passionate fans, and will culminate in a climatic story event.”

(Some spoilers below.)

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#andor, #disney-plus, #gaming-culture, #obi-wan, #rogue-squadron, #star-wars, #streaming-television, #trailers

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Eldritch terrors come forth in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina S4 trailer

Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina Spellman faces the Eldritch Terrors in the final installment of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Sabrina Spellman and the good people of Greendale face their most terrifying adversary yet as otherworldly beings seek to bring about the end of all things in the official trailer for the fourth and final season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The Netflix series is based on the comic book series of the same name, a part of the Archie Horror imprint.

(Some spoilers for prior seasons below, most notably the S3 finale.)

As we’ve reported previously, the show was originally intended as a companion series to the CW’s Riverdale—a gleefully Gothic take on the original Archie comic books—but Sabrina ended up on Netflix instead. The show retains some of the primetime soap opera elements of Riverdale but it incorporates more full-blown horror without bowing to the niceties imposed by network television. As I wrote earlier this year, “Ultimately, the best thing about The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is how gleefully and unapologetically the show leans into its melting pot of the macabre. It’s quite the high-wire act, exploring serious themes while never, ever taking itself too seriously—and never descending into outright camp.”

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#chilling-adventures-of-sabrina, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #netflix, #streaming-television, #trailers

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A suave gentleman thief attempts a high-risk heist in trailer for Lupin

Omar Sy stars as Assane Diop in the new Netflix series Lupin, a contemporary retelling of the classic French story about a gentleman thief and master of disguise.

A man seeking revenge for the death of his father attempts a risky museum heist in Lupin, a new series premiering on Netflix in January starring French actor and comedian Omar Sy. The series is a contemporary reimagining of a classic character in French detective fiction, Arsène Lupin, a gentleman thief and master of disguise who was essentially the French equivalent of Sherlock Holmes.

Suave, stylish, and sophisticated, Lupin is the creation of Maurice Leblanc, who based the character partly on a French burglar/anarchist. Leblanc was also familiar with the gentleman thief featured in the work of Octave Mirbeau as well as E.W. Hornung’s famed gentleman thief, A.J. Raffles, and he also knew about Rocambole, a character whose adventures were recounted in a series of stories published between 1857 and 1870 by Pierre Alexis Ponson du Terrail.

Relentlessly pursued by a detective named Ganimard, Lupin is captured stealing a woman’s jewels on board a ship. Although he is imprisoned, he ultimately escapes before standing trial and goes on to pull off many other colorful heists. In a June 1906 story, “Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late,” Lupin meets the aging detective, although for legal reasons—Arthur Conan Doyle objected—the name was changed to “Herlock Sholmes” when the story was included in the first book of collected stories. The Sholmes character appeared in a few more stories later on. All told, Leblanc wrote 17 novels and 39 novellas featuring Lupin.

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #lupin, #netflix, #streaming-television

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Challenge accepted: Inventing a plausible far-flung future for ST: Discovery S3

Sonequa Martin-Green plays Michael Burnham in the third season of <em>Star Trek: Discovery</em>, which is set over 900 years in the future from the first two seasons.

Enlarge / Sonequa Martin-Green plays Michael Burnham in the third season of Star Trek: Discovery, which is set over 900 years in the future from the first two seasons. (credit: CBS All Access)

Star Trek: Discovery started out as a prequel to the original series, set roughly 10 years before Captain Kirk and his crew took over the USS Enterprise and boldly went where no man had gone before. But we’re now in uncharted territory with ST: Disco S3, which rocketed the ship and her crew over 900 years into the future. That posed a considerable creative challenge to stay true to the ethos of the franchise while reimagining its future—a challenge facing not just the writers, but series prop master Mario Moreira and science consultant Erin MacDonald as well.

(Some spoilers for S2 and the first five episodes of S3 below.)

The series stars Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham, an orphaned human raised on the planet Vulcan by none other than Sarek (James Frain) and his human wife, Amanda Grayson (Mia Kirshner)—aka, Spock’s (Ethan Peck) parents. So she is Spock’s adoptive sister. As I’ve written previously, the S2 season-long arc involved the mysterious appearances of a “Red Angel” and a rogue Starfleet AI called Control that sought to wipe out all sentient life in the universe.

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#cbs-all-access, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #physics, #science, #science-fiction-television, #star-trek, #star-trek-discovery, #streaming-television

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Zack Snyder drops B&W updated version of trailer for Justice League miniseries

There’s not much new footage in this black-and-white version of the trailer for ZackSnyder’s Justice League, but at least the music rights issues have been resolved.

Fans eagerly awaiting the debut of Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max next year were thrilled to hear that a new trailer was coming today to mark the third anniversary of the theatrical cut’s release. They’re probably feeling a teensy bit cheated right now, since what dropped was actually an updated black-and-white version of the teaser trailer from the virtual DC FanDome event in August—although the eagle-eyed viewer will spot a few seconds of new footage. But at least Snyder also provided a virtual breakdown of said trailer during a livestreaming event on Vero.

The August trailer had been removed from YouTube earlier this month because of contested music rights issues—the trailer was set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Now those issues have been resolved, and Snyder marked the occasion with this latest black-and-white offering, Cohen soundtrack intact. (You can watch the full-color version here.)

Apparently, Snyder’s ideal vision for Justice League would be a black-and-white IMAX version. “That, to me, is the most fan-centric, most pure, most Justice League experience, because that’s how I lived with the movie for two years, in black-and-white,” he told The Film Junkee in a recent interview.

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#dc-comics, #dceu, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo-max, #streaming-television, #trailers, #zack-snyder, #zack-snyders-justice-league

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Creeptastic Truth Seekers takes its horror seriously—but not too seriously

(l-r) Emma D'Arcy, Nick Frost, and Samson Kanyo star in <em>Truth Seekers</em>.

Enlarge / (l-r) Emma D’Arcy, Nick Frost, and Samson Kanyo star in Truth Seekers. (credit: Amazon Prime)

A lonely broadband installer with a side gig as a ghost hunter and his new partner encounter more supernatural intrigue than they bargained for in Truth Seekers, a new comedy series on Amazon Prime, created by Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, James Serafinowicz, and Nat Saunders. We’re fans of Paul, Shaun of the Dead, and the rest of the Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy, so it’s nice to see Frost and Pegg back together on-screen again. Truth Seekers brings their unique comic sensibility to the topic of paranormal investigation.

Per the official synopsis:

Truth Seekers is a supernatural comedy series about a team of part-time paranormal investigators who team up to uncover and film ghost sightings across the UK, sharing their adventures on an online channel for all to see. However, as they stake out haunted churches, underground bunkers and abandoned hospitals with their array of homemade ghost-detecting gizmos, their supernatural experiences grow more frequent, more terrifying and even deadly, as they begin to uncover a conspiracy that could bring about Armageddon for the entire human race.

Frost plays Gus—a lonely widowed guy with a boring job installing broadband for a company called SMYLE—who moonlights as an amateur paranormal investigator. The titular Truth Seekers is the name of his YouTube channel. Pegg has a somewhat smaller role (in terms of screen time) as Gus’ cheerfully exuberant boss, Dave, who sports a positively disastrous wig and seems to be very keen on always maintaining “100 percent coverage.” Is he really that gung-ho about customer service, or is there some ulterior motive at SMYLE?

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#amazon-prime, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #nick-frost, #simon-pegg, #streaming-television, #television, #truth-seekers

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England faces a proper “argy-bargy” in Pennyworth S2 trailer

Jack Bannon reprises his role as former British SAS soldier Alfred Pennyworth for the second season of Pennyworth on Epix.

An alternate London is once again threatened by a sinister society aiming to take over the British government in the trailer for the second season of Pennyworth, a crime drama/prequel series based on the character of Alfred Pennyworth, aka Bruce Wayne/Batman’s loyal butler. Like Doom Patrol and the cancelled Swamp Thing series, which languished in the hinterlands of the DC Universe streaming service—Doom Patrol has since moved to HBO Max—Pennyworth being aired on Epix limited S1’s audience reach. And that’s a shame because it’s a solid series, even if it only has a passing connection with the DC Comics characters who inspired it.

(Spoilers for S1 below.)

The series is set in an alternate London circa the 1960s. Jack Bannon stars as the titular Alfred Pennyworth, aka “Alfie,” a former working-class British SAS soldier who has found work as a bouncer at an exclusive club and hopes to start up his own security firm.  Among his potential clients: an American businessman named Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), who is secretly a CIA agent working undercover with a group called the No Name League. Among the league’s other American agents: Martha Kane (Emma Paetz), Batman’s future mother.

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#batman, #dc-comics, #dc-universe, #epix, #gaming-culture, #pennyworth, #streaming-television

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Action-packed Alice in Borderland trailer boasts a killer tiger and bikini-fu

Three Tokyo slackers find themselves drawn into a parallel world where they must play games to survive in Alice in Borderland.

A video-game-obsessed young man and his two best friends find themselves in a strange version of Tokyo where they must compete in dangerous games to survive in Alice in Borderland, a new live action original series from Netflix. Based on the Japanese manga by Haro Aso, it looks like a hybrid of Alice in Wonderland and Ready Player One, with a dash of the 1997 sci-fi horror film, Cube, thrown in for good measure. The series is directed by Shinsuke Sato, best known for 2001’s The Princess Blade and last year’s Kingdom, and co-written by Haro Aso and Yasuko Kuramitsu.

First serialized in 2010, the manga series ended its run in 2016. It tells the story of Ryōhei Arisu, and his pals Karube and Segawa, a group of bored high schoolers who long for more exciting lives. Arisu’s wish is granted during a fireworks celebration: he and his friends find themselves in a post-apocalyptic parallel world known as Borderland, where they must play a series of dangerous games to survive.

The Netflix adaptation follows the same basic premise, with a few minor tweaks. Per the official synopsis: “Arisu—a listless, jobless and video-game-obsessed young man—suddenly finds himself in a strange, emptied-out version of Tokyo in which he and his friends must compete in dangerous games in order to survive. In this strange world, Arisu meets Usagi, a young woman who’s navigating the games alone. Together, they set out to unravel one mystery after another as they risk their lives and confront what it means to live.”

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George Clooney is a grizzled Arctic astronomer in The Midnight Sky trailer

George Clooney directs and stars in The Midnight Sky, based on the the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton.

Netflix has bet heavily this year on high-profile feature films starring A-list talent: first with Chris Hemsworth in Extraction, and then with Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron in The Old Guard. That bet has largely paid off. Now the streaming platform has tapped another Oscar winner, George Clooney, to direct and star in the post-apocalyptic science fiction film The Midnight Sky. It’s adapted from the critically acclaimed 2016 debut novel, Good Morning, Midnight, by Lily Brooks-Dalton, which has been compared to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. The official trailer just dropped, and it’s giving us some strong Away vibes (which, alas, has been canceled by Netflix after just one season).

In the novel, a brilliant astronomer named Augustine is posted to the Arctic, scanning the night sky for clues about the birth of the universe. Then a mysterious global apocalypse occurs, prompting all his fellow scientists to evacuate. But Augustine remains behind, dedicated to continuing his research, even as the airwaves go silent. Meanwhile, a team of astronauts aboard the spaceship Aether is set to return to Earth after a mission to Jupiter. On board is Sully, who sacrificed her marriage and left her daughter behind in order to become one of the first humans to travel so far in our Solar System. The astronauts are unaware of the catastrophe that has befallen Earth, and it falls to Augustine to warn them not to return.

Snow is white, space is black

Clooney’s film adaptation looks like it will hew closely to the novel. Per the official premise: “This post-apocalyptic tale follows Augustine (Clooney, Syriana, Argo), a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully (Felicity Jones, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.” The cast also includes David Oyelowo (Selma, Don’t Let Go) as Commander Tom Adewole, Ethan Peck (Star Trek: Discovery), Sophie Rundle (Peaky Blinders), Kyle Chandler (Bloodline, First Man) as Matthew, Tiffany Boone (The Following) as Maya, Demián Bichir (A Better Life) as Sanchez, and Caoilinn Springall as Iris, a mysterious child that Augustine befriends in the Arctic.

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#entertainment, #film, #film-trailers, #gaming-culture, #george-clooney, #netflix, #science-fiction-television, #streaming-television

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BBC drops new trailer and featurette for the upcoming His Dark Materials S2

Dafne Keen, Amir Wilson, Ruth Wilson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda reprise their roles for the second season of the BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials.

His Dark Materials, the BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s classic fantasy trilogy, received mixed reviews for its first season, although it still warranted an honorable mention in our 2019 year-end TV roundup. The second season debuts next month. HBO dropped the first S2 trailer in July during the virtual San Diego Comic-Con@Home and a second longer one in August. Now BBC has released yet another trailer that includes a short featurette, with cast interviews and some cool glimpses behind the scenes.

(Spoilers for S1 and the Philip Pullman books below.)

As we’ve written previously, the three books in Pullman’s series are The Golden Compass (published as Northern Lights in the UK), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. They follow the adventures of a 12-year-old girl named Lyra, who lives in a fictional version of Oxford, England, circa the Victorian era. Everyone has a companion daemon in the form of an animal—part of their spirit that resides outside the body—and Lyra’s is named Pantalaimon. Lyra uncovers a sinister plot that sends her on a journey to find her father in hopes of foiling said plot. That journey takes her to different dimensions (the fictional world is a multiverse) and ultimately to her own coming of age.

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#bbc, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo, #hbo-max, #his-dark-materials, #philip-pullman, #streaming-television, #trailers, #tv-trailers

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Lovecraft Country is a cleverly subversive take on notoriously racist author

A Black family in 1950s Chicago struggles to reclaim their lost ancestral legacy while warding off monsters and magic spells in HBO’s Lovecraft Country, based on the 2016 dark fantasy/horror novel of the same name by Matt Ruff. Like the novel that inspired it, the series’ pointed juxtaposition of supernatural Lovecraftian horrors against more mundane, but equally horrifying racial inequalities of that era is especially timely in a year that has seen widespread civil rights protests against the brutal killings of Black men (and women) by police officers. And social relevance aside, it also works as pure entertainment.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Set in the Jim Crow era of the 1950s, Ruff’s book is structured as a series of short stories, although everything is inter-related. The first quarter of the book focuses on Atticus, a black Korean war veteran and big H.P. Lovecraft fan, despite the author’s notorious racism. When his estranged father disappears after encountering a well-dressed white man driving a silver Cadillac, leaving a cryptic message, Atticus sets out on a road trip from Chicago’s South Side to rural Massachusetts. He’s accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia (aka Leti).

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hbo, #hbo-max, #lovecraft-country, #streaming-television, #television

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Narf! Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are back in first trailer for Animaniacs reboot

Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are back in Hulu’s reboot of the classic Animaniacs cartoon.

Readers of a certain age will have fond childhood memories of weekday afternoons spent in the company of the Warner siblings, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, the central figures of the hugely popular, Emmy-award winning animated series, Animaniacs. Now a whole new generation can appreciate their comic genius with Hulu’s revival of the show, slated to debut next month.

The premise of the original Animaniacs was that Yakko, Wakko, and Dot were characters from the 1930s who were locked way in a water tower on the Warner Bros. lot until they escaped in the 1990s. Now they exist to wreak havoc and have fun. The format borrowed heavily from sketch comedy, with each episode typically featuring three short mini-episodes centered on different characters, connected by bridging segments. Other regular characters included two genetically altered lab mice, Pinky and the Brain, who are always trying to take over the world; Ralph the Security Guard; Slappy Squirrel and her nephew, Skippy; Chicken Boo; Flavio and Marita, aka the Hip Hippos; studio psychiatrist Dr. Otto Scratchansniff and Hello Nurse (also a common catchphrase); and a trio of pigeons known as The Goodfeathers.

As appealing to adults as to kids, the show was smart, funny, irreverent, and even educational, especially with its playful songs listing the nations of the world, for instance, or all the US states and their capitals—set to the tune of “Turkey in the Straw”—or all the presidents set to the “William Tell Overture.” (My personal favorite was “The Solar System Song,” complete with the obligatory joke about Uranus.) The writers were masters of parody, so much so that it became something of a badge of honor to be so featured. Honorees included A Hard Day’s Night, Seinfeld, Friends, Bambi, Power Rangers, Rugrats, and The Lion King, as well as the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore. And of course, the Goodfeathers segments invariably parodied characters from both The Godfather and Goodfellas.

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#animaniacs, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #hulu, #reboots, #streaming-television

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Review: The Haunting of Bly Manor is a perfectly splendid ghost story

A young American woman fleeing her tragic past finds herself caring for two orphaned children on an English estate that she suspects might be haunted in the new Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor. Showrunner Mike Flanagan’s highly anticipated followup to 2018’s exquisitely brooding The Haunting of Hill House, this season is loosely based on the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw.

Granted, Bly Manor never quite reaches the same level as the exquisitely rendered Hill House, but it’s nonetheless a “perfectly splendid” ghost story that doubles as a quiet, thoughtful reflection on love and loss, in keeping with the oblique writing style of James. Between Doctor Sleep, Hill House, and Bly Manor, Flanagan has pretty much established himself as the reigning master of reinventing classic horror stories for a modern audience.

(Some spoilers for The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents, and The Turning. Only mild spoilers for Bly Manor; no major reveals.)

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #haunting-of-bly-manor, #mike-flanagan, #netflix, #streaming-television

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“Here we go”: Disney drops one last teaser for The Mandalorian S2

Pedro Pascal stars as the titular character in The Mandalorian, returning to Disney+ for a second season on October 30.

We’re just a little over a week away from the S2 debut of The Mandalorian, the Emmy-nominated, first live-action Star Wars TV series. And Disney+ has decided to whet our appetites with one last “special look” teaser for the series.

Created by Jon Favreau and starring Pedro Pascal as Din Djarin, the titular Mandalorian, the series takes place a few years after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order. The basic premise is that, after the defeat of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, there was a period of chaos and lawlessness as a new government struggled to emerge from the wreckage. Pascal’s bounty hunter is “a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.”

The first season garnered 15 Emmy nomination for its eight-episode freshman outing. And it easily landed a spot on our top TV shows of 2019. “Favreau’s brainchild has proven to be a killer vehicle for the most Star Trek-like storytelling yet in a live-action Star Wars product,” Ars Tech Culture Editor Sam Machkovech wrote at the time. “Even better, its freak-of-the-week and brand-new-planet progression has been paired with a proper samurai story, as anchored by the religious, fervent, and conflicted Mando himself.”

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#disney-plus, #gaming-culture, #pedro-pascal, #streaming-television, #the-mandalorian, #tv-trailers

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Review: Don’t call it a comeback—The Boys returns better than ever in S2

Superheroes abuse their powers rather than using them for good in The Boys, which just concluded its second season.

In my review of The Boys S1 last year, I called the Amazon Prime series “a wickedly funny, darkly irreverent adaptation” and “ideal late-summer therapy for anyone who has grown a bit weary of the constant onslaught of superhero movies.” I wasn’t alone in my love for the show: The Boys was a massive hit, and that success has continued with S2, which was the most-watched global launch of any Amazon series to date, pretty much doubling the show’s worldwide audience. S2 is even better than its predecessor, deftly tackling timely themes and hot-button issues, while never sacrificing all the biting satire and good, gory fun that we loved about S1. And can we just give Antony Starr an Emmy already for his stunning performance as Homelander?

(Spoilers for S1 below; some spoilers for S2, but no major reveals.)

The Boys is set in a fictional universe where superheroes are real but corrupted by corporate interests and a toxic celebrity-obsessed culture. The most elite superhero group is called the Seven, headed up by Homelander (Starr), a truly violent and unstable psychopath disguised as the All-American hero, who mostly bullies his supe team into compliance. The other members include A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), who boasts super-speed but has also become addicted to the experimental performance-enhancing substance called Compound-V. The Deep (Chace Crawford) can breathe underwater, thanks to having gills—voiced in S2 by Patton Oswalt during a hallucination sequence—and converse with marine creatures.

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Review: Utopia is a very good series released at exactly the wrong time

It’s a rare TV series that gives me pause about even writing a review, but Amazon’s new sci-fi thriller Utopia turned out to be just that. Not because it isn’t good—on the contrary, I found it both entertaining and thought provoking. But there are several key elements of the central plot that proved disquieting enough (even for someone like me who is not generally squeamish) that I had to ponder the pros and cons of giving space to a show whose release perhaps should have been postponed by a few months, given current world events. (I mean, read the room, Amazon! Geez!) In the end, the pro arguments won out.

(All major spoilers are below the second gallery. We’ll give you a heads-up when we get there.)

As we reported previously, the series is a reboot of the 2013 British version, about online fans of a graphic novel called Dystopia that seems to have the power to predict the real-world future. The fans are obsessed with tracking down the sequel, Utopia, and this makes them targets of a secret organization. Amazon has kept the same basic premise (with a few tweaks) and swapped in an American cast. Per the official premise: “When the conspiracy in the elusive comic Utopia is real, a group of young fans come together to embark on a high-stakes twisted adventure to use what they uncover to save themselves, each other and ultimately humanity.”

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NY Comic-Con: the Dark Man cometh in first trailer for The Stand miniseries

James Marsden, Whoopi Goldberg and Alexander Skarsgård star in the new CBS All Access limited miniseries The Stand, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.

It’s Stephen King’s world; we’re just living in it. During New York Comic Con, CBS All Access dropped the first official trailer for its ten-episode limited miniseries of The Stand, an adaptation of King’s sprawling 1978 post-apocalyptic fantasy novel about the aftermath of a deadly pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population.

(Some spoilers for the Stephen King novel below.)

The Stand is widely considered to be among King’s best work, with a sprawling cast of characters and multiple storylines. It’s also his longest, with the 1990 Complete and Uncut Edition surpassing even It in page count. King has said he wanted to write an epic dark fantasy akin to The Lord of the Rings, only with a contemporary American setting. “Instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg,” King wrote in his 1981 nonfiction book, Danse Macabre. “The land of Mordor (‘where the shadows lie,’ according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas.”

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#cbs-all-access, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #stephen-king, #streaming-television, #the-stand, #tv-trailers

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The future of the Belt has begun in first trailer for The Expanse S5

The fifth season of the sci-fi series The Expanse will begin streaming on Amazon Prime on December 16, 2020.

Amazon Prime debuted the first trailer (embedded above) for the upcoming fifth season of The Expanse during the series panel at the New York Comic Con’s Metaverse today. And the stakes are high. According to the official premise, “The future of The Belt has begun as Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) wages Armageddon against the Inners for a lifetime of oppression and injustice.”

(Some spoilers for prior seasons below.)

As we previously reported, The Expanse is based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), exploring interplanetary tensions that are breaking out all over a Solar System long since colonized by humans—mostly between Earthers, Martians, and “Belters.” Part mystery, part political thriller, part classic space opera, The Expanse has earned almost nothing but praise from critics and its devoted fans alike, not just for its gripping storytelling, but also its excellent use of accurate physics. The third and fourth seasons earned a rare 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes (seasons one and two earned 76 percent and 96 percent, respectively).

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Review: Raised by Wolves squanders early promise with clumsy, bizarre finale

Amanda Collin stars as Mother in <em>Raised by Wolves</em>: a deadly Android reprogrammed to raise human children on the virgin planet Kepler-22b to establish an atheist civilization.

Enlarge / Amanda Collin stars as Mother in Raised by Wolves: a deadly Android reprogrammed to raise human children on the virgin planet Kepler-22b to establish an atheist civilization. (credit: HBO Max)

A pair of androids struggle to raise human children on a hostile planet in Raised by Wolves, the new sci-fi series that just concluded its first season on HBO Max. In this era of bankable franchises, reboots, and adaptations, it was refreshing to see something so original and visionary hit the small screen, and we had high hopes for the series.

That hope was sadly misplaced. Granted, in its earlier episodes, Raised by Wolves is moody, atmospheric, strangely disquieting, and thought-provoking, with gorgeous cinematography. So it’s especially maddening that the show squanders all that considerable promise with a clunky, incoherent finale featuring a hackneyed, ham-fisted, totally unnecessary twist that left us seriously questioning whether we even want to tune in for a second season.

(Spoilers below, but all major reveals about the finale—because WTAF?—are below the gallery and we’ll give a heads up when we get there.)

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Here’s the trailer, release date for Simon Pegg/Nick Frost sitcom Truth Seekers

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play ghost hunters in the new Amazon Prime horror comedy Truth Seekers.

Back in July, during the virtual San Diego Comic-Con@Home, Amazon Studios released a beguiling teaser for Truth Seekers, the forthcoming sci-fi/horror/comedy series starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It looked like a lot of fun—how could you go wrong with a reunion of Pegg and Frost? The full trailer just dropped, and it definitely reinforces that positive first impression. We also now have a release date: Amazon will screen the first two episodes at the Canneseries festival on October 10 and will release the full series on Prime Video on October 30, 2020.

As we reported previously, the series was created by Pegg, Frost, James Serafinowicz, and Nat Saunders. It’s envisioned as a cross between The X-Files and the British TV series Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. Each of the eight episodes will focus on a specific paranormal incident, a throwback to a classic monster-of-the-week format. Rather than going with pure spoof, Truth Seekers will apparently take its horror aspects seriously.

Per the official synopsis:

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Two demon-hunting siblings reunite to save the world in Helstrom trailer

Tom Austen and Sydney Lemmon star as siblings Daimon and Ana Helstrom in Helstrom, a 10-episode horror series that hits Hulu next month.

An ethics professor and secret demon hunter reunites with his estranged sister to take on a powerful demonic entity in the trailer for Helstrom, an upcoming horror series based on Marvel Comics characters. The 10-episode series debuts on Hulu next month

Helstrom has a complicated back story. As we reported in 2019, Hulu announced the development of two new Marvel-centric series, Ghost Rider (with Gabriel Luna reprising his role from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Helstrom. The shows were intended to kick off a standalone “Adventure into Fear” franchise that would bring a chilling horror element to the Marvel formula. Ghost Rider soon fell by the wayside, and by December 2019, Marvel Television was shut down. That makes Helstrom the sole survivor of the planned fear-based franchise. Shooting finished in March, right before the coronavirus pandemic caused most Hollywood productions to grind to a halt. Showrunner Paul Zbyszewski’s contract was terminated in April—also due to the pandemic—but he stayed on for postproduction.

The series focuses on two characters from Marvel Comics. First: Daimon Helstrom, the son of Satan, introduced in Ghost Rider #1 (1973). He eventually became a recurring character in The Defenders. The other protagonist is his sister, Satana (Ana in the TV adaptation), who embraces the occult and her paternal heritage while Daimon chooses to defend humanity. Per the official premise: “The world isn’t ready for a Helstrom family reunion. As the son and daughter of a mysterious and powerful serial killer, Helstrom follows Daimon (Tom Austen) and Ana Helstrom (Sydney Lemmon), and their complicated dynamic, as they track down the worst of humanity—each with their own attitude and skills.”

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Sinister trailer for Haunting of Bly Manor looks like a classic ghost story

Victoria Pedretti stars as a governess to two orphans on a spooky estate in The Haunting of Bly Manor.

The Halloween season is almost upon us, so brace yourselves for the annual onslaught of horror fare. But we’re also getting a good old-fashioned spooky ghost story with the Netflix series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, loosely based on The Turn of the Screw while incorporating several other ghost stories by Henry James. The series is showrunner Mike Flanagan’s highly anticipated follow-up to 2018’s exquisitely brooding The Haunting of Hill House. The first teaser dropped earlier this month, and now the streaming platform has released the full trailer.

(Spoilers for the Henry James novel below.)

The Haunting of Hill House shared the top spot in Ars’ 2018 list of our favorite TV shows with BBC’s Killing Eve. We loved Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy’s inventive reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s classic novel, at once a Gothic ghost story and a profound examination of family dysfunction. It stayed true to the tone and spirit of the original, aided by dialogue, narration, and other small details from the source material. Small wonder that it garnered award nominations from the Motion Picture Sound Editors, Writers Guild of America, and Art Directors Guild.

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Shock treatment: Ratched is a stylishly gruesome soap opera dialed up to 11

Sarah Paulson plays Nurse Mildred Ratched in Ratched, series creator Evan Romansky’s prequel (of sorts) to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

One of the most iconic movie villains of all time gets the American Horror Story treatment in Ratched, Netflix’s star-studded prequel, of sorts, to Director Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning 1975 film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The series is richly styled and visually striking, and the cast is terrific, but there’s very little substance or insight, and the plotting is a meandering mess riddled with holes and inconsistent characterizations. It’s basically a body horror soap opera in which everything is dialed up to 11 for maximum shock value.

(Spoilers for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest book and film below. Some spoilers for Ratched but no major reveals.)

As I wrote previously, Forman’s film is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. It’s set in a psychiatric hospital in Salem, Oregon, where Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is sent after faking insanity to escape a prison farm sentence for assault and the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. The cold, rigidly controlled (and controlling) Nurse Mildred Ratched (aka Big Nurse, played by Louise Fletcher) rules the place with an iron hand. She maintains order by withholding basic necessities, medications, or patient privileges—with the occasional bit of hydrotherapy and electroshock therapy for especially unruly patients—but McMurphy’s rebellious nature challenges her authority.

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Everyone loves the new couple on the block in first Wandavision trailer

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their roles as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch and Vision, respectively, in Marvel’s spinoff series WandaVision.

If you were watching the virtual 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards last night, you no doubt caught the debut of a new trailer for WandaVision, the first standalone series to be released in Phase Four of the MCU. The studio offered a sneak peek last year during D23 Expo 2019, Disney’s annual fan extravaganza. Lacking any actual footage, that teaser was just snippets of The Dick van Dyke Show interspersed with snippets of the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) from the various MCU films. At the time, I was skeptical of the concept, but this new trailer is quite promising and gives me hope that Marvel can pull it off.

WandaVision is meant to be a kind of sitcom/epic superhero mashup, with Kat Dennings reprising her role as Darcy from the Thor films, alongside Randall Park reprising his Ant Man and the Wasp role as FBI agent Jimmy Woo. Kathryn Hahn (Crossing Jordan) will play a “nosy neighbor,” and Teyonah Parris (Mad Men) plays a grown-up Monica Rambeau, daughter of Carol Danvers’ BFF Maria Rambeau, introduced in Captain Marvel. Within the MCU timeline, it takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame, and its events will directly tie in to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, currently slated for a 2022 release. 

Per the official description: “WandaVision will follow the story of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s superhero characters, the Scarlet Witch and Vision. The series is a blend of classic television and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which Wanda Maximoff and Vision—two super-powered beings living idealized suburban lives—begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems.”

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Blast off: Disney drops first trailer for The Right Stuff dramatic series

In October, Disney+ will debut its new series, The Right Stuff, based on the 1979 book by Tom Wolfe.

A team of elite military test pilots finds itself tapped to be astronauts for Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program in the United States, in The Right Stuff, a new eight-episode dramatic series debuting in October on Disney+. Like Philip Kaufman’s Oscar-winning 1983 film of the same name, the series is based on the bestselling 1979 book by Tom Wolfe.

Wolfe became interested in the US space program while on assignment by Rolling Stone to cover the launch of Apollo 17, NASA’s last Moon mission. He spent the next seven years writing The Right Stuff, intent on capturing the drive and ethos of those early astronauts. (In a foreword to the 1983 edition, he pondered “What makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle… and wait for someone to light the fuse.”)  Wolfe spent a great deal of time consulting with General Chuck Yeager, who was shut out of the astronaut program and ended up as a contrasting character to the college-degreed Project Mercury team featured in the book. The Right Stuff won widespread critical praise, as well as the National Book Award for Nonfiction.

When United Artists decided to finance a film adaptation, the studio hired William Goldman (The Princess Bride) to adapt the screenplay, but his vision was very different from that of director Philip Kaufman, and Goldman quit the project. Kaufman wrote his own draft script in eight weeks, making Yeager more of a central figure; Goldman’s script ignored Yeager entirely. Goldman later wrote that “Phil [Kaufman]’s heart was with Yeager. And not only that, he felt the astronauts, rather than being heroic, were really minor leaguers, mechanical men of no particular quality, not great pilots at all, simply the product of hype.”

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A dark comic book conspiracy turns out to be all too real in Utopia trailer

John Cusack and Rainn Wilson star in Amazon Prime’s black comedy/conspiracy thriller, Utopia.

Last month, at the virtual San Diego Comic Con, Amazon dropped the first teaser for Utopia, a reboot (adapted by Gone Girl and Sharp Objects author Gillian Flynn) of the controversial 2013-2014 British black comedy/conspiracy thriller. Now the streaming platform has released the official full trailer, and the series looks like it’s going to be quite the wild ride.

As we reported previously, the series is about online fans of a dystopian graphic novel called Utopia that seems to have the power to predict the real-world future. The fans are obsessed with tracking down the sequel (which supposedly also predicts future world events). This makes them targets of a secret organization called The Network.

The British version received critical praise for its originality and visual style, offset by strong reservations about its extreme violence, which struck many as unnecessarily gratuitous. (The most famous scene involved a torturer using a spoon to gouge out a victim’s eye). It remains to be seen if Amazon’s Utopia will match the same scale of violence, although Flynn recently told Deadline Hollywood that it wouldn’t be as prominent.

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Review: Smartly satirical Teenage Bounty Hunters is a perfect weekend binge

Fraternal twin sisters Sterling (Maddie Phillips) and Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini) join forces with bounty hunter Bowser Simmons (Kadeem Hardison) in the new Netflix series Teenage Bounty Hunters.

Twin sisters juggle the demands of high school, their Christian youth group, and raging hormones with a side gig working for a local bounty hunter in the new Netflix series, Teenage Bounty Hunters. Creator Kathleen Jordan’s delightful comedy-drama definitely brings the laughs with its razor-sharp satire, but it is also a smart, nuanced coming of age story with some genuinely surprising twists and turns. One of the executive producers is Jenji Kohan, who also worked on WeedsGLOW, and Orange Is the New Black, and Teenage Bounty Hunters shares a similar sensibility.

(Mild spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Per the official premise:

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Mission to Mars: Hilary Swank leads an elite team in trailer for Away

Hillary Swank stars as an elite astronaut preparing for a crewed mission to Mars in the new Netflix sci-fi drama series Away.

An elite international team of astronauts must leave family and friends behind for a three-year crewed mission to Mars in Away, a new science fiction drama from Netflix, starring Hilary Swank. Created by Andrew Hinderaker (