My thoughts on Netflix’s summer surprise, ‘Stranger Things’

Well that completely came out of nowhere.

Every now and then, a show comes along that reaches out and grips you with its claws and never lets go. Enter STRANGER THINGS, a new Netflix sci-fi drama. After scrubbing through a trailer last month, I quickly dismissed it and I wouldn’t have given it a chance if it weren’t for two of my friends reaching out and demanding I tune in. Word of mouth can be a powerful thing.

STRANGER THINGS is a true amalgamation of every genre I love. When people ask me to describe it, I gush like this: It’s an adrenaline rush of pure adventure, a tale told from the innocent, wide-eyed perspective of a ragtag team of kids. It’s an edge-of-your-seat thriller with nuanced scares that make your imagination do most of the work. There’s conspiracy theories and weird science to wrap your brain around. And it’s all set in an eerie town where nothing is exactly what it seems.

In a nutshell: THE GOONIES + THE X-FILES/FRINGE + TWIN PEAKS = STRANGER THINGS

And let’s throw CLOVERFIELD in the mix for good measure; there’s a Monster here that would make J.J. Abrams and even Guillermo del Toro proud.

Holding this all together is a thick coat of nostalgia. From the neon bright opening credits to an original electronic soundtrack pulsing with 80s flair, STRANGER THINGS is intrinsically a warm, inviting series that draws you in with its recognizable throwbacks. (I mean, look at this poster!) What’ll hook you, though, is the utterly unexpected places it will take you. Well, that and the unbelievably talented cast of unknown kids. They will make you laugh, they will make you cry, they will leave you begging for more.

Now go enjoy this eight hour movie. Happy binging!

Kanye West & Bon Iver reunite on eclectic track from Francis and the Lights

Francis and the Lights just released my pick for song of the summer. Never heard of ’em? Neither had I, until last night, when Kanye West tweeted out a link to the music video embedded above, claiming it, “My favorite song this year.” The track, titled “Friends,” is intrinsically pop, with a calm buildup that climaxes into a groovy medley with kaleidoscopic sounds and wavy echoes. The minimalist music video, expertly directed by Jake Schreier in a single shot, is the perfect compliment to the song. Francis Farewell Starlite–the musician behind the Lights–and his erratic dance moves are prominently featured here. Kanye makes an appearance as does Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. The video culminates in cool synchronized dance choreography that effortlessly draws you into the fun they’re having. The combined power of Kanye, Justin, and Francis’ electronic coos is nothing short of hypnotizing! If you are a fan of Vernon’s ethereal touch on West’s Twisted Fantasy tracks “Monster” and “Lost in the World,” then Francis’ “Friends” will surely soothe the soul.

If you’re like me and feel compelled to explore Francis and the Lights’ discography, let me help you with that. From 2007-2013, Francis released four EPs and they’re all available on iTunes. In addition, he scored the sci-fi drama Robot & Frank, which happens to be directed by the music video’s helmer Schreier. Francis recently posted a new song called “Thank You” on SoundCloud, and he’s currently on tour with Bon Iver. And if “Friends” sounds like something you’ve heard before, you’re not alone; Francis sampled the song in a track he produced for Chance the Rapper, “Summer Friends.”

Now excuse me as I plug in my headphones and get lifted by this summer surprise, on repeat indefinitely. Stream it on Spotify and download it on iTunes. READ MORE Kanye West & Bon Iver reunite on eclectic track from Francis and the Lights

‘Rogue One’ sizzle reel shows off ‘Star Wars’ practical effects (New poster inside!)

The very first standalone Star Wars movie is coming soon, and to (ahem) celebrate, Disney and Lucasfilm shared this Rogue One sizzle reel at Star Wars Celebration in London this week. The nearly three-minute reel takes you in front of and behind the camera, giving you an inside look at how much effort is going into making the world of Star Wars come to life outside the confines of the three trilogies. Episode VII director J.J. Abrams was praised for his use of practical effects in The Force Awakens, and it looks like Rogue One helmer Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) is taking a page out of Abrams’ playbook. The gritty war zones that makeup Rogue One are littered with real explosions and imaginative creature costumes. Of course, these moviemakers simply couldn’t put on the show without pushing the limits of CG animation, but it’s good to know that where possible, what we end up seeing on the big screen is the real deal.

Go on and enjoy the reel; in it you’ll also hear from the cast and crew and maybe learn a little more about the resistance fighters’ daring mission to steal the Death Star plans. Celebration attendees left the panel with the first official poster for Rogue One, and you can eyeball it after the break; that tropical locale in the teaser and sizzle reel now has a name and it’s Scarif. Also screened at the panel but not released on the Internet (yet) was the second teaser trailer for the flick; spoiler alert, it ends with the mother of all teases: Darth Vader is back!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theatres December 16, 2016. READ MORE ‘Rogue One’ sizzle reel shows off ‘Star Wars’ practical effects (New poster inside!)

Nintendo celebrates its history with retro NES console release

Nintendo is on a roll. In the midst of surging in popularity thanks to the overnight success of the augmented reality smartphone app Pokémon GO, the house that built Mario has announced a new console. No, it’s not the highly anticipated next-gen NX. Ninty’s playing its most reliable card, nostalgia, by releasing a miniaturized version of its very first video game console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which originally debuted in the States in 1985. The company describes it as a “near-identical, mini replica” of the NES and it’s compatible with all modern TV sets as it utilizes an included HDMI cable to display audio and video. In addition to the cable, the package comes complete with an AC adapter for power and one NES Classic Controller for gameplay input. The wired controller is patterned after the iconic rectangular design of the original NES gamepad. You can even connect it to a Wii Remote to play Virtual Console NES games with it on the Wii and Wii U.

Speaking of games, the mini NES, which easily fits in the palm of a hand, comes preloaded with 30 classic and cult NES titles including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong, PAC-MAN, and Kirby’s Adventure. Though Nintendo doesn’t divulge into details, it seems like your dreams of blowing into cartridges and jamming them into the console’s slot-tray have been dashed here. What is cool, however, is that each game has multiple suspend points, so you won’t have to worry about manually saving your progress and locking it with a password. Additionally, some of the onboard games will support two players, and NES Classic Controllers will be sold separately for $9.99. Update: A Nintendo spokesperson confirmed to Kotaku that the “Chamber Lid” will not accept cartridges or any other kind of physical media for that matter. In addition, the console does not connect to the Internet, so the games library here is capped to the 30 that come preinstalled. Engadget adds that original NES controllers will not work with the new NES due to differing connectors. So there you go.

The Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition hits the market on November 11 at the reasonable price of $59.99. Be sure to jump after the break to view a full list of all the preloaded games, as well as an image of the retro product’s packaging.

Update (7/21): Ninty’s dropped an especially retro commercial to promote the mini console; it evokes its marketing campaign from the 80s with the classic tag, “Now you’re playing with power!”

[Via BusinessWire] READ MORE Nintendo celebrates its history with retro NES console release

‘Game of Thrones’ & ‘O.J.” lead Emmy nominations, ‘The Americans’ joins the race

Today the latest crop of Emmy nominations were announced, and they include the typical fare you’re used to seeing get recognized this time of year, as well as some welcome surprises and sour snubs.

HBO’s widely popular fantasy drama Game of Thrones earned a whopping 23 nominations, leading the pack by a narrow margin; FX’s The People Vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (22 nods) and Fargo (18), as well as HBO comedy Veep (17) aren’t trailing far behind.

The following series vie for Best Drama: The Americans (!), Better Call SaulDownton AbbeyGame of Thrones, Homeland, House of Cards, and Mr. Robot. That’s right–FX Cold War period drama The Americans, after four seasons on the air, is finally being recognized, and in more ways than one. In addition to landing in the Best Drama field, its stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are in the race for Best Lead Actor/Actress. Both are facing some serious competition. Rhys joins Kyle Chandler (Bloodline), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan), and Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) in the Best Lead Actor category; Russell makes good company with Claire Danes (Homeland), Viola Davis (How to Get Away With Murder), Taraji P Henson (Empire), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black, for the second consecutive year!), and Robin Wright (House of Cards).

The following series are in contention for Best Comedy: black-ish, Master of None, Modern Family, Silicon Valley, Transparent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Veep. Best Lead Actors include Anthony Anderson (black-ish), Aziz Ansari (Masters of None), Will Forte (The Last Man on Earth), William H Macy (Shameless), Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley), and Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent). Best Lead Actresses include Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), Laurie Metcalfe (Getting On), Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish), Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer), and Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie).

Over in the Limited Series field, American Crime, Fargo, The Night Manager, The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, and Roots were all nominated for a top prize. Yes, many of the OJ actors you loved watching in that series were nominated for their captivating portrayals including Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance, Cuba Gooding Jr, Sterling K. Brown, David Schwimmer, and John Travolta. Equally happy to report that AMC’s The Night Manager high praise also extends to its leads Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie.

The snubs that leave a sour taste in my mouth including the complete shunning of HBO’s The Leftovers, which came off an incredibly artistic and gripping second season featuring master-class acting and direction; the lack of love for A&E’s Bates Motel is appalling as leads Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore gave painstakingly breathtaking performances this year; also nada for Netflix/Marvel’s Jessica Jones and its stars Krysten Ritter and David Tennant, AMC’s Billions and its stars Paul Giamatti and Damien Lewis, and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black which is fresh off another solid season. And then, of course, there’s the yearly tradition of scratching one’s head over the lack of overall recognition for AMC’s The Walking Dead which year after year produces not only ratings gold but also creative powerhouse television. What makes all of these snubs somewhat more palatable is knowing that Louie Anderson squeezed into the race with a wholly deserved nod for his hysterical and nuanced turn as Zach Galifianakis’ mother in FX’s Baskets.

The 68th Primetime Emmy Awards airs live Sunday, September 18 at 7pm (EST) on ABC. Click here for the full list of nominees.

Summertime renewals: ‘Preacher’ & ‘Bloodline’ will return

AMC’s Preacher premiered in late May, just as the traditional TV season winded down, and it quickly proved to be wildly entertaining summer fare. Producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with Breaking Bad producer Sam Catlin, took the popular comic book series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon and adapted it for the small screen without missing a beat. The darkly comedic drama twists the supernatural genre on its head, weaving a wild tale about good vs. evil featuring a talented cast of misfits including Dominic Cooper’s entitiy-empowered Jesse Custer, Ruth Negga’s bad-ass Tulip, Joseph Gilgun’s hysterical portrayal of an Irish vampire named Cassidy. The already mythos-heavy story will continue when an expanded 13-episode second season arrives next year. Preacher currently airs Sunday nights at 9pm on AMC.

“‘Preacher’ is a special television program and we’re eager to share with fans the rest of this wild first season and, now, an expanded second season,” said AMC head Charlie Collier. “What Sam, Seth, Evan and the entire creative team have achieved in bringing Garth Ennis’ graphic novel to the screen is extraordinary. We look forward to more time with these unforgettable characters be it in Heaven, Hell, Texas or beyond.”

Netflix’s Bloodline is an interesting beast. In its debut season, the dark family drama told an incredibly compelling story about what happens when lies and deception bubble to the surface amidst a tight-knit family. It utilized tantalizing voice-overs and layered flashbacks to uncover the mysteries hiding behind all-too-believable characters embodied by an all-star cast including Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, and Sissy Spacek. By the end of the season–spoiler alert–Mendelsohn’s scene-stealing Danny Rayburn perished and I wasn’t so sure the show could go on without his menacing presence. Season 2 picks up right where things left off, and Danny does return in flashbacks (as expected), and perhaps more surprisingly he haunts the Rayburns in the present when his son, Nolan, crashes on the scene. The second run worked, sure, but I did not find it to be as compellingly stirring and engaging as before. Without Danny as a living, breathing antagonist to the rest of the Rayburn family, I felt the plot to be meandering and lost at times. Even still, the Rayburns without Danny are still an interesting bunch to follow, and with that said, there’s apparently more story to tell now that Netflix has officially greenlit a third season.

“Todd [Kessler], Daniel [Zelman], and Glenn [Kessler] have created a riveting family saga featuring one of the most talented ensembles in the history of television,” said Cindy Holland, VP Original Content at Netflix. “We can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds for the all-too-human Rayburns.”

Stick it here for more summer renewal news. READ MORE Summertime renewals: ‘Preacher’ & ‘Bloodline’ will return

Disney’s first Polynesian princess is ‘Moana’

Looks like Disney’s got another winner up its sleeve! Following ZootopiaBig Hero 6, and Frozen is Moana, the first Disney film to star a Polynesian princess. 16-year-old Moana, voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, is about to embark on an exciting adventure of self-discovery across the vast Pacific. The official logline reads:

From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once-mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.

This is merely a teaser trailer, and it already looks and sounds great. Moana is directed by the filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker, the same duo behind such Disney classics as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. Original music and score is provided by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina (The Lion King), and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton). The song featured here sounds a little familiar, does it not?

Can’t wait to see more from this project. Moana splashes into theatres November 23, Thanksgiving Day. READ MORE Disney’s first Polynesian princess is ‘Moana’

What to watch this summer: ‘Orange is the New Black,’ ‘Mr. Robot,’ ‘You’re the Worst’ & more

School’s out and to celebrate this fine occasion, I’ll be recommending a handful of quality TV shows to keep you busy in front of the boob tube over the long, dog days of summer. The months of June, July, and August play host to many of your favorite returning series including Orange is the New BlackMr. Robot, and You’re the Worst. Haven’t heard of them? Stop playing neighbors with Patrick Star and get with the programs! Release dates, times, and trailers are posted after the break. READ MORE What to watch this summer: ‘Orange is the New Black,’ ‘Mr. Robot,’ ‘You’re the Worst’ & more

TV items: ‘Nashville’ picked up by CMT, ‘Orphan Black’ renewed for final season & ‘Curb’ returns

When ABC decided to cancel Nashville after four seasons, I was a bit distraught. The season four finale did wrap up most of the dangling threads and everyone pretty much had their happy ending, except for Juliette Barnes, of course, whose cliffhanger involved her jet going missing. A part of me thinks I could have gone on just fine if that was the end of Nashville. Over the years, the country music drama weaved in and out of being a soapy mess. The series, at its best, focused on the music and the trails and tribulations of making it in the music industry. At its worst, it focused on completely unrelated dramatic twists including Juliette going haywire with postpartum depression and, most recently, Rayna James’ eldest daughter emancipating herself from the family. Soap operas can have fun with drama like this, but when it starts to completely deviate from the soul of the series, that’s when viewers (like me, at least) begin to lose interest.

And yet, that feeling of being distraught wouldn’t budge and the reason is simple, really. A Nashville fan from the beginning, I wadded through the creative ups and downs, knowing I’d eventually reach the series’ natural conclusion. Though most characters did get their happy ending, it was clear that the season finale was not constructed to serve as a series finale. Its various relationships are important to the plot, including Rayna and Deacon and Scarlet and Gunnar finally embracing their inevitable soul mate statuses with each other. But here’s the thing: Nashville can’t end without celebrating the music that makes it so special. I went into this show with a public disregard of country music; simply wasn’t a fan. Nashville managed to convert me, so much so that I went to see the actors perform music from the show live at one of Nashville‘s popular tour stops. The show couldn’t just end without a proper goodbye, and that includes unforgettable music performances that hopefully harken back to season 1’s gems including but not limited to those touching duets by Scarlet and Gunnar.

This brings us to the exciting news at hand: CMT has picked up Nashville for a fifth season, and studio Lionsgate TV intends to produce additional seasons of the show “for years to come.” The renewal also includes a deal with Hulu; the streaming service will air new episodes of Nashville the day after they air on cable. Season 5 will be led by new showrunners, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, and the plan is to pump out a full 22-episode season (as opposed to the 10-13 most cable networks do these days). Nashville lives on, and for someone who has invested four seasons of time with these characters and their stories, this is music to my ears.

Jump after the break to get the scoop on Orphan Black and Curb Your Enthusiasm. READ MORE TV items: ‘Nashville’ picked up by CMT, ‘Orphan Black’ renewed for final season & ‘Curb’ returns

E3 roundup: The latest and greatest from Microsoft, Sony & Nintendo inside

Summer’s just around the corner, and gamers know exactly what that means. E3 is in town, and The Big Three console makers are ready to show off the best they have to offer. For 2016, Microsoft took a big swing by introducing loads of new hardware, including a new Xbox console debuting in August, as well as its next-gen beast due out in 2017. Sony and Nintendo, on the other hand, laser-focused on their respective games library. The PS4 is on the verge of transforming into a virtual reality conduit, and Sony packed quite the punch with its PS VR launch lineup. Nintendo, meanwhile, lifted the veil off the next game in the coveted Legend of Zelda franchise and it looks spectacular. If there’s a theme to be had here, it’s that all three companies are churning out visually splendid and heart-pounding experiences coming to systems this year and beyond. It’s a great time to be a gamer.

For the full scoop from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo at E3, jump after the break. READ MORE E3 roundup: The latest and greatest from Microsoft, Sony & Nintendo inside

WWDC: Apple brings big updates to its four major platforms, including Siri for Mac

Apple kicked off its World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) this year by introducing big updates to its four major platforms: watchOS, which powers Apple Watch; tvOS, the driver behind Apple TV; OS X, the desktop operating system running all Macs; and iOS, the mobile operating system that gives life to iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. These platforms see updates on a regular basis every year, but with WWDC in town, they aim to change the game in ways in could only imagine. You may be disappointed to hear there were no hardware unveils this time around, but fret not because these software updates demoed today are worthy of their own stage. The breakdown is after the break. READ MORE WWDC: Apple brings big updates to its four major platforms, including Siri for Mac

Microsoft demonstrates virtual collaboration with VR/AR unifier Windows Holographic

Microsoft’s making a point with its latest glimpse into the future. Instead of choosing a side in the race to develop virtual and augmented reality technologies, the Windows maker is embracing a mixed reality, and it’s a vision that aims to break down the barriers between our physical world and the endless potential of a virtual space. Powering the company’s mixed reality is Windows Holographic, a platform embedded inside Windows 10 that enables end-users to transform the physical world around them with interactive holograms. In the video demonstration above, Microsoft promotes a collaborative experience where multiple users can virtually meet up, plan, and execute ideas in real time.

Collaboration is the key here. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the gamer featured in this clip is not wearing Microsoft’s HoloLens hardware. In fact, he’s sporting a VR headset designed by HTC called Vive. It’s one of the more popular VR devices out today, a direct competitor of Oculus’s Rift. So what is it doing here, featured in Microsoft’s mixed reality demonstration? Well, MSFT aims to bridge the gap (see a trend here?) between competing VR and AR offerings by opening up the Windows Holographic platform to partners including HTC, ASUS, Intel, Dell, HP, Lenovo and other pioneers in the PC market. Whether or not Microsoft succeeds in becoming the definitive holographic interface is a question for another day, but you must commend its forward-thinking initiative for inclusivity.

The first step in creating this future was taken in March when Microsoft began shipping out the first HoloLens units to developers. The company says that there are already hundreds of Windows Holographic-infused apps in the Windows Store today as developers continue to mine the headset and its underlying, universal platform for its potential across a multitude of industries including entertainment and education.

With the Rift and Vive out in the wild, and Sony’s PS4-powered PSVR device just around the corner, VR is about to blow up and it sure will be interesting to watch Microsoft respond with a decidedly different approach to our VR AR MR future.

[Via Microsoft] READ MORE Microsoft demonstrates virtual collaboration with VR/AR unifier Windows Holographic