The Walking Dead Week – in case you missed it

So, the first episode of season 8 of The Walking Dead has landed and it was a stonker.

Yes, you may say that it’s impossible to keep the pace up without finishing the whole story this season. That’s not the point. Let us have our moment. Our moment of suspended disbelief that we aren’t going to have two episodes dedicated to a character that, right now, we’ve never seen before.

In case you missed the build up, here are a handful of articles from the last week covering all things The Walking Dead:

Surprising appearances of The Walking Dead stars

Weird and Wonderful Merchandise – Part 2

Video Game Review – The Walking Dead: Michonne (Telltale Games, 2016)

All the trailers

The Walking Dead: The Board Game (Z-Man Games)

The Walking Dead: The Game – Season One (Telltale Games, 2012)

The Walking Dead: Road To Survival (Scopely, 2015)

Top Moments of The Walking Dead TV Show

The Music of The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Weird and Wonderful Merchandise

Fear The Walking Dead: Series 1, Episode 1 (Scott Dow, 2015)

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Film review – My Life as a Courgette (Claude Barras, 2017)

My Life as a Courgette is a stop-motion animated film directed by first-time feature director Claude Barras. Short in length but big in heart, it has a way of drawing the viewer in and delivering a weighty emotional drama, despite its saccharine veneer.

It tells the story of the titular Courgette, a boy who is forced into an orphanage at the age of nine. He has come from a lonely and unhappy background but quickly learns to adapt and find his path with the six other children he lives with, notably the over-confident Simon and new girl Camille, whom he takes an immediate liking to.

This shot is one of the most memorable lingering shots of the film

The narrative is carried out from the perspective of the children, which gives rise to some elements of humour whilst giving the situation a melancholic edge. These are children all going through the same issue, as one child puts it they’ve “ran out of people to love them”.

The animation is truly beautiful and endearing, with a unique character design coupled with an a seamless stop-motion animation style. It is simply a joy to watch.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more emotionally-involving story in cinemas right now. This is one that needs to be seen.

My Life as a Courgette is out in cinemas now. You can watch a free ten minute preview below.

Life after Ghibli?

Two new trailers have been released for Mary and the Witch’s Flower, the debut film from Japanese animation company Studio Ponoc.

Watch them first, then read on to find out more.

Trailer #1

Trailer #2

Studio Ponoc is a new Japanese animation house based in Tokyo. The head of the company is Yoshiaki Nishimura, who was lead producer for two Studio Ghibli films: When Marnie Was There and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

It is clear to see the similarities with the best of Ghibli in the above clips, and it’s not just Nishimura who connects the two studios.

Hiromasa “Maro” Yonebayashi is directing the feature, having also directed Ghibli films The Secret World of Arriety and When Marnie Was There. He also worked as an animator on the likes of Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Essentially, he was a key player at Ghibli. 

Maro pens the script alongside Riko Sakaguchi, the screenwriter of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, another excellent Ghibli film released in 2013 to critical acclaim.

Takatsugu Muramatsu returns as film composer, having provided the score for When Marnie Was There.

There is currently no official U.K. release date for Mary and the Witch’s Flower, but it is scheduled to hit cinemas sometime in 2017. Traditionally Ghibli films took around a year to make the transition to English and finally get a release in the U.K., but who knows if the same rules will apply here.

Whatever happens, there will be a huge amount of interest in the film when it surfaces.

Theatre Review – Hello, Dolly! (Jerry Zaks, Sam S. Shubert Theater, 17th March 2017)

Note: This is a review of a preview of Hello, Dolly! Out of respect for the performance I only published it after the opening night. 

The first time I saw Hello, Dolly! was when I was 27 and preparing for an amateur production of the great musical in England. I had been cast in the role of Cornelius Hackl, the employee of Horace Vandergelder who has just been promoted from impertinent fool to chief clerk. Popping out of the store room box in the opening scene is exciting for all Cornelius-portrayers the world over – for two reasons. Firstly, you get to deliver your hotly-anticipated opening line in the show and finally get a glimpse of the audience. Secondly, it means you can breathe properly for the first time since lights down – you’ve been trapped with your assistant Barnaby in a tiny box for the last 15 minutes as the rest of the characters are introduced to the audience at a seemingly excruciatingly slow pace.

I was relaying this information to the perfectly lovely gentleman who was stood next to me at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre on Friday night when I asked him “So are you involved in this production at all?”. “Why yes,” he responded, “I’m the director.”

That would be four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks. [1]

Outside the theatre

His production of Hello, Dolly!, set to run at the Sam S. Shubert Theater from 20th April, is exactly what you would hope to see from a Broadway version of a musical that has been around for the last 50 years. It simply oozes quality and class.

The opening number “Call On Dolly” is full of bright and wonderful costumes with perfectly-precise movement from the ensemble. Warren Carlyle’s choreography at this point is nothing too complicated, but there’s a certain beauty in its simplicity – a matter counterbalanced with “The Waiters’ Gallop” in the second half.

The real star of the show, inevitably, is Bette Midler. As the titular character she is able to sweep from playful to heartbroken in the space of a song. Done correctly, it is a surprisingly nuanced character. She is larger than life when she’s entertaining guests, putting on a show for the cast and the audience in equal measures. However, when she is alone she reveals what drives her throughout the story – her lost love and former husband Ephram Levi. Midler may have the audience in stitches when she’s slowly eating a delicious chicken dinner, but they’re eating the palm of her hand when she’s speaking from her heart.

David Hyde Pierce is a great counterpoint for Midler as the angry shop owner and “half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. He is a seasoned Broadway star, winning a Tony Award in 2008 for his role in Curtains. It was great to finally see “Penny in my Pocket” restored and performed in front of the curtain at the start of the second act. It’s a song that’s great for someone like Pierce – full of characterisation and expression. It was cut from previous Broadway runs to shorten the second half.

Gavin Creel (Cornelius Hackl), Kate Baldwin (Irene Molloy), Taylor Trensch (Barnaby Tucker) and Beanie Feldstein (Minnie Fay) are all brilliant in their Horace-avoiding storyline, with “Elegance” a particular highlight in the second half. Creel’s rendition of “It Only Takes A Moment” with Baldwin was simply beautiful; a clear sign that musical director Andy Einhorn can get the best out of his performers.

The tickets for this production may well sell because Bette Midler is such a huge star and is massively popular on Broadway, with David Hyde Pierce also offering added interest. However, what audiences will find is a musical that is excellent across the board, from the back row of the ensemble to the lead star, with not a thread on a costume out of place.

To think that what I saw was supposed to be a preview, I only wish I could see it when it hits the full run.

It will be a smash.

[1] It was to my shame that I didn’t recognise Jerry Zaks. He was the perfect gentleman. By the time we had started chatting he had already noticed that we hadn’t got a Playbill and found an usher to retrieve a couple for us. What kind of director does that?! He seemed genuinely interested in whether we were enjoying the show, seeking us out at the end to garner our opinion before signing our programme. Great job sir and thank you for finding the time to talk to us.

Film review – Sully: The Miracle on the Hudson (Clint Eastwood, 2016)

“No one told us. No one said you are going to lose both engines at a lower altitude than any jet in history.”

A defiantly memorable line from a triumphant film, delivered with all the finesse of one of the greatest living actors being directed by another. It is a coming together to be cherished, especially with results this good.

Clint Eastwood’s latest film has all the vigour of his heyday performances, despite the fact he has now reached the grand age of 86. Whilst many would have been thinking about retirement decades earlier – nobody would have blamed him for waving goodbye after what would have been a fitting farewell in 2009’s Gran Torino – he continues to surprise film lovers with yet more tremendous creative flourishes. In a year that has been tarnished by far too many deaths of icons of film, music, television and beyond, Sully is a much-welcomed gift from one of the greats.

Hanks and Eckhart are in fine form

Tom Hanks is in fine form as the titular Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, a former US Air Force pilot turned passenger plane captain who literally bet 155 lives on his own instinct when a flock of Canada geese destroyed both engines of US Airline Flight 1549 as it departed from LaGuardia Airport. Sully’s instinct led him to successfully land the plane in the Hudson River. Heralded by the media, along with his copilot First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), as a hero, the National Transport Safety Bord (NTSB) weren’t as happy, opening up an investigation into what happened with a pre-determined plan to pin the damage to the aircraft on Sully due to pilot error, which would end his career. Their argument pivoted on the feasibility that the aircraft could have been landed at any of the nearby runways, the best option of which was nearby Teterboro Airport.

The film’s story plays out in a non-linear fashion, flitting between the aftermath of the landing and build up to the court hearing, Sully’s recollection of the incident (and bouts of post-traumatic stress) and some flashbacks to his pilot training in his youth.

There is little in the way of artistic licensing from Eastwood, largely sticking to a realistic and human story. Indeed, where it really makes an impact is that it never simplifies the technicalities of the aircraft or the arguments of either side for the benefit of those who aren’t paying attention. This is an intellectual film that respects its audience. The only worrying thing is that it felt so fresh – a matter that is simply indicative of the state of Hollywood in the present day.

This film may not make great waves at the box office as it battles out against Fantastic Beasts, Doctor Strange and Rogue One, but in years to come it will stand up alongside any of the films that Eastwood and Hanks have been involved with and will be seen as a work of art.

Disney’s Moana – Everything you need to know

Walt Disney Animation Studios will be releasing their 56th animated film globally on 23rd November 2016. Titled Moana (or Vaiana or Oceania, depending where you live), the film follows a 16-year-old as she embarks on a quest to a mystical Polynesian island to find the demigod Maui and uncover the island’s secrets.

This article should bring you up to speed with everything you need to know.

Who’s directing the film?

The directors are Ron Clements and John Musker, the directorial duo who have been responsible for some of the greatest Disney films over the last thirty years.

Here’s what they’ve made:

That’s a tremendous track record, with two of the films stone-wall classics and the remaining four well-regarded if a little under-appreciated. Their last work – The Princess and the Frog – may well be the best Walt Disney Animation Studios film released in the last decade.

Where is the film set?

The titular character is a native of the fictional island Motunui, which is said to be in the Pacific Ocean.

There is a coastal town in New Zealand that shares its name, and there is also an island just south of Easter Island, but neither of these is the setting for the film. Instead, the inspiration for the setting is said to be Teti’aroa, a different Polynesian island most famed for being bought by Marlon Brando in the 1960s.

This is located about where the pin is on the following map (courtesy of Apple Maps).


Basically, it’s in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean in French Polynesia. By all accounts, it’s a beautiful part of the world to visit and, thanks to the Marlon Brando Estate you can!

I’ll be, erm, saving up my pennies.

Who’s in it?

The lead character of Moana Waialiki is voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, a 15-year-old newcomer to the film industry. The video above shows you how thrilled she is to effectively be the next Disney princess. A huge role and it’s a nice touch they managed to find someone from Hawaii to take on the role.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson voices legendary demigod Maui, the unlikely buddy for Moana to set off on her journey with.

Elsewhere there are contributions from Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger as Moana’s mother Sina, Temura Morrison (Episode II’s Jango Fett) as Moana’s father Chief Tui, Flight of the Conchord’s Jermaine Clement as the crabby Tamatoa, Rachel House (who you may remember as the over-zealous welfare services officer Paula in Hunt for the Wilderpeople) as Moana’s grandmother Tala and Disney regular Alan Tudyk as idiotic bird Hei Hei.

On top of that, there are musical contributions from Lin-Manual Miranda, who has managed to fit this in between the massive success of Hamilton and the preparation for the Mary Poppins reboot he’s just been cast in. Oh, and Star Wars.

There’s a short clip of the song “You’re Welcome” below.

Are there any trailers or clips available now?

Disney have been releasing a slow trickle of scene previews and trailers. Here’s a selection:

Official Trailer

https://youtu.be/LKFuXETZUsI

International Trailer 1 (Japanese)

https://youtu.be/Ljik3zsGNF4

International Trailer 2 (Portuguese)

https://youtu.be/4ojO2luxMc4

International Trailer 3 (Russian)

https://youtu.be/_NGlIDDeSfI

International Trailer 4 (German)

https://youtu.be/DHeBo2M3GoY

International Trailer 5 (Italy)

https://youtu.be/_ZpA-PtXhf4

Official Teaser Trailer

https://youtu.be/C6PbWhWGUrY

Clip – Is there something you want to hear?

https://youtu.be/YWBSxmcQGqo

Song – “We Know The Way”

https://youtu.be/unoJii5PJV4

Clip – Moana meets Maui

https://youtu.be/88_Ailmf8Z4

When is it released?

It has various release dates. The key one for me is the UK release date of 2nd December, although it will be hitting USA screens a few weeks earlier on 14th November.

Most of Europe will have it before Christmas, apart from Scandinavia who won’t be able to enjoy it until 2nd and 3rd February. The last country to get it is Japan on 10th March, a full four months after its initial release date.

Why Super Mario Run will be great for Nintendo

In case you missed it earlier this week, Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto made a surprise appearance at the Apple Special Event at San Fransisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. He was there to announce the first Super Mario game to be playable on smart phones. Indeed, it will launch as an iPhone exclusive, coming to Android at a later date.

Watch the trailer here.

The game looks simple enough. Mario runs from left to right, jumping depending on when the player presses the screen. The jumps vary in height depending on how long the screen is pressed for. This gives you a free hand with which you can do whatever you fancy, including eating an apple! Well played Miyamoto…

A familiar sight for fans of Super Mario

The news has had mixed reactions across the Internet, with many happy that the gaming giant is branching out whilst others bemoan the devaluing of the IP.

With the Wii U writhing to its gruesome end within the next six months and a serious slowdown in sales of the DS and 3DS families of consoles in recent times, Nintendo had to do something to experiment with the market and this is the perfect time to do something.

The much-discussed Nintendo NX will arrive in Spring 2017 and there hasn’t been much to get excited about on the Nintendo front this year, outside of the Pokémon Go phenomenon that Nintendo barely had anything to do with. Releasing a simple game that reminds players of the fun that can be had with the character without really going into the deep gameplay seen on the more advanced console-based games seems like the perfect move.

The game looks to have six worlds with four levels in each. Anyone familiar with the recent New Super Mario Bros. games – the visuals on which this game is sourced – will know that there are undoubtedly rewards in the form of bonus stages awaiting those completists amongst us. Miyamoto also indicated in his talk that the game will have a one-off charge but won’t have in-app payments. This is music to the ears of players around the world, tiring of necessary additional charges to get the most out of the games they enjoy.

Super Mario Run can be accessed on the App Store, though all you can do right now is set a notification for its release (currently expected for December).