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  1. Netflix forced to recast The Witcher roles due to Covid-19 rescheduling clash 'Now I get to watch it as a fanboy instead of as a Witcher' Henry Cavill in season one of The Witcher (Image credit: Katalin Vermes) The producers of Netflix's The Witcher series have been forced to recast a role part-way through filming season 2 due to ongoing complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Thue Ersted Rasmussen – who portrays Eskel – had already commenced filming, but according to a statement he recently shared on Instagram, rescheduling necessitated by the pandemic means he can no longer continue in the role. "Sadly, due to the rescheduling because of Covid-19, I will not be portraying Eskel in The Witcher," Rasmussen said in the statement (via GamesRadar+). "It's heartbreaking, of course, but I mostly feel happy and grateful for the days I got to spend on set earlier this year. Everyone was extremely engaged and passionate about the project and it was a truly inspiring experience. "A heartfelt thank you to all the fans who wrote my lovely, encouraging messages. "I wish everyone on the show best of luck with the rest of the production," he finished. "I'm sure season 2 will be absolutely amazing and now I get to watch it as a fanboy instead of as a Witcher." As for who might replace Rasmussen, Netflix's being coy for now, so watch this space. Origin story Netflix has also announced The Witcher: Blood Origin, a new installment of The Witcher's world. This six-part live-action prequel TV show will take place hundreds of years before the main series, and will explore the origins of Witchers and the very first Witcher. As we reported at the time, it's no real surprise that Blood Origin was announced so early, given the success of the first season and the fact that The Witcher season 2 was confirmed before the first was ever broadcast. It also shows how serious Netflix is about The Witcher, and it will hopefully result in more excellent stories set in the universe created by Andrzej Sapkowski. The Witcher's showrunner Lauren Hissrich and Declan de Barra, a writer who worked on season 1, are behind this new series. So whatever Blood Origin ends up being, expect it to be faithful to the rich lore of the books. Netflix forced to recast The Witcher roles due to Covid-19 rescheduling clash
  2. ‘Downton Abbey on the water’: why TV's Below Deck is still making waves Captain Lee Rosbach with chief steward Kate Chastain in season seven of Below Deck. Photograph: Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images With its drunken feuds and messy dramas, the superyacht reality show proved a surprise lockdown hit. Its stars explain what it has meant to them – and why the maritime industry love to hate it In the summer of 2011, eight tanned and smiling twentysomething cast members boarded the superyacht Honor for a six-week charter around the Caribbean. Accompanied by Captain Lee Rosbach and a camera crew, the cast welcomed uber-rich guests for day trips around the scenic islands, while rushing to cater to the guests’ every whim, forging on-board romances and descending into drunken feuds. The results were aired in July 2013, on US network Bravo, as the reality series Below Deck. Seven years and seven seasons later – plus two spinoffs – the series has reached British shores, where it has proved a hit on Hayu and Netflix. Combining the lives of the wealthy and the fame-hungry with a low-budget immediacy that gives early seasons the feel of having been filmed in the early 2000s, rather than the early 2010s, Below Deck has become the surprising reality success of lockdown. Rosbach isn’t surprised by this second wind. “It’s Downton Abbey on the water,” he says of the show’s appeal. “A lot of people thought this would be the death of the yachting industry, but that hasn’t happened . I’ve had very little backlash.” Initially tasked with delivering the first season’s yacht to the port where it was then to be captained by another cast member, Rosbach soon found himself onscreen after the original captain dropped out. “I didn’t know what to expect, since all of my experience had just been on large charter boats,” he says. “But other than the cameras, it really didn’t differ from a normal charter: I’m the captain, I have my crew. We just happened to be getting filmed while we were doing it. There were no scripts involved, we just did what the guests wanted.” Season one’s chief steward, Adrienne Gang, had been in the yachting industry for eight years as a chef when she was approached to take part in the early stages of the show’s development. “I thought it would be interesting to get involved as there are always fascinating people on board and conflict among the crew,” she says. Yet, as the cameras started to roll, her experience swiftly changed. “It was a certified nightmare. The production team didn’t really know what they were doing and I had never worked in TV before, either. It was a giant clusterfuck: they didn’t have a big enough camera crew in the first season to capture everything that happened, and they couldn’t really get the guests to relax.” Captain Sandy Yawn, who was in Below Deck Mediterranean: ‘I’m an inspiration.’ Photograph: Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Those guests included a photographer – Johnny Eyelash – and his entourage being kicked off the boat after the discovery of a “mystery white powder” in a guest bathroom, as well as drunken bachelors and a rowdy girls’ trip. “There were absolutely no free trips, all the guests were paying a somewhat discounted rate,” Gang says. “I’m perpetually flabbergasted that they acted the way that they did knowing there were cameras around. Some of them really were that crazy.” Rosbach recounts one group with particular horror. “The least favourite guests I had were an extremely dysfunctional family in season one,” he says. “It was a mother and a father who were no longer married and brought their respective new husbands and wives with them, along with their daughter. Both of the parents were vegans and were trying to coerce the daughter into becoming vegan, too, and one morning a huge family row erupted over her having an egg for breakfast. It all went downhill from there.” While Below Deck makes for entertaining, throwaway television, the experience has had longer lasting consequences for the cast. “I was more personally invested in the outcome than the rest of the crew who had just signed on a couple weeks beforehand,” Gang says. “I wanted to make sure that the first representation my friends and family saw of my career on television wasn’t a drunken monkey show. That made me more stressed out than anybody else and that definitely comes across.” Characterised as the stern, unfriendly boss of the yacht’s interior crew, Gang’s one-season appearance is memorable for how universally disliked she is by her fellow cast members. “It was the most stressful situation I’ve ever been in. I don’t feel like I was supported,” she says. “[The producers] knew from the beginning that they wanted to make me the bitch everybody loved to hate. They did some really tricky, manipulative things to make sure that there was opposition, like amping us up on purpose before we would go into our one-on-one interviews by saying: ‘Oh, you would not believe what Kat said about you,’ and she had never said it.” For chef Ben Robinson, who applied to be on the show on a whim while drunk, the experience was fraught, but perhaps more enjoyable. “I’d never watched reality TV, so I didn’t understand the process,” he says. “It was definitely stressful. Apparently, I didn’t talk very much for the first couple of weeks. Most charter guests get on the boat and they love the crew, but some of these numbskulls come on as our enemy because they realise that it’s a good storyline that will give them more screen time.” Memorable for his stiff, Gary Rhodes-referencing hair and chipper presence in the yacht galley, often playing up to his British heritage by calling everyone onboard “luv”, Robinson epitomises the lighter side of the show. “There were drunken moments when I probably didn’t say or do the right thing,” he says with a signature cackle. “Drinking during a reality TV show isn’t the best decision, but it also provides a nice outlet. I try not to live in regret, but I did take my pants down once with my brother and we walked along the dock together. Thank God, I’ve got probably one of the nicest asses in the free world.” While Rosbach says he experienced few repercussions from being on the show, the captain on the spinoff series Below Deck Mediterranean, Sandy Yawn, had a rather more mixed reaction. “After my first season, I wasn’t sure if I would do the show again because it was so stressful,” she says. “People in my industry were judging me for doing it. As a female captain, you’re pretty popular and I used to do a lot of public speaking on women in yachting, but after the show I wasn’t really invited to speak any more.” Yawn believes the industry has since changed its attitude and she now sees it as a positive for yachting by advertising it to attract talent and for showing owners the work of their staff. “I can no longer walk through an airport in peace. I get stopped constantly,” she says. “The money is not even close to what I made as a superyacht captain, but I’m helping people to realise that there are jobs out there and it fuels me to go back for another season. I feel like God gave me a platform for a reason and I get thousands of messages on how I help people. I’m an inspiration.” She has also since been invited to speak publicly again. “The maritime industry loves to hate the show, but they still watch it,” Robinson says. “It’s done wonders for the charter business because it has put it on people’s radars. It’s been this unveiling of the secret society on the water.” Business is currently booming. Robinson still works as a private chef, while Gang has seen her career continue steadily, despite her experiences on the show. “I feel like I didn’t get the chance to bond with most of my crew because a lot of them knew I had something to do with putting the show together, so that created division,” she says. “Still, once the show came out, I realised that it wasn’t that bad. It never really affected my career. There are people who are negative, but I still work. In fact, I’m jumping on another boat for a month to go and chef now.” “In terms of the cast, you get a feel for people who are looking to further their career in the industry or if they have a separate agenda,” Rosbach says. “Usually the ones who have a separate agenda don’t fare too well. But I’m going to stay on the show for as long as they will have me.” With an eighth season of Below Deck slated for release, as well as a sixth season of Below Deck Mediterranean and a potential second season of Below Deck Sailing Yacht, the franchise shows no signs of slowing down. “It would cost you about a quarter of a million bucks to even step foot on that boat and watching it is basically free,” Robinson says. “It is the ultimate reality show.” Below Deck is streaming on Hayu and Netflix. Season 8 begins on Hayu on 3 November ‘Downton Abbey on the water’: why TV's Below Deck is still making waves
  3. Sinister trailer for Haunting of Bly Manor looks like a classic ghost story Mike Flanagan's follow-up to Hill House draws on the ghost stories of Henry James. 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. Rumors of a possible second season began swirling soon after the series started streaming, and they were confirmed in February of last year. Flanagan's plan was to turn the series into a horror anthology, with a whole new ghost story and fresh characters. He opined in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that the Crain family featured in Hill House had suffered enough, and as far as he was concerned, its story had been told. But several cast members will return in Bly Manor, albeit playing different characters: Victoria Pedretti, Henry Thomas, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Catherine "Katie" Parker, and Kate Siegel. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. As I wrote previously, The Turn of the Screw, published serially in Collier's Weekly in 1898, tells the story of a governess hired to look after two orphaned children by their absent uncle at his Essex country house, Bly. Soon after arriving, the governess sees figures of a man and woman she suspects may be spirits. She learns from the grim housekeeper that her predecessor, Miss Jessel, had an affair with another servant, Peter Quint, and both died. They also seemed to have had an unhealthy attachment to the children, Flora and Miles, and the governess suspects the children can see the ghosts, too. Since we're talking Henry James here, it ends in tragedy. Literary scholars and critics have been debating the novella ever since it was first published because James was deliberately ambiguous as to whether the governess is seeing actual ghosts or simply going mad and imagining them. That debate carried over to the 1961 British Film adaptation, The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr—probably the best of the many versions of the tale that have been adapted for various media. The initial screenwriter, William Archibald, assumed the ghosts were real; director Jack Clayton preferred to be true to James' original ambiguity. The most recent film adaptation, The Turning, released earlier this year, is the worst of the bunch by far, despite a solid performance by star Mackenzie Davis. (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things costars as Miles.) In that instance, director Floria Sigismondi—best known for 2010's The Runaways and several music videos—largely went with the "insane governess" hypothesis, although the ending is deliberately ambiguous on that score. We'll have to wait to see which direction Flanagan takes with Bly Manor, but my money's on at least some of the ghosts being real, judging by the trailer. The official synopsis is very brief: "Dead doesn't mean gone. An au pair plunges into an abyss of chilling secrets in this gothic romance from the creator of The Haunting of Hill House." The trailer gives little else away, but it does set an appropriately sinister tone and whets the appetite for the full series. The Haunting of Bly Manor starts streaming on Netflix on October 9, 2020. Listing image by Netflix Sinister trailer for Haunting of Bly Manor looks like a classic ghost story (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  4. Why Netflix Keeps Canceling Shows After Just 2 Seasons Last month, Altered Carbon joined Sense8, The OA, and Luke Cage in getting the ax. Fans protested, but for the streaming service, it's all about data. Last month, sci-fi show Altered Carbon was inducted into Netflix’s expanding season two cancellation clubPhotograph: Diyah Pera/Netflix It’s hard to imagine now, but when the US-version of The Office first premiered on NBC in 2005, the show was panned by both critics and audiences. People thought it was unoriginal, unfunny, and a bad clone of the UK version. But NBC made the call to renew the show anyway. It seemed to be the right one, because from season two onward, The Office US was winning plaudits everywhere, which lasted nine glorious seasons. In the age of streaming, however, many TV shows aren’t afforded the same courtesy nor given the time to prove their worth. Data from media analytics firm Ampere Analysis suggests that on average, a Netflix Original gets just two seasons before being canceled. Last month, sci-fi show Altered Carbon was inducted into Netflix’s expanding season-two cancellation club, joining Sense8, The OA, and Luke Cage in being axed after just two seasons. What followed was the now-traditional furious fan campaign to save the series from an early death. Apart from the one-off Sense8 movie finale, which was commissioned following an aggressive campaign from fans, most attempts to bring a Netflix Original back from cancellation often fail. The company’s decision to cancel a show is often final—just ask #SaveTheOA. But while it’s sad for fans to see a show cut dramatically short, for Netflix it comes down to the data. Netflix doesn’t release rating figures in the same way as linear television networks, but it’s been widely reported that it decides to renew or cancel its shows based on a viewership-versus-cost-of-renewal review process, which determines whether the cost of producing another season of a show is proportionate to the number of viewers that the show receives. “The biggest thing that we look at is, are we getting enough viewership to justify the cost of the series?” Netflix’s vice president of original programming Cindy Holland said in 2018, during the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. Shows can have a dedicated fan base, like Altered Carbon and The OA, but they might not have been successful enough to have amassed a Netflix-wide viewership. Tom Harrington, an analyst at Enders Analysis, explains that the ideal show for Netflix is one where the large majority of people who subscribe to Netflix will watch it, and not just one dedicated fan base. Something like Stranger Things can bring in new audiences, and maintain current ones, which is why it keeps getting renewed. According to a letter sent to the House of Lords Communications and Digital Select Committee, Netflix also considers three other metrics when it decides whether to cancel or renew a show. It looks at two data points within the first seven days and first 28 days of a show being available on the service. The first is Starters, or households THAT watch just one episode of a series. The second data point is Completers, subscribers who finish an entire season. The final metric is Watchers, which is the number of subscribers who watch a show. In an interview with Vulture, 28-day viewership, which refers to the number of people who watch an entire season of a show within a month, was consistently referenced as one of the metrics used to decide renewal. All of that data helps Netflix paint a picture about whether to renew your favorite series. More money is on the line for Netflix as well. Like other streaming services, it differs from traditional television networks in that it commissions an entire season of a show at once, rather than just a pilot episode. Netflix also employs a cost-plus model, which means that it pays a show’s entire production costs, plus a 30 percent premium. Historically, what networks have done is pay a portion of those production costs and then get the production company to pay the rest. The idea is that shows will be shopped internationally, going to other broadcasters and even streaming services, continuing to make money for the producers. But when something originates on Netflix, it typically stays on Netflix. Netflix tries to make itself more appealing to TV show producers by giving them bonuses and pay bumps as a series carries on. Harrington says that shows on Netflix are more expensive after season two, and even more expensive after season three, with the premiums going up each season. “They have to give [a show] more money per series, and if they decide to recommission it, it becomes more expensive for them to make,” he says. “Because of that, so many more shows are canceled after two series because it costs them more.” Financially, it makes more sense for Netflix to commission a new show than to renew an underperforming show that is only going to get more expensive the longer the series goes on. Tim Westcott, research and analysis director at Omdia, says that in terms of investment in content, Netflix is still in the growth stage. “In the US, subscriber growth has leveled off a bit, and they've now got a lot of competition in the US. But they're adding many hundreds of thousands of subscribers every quarter around the world. They're still in a phase where they're still throwing fuel on the engine to keep that subscriber growth going,” he explains, adding that it’s ultimately looking to increase volume so that it can churn out new shows that it can promote to attract more subscribers. According to Deadline, if a show hasn’t grown significantly in popularity over seasons two or three, then Netflix thinks that it’s unlikely to gain any new viewers beyond those already watching it. Ultimately, if viewers want their favorite show to be renewed, then the first 28 days are critical periods to be both a watcher and a completer, and they just have to hope that it attracts enough of a mass audience to warrant the cost of renewal by its second season. As Harrington asks, “If a show hasn't proven itself by series two, then why would you make any more of it?” This story originally appeared on WIRED UK. Why Netflix Keeps Canceling Shows After Just 2 Seasons
  5. Netflix’s Away splendidly brings a humans-to-Mars mission to life The show is aspirational. We could all use a little more of that in 2020. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. One evening in early November 2017, I met Andrew Hinderaker at a Houston restaurant named Nobi. Located just down the road from Johnson Space Center, Nobi offers a fantastic combination of Vietnamese food and a rich, rotating selection of draft beer. It’s a classic Houston joint, a fusion of cultures that is the better for it. As such, the restaurant serves as a popular watering hole for the space set. Hinderaker and a friend of mine named Chris Jones were starting to write on a television show about a realistic human mission to Mars. “From the beginning, Chris and I have believed that this show should be neither naive nor pessimistic,” Hinderaker explained to me. “We believe that there is something aspirational about space exploration, even if the mechanisms that enable it are often bureaucratic.” I loved the idea. Then, as now, I covered spaceflight, particularly the efforts of NASA, other space agencies, and private companies to expand humanity beyond low-Earth orbit. I had thought a lot about the politics and the technology that might one day enable a small band of humans to travel from Earth to Mars, land on the red planet for a while, and travel back. So Hinderaker and I talked through these issues. None of this is simple, I explained. Mounting a human mission to Mars will require an incredible amount of funding, several key technologies to reach maturity, and sustained support for more than a decade. Almost certainly, it will necessitate the cooperation of several nations. And the current relationships between space agencies in the United States, Russia, Europe, China, India, Japan, and elsewhere are complex, and evolving. At the end of our conversation, having drained several glasses of Belgian beer, I wished Hinderaker luck. Human spaceflight Nearly three years later, Netflix released the first season of the television series Away, which tells the story of an international human mission to Mars. Simply put, I found the show to be fantastic. The characters felt real, the politics felt real, and the technology felt real. It’s as if the show’s creator, Hinderaker, alongside Jones and the other writers assessed the state of play in human spaceflight in 2020, and they did their best to imagine an optimistic scenario for a decade from now. Unlike so much science fiction on television and in movies today, the emphasis in Away is not on space battles or explosions or fancy space hardware. This show is about the people, first, and our all-too-fallible technology, second. This television show puts the human into human spaceflight. Some viewers may be put off by a character-driven show that focuses on people and their complicated relationships, both in space and on the ground. Unlike a lot of current TV, too, Away moves slowly. The quiet moments are quiet. The long shots linger. There is plenty of, umm, space for the show and its characters to breathe. Where the hell is Mars, you may be asking? It is largely off screen, but in the background, driving the story forward. One of the fascinating things about Away is that it takes a stab at exploring how astronauts independent of ground control will behave. Even during the Apollo missions to the Moon, crew members faced only a few seconds of comm delays with Mission Control in Houston. On a journey to Mars, seconds quickly become minutes. This gives the crew freedom to make their own decisions and to realize their actions are beyond the reach of flight directors on the ground. A hopeful show Because of the actions taken on the way to Mars in the show, some critics have said the five astronauts in Away would never have passed the extensive screenings to become crew members. But I suspect traveling into deep space for months at a time will have a profound effect on astronauts and lead to more independence. And while the public view of astronauts may be that of super-heroes, almost perfect people, they are all too human with family issues, egos, and foibles. (They're still almost universally awesome, of course). There are a few truly implausible events in Away. The most glaring of which for me was the uncertainty about whether the Pegasus supply ship successfully landed on Mars, a few weeks before the crew’s arrival. In the real world, this supply vessel would have launched and landed safely on Mars before a human crew ever left Earth’s gravity well. Moreover, there would be satellites in orbit around Mars to image the landing site. But these are small quibbles. Most of the technology comes across as legitimate, an evolution of existing systems. If the show does not portray enough involvement from commercial companies—it is hard to see NASA reaching Mars without SpaceX, for example—it does the intergovernmental space agency politics well. Bottom line: this show is set in a plausible future. As Hinderaker said in 2017, the show is aspirational. We could all use a little more of that in 2020. Although it seems unlikely now, one could imagine the United States and China unifying behind an exploration mission for the entire world. And so the show depicts humanity, with all of its flaws and political squabbles, coming together to send astronauts to another planet. It’s something we have never done in our 300,000 or so years as a species on our green planet. But if we’re lucky, it’s something we just might live to see in our lifetimes. This is the hope I took away from Away. Listing image by Diyah Pera/Netflix Netflix’s Away splendidly brings a humans-to-Mars mission to life (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  6. Netflix Originals' 10 best British TV shows and movies Our pick of Netflix's best British originals (Image credit: Netflix) Netflix might have started out by being unashamedly American-centric in its original programming, with shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. In the intervening years, though, some of its finest self-made TV shows and films have emerged from the other side of the Atlantic, not to mention the rest of the world. In fact, one of its British series, The Crown, has picked up an astonishing 39 Emmy nominations since its premiere, an all-time record for the streaming platform. From royal sagas and rom-coms to teen dramas and travelogues (and ignoring shows that first aired on another channel – hence no Black Mirror, The End of the F***ing World, Lovesick etc.) here’s a look at ten of the best. The Crown (Image credit: Netflix) Having previously covered the later years of the world’s longest-reigning monarch in The Queen, Peter Morgan then delved deep into her beginnings for a lavish period epic almost as costly as Windsor Castle. The Crown will have covered more than a half-century of monumental British history by the time it wraps up its sixth season in 2022, including the rise of Margaret Thatcher, the fall of the British Empire and the death of Princess Diana. An impressive ever-changing cast – which saw Claire Foy, Olivia Colman and Imelda Staunton take turns playing Her Majesty – showed that there’s no better soap opera than the real-life royal family. Sex Education (Image credit: netflix) Americanized high schools in the heart of the Welsh countryside, ‘70s décor mixed with ‘80s appliances, ‘90s cars and ‘00s technology: it took a while adjusting to Sex Education’s deliberate mish-mash of cultures and eras. Thankfully, the young adult dramedy has plenty of substance to go alongside its anachronistic style. Starring Asa Butterfield as a socially awkward virgin who follows in the professional footsteps of his sex therapist mother (a scene-stealing Gillian Anderson), the coming-of-age comedy still contains enough bawdy moments to rival The Inbetweeners. But it also balances them with a sweetness and refreshingly matter-of-fact approach to teenage sexuality. Sunderland ‘Til I Die (Image credit: Netflix) You don’t need to be au fait with football/soccer's offside rule to enjoy this fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations of the North East’s fallen giants. Like any great sporting documentary, Sunderland ‘Til I Die is about far more than what happens on the field of play. In this case, there’s the diehard fans whose whole lives revolve around Saturday 3pm, the David Brent-esque boardroom figures who can only communicate via business speak and Sunderland itself, a city which, like its football team, has undoubtedly seen better days. Unlike the more sanitized Amazon’s All or Nothing, this two-season wonder is very much the real deal. Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father (Image credit: Netflix) Comedians going on vacation with embarrassing parents has been an unlikely TV trend of late. And Britain’s poshest stand-up, Jack Whitehall, and his octogenarian showbiz agent dad Michael have taken full advantage, journeying across South East Asia, Europe, the American West and Australasia on Netflix money for four entertaining series. Beer biking in Budapest, Full Moon parties in Thailand and naked yoga sessions in California allow the odd couple to play on their generational divide. But amidst all the unashamed silliness (Michael’s adoption of a creepy doll named Winston is a particular highlight), the pair also find the time to engage in some surprisingly touching father/son tête-à-têtes. Criminal: UK (Image credit: Colin Hutton) One of Netflix’s boldest experiments, Criminal is a police procedural anthology which splits its episodes – each featuring a self-contained case – across four different European territories/languages. Featuring famous faces such as David Tennant (Doctor Who), Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) and Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), the UK’s contribution has, unsurprisingly, courted the most attention. But this star power is matched by a tension-cranking, twisting script which constantly leaves you guessing and a visual flair which makes full use of its claustrophobic sole setting. If the epic interrogation scenes are your favorite part of Line of Duty, this is the show for you. Our Planet (Image credit: Jamie McPherson/Silverback/Netflix) Perhaps David Attenborough’s most environmentally-conscious series, Our Planet explores just how significantly the rise in global warming has impacted Earth and its animal inhabitants. Filmed across 50 different countries over four years, Netflix’s first nature documentary boasts the kind of breathtaking cinematography that has become synonymous with the national treasure’s composed narration. Yet just as jaw-dropping as the views of the Amazonian rainforest and Arctic wilderness, however, are the cold hard facts – Attenborough has no time for climate change deniers, that’s for sure – which explain just how fragile these habitats have become. It’s not always an easy watch, but it’s a vital one. The Stranger (Image credit: Netflix) After making little impression with Safe, Netflix then got everyone talking in early 2020 – sometimes for the wrong reasons – with its second adaptation of a Harlan Coben novel. Decapitated alpacas, faked pregnancies and comic goddess Jennifer Saunders playing it straight are just a few of the bizarre ingredients of a patently absurd suburban thriller which often defies logic. Thankfully, the story of a mysterious baseball-capped outsider threatening to expose a web of dark secrets within a weirdly interconnecting neighborhood never takes itself too seriously. As a result, The Stranger is the kind of addictive guilty pleasure you needn’t feel too guilty about. After Life (Image credit: Netflix) After dropping the ball with Life’s Too Short and Derek, Ricky Gervais rediscovered the balance of poignancy and acerbity that made The Office and Extras such classics with this affecting dark comedy. The Golden Globes’ enfant terrible plays a suicidal widower who decides to turn his life around by embracing the ‘superpower’ of brutal honesty. However, his motley crew of friends and acquaintances soon make him realize that kindness is a much healthier virtue. Essentially Scrooge set in a sleepy English village, After Life’s tale of redemption might not be Gervais’ most original work but it’s undoubtedly his most profound. Been So Long (Image credit: Netflix) Netflix’s stable of original British movies is much slimmer than its TV equivalent, but there are still a few hidden gems worth adding to your queue. For example, there’s Been So Long, which would undoubtedly have caught more attention had it dropped in the wake of the truly ground-breaking I May Destroy You Now. Michaela Coel is as magnetic as ever as a single mother who falls head over heels for a handsome ex-con in a London rom-com far more diverse than the fairy tales of Richard Curtis. Despite interspersing its love story with musical flights of fancy, it feels much truer, too. Outlaw King (Image credit: Netflix/David Eustace) Inevitably compared with Braveheart, David Mackenzie’s take on the Scottish War of Independence proved to be far more nuanced than Mel Gibson’s gung-ho Oscar winner. This time the action centers on Robert the Bruce rather than William Wallace, with Chris Pine impressing as the outlaw who rebels against the English occupation. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Florence Pugh also shine as the frenzied Lord of Douglas and shrewd young bride Elizabeth de Burgh, respectively, in a compelling history lesson which also boasts more than enough brutal battle scenes to keep the bloodthirsty happy. Netflix Originals' 10 best British TV shows and movies
  7. Review: Netflix debuts two solid German offerings with Biohackers and Freaks A biotech thriller and a German take on The X-Men are good—just not as good as Dark. Enlarge / Luna Wedler (left) plays a young medical student with a secret in in the German drama Biohackers, and Cornelia Gröschel (right) stars as a diner waitress who discovers she has super strength in the German film, Freaks: You're One of Us. Both are currently streaming on Netflix. Netflix/Sean Carroll As someone who enjoys discovering lesser-known films and TV series from around the world, I applaud Netflix's continued commitment to bringing a wide range of international fare to its platform—whether it's South Korean zombie horror/period drama, modern Norwegian reworkings of Norse mythology, Arabic supernatural YA dramas, or Belgian sci-fi thrillers. And the excellent sci-fi series Dark recently wrapped a mind-bending third and final season on Netflix. If that's left you peckish for more German Netflix fare, you might check out two recent debuts: a sci-fi thriller series, Biohackers, about an ambitious young medical student seeking revenge on her mentor for the scientific sins of the past; and a film called Freaks: You're One of Us, about a diner waitress who discovers she has a superpower—and she's not the only "freak" with a special gift. Neither even comes close to the multilayered conceptual level of Dark, alas, but both provide well-executed, solid entertainment—and you won't need a chart of multiple timelines to follow the plot. (Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.) First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. Biohackers As we reported previously, showrunner Christian Ditter is best known in the United States for directing the 2016 rom-com How to Be Single and for his work on the 2017 Netflix comedy Girlboss, based on the autobiography of Sophia Amoruso, who founded the company Nasty Gal. (Girlboss received mixed reviews and was cancelled after one season.) Jessica Schwarz, best known stateside for her performance in the 2006 thriller Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (based on the 1985 novel by Patrick Susskind), stars as Professor Tanja Lorenz. Swiss actress Luna Wedler plays Mia, a young medical student who gets drawn into the world of underground biohacking and illegal genetic-engineering experiments. Per the official premise: "When Mia begins her medical degree, she seems like any other student. But when she gains the trust of the brilliant Professor Lorenz, it becomes apparent that she's hiding a secret so big it could change the fate of humanity." The series opens with a number of train passengers suddenly falling ill, with Mia—the only one unaffected—trying desperately to save them. But we soon flashback to two weeks earlier, when she arrives in Freiburg to begin her medical studies at the university. Her new roommates are a quirky bunch. Lotta (Caro Cult) has aristocratic ties and a promiscuous bent. Ole (Sebastian Jakob Doppelbauer) is a hard-core biohacker who posts online videos detailing his extreme experiments on himself and laments his low follower count. And Chen-Lu (Jing Xiang) is a hyperactive, fast-talking genetics whiz who can't wait to demonstrate her "bio-piano" (musical plants) for Mia. When Mia meets Jasper (Adrian Julius Tillmann), Lorenz's right hand, she sees a chance to combine romance with gaining access to the professor's top-secret research—revenge for the wrongs she believes Lorenz visited upon her and her (now deceased) family. All the right science-y buzzwords are here, and there are no glaringly obvious howlers, although the idea that Lorenz could predict everything about a person based solely on their genetic profile is a major stretch for Purposes of the Plot. She is correct to be suspicious of Mia's (faked) DNA profile because Mia has freckles while lacking the primary gene responsible. But even a fairly simple trait like freckles likely has more than one genetic component. This is a minor quibble, since the science is mostly just decorative and secondary to the personal and professional intrigue anyway. Another minor quibble: one would expect the brilliant Mia—who shows up on day one of class having already done the required reading and plenty more besides—to be familiar with the green fluorescent protein that gives Jasper's pet mouse its greenish hue. The protein was first isolated in the 1960s and 1970s, and scientists have been making animals glow (under UV light) for at least two decades (mice, rabbits, cats, pigs, monkeys, and zebrafish, for instance). At times, Biohackers feels like it's trying too hard to be cool, but the writing is solid (if a bit predictable in early episodes), and the performances are strong (especially Schwarz and Tillman)—plus there are a couple of surprising twists. As is often the case with Netflix shows, it ends on a cliffhanger to set up a potential second season, and it's clear the game has changed dramatically. Pro tip: watch the (easily bingeable) six episodes in the original German with subtitles. Netflix offers an English-dubbed version, but it's pretty awful—especially whoever is voicing Ole as if he were a stoner surfer dude. Cornelia Gröschel stars as Wendy, a diner waitress who discovers she has a super power, in Freaks: You're One of Us. Freaks: You're One of Us If you're more in the mood for a German twist on The X-Men, Freaks: You're One of Us mostly delivers. Per the official premise: "Wendy (Cornelia Gröschel), a young working-class mom, realizes that years of medication have suppressed her latent supernatural powers. She meets a stranger, Marek (Wotan Wilke Möhring), with the same background, and finds out that her co-worker, Elmar (Tim Oliver Schultz), is also similarly gifted. Question is: what will she do with her new powers?" That's an accurate, succinct summation, and the first half of the film takes the time to flesh things out and set up some interesting dynamics. Wendy and her husband Lars (Frederic Linkemann) are struggling to pay the bills and are on the verge of being evicted. They can't even afford to fill the small pool in the backyard with water. She's due for a promotion at work, but her supervisor, Angela (Gisa Flake) keeps finding excuses to deny the admittedly timid Wendy advancement no matter how hard she works (Angela peppers her with aphorisms from the wise life lessons of Arnold Schwarzenegger instead). Wendy gets no respect from the customers and is frequently harassed by a group of men on her regular nightly walk home from work. There are also hints of a tragic childhood incident involving Wendy; she's been in therapy for years with Dr. Stern (Nina Kunzendorf). But when she meets the homeless Marek (Wotan Wilke Möhring) by the diner dumpsters, he tells her, "You're one of us" and urges her to go off her meds. She is curious, and frustrated, enough to give it a try. That's when her super-strength emerges. Marek can't be hurt or killed, and her co-worker Elmar (Tim Oliver Schultz) discovers he can channel electricity when he also goes off his meds. (He dubs himself "Electro-Man.") First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. It's Gröschel's sensitive, nuanced performance as Wendy that carries this film, as she slowly transforms from a meek, somewhat-depressed young woman with low confidence into someone who must now struggle to control a dangerous superpower—and elude the people who would try to muzzle her again. It's initially gratifying to see Wendy exact revenge upon the people who've taken advantage of her meekness in the past, but things begin to spiral out of control when Elmar convinces her they must find a way to use their powers for good—even as Marek urges them both to remain under the radar. ("We can't live with normal people. If they catch us, they'll lock us up.") Naturally, this puts further strain on her marriage, and puts her young son, Karl (Finnlay Berger) at risk. Unfortunately, after a very strong first half, Freaks falls prey to some predictable turns, because—let's face it—even if the term "mutants" is never used, we've seen some version of this story countless times before. We know the beats. That said, I liked the dry humorous touches, and the film's muted, bittersweet conclusion, which successfully avoids the typical Hollywood tropes when it comes to concluding superhero movies. The ending is not an obvious setup for a sequel, yet it leaves room for some interesting developments should a sequel transpire. I, for one, would be interested to see the next step in Wendy's evolution. Both Biohackers and Freaks: You're One of Us are currently streaming on Netflix. In German with English subtitles. Review: Netflix debuts two solid German offerings with Biohackers and Freaks (To view the article's image galleries, please visit the above link)
  8. The Devil All the Time is only good some of the time The dark thriller feels more lurid than compelling Image: Netflix Throughout The Devil All the Time’s sprawling story — which unfolds across generations, families, and two wars that shaped them all — men go to the woods to seek God, and instead find horror, usually of their own making. That horror stretches outward to the small rural towns of Knockemstiff, Ohio, and Coal River, West Virginia, usually under the shadow of a cross or not far from one. In this film, being a god-fearing person is an exercise in futility because this is a godless land. The Netflix film, based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock and directed by Antonio Campos, is a slow-burning rural gothic tale that begins with Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård) returning home from the War in the Pacific. He starts a family, and his traumas become their traumas as a violent man tries and fails to make up for his shortcomings with faith. In time, his wife Charlotte (Haley Bennett) succumbs to illness and dies, and Russell never recovers, dying by suicide and leaving his son Arvin (Tom Holland) an orphan. Image: Netflix Arvin’s life is molded by tragedies outside of his control and knowledge. He inherits little from his father other than a pistol and brutishness, taught to deliver retribution to men who wrong others. Unbeknownst to him, other tragedies surround his life: Roy Laferty (Harry Melling), a minister who thinks God will give him the power to raise the dead, murders his wife Helen (Mia Wasikowska). Meanwhile, Sandy and Carl Henderson (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough) a pair of married serial killers, begin their years-long murder spree, eventually killing Roy and leaving his daughter Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) an orphan. The years roll on, getting meaner all the time. As The Devil All the Time settles into Arvin’s teenage years about 45 minutes in — where it mostly remains — a new set of tragedies, beginning with the arrival of an opportunistic and sleazy preacher (Robert Pattinson) brings the films disparate threads together for a gruesome yet quiet denouement. Narrated by the author of the book upon which the film is based, The Devil All the Time takes on a novel’s texture but lacks its depth. Its talented cast delivers performances that are compelling to watch even as they are deeply unpleasant, but the artfully shot film fails to make much of the loaded imagery that fills each frame. War haunts the edges of this story, and God haunts its heart, yet The Devil All the Time is often little more than a voyeuristic exercise. Its characters rarely interact without the pretext of violence, and its scope resists moments of interiority the movie desperately needs. Ultimately, all the viewers have to hold on to is lovingly crafted misery. Maybe that misery is the point. Across its 138-minute runtime, it becomes harder to ignore that The Devil All the Time is unflinchingly centered on white faces, ignoring, like many period pieces, the existence of any black or brown Americans in its Midwestern gothic tale. It’s a curious, nagging deficiency in the film, but one that is also central to its horror and why it comes cloaked in the gospel. No matter how hard they pray or how fervent their belief, the denizens of Knockemstiff and Coal River succumb to monstrousness, an evil that is often exported in the name of faith and is finally coming home to roost. Perhaps the mountains of Knockemstiff lack brown faces because they’ve all been forced out and left to scrape by elsewhere. Perhaps what happens in The Devil All the Time is repayment for that and for violence enacted on others abroad. Perhaps the movie simply doesn’t care. The Devil All the Time is only good some of the time
  9. The Witcher: Blood Origin on Netflix: release date, story, setting and what to expect What we know about the Netflix prequel series (Image credit: Netflix) The Witcher: Blood Origin has been announced by Netflix and is a new installment into the world of The Witcher. This six-part live-action prequel TV show will take place hundreds of years before the main series, and will explore the origins of Witchers and the very first Witcher. Given the success of the first season of the Netflix and the fact that The Witcher season 2 was confirmed before the first even released, it's no real surprise that Blood Origin has been announced so early. It also shows how serious Netflix is about The Witcher, and it will hopefully result in more excellent stories set in the universe created by Andrzej Sapkowski. The Witcher: Blood Origin was announced in July 2020 with a tweet. The Witcher's showrunner Lauren Hissrich and Declan de Barra, a writer who worked on season 1, are behind this new series. So whatever Blood Origin ends up being, expect it to be faithful to the rich lore of the books. Here's a quick round-up of what we know about the prequel show so far. The Witcher: Blood Origin release date: when we expect to see it There is currently no release date for The Witcher: Blood Origin. Predicting one is tricky, too, particularly with the Covid-19 delays which have hampered almost all TV recording schedules. As a reference point, what we do know is that The Witcher season 2 only restarted filming and production in mid-August. Season 2 isn't expected until mid-2021 at the earliest – so we'd be surprised to see Blood Origin before 2022. A big wait is in order. The Witcher: Blood Origin – when will it be set? As stated in the announcement, The Witcher: Blood Origin will be set 1200 years before the world of The Witcher during the forever universe-altering Conjunction of the Spheres. Expect an emphasis on the ancient Elven society, tensions between races as they are introduced to each other, and the appearance – and disappearance – of the world due to the Conjunction. The Witcher: Blood Origin – what's going to happen? Setting the scene for the content of the show, Hissrich and de Barra tweet a little about what to expect from the show. Hissrich said she "always wanted to dive deeper into the myth and lore of the continent…" And a prequel not bound to existing stories in the Witcher books but still being able to draw on the rich world is a promising starting point and premise. De Barra said that he has long wanted to answer the question of "What was the Elven world really like before the cataclysmic arrival of the humans?", and added that the series "will tell the tale of the Elven civilization before its fall, and most importantly reveal the forgotten history of the very first Witcher." That's plenty to pique interest already. However, we can also glean some information and make educated guesses about the show's story from what we already know. Using Netflix's official synopsis as a starting point, we can start to dig into the series' events and stories: "Set in an elven world 1200 years before the world of The Witcher, Blood Origin will tell a story lost to time - the origin of the very first Witcher, and the events that lead to the pivotal ‘conjunction of the spheres', when the worlds of monsters, men, and elves merged to become one," says Netflix's synopsis. We think the two most important clues in this are the term 'Blood Origin' and the 'Conjunction of the Spheres' event. Blood Origin is surely a nod to the Elder Blood: the bloodline that Ciri is part of and that distinguishes her as special and powerful – dangerously so. The Elder Blood began with elven mages and was originally meant to be kept solely within the Elven race. This did not occur as one prominent carrier strayed from the elven line to begin a relationship with a human. Given this relates to such an important, and now established character in Ciri, it'll be incredibly interesting to see if Blood Origin shows us how the bloodline began. The Conjunction of the Spheres is arguably the single most important event in the world of The Witcher. It was a great magical cataclysm that linked many worlds, with multiple timelines and dimensions crossing over each other simultaneously. This resulted in the world being full to bursting with diverse races (including the introduction of humans, and the beginning of the gradual fall of the Elven society), and the vast array of terrifying monsters, and the introduction of magic. The Conjunction of the Spheres had effects that would last hundreds of years in this universe and is responsible for the rich and diverse makeup of the world – but also the danger, chaos, and uncertainty that prevails throughout it. So important is the Conjunction to the entire world of The Witcher, it harbors enormous potential for storytelling and framing the entire universe. A last, but important, note: the Elven/human mixing of the Elder Bloodline happened after the Conjunction of the Spheres, and the Witcher order came well after the Conjunction, too, so there's plenty of leaps that will need to be made to compress it all into the six episodes. The Witcher: Blood Origin – who might we see? Given Blood Origin's setting and where it sits on the timeline, we can expect a whole new character and cast list. More generally, what we can expect is a very prominent role to be played by the 'Elder races': those who came before humans. With particular emphasis on Elves – as explored above, due to their importance in the Conjunction and beginning the Elder bloodline. More Witcher is only a good thing for fans The Witcher: Blood Origin is going to appeal to all fans of the universe – whether you came into the fiction via the Netflix show, the books or the games. The origin story of the Witchers is a hell of a hook for a prequel. The Witcher: Blood Origin on Netflix: release date, story, setting and what to expect
  10. Netflix's Challenger Is a Gripping Look at NASA in Crisis A new four-part documentary about the ill-fated Challenger mission highlights the risk of putting bureaucracy before science in human spaceflight The new series collects a wealth of archival footage and adds new interviews with the families of the crew and NASA engineers involved with the flight.Photograph: NASA/Netflix It was an unusually frigid morning at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on January 28, 1986. For days, a cold front had gripped central Florida and caused temperatures to regularly dip below freezing. In the sprawling marshland across from Kennedy’s mission control room, technicians raced to clear the icicles that draped the space shuttle Challenger, which was scheduled to depart later that morning on its 10th orbital flight. It was an unprecedented prelaunch procedure, but NASA officials didn’t deem it a showstopper. Once the ice was cleared, Challenger and its seven occupants were go for launch. Challenger: The Final Flight, a new Netflix documentary that drops on Wednesday, opens with the countdown sequence for the ill-fated shuttle mission. Whether you’re a young space-history buff or old enough to have watched the launch live, the documentary’s intro can be hard to stomach. You know what comes next. You know that at first, everything seems fine. You know the facial expressions of the astronauts’ friends and family members cheering their loved ones as they blast into space. You know that approximately a minute after launch, the shuttle disintegrates above the Atlantic Ocean. And you know the shape of the explosion’s two white contrails as they snake across a clear blue sky. Their contours are immediately recognizable, a tragic skywritten message that is all the more terrible for its abstraction, its senseless twists and turns an emblem for the cold, unfeeling march of technological progress. But what you might not know—at least not entirely—is the chain of what the documentary describes as misjudgments and perverse priorities that made the Challenger disaster possible and led to the first deaths of American astronauts during flight. The four-part series collects a wealth of archival footage and adds new interviews with the families of the crew and NASA engineers involved with the flight. What emerges is a picture of NASA in crisis, where the bureaucratic demands of staying on schedule won out over the concerns of engineers about the safety of the vehicle. “I was in elementary school when it happened, and it impacted me very deeply to see that live, but the teacher turned the television off and we didn't talk about it,” says Steven Leckart, a codirector of the documentary and former WIRED correspondent. “I wanted to understand what I didn’t know at the time because I was a child. But nobody had quite captured the comprehensive story.” The Challenger documentary spends a lot of its first half following Christa McAuliffe, a high school social studies teacher from New Hampshire who was selected from more than 11,000 applicants to become the first “everyday” astronaut to fly on a NASA space mission. (McAuliffe is often described as the first civilian astronaut, but she was preceded by a senator and engineers from companies that worked on the shuttle.) Although each of the professional astronauts that would accompany McAuliffe to orbit get a comparably small amount of screen time, the focus on her feels natural. She was, after all, the star of the Challenger mission and a source of fascination for the American public. “The more footage we saw of Christa, the more endearing and incredible she became,” says codirector Daniel Junge. “She was the everywoman or, in the parlance of the time, ‘the girl next door.’ It was never hard to identify with her.” That makes the disaster all the more heartbreaking. Astronauts train their whole lives to prepare for spaceflight. They are the grizzled fighter pilots, engineers, and scientists who for years have been forced to grapple with and accept the extreme risks of their profession. But McAullife was just a teacher plucked from a small town. She was just your average American. She could have been anybody—even you. In the lead up to launch, McAullife was treated as a minor celebrity who seemed able to effortlessly charm talk-show hosts. And according to the documentary, this was exactly the effect that NASA officials hoped to achieve with the civilian astronaut program. They wanted to paint the space shuttle as a reliable mode of human space exploration that wasn’t much riskier than flying on a commercial airliner. If it was safe for a school teacher after only a few weeks of training, it was safe enough for everyone. But according to the testimony of several people featured in the doc, NASA’s public message conflicted with what many of its own engineers knew to be true: Every flight of the space shuttle was risky, and the circumstances surrounding this particular flight made it unsafe to launch. “I think the most fundamental impact of the Challenger disaster was discarding the myth that the shuttle was safe enough to put ordinary citizens on,” says John Logsdon, a space historian at George Washington University who was not involved with the documentary. “There was a pervasive groupthink in the organization that this is what we’ve promised, and even though we know this vehicle isn’t capable of that, we’re not going to say so.” The emotional rollercoaster of getting to know McAullife and the other astronauts who you know are doomed is a critical foil to the comparatively dry engineering drama that was simmering in the background. The cause of the Challenger disaster was ultimately determined to be a failed O-ring, a giant elastic band that was used to seal sections of the space shuttle’s two solid rocket boosters. Engineers at Morton-Thiokol, the contractor that manufactured the boosters for NASA, had noticed a disturbing tendency for the O-ring seals to fail during tests if temperatures were below about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. And when a cold snap hit Florida a few days before the Challenger mission, the weather was forecast to be in the low- to mid-30s during the launch. “Our engineers were concerned that the O-rings were going to be colder than any we’d ever launched and that it might be worse this time than we’d ever seen,” Joseph Kilminster, the vice president of Morton-Thiokol’s solid rocket booster program, says in the film. Brian Russell, an engineer at the company, concurs. “We believed the risk was higher, but we didn’t know how much higher,” he says in the doc. “We didn’t know the point of failure.” But despite these concerns, managers at Morton-Thiokol and NASA decided to forge ahead anyway. The question, of course, is why? Why would NASA and one of its contractors go against the advice of engineers who were concerned that the cold weather would cause a catastrophic failure? In the aftermath of the disaster, an investigation by a presidential commission found that managers at Morton-Thiokol “recommended the launch … contrary to the views of its engineers in order to accommodate a major customer.” This is also the conclusion that Junge and Leckart arrive at in their film. “The ultimate deciders had pressures that probably had an undue effect on making what was, in the end, a terrible decision,” says Junge, speaking to WIRED. NASA press representatives did not immediately respond to WIRED’s request for comment about this assessment. But in the documentary, William Lucas, the director of NASA’s Marshall Space Center, who received the brunt of the criticism for the disaster, says he would still make the same decision today with that data that he had received from Morton-Thiokol. “I did what I thought was right in light of the information I had,” he says in the documentary. NASA didn’t fly another astronaut for nearly three years following the Challenger disaster. In the interim, high-ranking engineers resigned amid strong criticisms about how they handled the mission, and the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters were redesigned to avoid similar failures. In the 35 years since that fateful January day, NASA has lost only one other crew of astronauts, during the shuttle Columbia’s return from space in 2003. By the time the shuttle program ended in 2011, 833 astronauts had flown on the one-of-a-kind spacecraft; 14 never came back. Earlier this year, NASA passed the torch to SpaceX, which became the first private company to launch American astronauts on a commercial rocket. SpaceX will now be one of the two main launch providers ferrying astronauts to orbit. And like NASA in the 1980s, SpaceX has plans to carry civilians into the final frontier, although its rockets have little in common with the space shuttle and come equipped with an escape system to carry astronauts to safety in the event of an explosion. For now, its customers are billionaires like the hotel magnate Robert Bigelow and the Japanese fashion titan Yusaku Maezawa. But Elon Musk has made it clear that in the future he wants his rockets to open up space for anybody who wants to go—that’s right, even you. At a time when the prospect of citizen spaceflight is on the cusp of becoming a reality, Challenger: The Final Flight is a sobering reminder that space exploration is an inherently risky business. “The message is that all factors have to be weighed,” says Junge. “Science needs to prevail rather than politics or pride.” Netflix's Challenger Is a Gripping Look at NASA in Crisis
  11. Why Are 2 Million People Still Getting Netflix DVDs by Mail? The company still gets a healthy slice of revenue from disc rentals—but the service has suffered as a result of the pandemic. Netflix made almost $300 million in revenue from its DVD service in 2019, but that’s dwarfed by the $20 billion it made from streaming subscribers over the same period.Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images Eric signed up for Netflix in around 2005—drawn in by the convenience. Instead of going to the local branch of Blockbuster to rent a movie, if you waited a couple of days it would arrive in the post, without your having to leave the house. And there was a huge selection of titles—much wider than a small local rental place would be able to stock. “I could sit at home and get almost any movie I wanted,” says the US-based project manager. By 2007, Netflix delivered its billionth DVD—a copy of Babel, dispatched to a customer in Texas from one of its 42 national distribution centers across America, which served 6.3 million subscribers. But the company’s business model was already starting to change. In January 2007, Netflix announced the launch of its streaming service—which quickly ballooned into a tech giant, with billions of dollars to spend on producing its own original content and 167 million subscribers across 190 countries. But Eric, now aged 41, kept on getting DVDs and Blu-Rays by mail—sometimes he watched them and sent them back quickly, other times they sat unopened for months. For most of us, the idea of deciding you want to watch a film, and then waiting for a rental copy to be physically mailed to you seems almost comically quaint. But Eric is far from alone. Of all the huge numbers marking out Netflix’s rapid growth, perhaps this is the most surprising: There are still more than 2 million people in the United States getting Netflix DVDs by post. Some subscribers value the wider range of options available on DVD. As Netflix has grown its streaming service, the selection of good films seems to have shrunk (even if the overall number has grown), as the company focuses its efforts on original television shows and documentaries. For some customers, like Jennifer from San Francisco, DVDs represent the best way to see new releases as soon as possible. “There were more titles and newer movie releases than on cable premium channels like HBO and Showtime, and I wanted to watch more of those,” she says—although getting the most popular titles sometimes meant a long wait. “The selection is much larger than on the streaming service,” says Eric, who also has a Netflix streaming account, as well as Hulu, Amazon Prime, and occasionally Disney+. “Streaming is great if I want to sit on the couch and watch something right now. However, streaming services may not be great if you want to watch a particular movie.” Internet speeds are another factor. Some rural parts of the US still have poor internet infrastructure, and streaming eats up allowances for customers who may have a monthly data cap. For film buffs, image quality is a further consideration. “There is still compression in streaming movies,” says Eric, who has just watched The Matrix Reloaded on Blu-ray and has Lawrence of Arabia and Sunshine in his queue. “I notice compression artifacts in streaming movies at times, and they are distracting. Also, I feel that certain movies are extremely appealing visually, and I prefer those in Blu-ray.” None of the people we spoke to knew anyone else who was still getting DVDs by mail, and subscriber numbers to the service are falling at a rate of half a million a year. The company still makes a healthy amount of revenue from DVD rentals—almost $300 million in 2019 according to a recent SEC filing—though that’s dwarfed by the $20 billion it made from streaming subscribers over the same period. It’s unclear how much longer Netflix will keep its DVD service operating. In 2011, it tried to spin it out into a separate brand (called Qwikster), which would have seen subscribers paying separately for DVDs and streaming. The company was forced to do a U-turn after customer outcry—it lost half of its stock value in two months and shed 800,000 subscribers. In December 2019, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said he was in no hurry to get rid of it—and that he could see it lasting at least another five years. Coronavirus has proven both a blessing and a curse from that perspective—people have a lot more time, and they’re realizing that the streaming library doesn’t quite have the depth they’d like, so some are turning back to old media. Joe, a 45-year-old freelance writer from Colorado, actually resubscribed to Netflix’s DVD service recently. “We used to have Netflix DVD years ago, like a lot of people, but we reactivated just within the last month because streaming Netflix has a comparatively terrible selection of movies,” he says. “Several of the movies we wanted to see aren’t available on any streaming platform.” But the service has suffered as a result of the pandemic. The much publicized problems the US Postal Service has been having means it’s been difficult for people to return and receive new discs—films are taking three or four days to arrive instead of one or two. And the lack of new movie releases means there have been fewer and fewer DVDs actually coming out for people to watch—users on Reddit are complaining that none of the films near the top of their queue are available. “The only reason I haven't canceled is because of hope and curiosity,” says Jennifer. “I have come close to canceling. I have gone down my list of DVD titles, as the older titles get closer to being mailed I have had to take out the titles I watched already and I’m left with not so much to watch. If by December they haven't come out with new releases, I may very well cancel my membership.” This story originally appeared on WIRED UK. Why Are 2 Million People Still Getting Netflix DVDs by Mail?
  12. Gwyneth Paltrow’s pseudoscience Goop series renewed on Netflix An apt addition to 2020. Enlarge / Promotional image of Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow emerging from a stylized depiction of the female genital anatomy. Netflix Gwyneth Paltrow—actor, pseudoscience-peddler, empowerer of women, and person who recently learned what a vagina is—will return to Netflix with a second season of The Goop Lab. The six-episode docuseries of Paltrow’s wellness and “contextual commerce” empire, Goop, has been renewed, according to an exclusive report by Variety. The first season, which oozed onto the streaming platform in late January of this year, followed Paltrow and her exploited Goopers as they aimlessly took to the high seas of junk science and marinated in snake oil spas. Individual episodes explored important topics such as the bright side of hypothermia, the powers of a magician who can massage your aura with moves he learned watching The Karate Kid, Goopers tripping on mushrooms for pretty much no reason at all, the benefits of a $50 salmon fillet, and how to be a fortune-teller in case you need a back-up career in the circus. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. The bright spot of the season, by far, was an episode that featured the work of feminist sex educator Betty Dodson. Not only is Dodson a knowledgeable and respected expert in her field and a worthy person to amplify, the episode featured an exchange between her and Paltrow in which it became painfully clear that Paltrow does not have a firm grasp of the female anatomy. She literally did not know what a vagina is. Goopy past Of course, none of this is surprising to those familiar with Goop. Prior to its Netflix debut, the company was perhaps best known for selling—and making allegedly illegal health claims about—a jade egg intended to be shoved up women’s vaginas. (Although, based on the episode with Dodson, who knows where Paltrow was actually putting it.) Another item on the mind-blowing lineup of Goop products is a device to spurt hot coffee up your keister. The $135 enema device is called—I kid you not—the Implant O’Rama. There are also water bottles with giant crystals inside to infuse your beverage with “positive energy,” bags of “magically charged” stones, and “energy healing” body stickers falsely claimed to be made of “NASA space suit material.” Goop also sold $90 vitamins and a $350 rose gold crazy drink straw. It endorsed being repeatedly stung by bees, which can be deadly. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. You might think—or hope—that with such complete and blatant hooey, this “contextual commerce” brand would be a dud on the market. But sadly, Paltrow has built up Goop into a $250 million empire, with storefronts popping up on multiple continents, and of course the Netflix deal. In a desperate effort to see a silver lining in this tragedy of human folly, you might next cynically hope that the Netflix series was at least amusing, an unwitting parody of grifter wellness gurus—complete with a cast of absurd characters (Paltrow chief among them) in utterly ridiculous scenarios. But sadly, that, too, is a disappointment. The first season of The Goop Lab was as boring and dry as it was devoid of sensibility and critical thinking skills. Paltrow’s female anatomy blooper was the clear climax of the six episodes, a shock paddle-delivered jolt to an otherwise lifeless series. If you listen closely, I believe you can hear a member of the production team yell “clear!” right beforehand. Darkness ahead So—as only fitting for this bleak year of 2020—we are gifted with another six-episode season. And there is no reason to think that it will be any better than the first. In comments to Variety in February, Paltrow dismissed valid criticism of her series and empire by suggesting it was Internet clickbait, solely produced to make profit off her famous name. “That kind of media, a lot of it is dying. The business model is failing, and they’re turning to the tabloidization to get the clicks,” said Paltrow—a woman who set aside a dwindling acting career to "milk the shit out of" the multi-trillion-dollar wellness industry and make millions touting pseudoscience. Paltrow did magnanimously add that she is open to criticism if “it was something I could learn from.” Well, she has us there. We can only do so much, you know, beyond legal settlements, court orders, and at least $145,000 in civil penalties. So in this horrible year of unrest, with bitter and deep divisiveness and a global health crisis plagued by misinformation, another steaming pile of Goop episodes seems apt. And Paltrow has fully embraced the moment: “What I think is great is that we are a brand that people feel strongly about,” Paltrow said. “One way or the other.” Gwyneth Paltrow’s pseudoscience Goop series renewed on Netflix (To view the article's image galleries, please visit the above link)
  13. Hate Social Media? You’ll Love This Documentary The Social Dilemma argues that humanity’s greatest existential threat is not climate change, but Facebook. Interspersed throughout The Social Dilemma are dramatic scenes of a fictional family whose son is being radicalized by YouTube. Courtesy of Netflix As a documentary filmmaker, Jeff Orlowski seems preoccupied with the destruction of the world. His 2012 film Chasing Ice captured the devastating effects of climate change on melting glaciers. In 2017 he documented the erosion of coral reefs in Chasing Coral. His latest film, The Social Dilemma, takes aim at an even greater danger: social media. The Social Dilemma suggests, more than once, that social media represents “humanity’s greatest existential threat.” I first heard that phrase last April, at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco, where the technologist Tristan Harris unveiled a “new agenda for tech.” Harris, a former Googler, had spun his ethical concerns about social media and screen time into a new nonprofit, the Center for Humane Technology, which he formally introduced that day onstage. Many of us were sympathetic to the cause, calling to mind the devils we knew: misinformation, manipulation, virality, addiction, filter bubbling, FOMO. But Harris was here to crank up the concern. We were being controlled, like voodoo dolls in the palms of Big Tech. We were being chopped up and sold, like factory farmed meat. This wasn’t just a battle for our attention, Harris said. If we didn’t do something now, it would be the end of humanity as we knew it. After the presentation, over hors d'oeuvres in the lobby, I talked to the founder of a large social website that was preparing to IPO. What did you think, I asked. Compelling stuff, he told me, really interesting. We chatted for a while, eyes wide as they adjusted to the light outside of the theater and the reality that we would have to return to work soon—his at the social platform, mine writing about social platforms. We both liked the presentation. But neither of us could really grasp it in a sentence to summarize what, specifically, had gone so wrong with technology, or how, exactly, we were supposed to fix it. The same feeling arises after watching The Social Dilemma, which arrives on Netflix today. The documentary takes aim at the humanity-crushing effects of social media, with footage of Harris’ presentation at the SFJazz Center woven throughout. Like that presentation, the documentary carries an air of gravitas. It prosecutes its case like a trial lawyer, calling one witness after another up to the stand. They include many of the great architects of social media as we know it today—people like Tim Kendall, Facebook's former director of monetization; Justin Rosenstein, who invented the Like button; and Guillaume Chaslot, who created the recommended-video infrastructure for YouTube—all of whom denounce their former work. But while The Social Dilemma establishes that there is a problem, it struggles to locate the source of the stink. The film begins with an offscreen producer asking technologists what, exactly, is wrong with social media. It ends with those same technologists offering their prophecies for the future. Mostly, it shows the technologists squirming in their seats, unsure of where to begin. Eventually, though, they start talking. According to them, the problems are thus: We spend too much time on social media. We do this because, in essence, we have no choice. The people who work at tech companies have invested infinite money, time, and engineering power to design systems that keep us hooked, and which predict our every move. It’s how they make money: We are not the user, we are the product (such clichés are repeated frequently). Mark Zuckerberg and Susan Wojcicki are billionaires; meanwhile, everyone else has given up happiness, knowledge, intimacy, spontaneity, time with our families, free will. We are pawns in a horrible scheme. We are living in 2.7 billion individual Truman Shows. We are living in the Matrix! A bit over the top, sure, but this is not a film of subtlety. Orlowski underscores these critiques with a bizarre dramatized narrative that runs throughout the film, in which actors portray one imagined family’s stereotypical conflicts with technology. There is no eye contact at the dinner table, a teenage daughter with social-media-damaged self-esteem, and a teenage son who starts listening to increasingly radical videos on his phone. At one point, while the teenage boy is glued to his phone, the film cuts to a metaphorical “control center” of people manipulating the boy’s feed, while “I Put a Spell on You” plays in the background. Just in case you weren’t paying attention. Many things in The Social Dilemma, but especially this family’s arc, feel stale in 2020. Yes, our phones have changed the way we interact with our families and friends. And yes, kids are extra vulnerable. But none of this feels especially new, or even interesting. Harris, after all, has been making these points for years, and he is far from alone in that. Even social media executives like Zuckerberg have admitted that their platforms need more supervision, from parents and lawmakers alike. Watching The Social Dilemma during the coronavirus pandemic adds a dash of irony. The film arrives at a time when many American schools have pivoted to online learning, record numbers of Americans are working from home, and reliable internet is more precious than ever. Even social media has new value, as a way to connect with the friends and family we cannot see in person. These platforms are enmeshed in our lives. Those who don’t have access to phones, computers, or stable WiFi may find, in 2020, that they have not achieved some kind of Zenlike nirvana, but are instead left out of work, school, and the rest of society. The Social Dilemma gestures at the distinction between “good” technology and “bad” technology; at one point, Harris concedes that the invention of ride hailing apps feels like magic. On balance, though, the film muddies its criticisms, alternating between attacks on social media specifically and technology more broadly. At times, it also oversimplifies the impact of social media on society as a whole. For example, it advances the idea that a spike in teenage depression can be traced back to the rise of social media. This is the first generation of American kids to grow up with Instagram accounts, sure, but they’re also reckoning with the irreversible effects of climate change, wavering democracy, racism, decline of social institutions, helicopter parenting, and so many other things that might, perhaps, contribute to the blues. (Many experts have cautioned against drawing such a direct causal relationship between social media and mental health for that reason.) And while social media can exacerbate problems like bullying, loneliness, or unrealistic beauty standards, it certainly didn’t invent them. Harris finally acknowledges this at the end of The Social Dilemma. Social media itself is not the existential threat. Rather, it’s the way that social media surfaces and amplifies the worst of humanity. The war, then, is not so much with Big Tech as it is with humanity’s horrible impulses. It’s a brief moment of sapience in a film that otherwise works to scare its viewers into awareness. Unfortunately, neither Harris nor the documentary offer much practical advice to those who are already awake. Anyone who spends more than a few minutes on social media knows that it’s a mess. What are we supposed to do about it? Responsibly, the producers ask that very question towards the end of the documentary. The technologists throw out a few ideas: Tweak the design. Change the business model. Make new regulations. Shut down the companies altogether. Mostly, though, they answer with blank stares. Hate Social Media? You’ll Love This Documentary
  14. I’m Thinking of Ending Things: The most un-Netflix “Netflix film” to date “You’re being willfully obtuse,” Lucy says to Jake (and not to Charlie Kaufman, I think). The trailer for I'm Thinking of Ending Things Lost in all the hype around the release of two surefire blockbusters with very different approaches to the current state of cinema, this weekend Netflix quietly debuted the first Charlie Kaufman film in five years: I'm Thinking of Ending Things. Kaufman's enigmatic and absurd worlds—from Adaptation to Being John Malkovich to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—often hinge on big concepts and even bigger ideas. So while the director's work may not have the same audience potential as Tenet or Mulan, it can really stick with you (Eternal Sunshine made Ars' list of the best sci-fi ever, for instance). To a subset of film fans, this is definitely the most anticipated film of Labor Day weekend 2020. The fact that Kaufman finally opted to partner with a major streaming service means I'm Thinking of Ending Things theoretically has the potential to help the filmmaker find his biggest audience, too. But, well... while I'm Thinking of Ending Things was always going to be somewhat bizarre, the most perplexing thing about it may be calling it a "Netflix film." Prepare to hit play on the platform's oddest release to date. Home on the range Quantum physics student Lucy (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) set out for rural Oklahoma farmland so she can meet his parents for the first time. The two haven't been dating very long, but Lucy's inner thoughts already suggest they won't be dating much longer. "I should be excited, looking towards the first of many—but I'm not," Lucy narrates early in their claustrophobic car ride. When they finally arrive? "Everything has to die, that’s the truth... it’s a uniquely human fantasy that things will get better, born, perhaps, out of a uniquely human understanding that they will not.” But still, Lucy sees Jake as fine. He treats her nicely. He has interests and a drive to improve. And evidently family matters to him, because he'll navigate what looks like a developing blizzard for this dinner. Lucy needs to get home tonight to make it to work in the morning, and Jake initially commits to that tight timeline, too. The blizzard quickly becomes the least of Lucy's concerns, though. Jake's parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) almost immediately come across as strange. Harmless, based on first impressions, but totally strange. And by the time dessert has been brought out, Lucy senses something's up. She keeps getting missed calls from "Lucy." The family dog won't stop shaking off non-existent water. And pictures of baby Jake on the wall intermittently look a whole awful lot like baby Lucy. Jake warned her the old farmhouse didn't have much to it, particularly its nondescript bedrooms upstairs and the unfinished basement beneath. But as the blizzard keeps worsening and Jake slowly loses his enthusiasm for heading back promptly, Lucy starts exploring what she believed to be a farmhouse but what increasingly seems to be some fixed place with very fluid definitions of time and reality. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. Lucy, I don't know what I'm seeing either I'm Thinking of Ending Things leans so hard into the abstract that you can't help but wonder what the full picture is even while your viewing is in progress. Normally, that's part of the charm with a Kaufman film, but it's a dangerous proposition with something exclusive to Netflix. In the pre-quarantimes, once you purchased a ticket for the theater, you were pot committed and focused only on the screen. But a streaming movie today has to compete for your attention again and again as you're stuck at home with others and your phone is within arm's reach. I'm Thinking of Ending Things will test many viewers' commitment more than a few times over its two-hours-plus. This project was envisioned for Netflix from the start, so it's surprising how un-Netflix the final version feels. Yes, the streaming service has other examples of truly indulgent filmmaking (Roma) and meandering, methodically paced stories (The Irishman), but those films are the exceptions. Netflix more regularly excels at lean, fast-moving films across genres, from Extraction to To All the Boys I Loved Before to Dolemite Is My Name. By contrast, the first half hour of I'm Thinking of Ending Things takes place entirely in a dimly lit car with Lucy and Jake in close up. Things truly ratchet up when Lucy and Jake reach the farmhouse, but even that is fleeting. Soon Jake and Lucy escape back to their car, where lengthy discussions of filmmaker John Cassavetes’s 1974 thriller A Woman Under the Influence, David Foster Wallace's legacy, and the nature of personality soon follow. “You’re being willfully obtuse,” Lucy says to Jake (and not to Kaufman, I think). Overall, I'm Thinking of Ending Things comes off very stage play-y: minimal sets (the car, the farmhouse, a Dairy Queen knock-off, and a school), long scenes made of very little action and very in-depth dialogue, and lots of quotes, ideas, or moments that feel allegorical as they're happening. (This surface-level analogy gets amplified by a few spoiler-y things, too.) The performances can also have their volume turned all the way up quite often. Thewlis and Collette in particular clearly had green lights to lean into their characters' weirdness as much as they pleased, and Plemons' Jake fluctuates between feeling like an illusion and a newish-but-uninspiring boyfriend. I had more than a few flashbacks to parsing Waiting for Godot in high school English class: in I'm Thinking of Ending Things, eventually you realize what's being grappled with in script was always meant to be more important than what's happening in front of your eyes. Kaufman has made his career on surrealist cinema, and I'm Thinking of Ending Things has just as many ideas and just as much disregard for the laws of nature as his previous works—it just doesn't land everything as cleanly. At times, I found myself wondering if we were in the mind of someone battling with dementia: Jake, for instance, calls Lucy "Louisa" and "Lucia" in conversation and no one skips a beat; we also see people who appear at different ages within the same "night." Or, maybe this farm is a manifestation of the idea that your entire life flashes before you right before death, as through Lucy we seem to see Jake's existence stuck in fast forward. Supporting characters from Jake's mom to the young woman making milkshakes at a Dairy Queen knock-off all seem to break the fourth wall to warn Lucy of some trouble ahead, the title could be interpreted in a more fatal light, and Lucy's inner monologue homes in on the nature of existence a lot: “We’re stationary, time passes through us… leaving us, I don’t know, dead,” she says at one point. “It’s tragic how few people possess their souls before they die,” she ponders at another. And if I'm Thinking of Ending Things ultimately wants to say something about relationships, that something definitely isn't hopeful. Eternal Sunshine, Kaufman's masterpiece, centers on the same topic and argues the journey of falling in love is worth traversing through even if the ultimate destination is a tragic ending more often that not. But more than a decade later, Kaufman has a much different tune to play. Lucy trudges forward with Jake in this increasingly down spiraling moment without Jake showcasing any redeeming qualities. He acts like a walking citation correcting Lucy with regularity, he fails to recognize her increasingly urgent pleas to get home, and he can't be bothered to keep details of their relationship origins straight. If relationships are destined to be like this, Lucy's struggle suggests don't get in the car at all. I'm Thinking of Ending Things will probably become a film that's more fun to think through, read about, or discuss than it is to watch—which, again, feels a little counterintuitive to everything else Netflix has up to this point. Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail called it his favorite film of the year while simultaneously noting its, um, lack of plot on Twitter. Personally, I quickly went scrambling for a summary of the book that inspired this, Ian Reid's 2016 debut novel of the same name. That maybe made what I saw "fit" into an idea a bit better; certainly some of Lucy's quotes ring differently: "Most people are other people: their thoughts are someone else’s opinion, their lives are mimicry, their passions a quotation." All that assumes Kaufman wanted to remain loyal to the original story, which is not guaranteed. Even before we knew theaters wouldn't be an option, this auteur intended to eschew a lot of the characteristics now associated with the streaming format. I'm Thinking of Ending Things would likely play better in an art house cinema with a cafe waiting for audiences right outside, but much like Lucy's ultimate fate, we will never know. Listing image by Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX © 2020 I’m Thinking of Ending Things: The most un-Netflix “Netflix film” to date (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  15. Why Cobra Kai has become Netflix's latest sleeper hit TV show The Karate Kid sequel series kicks ass (Image credit: Netflix) Cobra Kai racked up 90 million views for its opening episode on YouTube, boasts a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score for its first season and was even once declared as the streaming world's most in-demand original series. But do you know anyone who actually watched it? Yes, despite such impressive statistics, the belated continuation of The Karate Kid franchise still seems to have flown somewhat under the radar during its two-year run on YouTube Premium. But just as it did with Lifetime's stalker drama You, Netflix has acquired a highly watchable show struggling to make any notable impression at its original home and transformed it into a pop culture phenomenon. At the time of writing, Cobra Kai is number one on the Netflix charts in both the US and the UK. The response has been so overwhelming, in fact, that its creators are already discussing the prospect of spin-offs, and season 3 – which has already been filmed – is coming in 2021. So what exactly has reignited interest in the world of bonsai trees, illegal crane kicks and menial chores masquerading as muscle memory techniques? Well, first and foremost, Cobra Kai is that rare revival which manages to further its story while still respecting its legacy. Indeed, picking up 34 years after Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) defeated his nemesis Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) at the All-Valley Karate Tournament, the show delivers plenty of fan service to kids of the '80s. There are nods to various memorable scenes from the 1984 box office hit, including the skeleton Halloween costumes, balancing routines and, of course, “wax on, wax off.” Actual footage from the movie is also cleverly interspersed throughout as characters reminisce about the good old days, and some bad ones too. And despite the 2005 death of Pat Morita – who received an Oscar nomination for his performance as Daniel's eternally wise sensei – Mr. Miyagi remains a strong, if ghostly, presence. There are also returns for Daniel's interfering mother Lucille (Randee Heller), sadistic coach John Kreese (Martin Kove) and, for a particularly poignant second season episode, three members of Johnny's old crew. It's clear that the show's three screenwriters are longtime Karate Kid fans, that's for sure, and they all have form when it comes to riding the nostalgia train too. Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz helped bring back Jim, Stifler and company a decade on in the surprisingly touching American Reunion, while Josh Heald sent John Cusack spinning back to the 1980s in bawdy bro comedy Hot Tub Time Machine. Yet you don't have to be familiar with this staple of the VHS era to find Cobra Kai thoroughly entertaining. Sure, you may be more invested in Daniel and Johnny's rivalry if you grew up trying to recreate their climactic first battle in your back yard. But the writers give the arch enemies plenty of reasons to hate each other in the modern day too, while the flashback sequences help to fill in any gaps for anyone new to their story. (Image credit: Guy D'Alema/Netflix) Interestingly, Cobra Kai is far more nuanced when it comes to determining who the real bad guy is this time around, if, indeed, there's even one at all. We first meet the characters in polar opposite circumstances. Daniel owns a successful car dealership, has the 2.4 children lifestyle in a swanky mansion and somehow still looks at least ten years younger than he actually is. Johnny, meanwhile, is a drunken deadbeat dad living in a rundown apartment whose litany of regrets are etched across his face. Karma can be a bitch, right? However, as the latter reluctantly becomes a mentor to Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) – the asthmatic teenage neighbor he saves from a vicious beating – and finds purpose in reviving the Cobra Kai dojo, the sympathy starts to continually shift. Of course, Johnny is often still a boorish jerk stuck in a 1980s time warp (in perhaps the most suspension-disbelieving scene, he claims to have never even heard of Facebook). But his initial attempts to drum up business are so pitiful that it's hard not to cheer for the guy when a bunch of misfits eventually pay for the privilege of constantly being called “pussies.” Daniel might be a far more respectable 21st century man. But he's not without his moments of being an asshole, either, often using his privilege to gain an unfair advantage for his own dojo, while also denying Johnny the chance to redeem himself as a father figure to estranged son Robby (Tanner Buchanan). As a result, viewers' allegiances can quite easily change from episode to episode. It's a similar situation with the younger cast members. Miguel starts out as the underdog who we all want to succeed on the mat and get the girl. By the time he does, however, he's been corrupted by his sensei's more boorish tendencies. Robby heads the other way, evolving from a Molly-dealing, thieving truant into Daniel's most committed pupil. Eli (Jacob Bertrand) undergoes an even more radical transformation, developing from a meek and mild nerd bullied for his appearance into a tattooed, mohawked thug. (Image credit: Sony) If this all sounds a little too intense – and the second season cliffhanger certainly ups the ante on this front – then the writers also counterbalance all the verbal and physical smackdowns with a knowing sense of humor. Johnny's inability to understand that modern life has moved on from boomboxes and hair metal is always a source of amusement; likewise Demetri (Gianni Dicenzo), the relentlessly sarcastic nerd who prefers to do his trash-talking on Yelp. Paul Walter Hauser is also a great addition to the second season cast as the oldest and most overenthusiastic member of Cobra Kai, Stingray. Sadly, the female characters aren't as well-written or defined. Daniel's wife Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) has a natural charm but still spends most of her time trying to dampen the fun, while his daughter Samantha (Mary Mouser) and her love triangle drama with Robby and Miguel drag the show down to soapy teen drama territory. Only Aisha (Nichole Brown) gets to be as badass as the guys. No doubt anticipation will be at fever pitch by then as word of mouth continues to build, in a manner similar to The Karate Kid's original theatrical release. The film never reached any higher than No.4 on the U.S. box office chart but still spent an incredible 18 consecutive weeks in the Top 10 on its way to a $100 million domestic gross. But with all the talk of at least six seasons and spin-offs, let's just hope the makers remember the words of Mr. Miyagi: Trust the quality of what you know, not quantity. Cobra Kai seasons 1 and 2 are now streaming on Netflix worldwide. Why Cobra Kai has become Netflix's latest sleeper hit TV show
  16. Why The Office is still a massive Netflix hit, 15 years after it started We speak to Brian Baumgartner, who played Kevin in the show and hosts Spotify's An Oral History of The Office podcast (Image credit: NBC Universal) According to a Nielsen report from last year, The Office was still Netflix's number one show in the US. It's arguably a problem for the world's biggest premium streaming service, then, that it'll soon lose the show to the free-to-stream Peacock service – it'll represent the end of an era for the series in a lot of ways. Netflix and The Office were perfect for each other. It's the ideal bingeable sitcom, and so many younger people discovered the show that way, without necessarily being familiar with its origins as a weekly NBC show that ended in 2013. "My belief was a great number of people, the young viewers who don't even know what NBC is, believe that the show just sort of always existed on Netflix," says Brian Baumgartner, who played Kevin on the show, and hosts the recent podcast An Oral History of The Office on Spotify. This is part of the narrative of the podcast. After a bumpy first season in 2005, The Office firmly emerged from the shadow of its UK predecessor in its second season ,helped enormously by the success of Steve Carell's film 40 Year-Old Virgin, and became a smash hit for the remainder of its run. Yet the show's appeal hasn't waned in the time since The Office went off of the air – it's arguably only increased, and this is part of what led to this podcast's creation. "There were a number of reasons that we decided to do it, but one of which is we have so many young viewers now and people who had found the show later," Baumgartner explains. "I think the story that happened behind the scenes is as compelling as what happened in front of the camera in terms of the difficulty we had getting picked up initially, how close we were to only doing six episodes of the show, and then how we almost [only] did 12. All of us thought we were done at that point. It's been been fun to hear people who didn't know that story – and didn't know the story of how the casting was constructed." An Oral History of The Office is impressive because of the level of access – everyone from network executives to original UK Office creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are interviewed by Baumgartner. The main cast is all accounted for, too, including Steve Carell, John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer. You truly get an insider's perspective of how it happened – and the story is surprisingly dramatic at times. "For me, what's crazy about it is that we were the number one show on NBC for most of the time we were on. We were the number one scripted show on NBC. But the fact [is]...the show is even bigger than it was then, it's become this cultural phenomenon." Baumgartner also wanted to explore "the attraction that young people have to the show" in the podcast, and whether the way the series was brought to life by this group of people, including executive producer Greg Daniels and director Ken Kwapis, is part of the reason it's so evergreen. "Is there something about how the show was constructed, how the team was put together, how the cast was made, that that gave it some sort of special sauce that has led to its longevity? And not just surviving – but thriving now, seven years after we'd filmed our last shot." Baumgartner found it pretty simple to get his old colleagues on-board for the podcast. "It was really fairly easy. I have maintained a connection to a lot of the people and had a special connection that sort of crossed disciplines, from producers to writers and directors, and cast. I was surprised at how generously people gave up their time and how like myself, people wanted to go back there." Executive producer of The Office, Ben Silverman, who originally got the rights from Gervais, Merchant and the BBC in the early '00s, is one of the producers behind the podcast too. There are hours of extra interview material that didn't make the finished series of podcast episodes, and some of it is likely to emerge at some point or another in the future, Baumgartner teases. "I think that there's a chance that you're going to hear some more of the material." We ask if the reason The Office's popularity persists is down to the characters, and the way they resonate with audiences. "Ben Silverman says: it's just funny. So I think I think there's some truth to that. Like, it's just funny and it holds up. But yes, I do think that is the case." It also comes down to the fact that office life is very relatable to many people, even if this year, many have seen their working environment change. "There was some narrative as we were shooting the show that 200 million Americans work in offices across the country. So as we were making the show, and we were struggling early on, [we were like], 'if we can just get a small percentage of those people to relate to the show, then we're gonna be great.' Right? Like, we get 10% of that, or 5% of that. Okay, that's a 10 million audience. That's great." "But none of us knew the attraction that young people would have to the show. And I think that the parallel between being stuck in an office with an unreasonable boss, and having to go to school with a sometimes unreasonable teacher, the parallel of those two places – being stuck together with a specific group of people that you haven't chosen with a boss that maybe you don't like – I think that that's more real than I thought. That really does exist, and the archetypes for those characters exist not just in workplaces or in families, but in schools as well. I think that's a part of the attraction to younger people watching the show." Acts of kindness An Oral History of The Office also allowed Baumgartner to learn things about the show he never knew before. We ask what surprised the host in the making of the podcast – and mostly it came down to the kind acts of the cast and crew. "Greg Daniels sending an individual check to every single crew member out of his own bank account – I never knew that story," Baumgartner says. This is an act revealed to the host in real-time on the podcast. When the Writer's Guild of America went on strike in 2007-08, Daniels made this magnanimous gesture to non-writer colleagues who depended on the show's production for income. Baumgartner also points to another big gesture by the show's lead actor. "Steve Carell standing up when NBC wanted to cut the budget and potentially some cast and saying, 'No, no, you're not doing that.' There are a number of stories like that that happened throughout that were stories that were so good, and yet the fact that I didn't know those stories, made me see the people involved in an even higher light." If you're a fan, the podcast is illuminating, and it covers the complete run of the show, including the later introductions of new characters like Andy (Ed Helms) and Erin (Ellie Kemper), and the eventual departure of Carell as Michael Scott. We ask Baumgartner about his personal favorite episode of The Office. "My favourite episodes, and maybe this is how my brain works and so why the podcast is the way it is, are like 'The Injury', where Michael burns his foot on the George Foreman Grill – it doesn't get any funnier than that for an episode of television in my mind. Mindy Kaling wrote an incredible episode. I never mentioned that one because for me, so much of it is tied into what was happening around the show. So like our second episode, 'Diversity Day', that was the moment where I thought, 'Oh, man, we're doing something different and cool'." "I always think about the Christmas episode, our first Christmas episode, in season two ['Christmas Party']. It was the first really big ensemble [episode] – every single character had something to do. It was the first time we got over 10 million viewers on NBC, and it's when the video iPod came out for the first time and we became the number one show on that." The Office's fortunes were helped by the success of episodic downloads on the iPod, with the show regularly topping the charts. Baumgartner continues. "For me, a big one is 'Stress Relief', which is Dwight and the fake fire drill and the CPR and it's an amazing episode. Also, I'm a big sports fan and football fan. An that was the episode that aired after the Super Bowl that year and gave us our largest audience we've ever had on a single night for the show. Maybe that's weird or whatever, I think they're great episodes. But for me, it's always tied into what was kind of happening around [the show], if that makes sense." All 10 episodes of An Oral History of The Office are streaming now. Click the link above if you fancy listening. (Image credit: Spotify) An Oral History of The Office is available now on Spotify. The Office is streaming now on Netflix in the US, and will be streaming on Peacock starting in 2021. In the UK, you can watch it on Amazon Prime Video and Sky/Now TV. In Australia, it's streaming on Stan, Foxtel Now and Amazon Prime Video. Why The Office is still a massive Netflix hit, 15 years after it started
  17. Netflix begins offering select content for free without a subscription Netflix is letting users around the globe watch some of its originals for free. The streaming service added a web portal for watching content without signing up for the service or initiating a free trial. Users can head to the company's website and choose to stream any movie from the list of offerings, or the first episodes if it is a series. In a statement to Gadgets 360, the company said that it is “looking at different marketing promotions to attract new members and give them a great Netflix experience.”. The ability to stream content from a browser for free is available on Windows, macOS, and Android. A support page for the free option adds that iOS browsers are currently not supported. The list of free offerings includes: Stranger Things Murder Mystery Elite The Boss Baby: Back in Business Bird Box When they See Us Love Is Blind The Two Popes Our Planet Grace and Frankie The streaming service previously experimented with a freemium model in India by offering the first episode of the ‘Bard of Blood’ – a Netflix original series – for free. Other efforts to increase subscribers in regions like India include introducing a more affordable, Mobile+ plan. It is currently not clear if the ability to stream for fee is for a limited period, or if the firm continues to refresh the list with new content. Source: OnlyTech via Gadgets 360 Netflix begins offering select content for free without a subscription
  18. Netflix smashes Altered Carbon's stack, cancels sci-fi series after two seasons Netflix hands cyberpunk-themed show a real death (Image credit: Netflix) Netflix has pulled the plug on its much-hyped cyberpunk series Altered Carbon after two seasons and an animated movie, as revealed in an exclusive report from Deadline. According to the report, it's believed that the show's cancellation "is not Covid-related but stems from the streamer’s standard viewership vs. cost renewal review process." In other words, the number of viewers the show's second season managed to retain did not justify the cost of producing a third season in Netflix's eyes. What went wrong? Despite a stellar first season, Altered Carbon's second season was not as well-received by viewers, with many fans bemoaning the show's lowered budget and changes in cast and showrunner as the reasons for its fall from grace. Picking up 30 years after the first season's conclusion, Altered Carbon: Season 2 saw actor Anthony Mackie (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) replace Joel Kinnaman (The Suicide Squad) as lead character Takeshi Kovacs. While the casting shake-up fit perfectly with the futuristic body-swapping theme of the show, the change in tone it brought did make the show's second season arguably feel like an entirely different series in the eyes of fans. Netflix smashes Altered Carbon's stack, cancels sci-fi series after two seasons
  19. Watch the trailer for Enola Holmes, the Sherlock Holmes movie that landed Netflix a lawsuit A Sherlock with feelings! The first trailer for Enola Holmes, the Millie Bobby Brown-starring film that focuses on Sherlock Holmes’ brilliant teenage sister, has arrived despite Netflix being in the middle of a lawsuit over the project. Enola Holmes is based on a series of books by Nancy Springer that re-imagines Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s world by putting Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister at the heart of a series. Despite the focus of the film being on Enola, the lawsuit filed by Doyle’s estate has to do with Sherlock (played by Henry Cavill) specifically. Doyle’s estate is suing Netflix (alongside Springer, Penguin Random House, and the film production company associated with the movie) because of how Sherlock is portrayed; in essence, he’s far too kind. I suppose that comes through in the trailer. There’s one scene where Sherlock defends his spirited sister against his older brother, Mycroft, who’s upset that she’s... a human being, basically. The lawsuit in general is pretty wild. Some court rulings in the early 2010s found that many Doyle stories are in the public domain, so Springer has the right to borrow from them without falling afoul of copyright rules. There are a series of 10 stories, however, that are still protected by copyright. The estate is suing because they allege that Enola Holmes lifts from some of those 10 stories, and therefore infringes on their copyright. If Netflix wants to use a version of Sherlock Holmes who cares about people, they have to license that version of the character as he’s different from the version available through public domain. Here’s a section of the lawsuit that explains how Doyle got his two different versions of Sherlock Holmes. After the stories that are now in the public domain, and before the Copyrighted Stories, the Great War happened. In World War I Conan Doyle lost his eldest son, Arthur Alleyne Kingsley. Four months later he lost his brother, Brigadier-general Innes Doyle. When Conan Doyle came back to Holmes in the Copyrighted Stories between 1923 and 1927, it was no longer enough that the Holmes character was the most brilliant rational and analytical mind. Holmes needed to be human. The character needed to develop human connection and empathy. Conan Doyle made the surprising artistic decision to have his most famous character—known around the world as a brain without a heart—develop into a character with a heart. Holmes became warmer. He became capable of friendship. He could express emotion. He began to respect women. Regardless! This version of Sherlock Holmes does have feelings, and quite frankly I stan. Watch the trailer for Enola Holmes, the Sherlock Holmes movie that landed Netflix a lawsuit
  20. Netflix in September 2020: 6 great new movies and shows for your Watch List What’s worth watching in September 2020 on Netflix (Image credit: Netflix) A smorgasbord of Netflix Original movies and TV shows are heading to the streaming service in September 2020. But with so much great content on the way, which shows should you look out for? We’ve cast our eye over what’s on the docket for September 2020 and picked out a selection of highlights that might be worthy of your Watch List. You won’t find this content anywhere else, either, as these are all Netflix exclusives, and you'll be able to enjoy them wherever you get the streaming service. Without further ado, then, here are six TV shows and movies worth watching on Netflix in September 2020. The Babysitter: Killer Queen (Image credit: Netflix) Release date: September 10 A sequel to the surprisingly watchable 2017 comedy horror The Babysitter, The Babysitter: Killer Queen revisits Cole Johnson (Judah Lewis) two years after he managed to survive a satanic blood cult. Unfortunately for Cole, he’ll have to live through yet another nightmare: high school. Expect to see the return of some familiar and unwanted faces in this silly and undoubtedly sexy horror sequel. The Devil All The Time Release date: September 16 Based on Donald Ray Pollock’s award-winning novel, The Devil All The Time stars Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Robert Pattinson (Twilight) as part of an A-list cast. This unsettling Netflix Original film tells the story of a young man who winds up in the company of some sinisters characters due to his devotion to protecting those he loves. Expect to see this pop up on Netflix's “trending” row soon. Dragon's Dogma (Image credit: Capcom) Release date: September 17 Another video game to anime adaptation in the same vein as Castlevania, Dragon’s Dogma is based on the role-playing game developed by Capcom. After a dragon steals his heart, Ethan is resurrected as an ‘Arisen’ and sets out to regain his ticker. He’ll have to overcome countless demons that stand in his way to stop his humanity from slipping further away. We’re predicting plenty of hulking baddies and flashy fight scenes in this one. Ratched Release date: September 17 If you’ve ever wanted to get an insight into the mind of nurse Mildred Ratched, now’s your chance. A dramatic prequel to the multi-award winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, this Netflix Original series starring Sarah Paulson has the potential to keep viewers hooked in horror. Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous Release date: September 18 The dinosaurs are on the loose once again in Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous, although this time it’s an animated series. Six teens must band together to survive as dinosaurs wreak havoc on the island. This one should provide a lot of family fun viewing, but with enough action and suspense to entertain older audiences. Enola Holmes (Image credit: Netflix) Release date: September 23 You might not have heard of Sherlock’s teen sister, Enola, but she’s a super-sleuth in her own right. When Enola discovers her mother is missing, she’ll have to harness all her detective’s intuition to unravel a dangerous conspiracy and outwit her famous brother. Starring Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) and Henry Cavill (The Witcher), we’re detecting that this has a bit of potential. Netflix in September 2020: 6 great new movies and shows for your Watch List
  21. Netflix still can’t figure out how to make talk shows work Not all TV formats work on streaming On Tuesday, comedian Hasan Minhaj announced that after two years and six seasons, Netflix canceled Patriot Act. Despite the unexpected axing, it’s a symptom of a larger ailment: streaming can do many things better than traditional broadcast television. Late-night shows are not one of them. Patriot Act is different from a Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon-type program or even some of the other more timely shows Netflix tried to get off the ground, including The Break with Michelle Wolf and The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale. It was reminiscent of great Comedy Central late-night entertainment like The Daily Show, and it existed alongside Netflix series like Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman. Netflix’s development team claimed this variation on the talk show format could work because it wasn’t tied to the news of the day. It seemed like the first talk show on Netflix to break through. “With Hasan, Dave and Jerry, we have three distinct and original styles that are thoughtful and topical but have longer shelf lives than traditional linear shows,” Brandon Riegg, Netflix’s vice president of nonfiction series and comedy specials, told The New York Times last year. At Netflix, Minhaj was left to explore. The streamer gave Minhaj a 32-episode order from the start, ordering an additional seven episodes in 2019. Like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Patriot Act took advantage of being a late night-style show without all the limitations of actually being a late-night broadcast show. The sociopolitical, oftentimes complex subjects he decided to focus on won Minhaj (and Netflix, by extension) a Peabody Award, an Emmy, and unending critical praise. Why cancel a show that’s so celebrated? Ratings. But Netflix is infamously secretive about its numbers and often refuses to release statistics for its shows. The breakout hits act as good PR worthy of attention. For example, Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction nearly hitting 100 million streams around the world within its first four weeks is a big number Netflix wants printed. Other titles likely doing okay or not great at all is something the streamer wants to avoid publicizing. In other words, two things can be true at once: a show like Patriot Act could be beloved by people around the world and executives can admire it, but if it doesn’t pull in numbers, it gets scrapped. With little information from Netflix, it’s the series cancellations that weave a story. The Break with Michelle Wolf, The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale, and Chelsea were all canned after one or two seasons; Norm Macdonald Has a Show, The Fix, and My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman haven’t generated the consistent type of online hype Netflix needs for people to return to the streaming service for those specific shows week after week. Patriot Act did generate conversation, and people seemed to tune in for Minhaj’s episodes. It just may not have been enough. Herein lies the biggest issue: Netflix is trying to make a broadcast-specific genre of television work for a streaming audience. They’re two different beasts. Riegg told the Times last year that “the timeliness of the genre is a challenge for us as an on-demand service.” That is, in essence, true; talk shows are topical by nature. Guests are often there to promote books or movies they have coming out or are otherwise booked because of something that is currently happening. Being available daily also brings in advertising revenue for the networks and conditions an audience. Even if they don’t tune in five days a week, people know that Good Morning America, The Tonight Show, and Ellen are on at the exact same time every single day. Talk shows become a consistent, ad-generating business for networks that need to fill time slots 24/7. But Netflix isn’t a topical, daily platform. People use it daily, but the algorithm is serving up sitcoms or movies they might be interested in, pushing them to continue using the service by offering titles that might make them stay an extra hour or two. It may be difficult for talk shows to break through the noise of thousands of other titles; some people might not see them on their homepage at all. Talk shows also use YouTube to their advantage. Late-night hosts have become staples on YouTube as well as their own networks, with clips popping up on the Trending tab or appearing on people’s homepages. Minhaj shines here, too: Patriot Act’s YouTube channel has more than 1.3 million subscribers, and his videos routinely hit more than 1 million views. This includes full episodes uploaded to the site. Whether those videos push people to Netflix, however, and help the streamer grow subscribers is unknown. And everything at Netflix is about growing subscribers. This is the core dilemma of Netflix’s cancellations. Even if a show is good or necessary, it’s a business transaction: does this series bring new viewers in and keep others from leaving? Patriot Act’s cancellation, then, isn’t a comment on Minhaj’s show — objectively one of Netflix’s best. It’s a reflection on Netflix’s current moment, one where the streamer is spending $18.5 billion a year on content, wading in new directions to see what sticks. Talk shows aren’t working. Their end is inevitable. Netflix still can’t figure out how to make talk shows work
  22. Project Power Is a Secret Lesson About Science's Dark Side Netflix's new film updates a played-out superhero trope with a hidden message about the evils of human experimentation. Jamie Foxx and Dominique Fishback star in Netflix's Project Power. Courtesy of Netflix Evil gloating seldom contains a genuine science lesson. Mad scientists’ climactic rants are usually you-killed-my-daughter personal or science-shaped mumbo jumbo about their unobtanium ray recalibrating the ozone layer. In Netflix’s new superhero movie Project Power, the Big Bad is the inventor of a drug called power, which either gives you temporary superpowers or busts your chest open like a dropped water balloon. The magical movie chemistry has something to do with animal genetics, but Project Power doesn’t waste the evil exposition slot on trying to make it make sense. Instead, in the final face-off, the villain starts talking about Henrietta Lacks. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, Henrietta Lacks was a real person, a Black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. During her treatment at Johns Hopkins, doctors took samples of her tissue and used them to create the first immortalized human cell line, a scientific breakthrough that was not only lucrative but medically revolutionary. Lacks’ cells have tested vaccines for polio and HPV, have been used to study cancer and HIV, have been sent into space, all because doctors carved bits of flesh from a dying woman without asking her permission. To Project Power’s villain, Lacks is a justification, an object lesson in how the suffering of one vulnerable person can better the lives of millions when that suffering is at the hands of capital-S Science. The heroes disagree, and so must the viewer. From the very start of the film, power the drug has ravaged New Orleans. It also has a firm hold on the lives of the three protagonists. Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt—playing an outlaw former soldier and a disgraced cop, respectively—are both desperate to find the source of the drug. Dominique Fishback, who plays a talented but troubled schoolgirl, is a power dealer. As an unlikely and somewhat zany team, they chase the drug from smoldering squats to glitzy meetings of underworld elites to government sanctioned labs, eventually finding the movie’s very own Henrietta Lacks: a young Black woman whose body contains scientific treasure. As a film, Project Power, which lands on Netflix on Friday, is a fun enough watch. Director Ariel Schulman has said it’s a movie with “no superheroes,” and that’s fine; I don’t need my heroes to be flawless and squeaky clean. However, my appetite for law-breaking cops who think they know better than the system? That’s at an all-time low right now. Other moments are inadvertently funny. I’m pretty sure Foxx is supposed to sound like a badass when he explains that he has the power of a pistol shrimp (a very cool sea creature!), but, well, you already know why he didn’t. That said, Fishback is a delight, the male leads are on-brand and charming, and a pill full of temporary superpowers is a welcome twist on the somewhat overdone superserum trope. Actually, it’s the way the movie deals with that cliche that’s most interesting. A superserum hero is the personification of science’s impact on humanity. Take Captain America, child of World War II. Science and especially medicine were really having a moment back then. Doctors were war, and comic book, heroes in their own right. People clamored for medical progress, lined up for new vaccines. Hitler wasn’t the only one after an übermensch: eugenics was a popular, publicly discussed interest, especially among elites. So from the righteous, government-sanctioned lab emerges Cap, a blond, blue-eyed super(über)soldier, but it’s OK because he hates Nazis. Back then, the face of human experimentation was heroic, patriotic, and extremely white, because white America loved to think about what science could make them. It’s hard to imagine such uncomplicated medical optimism now, but think about the first Iron Man movie, which came out in 2008, before technology had spooked the bejeezus out of people. Stark’s tech savvy is what makes him and his body super. Medical savvy used to play the same way. The heroic era of medicine didn’t last long. By 1972, Luke Cage was the one getting injected with superserum. Rather than a volunteer supersoldier, he’s a shady prison experiment gone wrong. During Cap’s time, experimenting on prisoners was seen as just and, again, patriotic. Getting infected with malaria so doctors could find a cure for soldiers in the Pacific theater was the prisoners’ contribution to the war effort. The people of Luke Cage’s time were on the cusp of outlawing prison experiments altogether. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, in which, for 40 years, the United States Public Health Service knowingly failed to treat 399 unconsenting Black men’s syphilis for the purpose of studying the disease, was a newly reported fresh horror. By 2003, in Truth: Red, White & Black, Marvel even backfilled Captain America’s origin story with something closer to reality: Cap’s superserum was tested on Black soldiers first, and they died. Science still makes you super, but it’s scary, and also racist. Spoilers ahead, but Jamie Foxx’s character in Project Power is almost Luke Cage, whose alias is literally Power-Man. He gets experimented on while serving in the military, but says explicitly that joining the military was really his way out of a rough neighborhood and a life of crime. The 2020 update is that he isn’t the real superhero. His daughter is. The drug they dosed her father with somehow wove its way into her DNA, making her a source of “permanent power.” She is both an unforeseen consequence, like the Black women and children who contracted syphilis from the men in the Tuskegee study, and a dehumanized vessel, like Henrietta Lacks. That makes Project Power a very different fable about the use and morality of human experimentation than its predecessors. It’s one that considers collateral damage, and makes heroes out of those who bear the brunt of it. Project Power Is a Secret Lesson About Science's Dark Side
  23. Review: Smartly satirical Teenage Bounty Hunters is a perfect weekend binge Netflix series shares similar sensibility with GLOW, Weeds, Orange Is the New Black 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 Weeds, GLOW, 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: Rebelling against their buttoned-up Southern community, sixteen-year-old fraternal twin sisters Sterling (Maddie Phillips, Summerland) and Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini, The Gifted) Wesley team up with veteran bounty hunter Bowser Jenkins (Kadeem Hardison, Black Monday) for an over-the-top adventure as they dive into the world of bail skipping baddies and suburban secrets while trying to navigate high school drama—love, sex, and study hall. Atlanta high schoolers Sterling and Blair meet Bowser by accident one night when they crash their father's pricey hunting truck into the car of a bail jumper ("skip") he's chasing. And like the good southern Christian girls they are, they have guns and are more than proficient with said weapons, capturing Bowser's skip for him in exchange for a share of the reward. They wheedle their way into working more jobs with him to pay for the damage to the truck, telling their straitlaced parents that they are working at Yogurtopia, a frozen yogurt shop that Bowser runs when not tracking down skips. (Every bounty hunter needs a side hustle.) The original title was Slutty Teenage Bounty Hunters, but Netflix dropped the "slutty" moniker when its premiere date was announced. That was a good decision, because one of the strongest aspects of the show is the straightforward, starkly honest way in which it deals with teenaged sex. Neither of the sisters are actually "slutty," however much they like to toss that adjective around because they think it sounds badass. They're in that "pushing society's boundaries" phase of teenage development. The moniker might apply to "Horny Lorna" (Given Sharp, Swamp Thing), a notoriously promiscuous fellow student at Willingham Academy, the twins' private school. But even Lorna is pretty performative in her supposed sluttiness, so she might be making some of it up, too. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. Sterling loses her virginity to her longterm boyfriend, Luke (Spencer House, Space Force), in the pilot—she seduces him by quoting Bible verses. Blair has yet to have sex, but she is quite matter-of-fact about seeking feedback from the boy she's been seeing on the technical proficiency of her hand jobs. In other words, they both have perfectly healthy, normal sex drives, and they have a desire to act on those drives—on their own terms. That said, it's behavior that certainly qualifies as "slutty" within their Christian youth fellowship, particularly with Sterling's arch-nemesis, the ambitiously self-righteous April (Devon Hales, The Resident). The satirization of evangelical Christian purity culture is spot-on. April wants nothing more than to oust Sterling and take over as leader of the fellowship, and she sees her chance when she suspects Sterling isn't quite as pure as the others believe. Indeed, Sterling is ostracized when she comes clean about having sex with Luke, at least until she figures out how to play the "redemption" game to get back in the fellowship's good graces. If there's anything evangelical circles love as much as judging and ostracizing the fallen, it's welcoming the fallen back into the fold after they hit bottom, are "touched by Jesus," and repent of their wicked ways. The way Sterling milks her "special" status as a repentant sinner, compared to her cohorts who are hungry to experience something that "real," is masterful. Phillips and Fellini are terrific as the twin sisters, bringing just the right mix of bravado, innocence, curiosity, and vulnerability to their roles. They are charming and likable characters when they could have easily just been annoying. Hardison's world-weary Bowser can't help but feel protective toward them through his exasperation—they're still teenagers, however helpful they prove to be when it comes to infiltrating exclusive (all-white) country clubs and nursing homes. Their relationship with Bowser reveals that his heart is bigger than his surface cynicism would otherwise attest. The supporting cast is just as good. There's a rival bounty hunter with his own popular YouTube channel, Terrance Coin (played to perfection by Cliff "Method Man" Smith, The Wire), who is Bowser's competition not just for prime skips with big payouts, but also for the affection of bail bonds person Yolanda (Shirley Rumierk, Rise). Hales' April might seem like the stereotypically insincere goody-two-shoes endlessly spouting evangelical catchphrases, but Hales brings so much more depth to the character as the season progresses. Virginia Williams (Fuller House) shines as the twins' mother, Debbie Wesley, who might just have a secret of her own, and Wynn Everett (This Is Us, Agent Carter) is sheer perfection as Ellen Johnson, the relentlessly cheery fellowship teacher at Willingham Academy. Mackenzie Astin (The Magicians, Rosewood) plays the twins' father, Anderson, and he takes what could have been a one-dimensional role and brings out the man hiding beneath the veneer of the perfect Christian patriarch. The cast has the pleasure of working with some very smart, savvy writing and directing. The dialogue is note-perfect, the characters are complicated in interesting ways, and these ten episodes are expertly paced, making Teenage Bounty Hunters a perfect weekend binge. Teenage Bounty Hunters is now streaming on Netflix. Listing image by Netflix Review: Smartly satirical Teenage Bounty Hunters is a perfect weekend binge (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  24. Netflix takes on Disney Plus with move into streaming Broadway musicals Netflix bags streaming rights to musical based on Princess Diana's life (Image credit: The Diana Musical) Netflix has bagged the streaming rights to a historical musical drama called Diana, based on the life the Princess of Wales, which is set to land on the service in the first half of 2021. Diana: A Musical Story had begun previews at the Longacre Theater on Broadway, venue closures within New York – and across the US – have prevented live shows and forced producers to look towards digital streaming solutions. The show's website has a date of May 25 set for its opening on Broadway, with its arrival on Netflix expected to be before that date. The show is planned for filming with an empty audience in the coming months, meaning that the production will have to navigate health concerns and actor safety in a city still coping with Covid-19. Princess Diana had a highly scrutinized life, as the first wife (and eventual divorcee) of Prince Charles, a patron of countless charities, and a victim of a car crash that took her life at the early age of 36. BroadwayDirect describes the show as an "electrifying new musical about a woman who chose to be fearless, and as a result became timeless." The run time is listed as 2 hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission, with a creative team spanning talent from musicals Memphis, Rock of Ages, and Come From Away. Musicals, Mulan, and moolah The announcement comes only weeks after Disney Plus launched the film of the Hamilton musical on its own service. While Disney had initially planned to bring the recorded performance to its platform in late 2021, it was brought forward by over a year due to lockdown measures creating more demand for online streaming content – and the run of Hamilton in live theaters coming to a preemptive close. We wrote back in May that musicals could be the next big wave for Disney Plus, given Disney's licensing of its classic animated films for the stage. There have been hit stage musicals for The Lion King, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and more – and no singular platform has yet to emerge as a home for displaced musicals in a time of lockdown. While Hamilton certainly saw a lot of users flock to Disney Plus, the incoming arrival of Mulan – with its add-on $29.99 cost – could well rub viewers the wrong way. Netflix continually shows it can follow through on growth in new genres, as with its courting of anime shows and Bollywood films for its platform. If Netflix can become a natural home for musicals, too, the Disney Plus vs Netflix battle would only heat up further. Via CNET Netflix takes on Disney Plus with move into streaming Broadway musicals
  25. High Score review: Netflix’s story of gaming’s “golden age” is honestly solid The good outweighs the bad, though weird interview choices add unfortunate bloat. Enlarge / The series' title is silly, but it's actually such a good series that we found ourselves nitpicking its faults instead of feeling entirely embarrassed by it. In the gaming-media world, we'll call that progress. Netflix We at Ars Technica's gaming section are flattered by High Score, the newest docu-series launching August 19 on Netflix. The easiest way to describe this gaming-centric interview series, split into six 40-minute episodes, is to give a shoutout our own War Stories video series. For a few years, War Stories has been asking developers of beloved game series to explain how they overcame problems and got their eventual classics to your favorite PCs and consoles. Netflix's new series does something very similar: it asks members of the game industry to stitch together a narrative of gaming's so-called "golden era," which, in their eyes, begins with Space Invaders in arcades and ends with Doom on PC. All in all, I'm happy High Score exists. If you want to watch it uncritically, especially with people who don't necessarily play video games, you can look forward to a mix of intriguing and all-too-familiar classic-gaming tales, told with high production values and clear storytelling throughlines. For the most part, the series is dignified, not embarrassing—a fact that delights the inner 12-year-old in me, who still has a chip on his shoulder about being a gamer "outcast" for most of my youth. Parchment, magic hats, and “solace and peace” Maybe it's the War Stories bias in me, however, but the series' biggest weakness is its desperation to stitch all of its interviews into a cohesive "game history" story. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. In isolation, High Score has some of the best interviews with game-industry luminaries I've ever seen. The absolute highlight is an interview with Roberta and Ken Williams, the co-founders and architects behind Sierra Entertainment. Together, they tell the most detailed story I've ever seen on camera about their work on 1980's Apple II game Mystery House. This includes Roberta pulling out a sheet of parchment to draw a facsimile of her original Mystery House design documents for the Netflix camera crew. I've maybe never seen a more beautiful "how it was made" demonstration of a game's origin story. Similarly thoughtful interviews play out over the series' six-episode span, and High Score hits the ground running with Taito mastermind Tomohiro Nishikado telling the creation story of Space Invaders. We see him play with an ancient electromechanical "magic hat" machine; we see him imagine Tokyo overrun with massive, robotic spider creatures; we see him pull out pages of original concept art while explaining the design decisions driving what the final game's characters looked like. As the very first story from the very first episode, it sure sets a tone. This is followed by a refreshing conversation with legendary programmer Rebecca Heineman about her origins in the game industry: as a competitor in one of the world's earliest examples of a formal gaming championship. This segment is rich with archival footage and Heineman's insights, along with her frank admission that games were a crucial escape during her childhood struggles with gender dysphoria: "[Gaming] allowed me to play as a female. I've always identified as a woman. Unfortunately, my anatomy didn't agree. So when I played video games, I was in this virtual world where I was mowing down rows of aliens and ignoring the world around me. It was the only place I was able to find solace and peace." The rest of this pilot episode nimbly connects other early '80s dots, including a great story from the children of engineer Jerry Lawson. He's largely credited with developing cartridge-based gaming while making the otherwise unsuccessful Fairchild Channel F console. Some of the episode's stories—particularly that of Ms. Pac-Man's origin as a "speed-up kit"—won't be news to savvier game-history fans. But they are at least told in polished, humorous fashion, and their montage sequences' pixelated art are a clever touch. Join the Nintendo Fun Club today! But let's get back to Heineman—her experience in the games industry, as far as High Score is concerned, is relegated to her victory in a Space Invaders tournament. The series makes no mention of Bard's Tale, Wasteland, or even Heineman being hired as a 16-year-old game-studio programmer. And as the series rolls along, more lapses in game-history storytelling emerge. The issue is that High Score lands quite a few formative interviews on its quest to tell a certain history of the industry. But if the crew didn't score a particular interview, then the story in question barely exists. We only hear about Shigeru Miyamoto's game design prowess when English-speaking members of the Star Fox team (Giles Goddard, Dylan Cuthbert) are interviewed about that project. Otherwise, Nintendo's history is told almost exclusively by one of its American PR leads, who tells the story of Nintendo Power's formation as a magazine. The story is told well in High Score's format, but it leaves Nintendo design luminaries like Satoru Iwata in the shadows (and, weirdly, pretends the Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter never existed). Enlarge / Trip Hawkins and John Madden appear as pixelated characters in one of many montage sequences. Netflix And we only hear about one Electronic Arts series, John Madden Football, because that's how High Score tries to explain Sega's console-war dominance in the sports genre. This sports sequence drove me particularly insane. Madden launched near-simultaneously on Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, so it was a terrible example to hinge this anecdote on. Plus, Sega's bullishness about self-published sports games, usually with athletes attached, went completely unmentioned. At the time, Sega aggressively marketed Sports Talk Football with Joe Montana as a rival to Madden, but Netflix leaves that and other major Sega sports games unmentioned. High Score includes one story of famous failure: ET for the Atari 2600, as told by lead designer Howard Scott Warshaw (the genius behind Yars' Revenge). Yet Trip Hawkins, who guests on High Score to talk about Madden's development, doesn't get the opportunity to talk about his own console-launch failure, the 3DO. Other notable gaming-industry failures go similarly unmentioned. Some of the series' lapses would be more forgivable if Netflix wasn't so stuck on following winners of '80s and early '90s game tournaments. Heineman's story is a gem. The same can't be said for other episodes' segments dedicated to the Nintendo World Championship and the Sega Rock the Rock Championship. If this were a longer series, an entire episode about early game championships might be lovely. But here, these stories suffer because they only interview one participant each, drag for far too long, and place far more cultural import on the tournaments than they're arguably worth. (I know, the Nintendo World Championship was massive for my generation, but High Score's version of that story isn't told with multiple participants, with Nintendo organizers, or even with a mention of tie-in film The Wizard.) Don’t spoil things for gaming novices Again, I must insist: if you want to enjoy the series uncritically and deal with a mix of storytelling delights and slower, "Guess I'll check my phone for a few minutes" segments, High Score has enough good content to sit through. This is boosted significantly by Charles Martinet as narrator; you may recognize his voice as that of Super Mario and other famous Nintendo characters, and he handles his humorous-enough script with a gentle cadence. (No, he never sneaks an "it's-a me!" into the series. Super Mario receives paltry lip service through the course of High Score, honestly.) Just be warned that some uneven interview choices and leaps past significant game-history developments will leave anybody knowledgeable about gaming history yelling at their TV. Your favorite console, arcade, portable, or PC game from the era in question is, in all likelihood, not given enough time or coverage by Netflix's filming crew. (I, for example, couldn't believe how little was said about Tetris. Tetris!) With that in mind, keep the whining to the minimum if someone has a pleasant time not knowing better and watching the whole series at your side. Once you're done with Netflix's take, our War Stories series will continue feeding you the game-history goods. High Score review: Netflix’s story of gaming’s “golden age” is honestly solid (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
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