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Star Wars TV

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that in their ongoing effort to take over the world, Disney have announced a series of television programmes in the Star Wars universe. You would be forgiven for thinking by the title this is about those shows, it isn’t!  This is about other Star Wars television programmes, in other words television programmes from the past and currently airing that like Star Wars are set in space and feature some form of conflict.  There are many other shows that fit the criteria, some that I have seen, others that I haven’t, these are my recommendations: 

Blake’s 7 (1978-81) I saw the last ever episode of Blake’s 7 as a kid, I then watched the whole series over thirty years later.  Made by the BBC in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the production design is amazing but the production values are on a par with early Doctor Who.  A group of political dissident’s, rebels and criminals escape the totalitarian federation who rules Earth and its colonised planets. As with many of the best shows on this list the thing that makes it great is a combination of a great cast of characters and timeless political subtext. blakes 7

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999) The most relevant Star Trek show to this list.  A spinoff from The Next Generation, DS9.  Set on a space station rather than a exploring starship,it is a departure from the other shows in the Star Trek Franchise.  There are two distinct story arcs the involving conflict with other races.  Although not as initially popular as The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine holds up better to repeat viewings. Star Trek Deep Space Nine

Babylon 5 (1994–1998) Airing at the same time as DS9 above and sharing some similar ideas.  Set in the 23rd Century on the Earth Alliance space station Babylon 5, located in neutral territory, it becomes the centre of the universe and its best chance at peace, and survival.  Filled with diverse characters and interesting stories with contemporary relevance.  revolutionary  in its day as the creators went into the project with a five season story arc planned out.  It dived opinion in its day, but has been hugely influential since. Babylon 5

Farscape (1999–2003) Similar to Blake’s 7 and Firefly with its mismatched crew of fugitives and the totalitarian regime.  Our way into the show is a modern-day America who arrives via a wormhole.  The notable thing about the show is the Henson Company puppets.  I haven’t actually seen the final season of the show, but like what I have seen enough to include it on this list.  Farscape

Firefly (2002 -03) – Running for just fourteen episodes and often referred to as the most prematurely cancelled shows.  Created by Joss Whedon, it is essentially a space western.  Set in a future where mankind has colonised space.  A mismatched crew are living on the edge of society run by the totalitarian “Alliance”.  Keeping exposition to a minimum, the brilliance of the show is a snappy script, universally relevant stories, and a fantastic cast. firefly

Battlestar Galactica (2004-09) When I was kid in the early 80’s I used to watch the original Battlestar Galactica every Sunday evening for years. Or did I? How the mind plays tricks on us, it only ran for 21 episodes (plus 10 episodes of Galactica 1980, which I didn’t see).  While I loved the show at the time, re-watching it in the 90’s revealed that it wasn’t very good.  However, the re-imagined version is nothing short of a masterpiece.  Retaining the original concept, and technically a sequel to the original show.  The action and drama of the show were enhanced by a smart script with political undertones with contemporary relevance. Battlestar Galactica

Killjoys (2015- ) What started out looking like it was going to be a second-rate Syfy channel space opera gradually became more interesting and compelling.  As well as an overriding story arc, it also included more relevant characters and storylines.  Beyond all this, the real reason for watching is the shows secret weapon, rising star Hannah John-Kamen in the lead role. Killjoys

The Expanse (2015- ) Based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  Set in a future with a colonized Solar System, a fragile cold war like peace exists between Earth, Mars and the Belt (an asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter). Essentially a cold war/conspiracy thriller, the brilliance of the show is that as an audience we don’t take sides; all three sides are represented, and there are good and bad on all sides.  This is further complicated as the good characters are flawed, and the bad ones have redeeming features, just like real life!  Simply one of the best shows around at the moment.  The Expanse

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I have only visited the cinema six times this month, but I choose well, although very different, all the  films were excellent in their own way. Which will be movie of the month?

Booksmart – On the eve of graduation two friends played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever come to the realisation they have worked too hard and not had enough teenage experiance in high school and vow to make up for it in one night.  Olivia Wilde’s feature debut as a director is a revelation.  What looks in the trailer to be something akin to American Pie or Superbad has more in common with Eighth Grade, while Lady Bird.Booksmart

Beats – During the dog days of the 90’s rave scene, two friends, Cristian Ortega and Lorn Macdonald set out to attend an event, now outlawed by the Criminal Justice Act.  The idea of ‘one final blow-out’ is a staple of movies, particularly teen movies, here it feels quite fresh, not lease because of the anti-establishment tone that is very relevant today. Beats

Vox Lux – 1999, after surviving a high school shooting, teenager Celeste sings at a memorial.  This becomes a springboard to superstardom.  We initially see her early steps to stardom played by Raffey Cassidy.  Then half way through we meet her again eighteen years played by Natalie Portman with Cassidy taking on the role of Celeste’s daughter Albertine. Scott Walker’s orchestral score is fantastic, Sia’s original songs didn’t work for me.  It doesn’t all work, but it is always interesting, and Portman and Cassidy are both excellent. Vox Lux

John Wick: Chapter 3 -Parabellum – If you have seen the first two movies, thats all you need to know about John Wick: Chapter 3, more of the same bonkers, silly mayhem and fun as Keanu Reeves returns to the role he was born to play.John Wick Chapter 3 Parabellum

Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock & Roll – Documentary about the Jersey Shore, boardwalk town that will always be associated with Bruce Springsteen.  Founded in the late 19th century and measuring just 1.6 square miles; thanks to a unique blend of blend of jazz, soul, R&B, rock and blues m music it became the beating heart of the Jersey Sound.  This is the story of how all that came to a tragic end, and what has come out of the ashes in recent years. Asbury Park Riot Redemption Rock & Roll

Rocketman – I don’t particularly like musicals, so went into this with more than a little trepidation.  Fortunately director Dexter Fletcher is far more than a safe pair of hands, he brings flair and originality to what could have been another by the number music bio.  This is a full-blown fantasy, but it has a few things going for it.  Firstly  Taron Egerton is excellent, and likeable, relatable and sympathetic in the lead, more so than Elton John comes across when interviewed.  It also has the advantage of some great Elton John/Bernie Taupin songs to tell the story.  As important as this is the framing device that Fletcher uses that justifies the format. Rocketman

For the first time ever, I am not going to pick a movie of the month, I recommend everyone reading this watches all six movies! Movie of the month May 2019.jpg

 

It has been more than a week since the final episode of Game of Thrones.  Now the dust has settled it is time to take measured look at it. 

On the whole I have been a little critical of the final season, simply because after making us wait, so long, it all feels a little rushed.  Rather than working in the constraints of feature films, Game of Thrones has always made the most of, even relished the time it has to tell a story.  It goes even further than that though; unlike in earlier seasons, recent episodes have not depicted time and space particularly well, there is no sense of how far apart places are and how long it takes to travel between them.  The same is true of Daenerys’ story arc, her decent from entitled, self-important, and slightly paranoid to downright homicidal, while inevitable was very quick.  However, the final episode is a fitting end.  To bring the dreaded “B” word into the conversation, the conclusion of Game Of Thrones is like Brexit.  We will never have a satisfactory brexit, because brexit means so many different things to so many people.  Likewise people who have invested (too much) into the outcome of the show will not be happy unless their chosen character ends on the throne.  That is why, Drogon destroying the throne was the perfect way to deal with it.  Bran is the king the show needed, rather than the one the fans wanted. Drogon destroying the throne

Having finished with the fan pleasing large scale battles in earlier episodes they were able to return to what the show does best, building character and plot through interaction.  A highlight for me was the return of the small council and the wit that comes with it.  Moments like this have always been the best the show has to offer, far more than the CG action.  The other brilliant thing, is the attention to detail.  As we have spent more time in the north, and winter has reached the south, the colour temperature, and the brightness of the show has dropped dramatically.  This helps give a perfect moment, when Tyrion is led from his cell we do not know how long he has been there, but we see the bright warm light coming from the window above him.  This is the first indication that winter is over, and that something new is coming in the next scene.

Given the speed that the Starks were dispatched in the early seasons, you would be forgiven for thinking none would make it to the end.  As it turns out, the narrative has always felt like theirs.  On the whole, they didn’t do too badly.

Jon Snow, got the best end he could have realisably have hoped for; As Aegon Targaryen and the true heir to the throne (if there really is such a thing), he would always have been a cloud over Bran’s rule if kept in play.  The Night’s Watch always felt like the best fit for him.   However, I can’t help wondering, what the Night’s Watch’s job is now the wildlings are allies, and the white walkers defeated? Jon Snow

Sansa has probably undergone the best character arc of the show, going from selfish child to bold leader, but boy did she suffer to get there.  By declaring The North independent of the other kingdoms and crowning herself, she got to be queen as she always wanted, but in a more satisfying way than we could have expected. Sansa

Bran was the perfect choice for King, because from his fall from the tower to the first episode via his mystical journey, he was never in the conversation, he was the one person nobody suggested should be king. Bran

The only member of the family who hasn’t been well served by the last couple of episodes is Arya.  After the moment of the series when she killed Night King in “The Long Night”, she hasn’t had much to do.  Although, killing the Night King was probably the most significant moment in shows entire run, and in hindsight what her character was building to.  To add to this, her ending, leaving to explore the west, beyond the maps is fitting and beyond perfect, it is also prime for a spin-off show. Arya

 Beyond the the Stark family, the other fan (and one of my) favourites, Tyrion’s end was also quite fitting.  Hand of the King is the perfect role for him.  He was set up early in the show as the cleverest person in the land, then his actions and their consequences proved him to be far from as clever as we were led to believe.  This final episode comes full circle proving his brilliance, and showing that his flaw wasn’t his intelligence, it was his misplayed faith in Daenerys.  His speech on the power of stories is not only true in the real world but goes to the heart of the success of the show, it is then perfectly undercut when we find he has been omitted from the book telling the history of recent events.Tyrion

For a long time, it looked like Daenerys would prevail.  Each season ended with an image off her as she worked closer to her “destiny”.  As mentioned her decent from Breaker of Chains to mad tyrant was inevitable, if rushed.  For those who found her genocide the previous episode “The Bells” a little ambiguous, the final episode featured an address to the masses lifted straight from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.  Her end was inevitable.

A long running show is always hard to end.  Lost (2004–2010) for example destroyed any good will with a terrible end.  Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009) left people with mixed feelings.  On the whole I liked it but was not totally convinced.  While many dislike the outcome of Game of Thrones, I’m sure in time people will look back at the show as a one of the best TV programs ever, and the ending is part of that! 

I have just seen Rocketman, despite my disdain for musicals, I enjoyed it; however, it doesn’t compare to the best Elton John movie moment ever:

A slow month after a busy March, but one with a couple of gems, here are the contenders:

The Sisters Brothers – Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly play a pair of squabbling brothers working as enforcers.  The film has every trope of a western including the setting, and the characters, but it somehow isn’t a western.   Not without problems but a strangely rewarding film. The Sisters Brothers

Eighth Grade – Comedian Bo Burnham’s feature directing debut.  Set over the final week of Kayla’s (Elsie Fisher)final week in eighth grade at school. Kayla is shy, quiet, and introverted at school but has an outlet in the form of the motivational YouTube videos she posts from her bedroom.  I would be surprised if anyone watching doesn’t see something of themselves in Kayla, I certainly did. Eighth Grade

A Clockwork Orange – Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece satire based on Anthony Burgess novel of the same name.  Everything about the film is dialled up to eleven and completely over the top, I can see why many people would hate it, I love it. A Clockwork Orange

Greta – Neil Jordan films aren’t always perfect, but they are never uninteresting.  This is very true of Greta; an old-fashioned thriller with more than a nod to Hitchcock.  The film is far from perfect, but is always fun not least because of great performances from Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, with scene stealing support from Maika Monroe.Greta

Avengers: Endgame – I was somewhere between underwhelmed and disappointed with Infinity War.  Endgame ups the ante in every way, not least the three hour runtime.  I’m pleased to report it more than delivered. Avengers Endgame

Hellboy – After all the bad reviews, I waited two weeks to see this film.  It isn’t good, but surprisingly, it isn’t as bad as has been reported.  David Harbour is ok in the title role but lacks both the humour and the presence of Ron Perlman.  What is really lacking is the Heart and humanity of Guillermo del Toro’s films.  Neil Marshall is the expert at modern genre films, there are moments when this shines through. There is little wrong with any individual scene, they just doing hang together.  Marshall’s absence from any publicity rings of studio interference, this could explain the incoherent edit.Hellboy

Long Shot – Once again, Charlize Theron proves she is at home in any genre, her comic timing is impeccable. Theron and costar Seth Rogen also have real chemistry. The script is sharp and snappy giving us the closest thing modern cinema can offer to a 40’s screwball.  The supporting cast including O’Shea Jackson Jr. Alexander Skarsgård, Bob Odenkirk, and an unrecognisable Andy Serkis are also outstanding.  Long Shot - Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen

As a reissue A Clockwork Orange isn’t in contention for Movie of the Month, leaving two real contenders.  Most months, Avengers: Endgame would be good enough to win, but, it doesn’t.  The best film I saw in April by a long way, and my Movie of the Month is: Eighth Grade.eighth-grade-postereighth grade poster

Blogathon The Film That Started It AllThis blog post is part of The Film That Started It All Blogathon on Let’s Go To The Movies. I haven’t participated in a Blogathon for several years, but when Caz suggested this one I couldn’t resist.  Not only because Caz was the first fellow blogger I connected with ten years ago, but because it’s such an intriguing idea.  The brief:

“We all have that one truly special film, the one that really made your love for film and cinema so deep. I thought it would be a fantastic idea to share this with each other and it could really create some positive thoughts and discussion.”

The problem I have with this proposition is I don’t remember a time before I was obsessed with movies, but one event stands out in my mind.  Sunday October 24th 1982 at 7:15pm, I was six years old when Star Wars made its UK television Premiere.  I’m not sure how I came to be watching it. I remember my parents building up the cultural significance of it.  Looking back this seems strange.  I don’t think I had shown any real interest if films prior to this, and my dad has an irrational disinterest bordering on distain for Sci-Fi.  But however it happened, we stayed up way beyond my bedtime, and I was hooked.

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I don’t think I need to give a synopsis, but here goes: Before being captured and held hostage by the evil Imperial forces, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hides a message in a droid and sends him to find Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) a friend of her late father.  Along the way the pickup Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a farm boy who dreams of fighting the empire.  They hire freighter pilot/smuggler, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and set off on a adventure to rescue the Princess and restore justice to the galaxy.

To give it some context, by this time in my young life, I had never visited a cinema.  In fact I only visited the cinema eight times before the age of eighteen.  I kind of made up for lost time after that seeing an average of 10 movies per month at the cinema every week for the past 20 years, but that’s a different story.  I spent most of my formative years watching movies on video, but at this time we didn’t have a VCR.  The first film I watched on video was Superman (1978), but again that’s another story.  Had I not seen Star Wars on that day, would I have seen another movie, and my lifelong obsession with movies started?

But where did Star Wars come from? During the great depression there was an appetite for escapism in movies, characters like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were a mainstay shown in serial form.   World War II and the development of the atomic bomb led to a period of paranoia and a so called Golden Age of Science Fiction, but most of these films didn’t trouble the mainstream.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) were the biggest grossing Sci-Fi movies of the era; a long way from space adventure.

Following the events of Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, the world was prime for an epic science fiction adventure.  Fortunately 20th Century Fox had the perfect film, the tagline said it all: “An adventure you will never forget”.  The few people who saw it promptly forgot Damnation Alley.  A post-apocalyptic adventure loosely based on the novel of the same name by Roger Zelazny.  Fortunately Fox had another film, one set: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….  So how did this happen?  George Lucas had made two movies THX 1138 (1971) and American Graffiti (1973) (possibly Lucas’ best film), and wanted to make a space opera like the ones he loved as a kid  His original idea was an adaptation of Flash Gordon, but couldn’t get the rights.  He set to work writing a treatment with similar plot points to Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958).  Refining the script over several drafts before coming up with the film we now know.

Why did it strike such a chord with me, and so many other movie fans, I think its a perfect blend of familiarity and originality.  Around this time I had seen reruns of the old serialised movies from the 30s and 40 that had been shown on early morning TV when I was kid, things like: Tarzan,  The Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, Zorro.  Many of them followed a similar and simple formula of an adventuring hero battling against an oppressive villain.  That is probably why Star Wars was so familiar on first watch.  But Star Wars took this formula and put it in a premium package.  The old series were low budget, but Star Was cost around $12million, a lot for 1977, and it showed.  The six Oscars it won included: Visual Effects, Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Costume Design.

So what happened next?  I think everyone knows about the sequels and prequels that have been made, and are still to come.  For me it was a lifetime before I saw another star wars movie, an impossible span of time for six year old to comprehend: about two years.  That was the time we really entered the 1980’s, we got our first VCR.  By the time I saw The Empire Strikes Back(1980) (or Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back to give its full title), I already knew about the twist at the end, it was relatively common knowledge. I also knew the story of Return of the Jedi back to front.  I hadn’t seen the film, but I had received the Return of the Jedi Annual for Christmas.  This was the Marvel comic book adaptation of the film collected together into a single hardback book (I still have it).  I also had a shed load of the toys, again I still have most of them in my loft today.

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The toys probably framed my thoughts on Star Wars.  By my mid teens, I saw them as kids films and had largely lost interest.  You can read about my favourite films from that time HERE.  But then at eighteen I went to university. On a lazy weekend afternoon a group of us gathered around a small TV in a friends room and watched videos from our collections.  Until someone came up with Star Wars.  Some of the group, like me loved it as a kid, but hadn’t seen it since, others had never seen it, and a couple declared it to be their favourite film of all time. My love of Star Wars was rejuvenated.  In the coming days we watched the rest of the trilogy.  Later that year, I acquired the trilogy on VHS (anyone under the age of twenty, ask your parents), the last time the original trilogy was available in its original form, before George Lucas went back and messed with it.  Then in my final year at university The Special Edition of the original trilogy was released theatrically, and I got to see them in cinemas for the first time.  Two years later I attended a midnight screening of The Phantom Menace, again, that’s another story!

We all know the idiom “To kill the Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs”, referring to  an unprofitable action motivated by greed, but what does this have to do with TV?

Once upon am time there were just three TV channels,  BBC1, BBC2 and ITV, it was all free to air, well sort of, there has always been a TV licence fee.  Then in the 1990’s came satellite and  cable TV and a new world order of pay TV had begun.  The 21st century gave us high-speed internet, and with it streaming.  Initially I subscribed to Amazon Prime as it is now called, then came Netflix, and more recently Now TV (Sky).  My Now subscription will probably only last as long as the final season of Game of Thrones!

Game of Thrones is for the moment Sky’s big draw.  With just six episodes to go, they need to find something else epic to keep my attention.  Upcoming seasons of Westworld and Big Little Lies are probably the most interesting things to come.  Netflix has Stranger Things, Black Mirror, The OA and The Good Place.  Amazon’s standout show Into the Badlands is coming to an end, but still has American Gods (that so far has failed to live up to first season promise), Bosch (the most underated show on TV), Mr Robot, and The Grand Tour.

But soon these channels way be under threat from a new competitor; Disney +. As I wrote this there were no announcements suggesting when or if they would will launch anywhere outside the US.  However, its surly only a matter of time.  But we all knew it was only a matter of time.  Then a few hours later Disney announced that Disney + would go live in the US on 12th November 2019, and in other territories within two years.  This caused me to delay publication and slightly rewrite.  I understand Disney Plus is set to cost $6.99 per month, or $69.99 per year.  No UK prices have been mentioned but speculation suggests It’s likely it will cost £6.99 per month or £69.99 per year. Given the exchange rate, that means we will be paying around 30% more than America.

So what does this new service offer?  Drawing from the Disney back catalogue, and those of its acquisitions, but nothing R rated, so no Deadpool.  The suggestion is over 7,500 episodes and 500 films will be immediately available.  Disney has also been rapidly cutting ties with other streaming services and has several new shows planned based on their largest properties.  At least two Star Wars TV shows, The Mandalorian, and a prequel to Rogue One with Diego Luna reprising his role as Cassian Andor.  Their other major property Marvel are set to figure strongly including shows featuring: Scarlet Witch, Vision, Loki, Falcon, The  Winter Soldier, and Hawkeye.

So what will another streaming service mean for UK audiences? Let’s work on the assumption that in future, each service will have a handful of good shows and at least one great program each.  How many people will take on four subscription streaming services?  And do they need to?  There are various HDMI-port plug-in devices (some branded and associated with the above channels) that can be used via apps freely available online to stream most TV and movies via file sharing.  Despite not being exactly legal the practice is easy and therefore relatively widespread.  History is filled with reports of nations raising tax rates, resulting in tax revenue falling as more people evaded/avoided taxes.

So what will happen if the price of multiple platforms gets too high and viewers turn their back on subscription streaming in favour of file sharing?  The most notable thing could be the loss of income resulting reduced budgets for new original programming.  Lower quality, or fewer programs in turn results in less subscribers.  And thus starts a vicious circle that ultimately kills the proverbial goose.  Will we see a day when competing streaming services share content?  At the moment, we are clearly in a golden age when it comes to the availability of content, if not the price of it!