Saturday is April Fool’s Day and what a better bunch of fools than Monty Python.
Hey gang, I’m your host, Brian Rollins and this is episode 218 of the Dorky Geeky Nerdy Trivia Podcast. This week, we’ve got Monty Python Trivia. Questions about the troupe, their sketches, movies, and more.
If you’re new, welcome to the show. If you need rules or scorecards, visit the show’s website, DorkyGeekyNerdy.com.
Despite its apparent self-esteem problems, everyone seems to digDungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. But even if it were terrible, I would love it for two reasons: 1) putting an owlbear on the silver screen and 2) this absolutely wonderful mini-reunion of the titular geeks from Freaks & Geeks.
If you’re too young to remember the 1999 TV series, it’s one of those perfect shows that people still haven’t gotten over the cancelation of, despite it being off the air for more than two decades. It was a high school comedy-drama set in 1980 that followed a group of misfit teens and a lovably, painfully nerdy trio of Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts played by Honor Among Thieves writer/director John Francis Daley, Party Down’s Martin Starr, and Wet Hot American Summer’s Samm Levine—who apparently have really been playing D&D this entire time:
Honestly, it’s not the most hilarious movie promo of all time, but the joy I felt at seeing the three actors reunited was visceral. Thank you, Honor Among Thieves. If you wouldn’t mind including an hour-long session of them playing D&D with the home release of the movie I would be most appreciative.
In just over a week, Star Wars fans from all over the world will flock to London, England for Star Wars Celebration Europe. For four straight days, fans will learn about all the latest and greatest things coming to the world of Star Wars, reflect on its history, and buy a lot of cool merchandise. And we do mean a lot of merchandise. Star Wars and merch go together like Tatooine and sand—you can’t have one without the other.
What follows is just a small sampling of the super awesome exclusive merchandise that’s coming to Star Wars Celebration’s main store. Vendors at the convention will also have exclusive items available, but everything you see in this post (and at this link here, for the full inventory) is in the Celebration Store, which fans usually need a reservation to get into. Learn more about that process here and click through to see all sorts of swag inspired by all things Star Wars—including Disney+ shows like Andor, the convention itself, and 40 years of Return of the Jedi.
Revenge of the Jedi shirt
There are several shirts with the Revenge logo on it, this being one of the coolest.
Union Jack patch
As the con is in England, there’s a lot of merch with this design on it too.
Mandalorian Knight shirt
Celebration key art shirt
There are a ton of different items with this art on it.
40 years ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
One of the cooler, most subtle Return of the Jedi 40th anniversary shirts.
Ewok nesting dolls
Return of the Jedi jacket
Key art hoodie
Luthen Rael’s store shirt
Just one of many items for Andor fans.
Andor Narkina 5 shirt
You know. Pretend you’re a prisoner.
Blue Harvest shirt
The shooting title for Return of the Jedi. Nice deep cut here.
Revenge of the Jedi shirt
Another Narkina 5 shirt
Return of the Jedi tea towel set - part 1
This is one of three towels you get in a set. Keep clicking to see the rest.
The space adventures in Marvels’s Guardians of the Galaxy films are nearing their conclusion—and with that, we’ll finally be learning the mystery behind the creation of Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Director James Gunn, who has since departed Marvel to be co-head of DC Studios, sounds excited to close things out with the character he’s often referred to as his proxy in the Guardians trilogy. He told Total Film, “The most important thing for me was Rocket’s story, and then, following that, everybody else. Rocket is the secret protagonist of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and has always been the center of it for me, and this is really fulfilling that. The reason I came back, and decided to do this movie, was because I really felt like Rocket’s story needed to be told—and it was left hanging after Vol 2. So that’s the most important thing.”
Even before Gunn accepted his new role at DC, it was known that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 would be the last adventure for his Guardians crew. This final film focuses on the found-family story Gunn created for the space misfits—who were more or less cult Marvel characters before becoming the center of a hugely popular live-action film franchise. Gunn teased that Vol. 3's story is “totally self-standing… for the most part, it works as a story by itself,” as well as being “the ending of a trilogy. The first movie is about the mother; the second movie is about the father; and the third movie is about the self. And that is what this journey is…”
The Guardians take their final bow with Gunn in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 on May 5.
“Can’t I just say what happened?” A tall man in a flat cap asks, looking around the sparse meeting room. “Isn’t truth an absolute defense?” This is Doug Costello, the CEO of Wyrmwood Gaming. “It is,” says head of HR Bas Antoine, “if you have the whole story.” The two go back and forth, brainstorming a response, Costello repeatedly looking into a camera as he dramatically recounts allegations of sexual assault. “The person who was allegedly raped never worked at the company,” he says, eyebrows raised. “I don’t know her name.”
The scene is from a fourteen-minute video titled “Wyrmwood Responds to SA Allegations,” a record of a group of men discussing what to do about recently-surfaced allegations of sexual assault at their company. Throughout the video, Costello makes statements like: “You have to get police involved.” He mentions alcohol as a factor in the allegation. In part of the video, Wyrmwood’s lawyer, Frank E. Biedak, gives the go ahead to share the video on their YouTube channel, alongside a written statement.
Wyrmwood Gaming is an unusually transparent company; while its core business is making luxury wood products for tabletop gamers, including dice trays, deck boxes and gaming tables, its executives seem equally concerned with the production of Wyrm Lyfe, a YouTube-based reality show focused on their daily activities at the company, filmed with handheld cameras and uploaded two to three times a week.
The program has over 100,000 subscribers, and fans usually reply to new videos with praise or earnest questions. But the sexual assault discussion was not Wyrmwood’s usual content. Comments on YouTube, Reddit, and Twitter decried the video as a “tone-deaf” and “harmful” way to handle serious allegations. Several corporate partners, including Dispel Dice and the mental health organization Take This, announced they would end their relationships with Wyrmwood. The company took the video down from YouTube in less than two days.
In a statement addressing the allegations, Wyrmwood said: “We take any allegation of inappropriate conduct, including, but not limited to, sexual assault, sexual misconduct and safety issues, very seriously. We consider the safety and well-being of our employees a top priority. To that end, we’ve made very significant investments in HR and Safety and will continue to do so.”
But after io9 reviewed a saved copy of the video and began to investigate, it became clear this incident is emblematic of a company that appears to prioritize the image and ego of its executives over the people who work for it. Over the course of this investigation io9 spoke to nearly fifty sources, including current and former employees, who shared stories that included allegations of rampant misogyny, bullying, dangerous working conditions, and sexual harassment and assault.
Doug Costello declined to respond to these allegations via phone or email; he invited io9 to visit one of the company’s shops, but we were unable due to time constraints. io9 offered to interview any representative of the company as an alternative; Costello declined to pass the offer along. The only current executive of Wyrmwood Gaming who spoke to io9 on the record for this article was Bas Antoine, head of HR.
While Wyrmwood Gaming wants to convince audiences that it’s just a cool bunch of goofballs doing their best, there’s rot at the company extending deep into the heartwood of its structure. At its center: co-owner/co-founder and CEO Doug Costello.
What is Wyrmwood Gaming?
Wyrmwood Gaming is a Taunton, Massachusetts-based wood shop and manufacturing company that produces luxury gaming furniture and accessories. Established in 2012 by brothers Doug and Ian Costello, the business was based out of a hobby woodshop in their parents’ barn, and sold its wares at local gaming stores. Within months, the pair teamed up with local gamers and woodworkers Eric Dupuis and Ed Maranville.
In October 2013, Wyrmwood launched its first Kickstarter, to fund the construction of handcrafted wooden dice vaults. The campaign completed after 27 days, having raised $84,460 from 1,423 backers. (To date, Wyrmwood has successfully completed 24 Kickstarter campaigns; its latest, concluded on March 17, raised $1,923,029, with more than 5,000 backers making $299 deposits for tables that could cost anywhere from $1,700 to upwards of $10,000, depending on wood and configuration.)
Soon after, Wyrmwood expanded to a mid-size shop, then to the current location in Taunton, and most recently by purchasing Keystone Furniture in Pennsylvania to act as a finish shop.
During every growth spurt, Wyrmwood experienced growing pains. John Savage, a woodworker who was at the company for three years starting in 2015, recalls that increasing production to fulfill Kickstarter orders showed a “lack of planning… [management] told us we would be able to make a product in a certain way and then when we tried to bring it to scale, we would find major flaws in the production.”
“Doug is the type of person that throws stuff at the wall, says co-founder Eric Dupuis. “He fundamentally doesn’t believe in competency.” In an episode of Wyrm Lyfe, after Costello boasts that his skillset is in entrepreneurship, not “managing a large company with proper financials,” Wyrmwood social media manager turned reality show producer Bobby Downey chimes in, saying “and we’ve been faking it pretty good.” Nobody contradicts him.
In 2020, Wyrmwood’s Modular Game Table crowdfunding campaign became one of the most successful fundraisers Kickstarter ever hosted, bringing in nearly 9 million dollars and hugely increasing demand on the shop. During this period of rapid development, and while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the company jumped from 50 people to nearly 120, and expanded into a second shop location in Pennsylvania.
It was during this transition that Wyrmwood brought in Mike Saltzman, who began to take over a lot of the executive day-to-day operations of the job. Saltzman declined to speak about the problems at the company due to contractual restrictions, but said in a written statement to io9 that he left shortly after joining the company, following an argument “that highlighted significant professional differences, primarily between Doug [Costello] and myself.”
Despite the high-pressure environment, many of the employees of Wyrmwood–the people making the dice trays and towers and vaults and tables–said they loved their jobs. “I wanted to be an owner at one point,” said Savage, speaking about how much he enjoyed the work. “I still have friends there.”
That attitude can be traced, in part, to how Wyrmwood hired a bunch of nerdy gamers to make beautiful, nerdy gaming products. It’s also a result of Wyrmwood recruiting from within the extended circle of friends and family that already worked at the company, creating an intimate and tight-knit workplace.
But employees say that today, that sense of camaraderie has gone missing. “Working there is like being in a cult,” one former employee said, describing how they felt about their former colleagues. “Pretty much [everyone who works at Wyrmwood] are great people,” stated another former employee previously in middle management, “But let me just be blunt about it. I like everyone at the company except for Doug Costello.”
Bad behavior at the highest levels
The first outside indication that something was wrong inside Wyrmwood came in 2020, when Doug Costello publicly resigned as CEO after a conflict over COVID safety measures. The incident blew over fast, and Costello returned to the position in 2021.
More troubles became public in early 2023, when accusations of sexual assault at the company began to surface on Twitter. These accusations went viral in gaming communities, as Wyrmwood Gaming is a recognizable name and they had just begun their 23rd Kickstarter. A few days later, former employee Andrew Oberbeck said on Twitter he was the whistleblower, and he had been fired by Doug directly. Then Wyrmwood Gaming released their video about the situation.
But this incident is not the only allegation of misconduct made against Wyrmwood employees. io9 spoke to multiple people who allege they have been assaulted or harassed by former and current employees at Wyrmwood Gaming: One of these sources retracted their statement out of fear of retaliation, but two others attest that head of media Bobby Downey had sexually harassed them while they were either employees of Wyrmwood or involved in a business partnership the company. Downey did not respond to io9’s request for comment.
One alleged victim, a former employee in Wyrmwood’s woodworking department who asked not to be named, recalled an incident that occurred in 2019 after she’d been casually flirting with Downey, but then decided to break it off: He was her indirect boss, and a part-owner of the company, so she didn’t feel comfortable pursuing a relationship with him, she said. After a few days of giving Downey a cold shoulder, he insisted they meet up. When they were alone, according to the source, Downey unzipped his pants and exposed himself. He took his penis out and asked if she was “going to leave him with blue balls.” When the woman refused, he asked if he could take care of it himself. The woman, not knowing what to do, said yes. He masturbated in front of her, dropped a used tissue, and left.
Selina Heinen, a brand representative who worked with one of Wyrmwood’s business partners, described “barrages of flirty text messages” from Downey, who eventually told them, “I think we should have sex.” Heinen says they told Downey no, and that they didn’t want to date within the industry for fear of being judged unfairly by colleagues, but Downey promised that having sex with him wouldn’t impact Heinen’s reputation. Heinen refused again, but felt pressured to keep a cordial relationship with Downey because of their professional connections.
Accounts of Downey’s alleged bad behavior were repeated by dozens of sources. “Bobby Downey is the worst person who could be representing our company,” said a current employee who requested anonymity. According to another source who has attended conventions with Downey, he frequently gets blackout drunk at industry events: “I have never felt comfortable around Downey,” they said. And another former employee stated that they have seen Downey use cocaine, and solicited women for sexual favors at company-sponsored meetups. Another former employee recalled having to “tear him off a woman” that Downey had cornered at a party.
The feeling that Wyrmwood is not a welcoming workplace for women extends beyond accusations of outright sexual harassment. Bas Antoine, Wyrmwood’s head of HR, said that the company employs an “above average” number of women and nonbinary people. Antoine said Wyrmwood employs 23% more women than industry standard. But you wouldn’t know it from watching Wyrm Lyfe, where they tend to appear in occasional cameos. Wyrm Lyfe was under Bobby Downey’s direct supervision for years, and widely considered “his vanity project,” according to former and current employees. (Antoine said that Downey has shifted away from the project.)
“The [lack of women] had been brought to [Downey’s] attention multiple times,” said Ted Bumpus, a former employee at Wyrmwood. According to sources, Downey’s excuses for not including more women include statements like “women aren’t as funny as men,” and “the women at Wyrmwood are too awkward and aggressive to be on camera.”
“He doesn’t treat women like people if they aren’t attractive to him,” said one former employee. Another employee, a non-binary woodworker named Jamezie, who asked that their last name be withheld from this article, recalled being cut out from videos, and having their words repeated again, to camera, by chief operations officer Ian Costello.
Sources say women at Wyrmwood are rarely promoted, and many have been passed over for promotions in favor of men they helped train. “Women have the least vertical movement in the company,” said a current employee. “I saw multiple women fail to move up despite being the best craftspeople,” stated one former employee. Antoine says this only happened once that he knows of since his tenure began in mid-2021, and cited performance issues as a cause for the disparity.
But Costello’s views on gender roles and family life might be another reason women aren’t getting promoted. According to Ted Bumpus, Costello has described himself as a “natalist” —a term referring to an ideology that says the point of human existence is reproduction, and in recent years, a movement that promotes the idea of improving the world through spreading superior genetic material. What’s more, Bumpus says, Costello allows these beliefs to influence management decisions.
“He once gave a young man who stated his desire to have a family a massive raise in order to support that,” Bumpus said. “He ended up making more money than his manager at the time. It caused a huge ruckus.”
Another former employee attests that Costello has said that “women should aspire to having children,” and implied that if you don’t have children, you’re a bad person.
John Savage recalls a time when he wanted to become the company’s convention manager, and approached Costello regarding the vacancy. “He basically said... that because I had a wife and children, he couldn’t in good conscience consider me for that position because of the amount of travel that it would require.” Costello himself has five children.
Dupuis recalls an incident with Costello in 2017 that caused him to step away from Wyrmwood. “We were at a convention and we had a female employee–who is comfortable having her story shared–and we were not being let in early. The employee voiced her frustrations to the security guard and Doug grabbed her by the arm like she was a child and yelled at her.” The incident disturbed Dupuis enough to convince him to remove himself from a company he had built up for nearly five years.
He said it was inevitable. “You get to a point where somebody disgusts you as a person. And there is no way you can really have a relationship with them.” Dupuis left Wyrmwood in 2019 and sold his shares.
Former Wyrmwood woodworker Alley Livingston recalled the day before she quit her job at the company. In late 2022, the same week that an employee nearly burned their finger off on an allegedly defective machine, Wyrm Lyfe posted a video where Costello states “safety slows you down,” and disparages OSHA. Livingston quoted the video in the company Discord–their typical mode of communication. The next day, Costello brought Livingston and her direct manager into a small office.
In the office were a group of employees, including John “Johnny” Paquette (Livingston’s direct manager, a cousin of the Costellos, and a partial owner), Ian Costello, another manager, an HR representative, and Doug Costello. “Doug stood maybe four feet in front of me and yelled at me,” Livingston recalled. “He said that if he wanted to have his self-esteem hit he’d go read comments in Wyrm Lyfe.” All Livingston had done was repeat, verbatim, what Costello had said in the publicly-available video; for that infraction, she was brought into his office and screamed at for ten to twenty minutes, according to multiple sources who overheard the incident.
Livingston said that she did not respond to the yelling, which seemed to encourage Costello to continue berating her. “No one stood up for me. Nobody helped me. Nobody intervened. I sort of shut down… because what else are you going to do?”
When Livingston eventually apologized—just to get out of the office, she says Costello suddenly stopped. “He’s like, ‘okay, I’m good. Are you good?’ And we shook hands. As if nothing had happened.” Livingston quit the next day. The HR representative who was nearby quit shortly after. One former employee said the representative was “frustrated by the insurmountable HR problems” that Costello presented.
Wyrmwood’s board of directors is currently made up of the three majority owners; brothers Doug and Ian Costello, and Ed Maranville. Women who might be promoted have no female allies among the upper management and executive team, and the sources claim that the top-down misogyny has made it impossible for middle managers and craftspeople to combat sexism, even when they attempt to elevate or promote women. Currently, only four women out of a company of 170 are in management positions. There is one woman on the executive team, but she shares the title “co-manager of conventions” with a man.
“If you’re a woman at Wyrmwood, you know your place in the company,” said Mary Antanavica, a former woodworker who left after she felt her reported harassment claims weren’t taken seriously. “And it’s not on top, or even in the middle.”
Disrespect for craftspeople
Despite the significant revenue driven by Wyrmwood’s record-setting Kickstarter campaigns, employees say the company didn’t share the wealth with most workers.
According to documentation reviewed by io9 describing the company’s policies for raises, before 2020 Wyrmwood operated on a tier-based system where employees could review how much everyone at the company made, and see a clear path for how to move up in the company. This changed in 2020, when tiers were eliminated, and employees were evaluated and given raises on an individual basis.
While the workers on the shop floor were barely making a dollar or two more an hour over minimum wage ($15/hour in Massachusetts), most of the exec staff and managers had been making $45-70,000, and eight executives, including the founders and Bobby Downey, were making $100,000.
Antoine states that currently, Wyrmwoods craftspeople make around $20 an hour, which amounts to roughly $42,000 annually. In contrast, the average salary of a union journeyman carpenter in Massachusetts is $66,000.
Raises, when they do occur, are typically implemented months after the company tells their staff to expect them. In 2022, the company laid off 23 people just before Christmas, some sources suspected, to avoid paying holiday PTO. Antoine said that these layoffs were “unfortunate” and that the timing was “super shitty.”
Promotions are also hard to get, according to multiple sources, unless you’re one of Costello’s “favorites.”
“[Costello] tried to bring me into the inner circle in the beginning. So I got things that a lot of other people at the company didn’t,” Bumpus said. “He rewarded me financially very quickly and helped move me up.”
Accusations of nepotism are widespread, and have even been addressed publicly on an episode of Wyrm Lyfe, where the media team’s various connections were laid out. Antoine told io9 that the media team and company at large is less nepotistic now, but admitted that within a month of arriving at Wyrmwood in 2021 he was promoted to head of HR, despite having no specific qualifications. He says this is due to his “work ethic.”
Antoine joined Wyrmwood after what one source described as a “quarter life crisis” while working on Wall Street during the pandemic. Antoine stated that he worked on the shop floor for less than a month in 2021 before getting quickly promoted to the executive team. His titles currently are; Head of HR, Chief of Business and Sales Officer, and VP of furniture, which includes overseeing the luxury game table production. He has no previous woodworking or HR experience, although he stated that he works with consultants in order to help establish systems for employee management at the company.
“Safety slows you down”
In summer of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wyrmwood began requiring employees return to its Massachusetts factory. Once on site, workers began to notice what they viewed as potentially dangerous lapses in workplace safety regarding COVID precautions and fire prevention. Soon after, a group of workers went to Costello directly and asked about improving standards. Costello said that he wanted them to deliver a formalized document with their requested changes, but added that they better “make it good” or they would be the first fired if anything went wrong.
When workers were ready to present their proposal, 18 people signed out of the approximately 50 people working at the plant. According to sources, an estimated 15-20 additional people wanted to sign, but feared retaliation from management. One source said that they wanted to sign and voiced their support to the organizers but “didn’t want to end up homeless.”
When presented with the proposal ahead of the agreed-upon meeting time and deadline (during which Costello was scheduled to meet with a small group of worker representatives), Costello changed the terms; there would be an announcement, not a meeting.
This announcement was filmed and published via Wyrm Lyfe, in a video titled ‘Wyrmwood Goes Corporate.’ In this heavily-edited 17-minute clip, Costello bemoans the workers’ demands for “safety” and “HR,” saying that such things are “corporate” and will “take away from fun.” He’s unmasked in the middle of the pandemic, yelling at a bunch of masked workers who have asked for safer working conditions, with his usual gang of executives, including Ian Costello and Bobby Downey standing behind him. He ends by stepping down as CEO. Two workshop employees resigned later that week in protest. Doug Costello returned to the CEO position less than a year later.
The published video only shows Costello speaking, but io9 received a recording of the announcement that had not been edited. The full announcement took 30 minutes, and workers were talking back and pushing against Costello’s tirade the entire time. One worker stops him, saying that “we wanted a simple meeting and you’ve turned it into a circus. Now you have the shitshow you want.” Another says, “nobody asked for your soapboxing.” Towards the end of the recording, Downey says “we’ve got some editing to do.” An employee can be overheard saying “I bet you do.”
There were other employee concerns over COVID safety. Costello and Jason MacDonald–the current lead designer and CEO during Costello’s step back from the position–often traveled interstate between Wyrmwood shops and did not undergo government-recommended quarantine. Mask policy also varied depending on the executive team’s “personal feelings” about the state of the pandemic, according to multiple sources.
Costello claims he is very concerned about safety, and has said so multiple times on Wyrm Lyfe, but often in the same breath that he begins to disparage the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as overbearing. He describes OSHA regulations as “removing agency and adulthood” from employees.
“OSHA has come through the shop multiple times,” said Livingston. “I was contacted by OSHA after I reported an incident, and they told me that Wyrmwood had been reported so many times that they were going to try to fine them on as many things as they could.”
Wyrmwood has multiple OSHA violations on file. They have received five serious safety infractions since 2020, including violations for noise safety and improper operation of a forklift. The company currently owes or has paid nearly $30,000 in fines. Wyrmwood states that it is currently in compliance with OSHA standards, and they work with OSHA consultants to establish safety regulations at the shop.
“The company is determined to do things in a way that maximizes speed,” continued Livingston, “and they do so in a way that violates safety standards.” Multiple sources stated that Wyrmwood does not fix problems unless it stands to cost them something if they don’t fix it.
“I have seen more and more injuries as [Costello] pushes the workers to work faster,” said one current employee. Workplace injuries described to io9 include easily-avoidable mistakes caused by a lack of safety equipment or training. Sources report that nobody is adequately trained on the equipment; employees are hired with little to no woodworking experience and trained to be “just adequate enough.”
One of the shop’s worst injuries happened in 2022, when an employee was working during a suspected power disruption that caused a machine to malfunction and clamp down on the employee’s hand. Because the machine did not have an emergency stop, the employee’s hand remained clamped between the machine and the wood they were working with for five to seven seconds, nearly burning their finger off. That employee was rushed to the hospital and had to undergo multiple surgeries.
Later in the day, multiple sources say, management attempted to gloss over this event in a floor meeting, and attempted to blame the employee for the injury, despite the fact that this machine had been known to have this issue. “I’ve seen this brand go off for no reason,” said one former employee. “I’ve seen one of the managers run over when this machine was malfunctioning and have to unplug the entire machine in order to stop the pneumatic arms with the brands from going up and down.”
The injured employee was supposed to return to Wyrmwood for “light work,” but before they could return to work, they were laid off. This employee is now planning to file a workplace injury suit.
Another former employee, Matt King, also says he ran into problems due to health issues: A cancer survivor with a chronic illness, King worked in customer service, and alleges that he was denied some accommodations that would allow him to work effectively, including a fifteen-minute buffer for his phone line to allow flexible start time. King eventually resigned during a meeting with management because of the perceived lack of support.
“Equality,” King said, “is not equity. My experience at Wyrmwood showed me that I might not ever be able to pursue an equitable career in my life.”
Other safety issues include environmental hazards. Masking is not always enforced in areas with high dust and chemical content. The spray room was directly next to the communal lunch table, and had one industrial fan helping circulate the fumes, but that fan was blocked by a sheet of plastic.
In a dusty, wood-filled factory, fire extinguishers were often missing, out of date, or uncharged. This can even be seen in a Wyrm Lyfe video, when a safety inspector informs Costello of an out-of-charge extinguisher. Costello seems shocked that you would need to keep these up to date, and laughs when he tests them and nothing happens. This video is from two years ago, but multiple sources reported that fire safety is still not taken seriously. For years, the de facto response when the fire alarm went off was to see if “any of the managers” were leaving the area.
Sources also say that drug use at Wyrmwood has been a problem, and that employees would smoke marijuana on breaks, and on company property. While marijuana use isn’t illegal in Massachusetts, smoking and then operating heavy machinery is an obviously unsafe practice. Several employees described incidents where Costello would catch people smoking, and send them home for the day, but stated that “there were no real consequences for smoking weed at work.” Antoine states that this is no longer the case at the company.
What is Wyrm Lyfe?
Wyrm Lyfe, the company’s YouTube series, debuted in September of 2018 as a behind-the-scenes look at the workshop, company culture, and “occasional drama.” Over the past four years the production has turned into a deliberately constructed, dramatic reality show about the staff of Wyrmwood Gaming.
“When Wyrm Lyfe first came out I thought it was a little funny,” said Savage. “But it’s not really us. It’s supposed to be the shop, and it became this reality show about a bunch of eccentrics who work in the gaming industry but don’t game.” Multiple sources described Wyrm Lyfe as a vanity project for Costello and Downey.
“Wyrmwood is an entertainment company that occasionally does manufacturing,” said a former employee. “It’s a narcissistic endeavor headed by a raging narcissist who desperately wants to be famous.”
The result is less an image of a goofy company riding the waves of success and more of an inside look at a business that, according to a former employee, “fails hard and fast, doesn’t know what it’s doing most of the time, and refuses to hire anyone with actual experience running a business of their size.”
Wyrmwood’s media team is held to an entirely different standard than the rest of the staff, according to employee sources. They are allowed to be late, they get paid more money, and they are kept separate from the craftspeople; because they act as the de-facto “sales team,” upper management considers the media team the “money makers” of Wyrmwood, which means that they get far more leeway than the people who actually build the product.
The devaluation of craftspeople in favor of the media team has bred resentment at the company–“everyone hates the media department,” said a former employee–and has instilled a sense of arrogance in the media team.
Meanwhile, internal communication is so bad at Wyrmwood that the shop employees find out news about Wyrmwood from watching Wyrm Lyfe, according to multiple sources. “It happened all the time,” said Savage.
Topics that were not communicated directly to the staff include new products that they would be making, when raises would occur, staff changes and position shifts, new equipment, layoff announcements, business statuses, and upcoming promotions and Kickstarter campaigns.
“Wyrm Lyfe is highly edited propaganda,” said one former employee. And it has worked. Over 100K people subscribe to the Wyrm Lyfe channel to tune into the Dougie Costello show three times a week. The problem is that Wyrm Lyfe, like all propaganda, deliberately crafted and edited to show only what they want you to see. “Wyrm Lyfe is a threat,” one former employee said. “They use it to convince people to work here, and they hold their platform over their competition like a gun.”
Ultimately, the gravest issue with Wyrm Lyfe may be that it casts a bright spotlight on Bobby Downey and Doug Costello, to the point that their jobs and business is directly related to how people perceive them on YouTube.
The absolute focus that Downey has on being famous is apparent in his presence on Wyrm Lyfe, in marketing and merch images, and his attendance at conventions. “He used to be a nice guy,” said one former employee, “but being in front of the camera so much changed him.” When anyone ties who they are to what they do so closely, they must be held accountable for their personal behavior. And Downey’s personal behavior is reprehensible.
Wyrmwood has poisoned their own waters
There are many fans of Wyrmwood Gaming who will defend Doug Costello, Bobby Downey, and their management of Wyrmwood. Bumpus recalls the love he got from fans, saying that they fall in love with the company... “but it’s all in love with the image the company wants you to see. They don’t see how we’re being exploited and how we’re working our asses off. How we’re being told that this company is a family and you need to support your family. But Wyrmwood is not going to take care of you.”
Paul Downs, the owner of a Pennsylvania cabinetmaking company and former writer of “You’re The Boss,” a New York Times small business advice column, was at one time working on a book about Wyrmwood; He declined to comment on Costello’s behavior, but defended the right of the small business owner to run his company any way that he saw fit.
And while that’s true—Costello can run Wyrmwood any way he likes, even if that includes playing down safety concerns and disrespecting women—many past and present employees say that doesn’t make it right.
It’s not right, they say, that Costello has lied to his employees, promising them raises when none were forthcoming; it’s not right, they say, that he favors male employees over his female ones; it’s not right, they say, that his shop has injured craftspeople; it’s not right, they say, that he has decided to fire employees instead of treating them fairly; it’s not right, they say, that he has used Wyrm Lyfe to build a cult of personality.
At every level, according to employees, Wyrmwood has failed to scale to the demands of its customers and in a way that adequately supports their employees. One current employee emphasized to io9 that while they love their coworkers and they love what they make, management makes the shop a hostile workplace. “I just want a good place to work,” they said. “But Doug makes that impossible.”
The Wyrmwood customers who know all this and decide to purchase anyway are not rebels; they are simply rewarding bad behavior. This machine grinds up hardworking, blue-collar workers and spits them out, bloody and traumatized.
“Everyone who’s ever worked at Wyrmwood, they will tell you they loved their coworkers, and we built this camaraderie together, in spite of Doug Costello,” said Ted Bumpus. “So often our coworkers were our best friends and family. And the management takes advantage of that.”
Correction 3/28/23 10:50 pm ET: Earlier versions of this article misspelled the surnames of Wyrmwood employee and partial owner John “Johnny” Paquette, and former employee Andrew Oberbeck.
The last decade has seen Disney making live-action versions of basically every popular animated movie of its past: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, 101 Dalmatians, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Dumbo, Lion King, the list goes on and on. Next year there’s Snow White and later this year, The Little Mermaid too. Basically, it’s a trend that will continue until there are no more films to remake, and one is coming sooner than all the rest.
However, unlike most of the films mentions above, Peter Pan & Wendy is not going to theaters. It’s going the Lady and the Tramp and Pinocchio route and debuting directly on Disney+. Is that a knock on its quality? Or does Disney just have so much else coming this year, its flood of releases needed to be broken up? Well, with a new series of character posters, you can see the full cast and begin to decide for yourself.
Peter Pan & Wendy hits Disney+ on April 28.
Jude Law as Captain Hook
Felix De Sousa as Bellweather
Diana Tsoy as Birdie
Florence Bensberg as Curly
Joshua Pickering as John
Jacobi Jupe as Michael
Sebastian Billingsley-Rodriguez as Nibs
Alexander Molony as Peter Pan
Noah Matthews Matofsky as Slightly
Jim Gaffigan as Smee
Skyler and Kelsey Yates as the Twins, Tudy and Rudy
First, new seasons of pre-TOS series Strange New Worlds and animated series Lower Decks will be arriving very soon: Strange New Worlds on June 15, and Lower Decks at a “late summer” date TBD. As fans have already been eagerly anticipating, that second season of Strange New Worlds will include the crossover episode—mixing animation and live-action—with Lower Decks, which will bring Tawny Newsome’s Ensign Beckett Mariner and Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, no doubt to cause mischief and mayhem galore. As previously announced, Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes, is the director on that one.
And, very exciting! Both shows have also been renewed for 10 more episodes—guaranteeing a third season for Strange New Worlds, and a fifth season for Lower Decks.
Then, animated kids’ series Star Trek: Prodigy will return this winter (date TBD) for its second season. As we already knew, Star Trek: Discovery’s fifth and final season will be premiering in early 2024—and of course you can catch new episodes of Picard streaming Thursdays on Paramount+.
“I just spoke to a young man, Ryan Coogler, who is going to remount The X-Files with a diverse cast,” Carter said during an interview on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (via BD). “So he’s got his work cut out for him, because we covered so much territory.”
io9 reached out to Disney, which owns Fox, as well as a representative for Coogler about the comment and will update the story if or when we hear back. But it is worth noting that back in 2021, Coogler’s production company Proximity signed a five-year deal to develop television programs for all of Disney’s channels and streaming services. And since it seems likely that Fox still owns the rights to The X-Files, the notion that Carter and Coogler had a conversation about it seems incredibly plausible.
The bigger question is, will Coogler actually do it? Or was it just talks? Carter sounds confident, but in the interview, there was no follow-up. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time The X-Files came back—the original show, which starred David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, ended in 2002, then came back in 2016, then came back again in 2018. At the movies, the first film was released in 1998 and the second one 10 years later in 2008. Back in 2020, there was even news of an animated spinoff, but there hasn’t been any updates on that in a while.
All of which is to say... maybe? If Carter said it (he did) and Coogler’s company is looking to create new content for Disney (it is), then that’s more evidence than most X-Files conspiracy theories have behind them. What do you think?
The return of Pixar shorts is something we’ve been waiting for, and Carl’s Date is a fitting choice—not least of all because it’s a wonderful homage to the late, great Ed Asner, the voice of Up’s Carl Fredricksen.
io9 was in the audience and not emotionally prepared (so yes, bring tissues) for a surprise screening of Carl’s Date at Pixar during a press day for Elemental. Fans of Pete Doctor’s 2009 Pixar classic—and of Dug Days, the recent Disney+ Up universe shorts—will especially appreciate the heartwarming conclusion to Carl’s story. Written and directed by Academy Award nominee and Emmy winner Bob Peterson (he’s also the voice of Dug), and produced by Kim Collins, Carl’s Date follows a stirring (and adorable) day in the life of Carl and Dug; it brings things full circle to see how a dog’s love can change you for the better (there’s something in my eyes, I swear).
Dug emotionally supports Carl when he agrees to go on a date with a lady friend—which is a really big step for him, as director Peterson shared during the post-film Q&A. “No one will ever replace Ellie for Carl. This is just friendship. This is just honoring her, Ellie saying ‘go have a new adventure’. And this really puts it to the test. Should he do this or not?” Peterson explained, citing his own grandparent’s journey into dating after the loss of their partner. He and Collins also confirmed that this will be Pixar’s last Up story for now: “It just seemed like the logical next step, and a closure for the story is that he’s finally committed to doing what Ellie wanted.” These plans were definitely affected by Asner’s passing shortly after recording for Carl’s Date.
“He’s hilarious, man,” Peterson said of working with the legendary Asner. “The guy is Carl Fredricksen. It’s just so fun to work with him. You know, I grew up with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It just was a treat to be with him. He’s grouchy, but had this amazing heart and [was] very, very funny. We feel blessed to have been with him toward the end of his career, and I feel like this honors him pretty well.”
Carl’s Date was originally scheduled to be released on Disney+ along with Dug Days, and the decision to take it to the big screen happened after after Asner’s passing, Peterson said. “As we worked on it and it just sort of felt like, ‘wait a minute, there is this tradition of putting a short in front of films’—this would play well with [Elemental’s] themes of love and loss. Pete Doctor came to us and [said] let’s at least try out the idea.”
Collins added about the timing, “When we were finishing the Dug Days series, Bob had this other idea for Carl’s Date, we started working on it,we made it with Pete Doctor’s blessing, It sort of went down that path and then we had this idea to put it in front of Elemental to revive that old short in front of feature films, which I personally miss. So I’m very honored.”
Bold, emotional movies that took chances with innovative artistic tech—like Doctor’s Up—really paved the way for movies like Elemental. As it happens, Elemental director Peter Sohn was the inspiration for Up character Russell, and it would be wonderful to see him pick up the reins and continue Russell’s story somewhere down the line. In the meantime, however, Carl’s Date is the perfect conclusion to Carl and Dug’s stories, as well as the perfect touching farewell to Asner.
Carl’s Date will open with Elemental in theaters June 16.
Living With Chucky is the feature debut for writer-director Kyra Elise Gardner, who has a personal connection: her father is veteran special effects artist Tony Gardner, whose many credits include 2004's Seed of Chucky and every Chucky-related project thereafter. That familial link translates to incredible access for this documentary, which is full of easygoing interviews with not just Mancini and longtime series producer David Kirschner, but stars Jennifer Tilly, Alex Vincent, Christine Elise, Brad Dourif, Fiona Dourif, Billy Boyd, and John Waters—as well as actors who haven’t appeared in any Chucky movies, but have interesting things to say about the horror genre, including Lin Shaye (Insidious) and Abigail Breslin (Zombieland). The doc goes chronologically—kicking off with 1988's Child’s Play—to dig into the origins of the first film, including the happy circumstance that Kirschner, who’d been wanting to make a movie about scary dolls, came across Mancini’s original script at the exact right moment.
As it works its way through each Child’s Play movie, offering personal anecdotes and behind-the-scenes tales from those involved, Living With Chucky also explores how Chucky as a character has evolved over the years, as well as how the series itself has changed. The latter includes a look at how the Child’s Play franchise adjusted as its budgets shrank over the years (a big reason why it’s so reliant on practical effects rather than CG), and how Mancini experimented with tonal shifts, following up Seed of Chucky, the series’ campiest, most comedic entry, with Curse of Chucky, which took itself more seriously and aimed to actually be scary. There’s also discussion of how Mancini, who is gay, introduced queer themes into the series, breaking new ground in the horror genre.
With 25 or so minutes to go in the 100-minute film, Living With Chucky wraps up its focus on 2017's Cult of Chucky, the last feature-film outing for the franchise. However, fans of the current Syfy and USA Network series Chucky—of which there are many; the show has a third season coming up—will be disappointed to hear the show only gets a very quick mention in the doc’s final moments. You get the sense that Gardner’s film was mostly wrapped before Chucky even became a thing, which is a shame since it’s become such an important expansion of what might be described as the Child’s Play extended universe, meshing new characters and stories with returning favorites played by Tilly, Vincent, Elise, and others.
Instead, Gardner takes the remaining time to introduce herself and explain her connection to Child’s Play—which makes total sense, but unfortunately it leads into a meandering segment about how the nature of the film business means families are often separated for long stretches of time, among other topics that feel more self-indulgent than informative. It’s hard not to wish the doc, which is mostly lively and entertaining, was about 15 minutes shorter than it ends up being. But if you hang in there, you’ll get a quick glimpse of Tilly slipping back into character as Tiffany on the set of Chucky, which is always worth it.
Living With Chucky hits On Demand April 4 in the U.S. and Canada; a collector’s edition Blu-ray will be available April 18 in the U.S. and Canada. You can also own or rent the film starting April 24 in the UK and Ireland, where it will also be available on Blu-ray.
If you’re into Minecraft, good news! Dungeons & Dragons has partnered with the blocky video game to create a special adventure that mimics some parts of the D&D mechanics and gameplay. The new DLC will be available in spring of this year, and has some unique features for Minecraft, including dice rolling for combat, your choice of four classes (Paladin, Barbarian, Wizard, and Rogue), and for the first time in Minecraft history—voice acting.
As you can see from the images here, the details of the world of the Forgotten Realms have been meticulously transposed into cube-y glory. The adventure that D&D developed in collaboration with Minecraft will consist of approximately 10 hours of gameplay, and the DLC will support both single player and multiplayer adventures, although Riccardo Lenzi, Senior Producer at Mojang Studios, admits that it will be a better gameplay experience with just a single adventurer. You’ll be able to fight a lot of classic D&D beasties, from Beholders to Mind Flayers, Displacer Beasts to Dragons.
This is intended to be a way to reach new audiences and give kids who primarily play Minecraft a way to experience D&D without necessarily having to play it. While it’s great for Minecraft fans, it’s not really going to give D&D fans much to do except learn how to play through an adventure in Minecraft. For what it is, it looks cool, but it definitely feels like just another licensing opportunity—and looking at it from the perspective of someone who mostly cares about D&D, the whole thing seems relatively soulless, despite the huge amount of work and investment put into the project.
Wizards of the Coast announced a new Magic: The Gathering Secret Lair drop for fans of the new Dungeons & Dragons movie. The cast of Honor Among Thieves is going to appear on their own Magic cards, each one with a nod to characterization in the film. The Secret Lair pack will include the six main characters: Edgin, Holga, Forge, Doric, Simon, and Xenk. All of them are legendary, which means they will be available for use in Commander decks.
Preorders for Secret Lair x Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves will be available later today. Scroll through to check them out!
Doric, Nature’s Warden
Of course the Druid is going to be mono-green. Her entry ability helps boost your mana, which you’ll need if you want to attack with her, transforming her into...
Doric, Owlbear Avenger
Doric’s furry/feathery alter ego means that she’s a great fit for aggro green decks that build up big ass monsters.
Forge, Neverwinter Charlatan
The “Charlatan” in Forge’s card name is a nod to one of D&D’s Rogue sub-classes. With a nod to his thirst for gold, Forge has a lot of ways to protect himself in play.
Holga, Relentless Rager
A natural fit for any red aggro deck, Holga gets to boost up other monsters and attack fast.
Simon, Wild Magic Sorcerer
Obviously putting the magic user in blue was natural, and bringing back the D20 mechanic is great. The nod to Simon’s unpredictable wild magic is a neat little wink to the film.
Xenk, Paladin Unbroken
Bringing back the exalted mechanic, Xenk, Paladin Unbroken is a bit more subtle in its references to the film. It’s not quite legible in the card, but in the film, Xenk’s blade goes from a sword to a dagger, and has his paladin oath inscribed on it in celestial. It reads, “neither virtue nor blade shale break,” hence Paladin Unbroken.
Edgin, Larcenous Lutenist
I’ll admit I didn’t see Edgin as a blue/red foretell machine, but it’s kind of a cool combo. Blue for magic (which Edgin does little to none of in the film), and red to represent art. Blue is also a sneaky color in MTG, so maybe this does fit. Regardless, adding foretell to every card in your hand is not a bad power. A “non-Izzit” take on a red/blue creature.
There will also be a “secret card” according to the D&D Direct press conference where the cards were announced. There are a quite a few options for what this could be, but my bet’s on Sofina, the Red Sorcerer, getting her own card.
Preorders for Secret Lair x Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves will be available today at this link.
Elemental, the story of a young fire-person named Ember and her budding friendship with a water-person named Wade, has just gotten a full-length trailer from Pixar. The feature film stars Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie as Ember and Wade, and also features the voice talents of Ronnie del Carmen, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Catherine O’Hara, Mason Wertheimer, and Joe Pera.
Elemental | Official Trailer
Ember and Wade are a classic “opposites-attract” couple, and it seems apparent that the film will lean into its own premise very very hard, but I’m really hoping for something more exciting from Pixar! It seems apparent that fire is the only element that can actively harm more than its opposite element, I wonder what kind of story this is trying to tell?
Sure, this trailer has romantic-comedy written all over it, but gosh, something about this feels weird to me! The animation is slick, and I’m sure the final result will be a cute, feel-good family film about accepting differences and being true to yourself, but are these jokes actually funny?
Prolific author Julianna Baggott (Pure, Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders) has published novels for both YA and adult readers, as well as poetry. But she’s got something new up next: her first volume of short stories, the provocatively titled I’d Really Prefer Not to Be Here With You. io9 has a ghostly tale to share today!
Here’s a quick intro to the collection, followed by the full cover and the chilling “How They Got In.”
In the title story, set five minutes in the future where you not only have a credit score but also a dating score, a woman who’s been banished from all dating apps attends a weekly help group with others who have been “banned for life,” and finds herself falling in love. In “Backwards,” a twist on Benjamin Button, a woman reconnects with her estranged father as he de-ages ten years each day they spend together. In “Welcome to Oxhead,” all the parents in a gated community “shut off” when the power goes out. In “Portals,” a small town deals with hope and loss when dozens of portals suddenly open. In “How They Got In,” a grieving family starts to see a murdered girl in all of their old home videos.
HOW THEY GOT IN
The daughter. Loose-limbed girl, twelve years old. Pumping her bike. Gangly as a puppet. It’s cold. She grips the handlebars, knuckles red and raw. Her breath catches and ghosts the air as she puffs along, uphill.
The developer of this neighborhood went bankrupt, so most of these houses were abandoned before they were fully built. Like the daughter was abandoned before fully built; her father’s gone. Cancer, awful and quick. Just a year earlier. She and her mom and brother are still trying to find the new orbit, to reconstruct a family around a massive, cratered hole of absence. The father had been a good father.
Their house sits at the end of the cul-de-sac, the sun on its back like a burden of dying light. The garage is just beams, an unfinished gesture. The leaky bay window is covered in plastic. The den still needs drywall. It’s laid bare in a way that recalls ribs—like being inside a body. She doesn’t want to go home. But her fingers are tight with cold, her cheeks stiff.
She stops. Takes out her phone, points the camera at her face. “Hi! Welcome to my YouTube channel!” She doesn’t have a YouTube channel, but dumb kids at school do, so maybe she could too. “This is where I live.” She points the camera at her house. It looks sad in the frame. Collapsible almost. Like a giant hand could pick it up and take it away.
She shows the street of half-built houses, focusing on one lot that’s only pitted foundation. Poured and abandoned. Things could be worse. That could be her house. She turns the camera off, wipes her bangs out of her eyes, and walks her bike up the driveway. The video uploads to the family’s cloud.
This was how the first one got in. Missing the summer of 1973. Fifteen years old. Her flute case found by a muddy brook six miles southeast.
But not her flute. Just the case, open on the bank. Its blue velvet interior caked in mud. Holly Martine. She remembers herself, some small registering of her existence. The pocket of her jeans; her cross necklace, which gets stuck to her collarbones in summer; her silky hair pulled back in a high ponytail; her teased bangs. The flute in her hand, flecked with blood, keys clotted with mud. The scent of her Jean Nate After Bath Splash and . . . him . . . Cigarettes, acrid body odor, and something like tar and shit and the clay along the water’s edge, gray and wet. She knew her killer. He lived along her route home, small house, neat yard. He was her father’s age. He’d try to make small talk sometimes. Slimmer. George Slimmer.
She appears. Cold. She crosses her arms, flute tucked under one arm. She knows this spot, her makeshift burial.
Holly sees a girl, a middle-schooler, standing in a driveway, pointing something at her then walking away. Holly feels like she’s slipped into something that isn’t the world she’s known. She’s hungry. Not literally hungry, but a physical feeling in her chest and ribs but also her legs and arms, like she’s been starving for a long time. For what?
For everything. Air, dirt, houses. My God, the girl with her bike. Going into a house. To her family? Holly wants life, people, words, her flute; its key pads are stuck. She wants to be and do and make noise.
She runs toward the girl’s house, fever in her chest, but comes to the edge of something. Like an idea has come to an end. She can see forward but can’t move forward.
After the Challenger blew up—the classroom air felt solid, no one moving or breathing. They saw the stalled smoke cloud, nothing at the edges of it, either. She reaches into this stalled air. Opening and closing her hand, it becomes a bunch of dots, like TV channels that don’t work.
Is she going to stand here and wait? Has she learned nothing? She heaves herself in the direction of the girl with the bike, heaving herself into that pixilation.
Now, in the basement, the son. He’s fifteen. A workout bench, gaming station, futon. Buzzing space heater. Cave crickets appear, so muscular and erratic that he’s scared of them and embarrassed by it.
His girlfriend is here. She came in through the cellar door. This is how his life is since his dad died. No one knows what he’s doing. No one cares. He loves it except if he thinks about it too much. Like the way his mother sees past him. They could go for days, near misses, almost seeing each other. He hears her walking around overhead. Maybe she hears his video game gunfire. How long could he go missing before she noticed?
His girlfriend would notice. She’s wearing an Old Navy sweater over a tank top. She smells like a strawberry-scented car deodorizer, the kind that clips onto the air conditioning vent. His dad had one in his Toyota.
On the futon, she slips her hand along his thigh.
“Does it stink down here?” he asks. His Christmas stocking was foot sprays and Axe body spray—as if his mother didn’t see him anymore but could still smell him.
“My mom sells essential oils,” his girlfriend says. “There’s one that smells like pot, swear to God.”
“I’d need something to cover up pot.”
“She’s got those.” She kisses him. “Do you want me to steal one?”
“But does it stink down here?” She looks around. “It smells like a basement. Right?”
She pushes him down onto the futon and straddles him.
“You know what we should do?”
“I’ve got a few ideas.” He’s surprised that he knows what to say sometimes and how to lower his voice to say it.
“We should tape it,” she says. “Like celebrities.” “
Tape, like, us?”
“Like how much?” She tugs his shirt. “Just a teaser. We’re not sluts.” The first time she called him a slut it was confusing. They’d hooked up at a party. Two months later, he still doesn’t know how to take it.
“Just a teaser,” he says. “Okay.” She takes off her sweater, her tank top riding up her soft stomach, and picks up his phone.
Holly is at a birthday party. The girl with the bike is younger, turning seven. The mother is presenting a Barbie baked into a cake, which is the bottom of her ball gown. Smart, the girl thinks. Did they put the Barbie in after the cake was baked? Still, she can’t help it—she imagines the Barbie burnt to char.
Holly stands at the back of the room, holding her flute. She doesn’t recognize these people, these toys. All of these things gripped in their hands. They point and shoot like cameras. They bing, click, play music. The father touches a button, and it’s Aunt Jackie, calling from Baltimore. A phone?
Why this house and this family and this moment? She moves toward the kitchen, finds an edge, like the one she heaved herself into. Can she push from this moment to another? She’s warm here. There are sweets, a punch bowl with ice cream and foaming ginger ale. She wants to eat the cake but she also wants to shove her hand into it and feel it. Again, it’s hunger but not typical hunger. It’s wanting . . .
They sing “Happy Birthday.” She sings along quietly at first. A stranger at the party, and no one notices?
She sings louder. Do they see her at all?
By the time they get to the little girl’s name, she’s singing at the top of her voice, off-key, angrily. “Happy birthday, dear Little Giiiiirllll . . . happy birthday to you!”
Their eyes glide past her. But then, a quick flip. They’re in a living room. The daughter opens a gift of pink cowboy boots. And a Lego set—a pirate ship? Holly remembers getting a yellow Wuzzle bear and a SheRa Crystal Castle for her birthday. Her older brother grabbed the castle, screaming about Castle Grayskull.
These two fight the same way. A sudden brawl. The father says, “Hold on.”
“It’s her birthday, for crying out loud!” the mother says.
Holly hated her family, but she misses them now.
She sits down, cross-legged. She thinks of marching band and how she didn’t get to go to the marching band competition. They had a routine to an old sitcom theme song, My Three Sons, her band director’s favorite show as a kid. Mr. Tidek. He thought they could win. She starts to cry.
An old lady touches her shoulder. The grandmother, the next-door neighbor? “They’re just playing,” she says, pointing at the kids.
This old lady sees her? As much as she hated not being seen, this is more disturbing.
She should be gone. She’s dead.
She knows this. She stands up. “Thanks. I have to leave now.” How many places exist? How far could she get from this moment? She walks quickly toward a hallway. It disappears into nothingness.
She runs toward the nothingness and lets it swallow her whole.
And then: Christmas—the tree in the quiet, the gifts.
Another birthday party. At an arcade.
A soccer match. She stands on the sidelines.
She runs to the edge of each one, feeling light and buzzy—a ripple of energy—then lands.
An ice-skating rink. She has no skates, but there she is on the ice, holding her flute. The skaters gliding around her.
A beach vacation—the father holding the two kids as he moves into the ocean.
A choral recital. When the crowd claps, she claps . . . And then it strikes her. A crowd. What if she found someone she knows? What if she isn’t far from home? She’s in the aisle, searching faces. The kids take their final bow.
It all stops. The grainy light. The pixelation. But only for a moment. Then the concert begins again, midsong. She’s back in the aisle. The conductor, in her woolly skirt . . . Holly looking at faces . . . A man in his midtwenties is looking at her. He really sees her. He stands up and tries to push down the aisle toward her. People aren’t getting out of the way. He’s stuck.
The beginning again, midsong. The man in his seat, staring at her. He doesn’t try this time. He lifts his hand.
She waves back and leaves. The sand, ocean, the father, the two kids . . .
The mother is two stories above her son. Almost exactly. If the house disappeared and they were suspended midair, you could connect them to the same rope, perpendicular to the earth.
He’s making out with his girlfriend on the futon. His phone propped against the TV. Recording.
The mother made dinner—fish sticks, frozen veggies, chopped pickles in mayo—left it for the kids. Her glass of wine bobbles as she situates herself in bed. Laptop open. This used to be her son’s room. The bedroom she shared with her husband, where he died, is untouched.
A knock at the door. Her daughter sticks her face in. “Can I do my homework in here?”
“I know this game,” the mother says. “You need to sleep in your own bed. Are you still afraid of monsters?” It’s supposed to be a joke but comes off cold.
The daughter’s afraid of a lot of things. “Whatever.” She shuts the door and walks to her own bedroom. She crawls under her bed. She likes the tight space, the dust ruffle like a tent. When she’s here, she doesn’t exist. If she doesn’t exist, her father isn’t dead. Because he never existed either. She blows on the dust ruffle—pink and billowy.
The mother’s relieved that her daughter left her alone. Her kids can’t regress just because their father died. She sips her wine, looks at her movie options, hovering over the link to a period piece.
She does what she does when she gives in. She goes to the family videos in the cloud. She misses her husband, their inside jokes, the sex.
She clicks on a clip of him with the kids on the beach, pushing into waves, holding both of them, his back red from sun. She’ll let herself watch it ten times and then stop.
On the ninth time, her husband looks left. He turns as if someone’s called to him. He turns, takes a step. What?
She starts again. The kids—one in each arm, the surf. He turns again, takes a step toward—what? A sound, a voice? This is new.
And then he turns again—back to the mother on the beach. He looks at her, worried, as if to say, “Do you see what I see?” She watches again. Something’s wrong. Something’s there that wasn’t before. She shuts her laptop, her heart thudding. Her best friend told her, Grief does strange things.
She grabs a bottle of Xanax off the nightstand and swallows a pill. This is grief, she tells herself.
“Welcome to my YouTube channel!” the daughter practices, wearing lip gloss and her mom’s mascara. Her nose is too big for her face. It used to be cute, but now it’s not. Her poofy hair looks dumb.
On her desk is the start of her research paper: Rafflesia arnoldii, the largest flower in the world, is a parasite. It’s like fungus because it grows in a mass of strands and depends on hosts to get water and nutrients. Its flowers are huge and reddish brown and smell like rotten flesh.
Her father smelled bad when he was dying. She didn’t want to hug him. She hates to remember that part.
She slumps into her beanbag chair, plays footage she captured earlier—going fast on her bike downhill, a bird on a limb, the sky—“Hi! Welcome to my YouTube channel! This is where I live.” Her house and then, quick turn, her street, the lot that’s a cement hole.
And then something scrabbling up. A person. The top of a head as they crawl up. A teenager, a girl, stands up. Ponytail and bangs. She looks around, cold and a little dirty.
But there was no girl at the time.
But she’s real, holding something—a short baton? No. A flute.
The daughter shouts, “Mom! Mom!”
Her mother still has a panic response from her husband’s death. She runs down the hall and throws open the door. “What’s wrong?”
The daughter hands her the laptop. Frozen on a still shot of the girl, arms crossed, flute tucked under one arm, eyes wide.
The son’s girlfriend blew off her curfew by an hour, but she’s finally gone. He’s supposed to work on a group project designing a city on the moon. He’s in charge of making tubes for housing. One thing he’s learned about building a city on the moon is that it shouldn’t be left to teenagers. He wants to write the team’s conclusion: This should only be tried by NASA engineers and shit. We’re too stupid and lazy.
A mess of Sharpies, cardboard, a box cutter, poster board. He’s too wired to focus. His girlfriend sent the teaser to herself. He hopes she wants to trash it. They aren’t celebrities. They’ll look like dorks because they are dorks.
He doesn’t want to think about it or a moon city. He puts on his headset to do some gaming.
The mother sits on her daughter’s twin bed. K-pop posters on the wall. Her daughter talked her into staying until she was asleep. The mother wants to curl up next to her, but she’s afraid of her daughter’s need for her.
Or is she afraid of her need for her daughter? She learned from her husband’s death—don’t need people. She looks at her little girl, tenderly. She smooths her soft hair. Then she opens the laptop. The girl with the flute. The mother sees herself in the girl’s clothes and hair. Her own era. The girl with the flute is connected to her husband on the beach—his face, alarmed, maybe even scared. He looked at her. He needed her. Their eyes met—here, now, today.
She closes the laptop, turns out her daughter’s light, and heads back to bed. In the morning, things will make sense.
Holly kneels in the wet sand, digging with her flute. It’s already wrecked. Her first thought was SOS. But instead, she writes her name: HOLLY MAR—She runs out of time.
It begins again.
The father glances over sometimes, knee-deep, hip-deep . . . She ignores him. She keeps trying and gets faster. Maybe if someone knows she’s here, something will change. She can’t have her life back. But she’s driven.
When she gets through her whole name, the father smiles. The kids are oblivious, squealing exactly the same way, each time.
The clip starts over, and she digs—so quick now. The father shouts above the surf, “Holly!”
Her name stuck from one repetition to the next. She draws in a breath and holds it. Stares at him.
They haven’t had a family meeting since before the father died. Those were medical updates, the father dying upstairs. But here they are on a Saturday morning.
“What’s going on?” the son asks.
“Something happened,” the mother says. “Something weird, and we need to address it.” She tries to explain about their father on the beach, but she’s accidentally confessed that she watches clips over and over.
“That beach in North Carolina?” The son tries to focus on facts.
The daughter is lit up. “And I was riding my bike . . .” She shows the clip, freezing on the image of the girl with the flute.
The son fiddles with his phone case.
The mother asks the son, “Anything weird?”
“You want something to be weird, don’t you?” He’s not sure why he says this.
“No. It’s just . . . we should talk. Because if there’s something wrong. Well . . .” She’s not sure what she’s supposed to be saying. “Grief does strange things.” Maybe she does want something to be strange—so strange that their father comes back.
The son thinks about the teaser. Could it have uploaded to the cloud automatically? “I’m fine. Can we wrap this up?”
“Don’t be like that,” the mother says.
His phone dings. It’s a text from his girlfriend.
“This isn’t grief,” the daughter says. “This is a dead girl, alive in our videos. I’m sure it’s why Dad’s different on the tape. It’s all . . .” She shoves all of her fingers together.
“Interconnected,” the mother says.
The text reads: What the fuck is wrong with you?
Followed by a super pissed emoji.
“We should keep an eye on each other,” the mother says.
The next text: Who the fuck is she?
“Let’s put our phones away,” the mother says.
“Keep an eye on each other. Got it,” the son says. “Can I go now?”
His phone bings and bings and bings.
“Sure,” his mother says.
He whips out of his chair and heads into the basement. His phone keeps binging. He opens the video. Hits delete.
The texts read: She’s psycho. Is she Avery Bickley’s cousin?
Who’s Avery Bickley? One of the sophomore soccer players? The keeper?
She’s a fucking perv. WTF. You’re the worst. Fuck off and DIE.
He looks around the room. Everything is just the way he left it. His laundry basket, his collection of Axe body spray and cologne, the housing tubes from the model city.
Except the box cutter. Its blade is exposed. His father prioritized safety. The son would never leave the blade like that. He feels cold, deep in his gut. He kicks the stacks of cardboard. And that’s when he sees it:
HOLLY MARTINE WAS HERE. I AM HOLLY MARTINE . . . HOLLY MARTINE HOLLY MARTINE HOLLY MARTINE HOLLY MARTINE HOLLY MARTINE HOLLY MARTINE HOLLY MARTINE HOLLY . . .
“You’re dead, too,” Holly says to the dad.
“About a year now.” They’re at a baptism. He can only stray so far; sometimes he has to gesture or move in a way that has nothing to do with their conversation but is required.
“The old woman at your daughter’s seventh birthday party and the guy at the concert,” she says. “They’re dead, too.”
“Yes. My wife’s grandmother. She lived into her nineties. I don’t know the guy at the concert, but there was a GoFundMe for his funeral expenses.”
“What’s a GoFundMe?”
“A fundraiser. Online.” She doesn’t get it. “Never mind.”
They’ve been through this loop at the baptism many times, the light fuzz on the baby’s head being doused with water and oils, again and again.
“What do the dead do here?” she asks. “Do they get trapped?”
He looks younger here than on the beach. His hair dark and full, a goatee. “They’re usually here for a while and then fade and become the repetitive images again, how they were first filmed. I think they have to be ready to go and those who love them have to let them.”
“What’s it with you? You can’t go, or they won’t let you?”
“Both.” The father’s eyes go wet. He smiles. “I loved this life.”
She looks at the stained glass, the priest in his pale robes, those hovering around the baby. “That’s not how it is with me, though.”
“You weren’t here. And then, suddenly, you were everywhere.” He has to make the sign of the cross and bow his head. “What do you want?”
She looks at him, completely confused. “All of this. All of it. A life! Look at what you got!” She remembers the girl in the basement taking off her tank top, the boy on top of her, their heavy breathing, kissing, the roughness and sweetness. Can’t she have that?”
He lifts his head. The prayer is over. “What about the man who . . . did this to you?”
She doesn’t want to talk about George Slimmer. Why should he even be allowed to exist in her mind? She taps her flute against her leg. “It was all woods, you know. Your whole neighborhood. And the last thing I saw was leaves and the sky behind them. I’d stopped breathing. But I still remember that. The leaves shaking. They weren’t angry or scared. Or happy. They were beyond all of that. I’m beyond hating him. Maybe it’s not trauma with us dead people. Maybe it’s just wanting.”
“But you’re stuck here. You should—”
“You’re stuck, too!” It feels good to shout in a church. “It’s how you know I’m stuck.”
“If they die, you could have them here.”
“If one of them dies, maybe I could take their place.”
“Are you crazy?”
“I wrote my name and it stayed. If I can do that, I can do more than that.”
She feels alignment, like in marching band when they synced up and the form took shape for the crowd—even though none of them could see it. Each one of them was a piece of something bigger. My Three Sons was three pairs of shoes, one of them tapping its foot, impatiently. They made that out of their marching bodies, their furry hats, chin-strapped into place. They only saw it when Mr. Tidek wheeled the AV cart into the band room and played the tape back. She feels powerful, caged.
“You can’t,” the father says. “Jesus, Holly.” He grabs her arm, but she pulls away just as he’s controlled by the moment, pulled back to prayer.
She turns and runs to the edge.
The son does a Google search. Holly Martine . . . News about the missing person case from 1986, the grieving family. Two years later, another disappearance. A high-school freshman field hockey player. The body was found. A few men were questioned. One was charged, tried, convicted.
George Slimmer. Expressionless, scarred lip. Fifty-five. Worked in HVAC, lived not too far away, in the house where he grew up, inherited from his mother after her death.
Cold and sweating, the son climbs the stairs, two at a time, to the first floor then the second. He finds his mother in the hallway, looking through boxes pulled from the crawl space. His sister is looking at the laptop, headphones on.
“Holly Martine,” he says.
The sister pops one ear out of the headphones.
“What?” the mother says.
“That’s the girl’s name. She was probably murdered by a guy named George Slimmer.”
They huddle around the son’s laptop. He scrolls and lands on a news story.
“She’s been in the basement,” the son says. “She wrote her name. Obsessively.”
“Why is she haunting us?” the mother asks.
“Did she write down what she wants from us?” the daughter asks.
“Does she have to want something?” he asks.
The mother thinks about it. “Don’t ghosts always want something?”
“Maybe she wants to kill us,” the son says. “Ghosts want that sometimes.”
The son twists away from them, looking at the door at the end of the hallway, the room where his father died.
“I’m collecting all the footage,” the daughter says. “She’s everywhere.”
Holly has done everything she wanted. Her hands are sticky with icing. Her jeans wet and sandy. Her fingers cold and red from the ice rink. Her throat raw from singing at the concert. Now she’s in the basement. The boy and the girl are making out. She watched them before, flushed with shame, but now she doesn’t look at them. She moves around the room, touches the headset; picks up cologne, sprays it, and walks through the mist.
She puts her flute down on the card table next to the cardboard tubes and Styrofoam, the markers, the box cutter. She picks up the box cutter. She recalls the first shovel of dirt settling around her. Once you’ve been murdered, you earn the right to murder someone. She’d never thought of murdered people when she was a teenager. What would happen if she killed someone here? Her actions have effects now. They ripple into the real world. She looks at the girl and the boy, moving around into some new configuration. “You’re on my hair,” the girl says, like she always does. He lifts his elbow. “Sorry, sorry.” They’re so alive. Do they deserve it? Why did she die and not them? Could she change that?
She looks up at the drop ceiling. She remembers the leaves against the sky. She tightens her grip on the box cutter and closes her eyes.
The mother, the daughter, and the son huddle around the laptop on the kitchen table.
The father looks at each of them now, through the camera, searching their gazes. He’s desperate. He wants to tell them something, but he can’t. He breaks away from his predetermined role only for a few seconds here and there, then he snaps back to the way he was before.
Holly isn’t in any of the clips. She’s gone.
The mother says, “Did she choose us? How did she get in?” She doesn’t think of her daughter’s cell phone. She thinks of the hole in this family—the hole ripped wide by the loss of the father. They have a human-shaped hole. Was Holly drawn to it?
“She needs a better flute.” The son wants good things for her. She’s been through so much. And she’s pretty, in a way. Maybe because she’s sad and he understands sadness. “We can do that, can’t we?”
“How?” the mother asks.
“I can buy a flute and film it. Upload that to the cloud, and it’s hers.”
The suggestion surprises the mother. It’s so practical and selfless.
“We could give her a birthday party,” the son says. “We could figure out what she’s missing, and, I don’t know.” The son feels himself falling for her. Will she be with them forever?
“What about Dad?” the daughter asks.
They play the clips, and their father is terrified. At their cousin’s wedding, while teaching the daughter how to ride a bike, in a hammock at a lake house. His eyes will snap, and he’ll stare into the camera. Does he want something from them? What?
The son paces around the kitchen, animated. He reminds the mother of his younger self when he let himself get excited about things. It scares her—his hope, his sudden naivete. “We can see him, and he can see us! It’s all different now, right? Maybe we can have him back, kind of—”
“No,” the mother says. “We can’t have him back. We have to heal.” The gaping wound of his absence. “It’s what he would want.” It’s what she would want if she were the one who’d died.
The daughter walks quickly to the back door, picking up her bike helmet from the floor and her coat from the doorknob. “I’m going for a ride.” She puts on her coat.
“We should stick together,” the mother says.
“It’ll get dark soon,” the son says. “You shouldn’t be out by yourself.”
The daughter opens the door. “I won’t be gone long.” She walks out and they follow her into the garage.
“Hey!” the brother says.
She pulls her bike out of the garage, hops on, and glides down the driveway.
Her mother runs out into the yard.
Her brother stands beside his mother. “Wait!”
“I’ll be back!” she calls to them.
The daughter pedals hard. Gets some momentum, passes where the dead girl first appeared. Keeps going. Downhill, out of the development’s entrance. Two stone posts were supposed to hold the name of their development in wrought-iron cursive. Still empty.
She pulls onto the main road. She stays on the shoulder. Her wheels pop and slip amid the gravel as cars pass. Headlights stretch her shadow then snap it back. Cold air burns her lungs.
At the top of the hill, she stops. Catches her breath. She says, “Welcome to my YouTube channel,” her voice hoarse and dry. She pulls out her phone and looks at the stretch of road. What if her father’s death has made her special?
There’s the cemetery. Her father is buried there. Lots of people who don’t want to be dead are buried there. She pulls out her phone. Headlights behind her slow; she casts a long shadow. The car pulls onto the shoulder. She looks back.
Her brother gets out first, leaving the door open. He takes a few steps toward her. “I know what you’re thinking,” he says slowly. “Don’t do it. Just hold on.”
The mother kills the engine but keeps the headlights on. She gets out of the car. The daughter, still straddling her bike, holds up her phone, ready to record. She has to do this. It’s the only way to get him back.
“Your father’s dead,” the mother says. “But we have to keep going.”
This is her shot; the daughter has to take it. She fakes giving in. She nods, lowers her phone, and gets off her bike like she’s going to walk over, put it in the trunk, and go home.
Her mother and brother exchange a look of relief.
Then she drops the bike and takes off running toward the cemetery. She holds up her phone and hits record. Her phone bobbles as she’s taking in the graves. She focuses on her father’s grave, up on the rise of the hill. But she’s sweeping over lots of graves, even the modest headstone of George Slimmer, who died in jail but was buried out here, in his hometown, next to his mother and sister. The daughter doesn’t know this. She wants her father back, that’s all. She couldn’t begin to understand what she’s setting loose.
Her mother cries her name. Her brother runs after her. Her body is lit up by the headlights, pouring into the darkness. Her brother is getting closer, and then leaps and tackles her to the cold, hard dirt. Her phone pops loose. She kicks him and twists away, but he doesn’t let go. He holds her. Both of them caught under the press of the darkening sky. And the mother arrives, standing over them, protective and breathless with love and fear. Their hearts bang wildly in their chests. The wind shivers, gusts.
And then her brother makes a strange noise. He lets go of her. He’s wincing in pain. He rolls to his back and pulls up his sleeve. There’s a cut on his wrist, short but deep. He looks at his mother, who falls to her knees and crawls to him. She presses her hand to the wound, blood rising through her fingers.
The daughter whips around, taking in the night sky, the graves, the road, her hair flipping in the wind.
Sure, it’s silly, but the fact that James Gunn’s twitter continues to make headlines (and he responds to those headlines!) will never not be funny to me, especially when so many of those headlines are literally the length of the tweet. Anyway, Guardians 3 is going to be about 2.5 hours long and James Gunn is working hard on DC, pay no mind to the Marvel behind the curtain. Spoilers, tout suite!
During a recent interview with Deadline, John Wick director Chad Stahleski revealed he’s having a hard time writing the Highlander reboot with Henry Cavill due to the complex mythology introduced over five films, two spinoffs, and seven seasons of the TV series.
I’ve worked on Highlander for years now, for Henry Cavill. Being retroactive is hard. What’s different between Wick and that? With Wick, you weren’t serving seven seasons of TV plus two spinoffs plus five films. If I were to do a remake of Highlander right now, you’d expect a lot of mythology in those first two hours; you couldn’t explore stuff without it. Now, Highlander as a TV show now would be amazing. You’d have time to build it out, see all those flashbacks and the potential of it. It’s trickier when you’re trying to do something with that big of a mythology. But I agree, that would be one to take a really big stab at. Here, we just had the opportunity to really learn as we went on with Wick.
Attack the Block 2
Meanwhile, John Boyega told Empire Magazine (via /Film) that his character, Moses, will be “pretty darn bloody frickin’ dope” when we see him again in Attack the Block 2.
It’s a character that I really understand. In creating him when I was younger, I really understand where he’s at now. It’s the character that’s stuck with me the longest. Every year I’d think, ‘I wonder what Moses is doing now.’ So I jump back in, and I think this version of Moses, if people can think about everything he’s been through, is pretty darn bloody frickin’ dope.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
James Gunn stated “not a second is wasted” in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 on Twitter, but there’s no reason to expect more films in the franchise.
Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham
Batman meets 1920s versions of Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, Ra’s al Ghul, and Talia in two new clips from The Doom That Came to Gotham.
Exclusive Clip From Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham (2023)
Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham: Exclusive Clip (2023) David Giuntoli, Navid Negahban
Daredevil: Born Again
Deadline reports Arty Froushan (Carnival Row) has joined the cast of Daredevil: Born Again as an undisclosed character believed to be Harry, “an associate of [Vincent] D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk” in his campaign to run for mayor of New York City. The news comes shortly after a set photo of Froushan next to D’Onofrio leaked to Reddit.
Star Wars: The Acolyte
In conversation with Collider, Jodie Turner-Smith revealed her mysterious character in Star Wars: The Acolyte is not a Jedi.
I didn’t get to use a lightsaber…but I did…not get to use a lightsaber. Because I am not a Jedi!
According to the series’ new landing page, Secret Invasion premieres June 21, 2023 on Disney+.
Adrienne King (Alice Hardy from the original Friday the 13th) shared two behind-the-scenes photos from the upcoming Crystal Lake TV series, with the latter tagged “coming 2024.”
Netflix also revealed the final season of its Ultraman series premieres this May 11.
We also have stills of Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxly opposite series’ stars Liko and Roy in Pokemon Horizons, the new series premiering April 14 in Japan.
Finally, Ben must save Addison in the trailer for “Judgement Day,” the first season finale of the new Quantum Leap.
Quantum Leap 1x18 Promo “Judgement Day” (HD) Season Finale
Edward Ashton’s hardcover debut, Mickey7 has been one of the buzziest sci-fi releases of 2022 and is currently in production with Oscar award-winning director Bong Joon Ho (starring Robert Pattinson, Toni Collette, and Mark Ruffalo, among others). Ashton follows up his adventurous debut with another novel in the world of Mickey7: ANTIMATTER BLUES (St. Martin’s Press, on sale 3/14/23).
Summer has come to the colony on Niflheim, and Mickey Barnes has a new mission. Though he’s retired as the colony’s Expendable (and his cloning days are hopefully behind him), the survival of the colony is still balanced on a knife’s edge. Winter is coming, and the antimatter that fuels their survival is running dangerously low — or so the Commander says.
Mickey’s been tasked with retrieving the antimatter bomb that he gave to the inhabitants of the planet at the end of the first book… and embroils himself in a cross-species conflict that leaves the fate of more than one civilization in his hands. And if something goes wrong this time, he won’t be coming back.
Ashton returns with another thrilling science fiction novel that expands on the incredible world-building of Mickey7 and continues to entertain.
“Readers who enjoy the nitty-gritty view of space colonization of John Scalzi or Michael Mammay will love this… A nonstop SF adventure from beginning to end.”
— Library Journal STARRED REVIEW
“Ashton’s follow-up to his excellent Mickey7 is just as much fun as its predecessor.”
“Ashton’s breezy characters, especially a few alien creepers able to communicate with the humans, delight, and the grungy details of colony life are rendered as realistically as Mickey’s hunger pangs. It’s good fun with a surprisingly effective closing twist that sci-fi fans will savor.”
— Publishers Weekly
Edward Ashton is the author of the novels Three Days in April and The End of Ordinary. He lives in upstate New York in a cabin in the woods (not that cabin in the woods) with his wife, a variable number of daughters, and an adorably mopey dog named Max. In his free time, he enjoys cancer research, teaching quantum physics to sullen graduate students, and whittling. You can find him online at edwardasthon.com or on Twitter @edastonwriting.
At any rate, Deadline had the scoop on the news, which calls the film “a live-action/hybrid reimagining” of the 1970 Disney classic “about a family of Parisian felines who learn they are set to inherit a fortune from their owner. When the owner’s jealous butler kidnaps them and leaves them in the country, they must team up with a smooth-talking tomcat to try to make it back home before it’s too late.” It will be the latest in a long line of Disney live-action remakes of its animated favorites, including a much-anticipated take on The Little Mermaid that’ll be out in May.
The script for this reboot is by Will Gluck (Peter Rabbit, Annie) and Keith Bunin (Horns); Questlove will be among its executive producers and, perhaps unsurprisingly, will also be in charge of the film’s music. The original Aristocats features the standout song “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat,” sung by a pre-The Shining Scatman Crothers and others.
What do you think of this news? Are you excited for Questlove’s spin on The Aristocats? What Disney animated film do you think should get the live-action treatment next?
In addition to being a) a scientist and b) the girlfriend of Bruce Banner, Betty was also the daughter of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, played in The Incredible Hulk and several subsequent Marvel Cinematic Universe films by William Hurt. With Hurt’s passing last year, Harrison Fordwill be taking over the role in New World Order—which will be the first feature film to star Avengers veteran Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson as Captain America. The rest of the cast includes Carl Lumbly and Danny Ramirez (who played Isaiah Bradley and Joaquin Torres, respectively, on the Mackie-led Disney+ Marvel series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), as well as Shira Haas (Unorthodox) and Xosha Roquemore.
You might catch yourself hoping that this news of Tyler’s return might bring with it some scrap of intel about New World Order’s story, but alas—nada. Directed by Julius Onah (The Cloverfield Paradox) and written by Malcolm Spellman and Dalan Musson (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), the Marvel Phase 5 film is slated to hit theaters May 3, 2024.
Two of the things that have fans most excited for the return of Fast and Furious are the additions of Jason Momoa and Brie Larson. Aquaman and Captain Marvel add some major star power (and, in Larson’s case, Oscar-caliber acting) to a franchise that’s already jam-packed with talent. However, since both actors are coming into Fast X seemingly out of nowhere, there was plenty of speculation as to who they’d be playing.
Would their characters be related to Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, or maybe Brian (the late Paul Walker)? For Momoa, the answer was revealed in the film’s first trailer: he’s Dante, the son of the bad guy in Fast Five, Hernan Reyes, and he’s desperate to get revenge on Dom and his friends. But what about Larson? Well, she finally spilled the beans in a new interview.
“Tess is Mr. Nobody’s daughter,” Larson told Total Film magazine. “She is technically Agency, but she’s kind of a bridge, in a way. She doesn’t go along with the way that the Agency’s headed now that her father isn’t there. She believes in the legacy that her father set up, which is standing with Dom and standing with the Toretto family, and is fighting for that. Dom knows that she has a strong mind and definitely respects that she’s gone out of her way to talk to him and wants to build trust. What he asks of Tess is a test. Like, if it’s an impossible task, and she can get it done, then that’s family for life.”
We realize this is a tad confusing coming the week after John Wick Chapter 4 opened, which also has a character called Mr. Nobody in it. But, in the Fast world, Mr. Nobody was played by Kurt Russell and he led a secretive team called the Agency which employed Dom and his friends. In Fast 9, Mr. Nobody disappeared, seemingly leaving a void—and now it appears his daughter will be stepping up.
I’m okay with this role just because you can imagine Larson’s character would be enamored with these pseudo-superheroes her father certainly talked about, and would want to become a part of their world. Whether or not that’s what happens, or how it fits into what seems to be a massive story, will be revealed in a few weeks’ time.
Mondo has had a huge impact on my life. As far back as I can remember, I always loved movie posters. Growing up, I’d buy posters at Suncoast or take them from my video store, and tack them to my wall. If they ripped, I’d just throw them out and get new ones. Years later, the posters of Mondo made me realize the papers hanging on my wall could be more than just decorations. They could be collectible art too, and that flipped a switch.
In 2008, I bought my first Mondo poster, The Lost Boys by Tyler Stout. I got it in person at a screening, which was how the brand got its start: making gig posters as one would do for concerts, but for movies. The poster opened my eyes to a whole new world—and since then, I’ve continued to buy posters. Becoming a collector introduced me to places like Gallery 1988, which releases similar cool art based on pop culture, and when I saw people spending hundreds and even thousands of dollars on the posters I bought for much less than that, it was a really good feeling.
I’ve been collecting and writing about Mondo and the pop culture art world for years, and I could go on forever about the impact it has had on me. Maybe one day I will. Today though, I feel like showing is better than telling.
After the news that Funko fired almost half of Mondo’s employees, including co-founders Mitch Putman and Rob Jones, who were key components in making Mondo cool for over a decade, Mondo as it once was is dead. Thinking back on the past, I walked around my home and saw a lot of Mondo. Mondo lives with me every single day—and here are some of my favorite pieces.
The Lost Boys by Tyler Stout
The one that started it all.
Rad by JJ Harrison
In order to pay Mondo proper respect, we’re going to break out of the realm of io9-only films here.
Inclusion by Aaron Horkey
Not technically a Jurassic Park poster, but a Jurassic Park poster.
Kill Bill by Tyler Stout
As Stout was my gateway into Mondo, he remains one of my favorite artists and I have a lot of his art on display.
The Lord of the Rings by Olly Moss
Like Stout, I have a lot of Olly Moss art on my walls.
Back to the Future by George Bletis
Mondo has done a ton of Back to the Future pieces but this one just sticks with me.
White Men Can’t Jump by We Buy Your Kids
One of my favorite movie, one of my favorite posters.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse by Martin Ansin
This is the foil variant.
The Star Wars Trilogy by Tyler Stout
Stout’s style isn’t for everyone but, as you can see in this slideshow, I love a very busy aesthetic.
Mugatu by Mike Mitchell
Mike Mitchell’s “Portraits” series has been a long-running one for Mondo, and I have several on my wall. This one was from the very first gallery show.
Princess Leia by Mike Mitchell
Mitchell’s portraits got the Star Wars treatment via Mondo and Leia’s is probably my favorite of the bunch.
Pan’s Labyrinth by Aaron Horkey
Horkey’s work is second to none; he’s also an artist who almost exclusively worked with Mondo’s team.
Nicolas Angel by Mike Mitchell
One more portrait, this one from Hot Fuzz.
Remy Adrift by Aaron Horkey
Horkey’s style combined with the idea of Pixar’s Ratatouille is still one of my favorite mashups.
Jodorowsky’s Dune by Kilian Eng
While most of my Mondo posters were purchased when they were first released, every once in a while I missed one I really wanted and had to hit the aftermarket to find it. Which is what happened with this stunner based on the documentary.
There Will Be Blood by Aaron Horkey
I guess, like Stout and Moss, I should say I have a lot of Horkey up too.
David by Jason Edmiston
Like Mike Mitchell’s popular portraits, Mondo was also behind the very popular “Eyes Without a Face” series by Jason Edmiston, of which I own multiple original paintings (including this Lost Boys piece) and pencil sketches, along with prints.
The Dude and Walter by Jason Edmiston
Before Edmiston does the final paintings, he does detailed sketches of each set of eyes, which he also sells. And when you can’t get the paintings, the sketches are often a nice alternative option.
But, since they’re just pencils, I bring them to a custom framer in Los Angeles called Framing Devil and have a little fun. So this is really a collab between both of them.
The Star Wars Trilogy by Olly Moss
If Mondo has a holy grail, it might be this set. And for good reason. They are just so beautiful and Lucasfilm has embraced them in the years since release. Also, another shout out to Framing Devil for the frames.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by Aaron Horkey
Photos don’t do these justice. Trust me. They are beyond stunning.
Various Studio Ghibli posters by Olly Moss
One corner of my home is dedicated to the films of Studio Ghibli and the centerpiece is this complete set of variants by Olly Moss. It’s Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, and Spirited Away.
Only the team at Mondo could get the notoriously protective Ghibli to collaborate.
Psycho by Daniel Danger
The glare on this one is pretty bad (sorry Daniel) but this variant Psycho print, in black and white, is just beyond perfect.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by Jay Ryan
Mondo existed well before I started collecting its pieces, so I had to go back and find this 2006 poster, which is also one of my favorites of all time.
The Evil Dead by Olly Moss
Top 10 Mondo, both in terms of idea and collecibility.
Real Steel by Jock and Olly Moss
This is a weird one. I purchased this in Austin, Texas at Mondo’s first gallery show. It’s a concept for a movie poster that took the idea of Rocky and combined it with Real Steel. Moss came up with the idea, Jock made it, and it hangs on my wall because I love Jock, Moss, Rocky, and Real Steel.
The Goonies by Tyler Stout
If you’re saying “Really, more Stout?” I have bad news for you.
The Monster Squad by Tyler Stout
Yes, more Stout.
Les Misérables by Olly Moss
Though this is for the Tom Hooper film, my wife and I like to pretend it’s for the much superior musical.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington by Olly Moss
Mondo didn’t just limit itself to popular genre fare. Oftentimes the company dipped back into the past for all-time classics like this one.
Dark Helmet and Barf by Jason Edmiston
Another example of me taking Edmiston sketches to the Framing Devil, this time with the idea of working them into the world of Mel Brooks’ film.
Toy Story by Tom Whalen
Sorry Tom, the angle and glare does not do this one justice.
101 Dalmatians by Jonathan Burton
Once upon a time, Mondo’s gallery had a show that was just Disney art, and this beautiful piece was part of it.
Robin Hood by Rich Kelly
This one too.
Shaun of the Dead by Tyler Stout
Ha! Did you think you’d made it to the end without more Tyler Stout? Think again!
Spaced by Tyler Stout
We started with my first Mondo piece, and end here with my second. An incredible poster for an incredible show by an incredible artist by an incredible company.
And Many More...
Again, that’s just the Mondo stuff on my wall as of March 2023. Beyond that, this flat file and portfolios are completely full. There’s a lot of Mondo, but a lot of other brands too. All of which started because of the team at Mondo.
As we already knew, the show will follow funky five-piece Dr. Teeth, Animal, Floyd, Janis, and Zoot as they record their first album, with the help of human characters played by Lilly Singh (as Nora, an aspiring record producer), Saara Chaudry (as Nora’s sister, a social media influencer), and Tahj Mowery (as the Elecric Mayhem’s #1 fan). Speaking to Entertainment Weekly (check out the full interview piece to see more photos!), co-creators Bill Barretta, Jeff Yorkes, and Adam F. Goldberg reflected on how the show will be different from Muppets shows and movies that’ve come before.
“We’re telling a very small story about this band and where they’ve been and where they’re going. It is about the band and not the tone of a variety show,” Goldberg said. Yorkes pointed out that there’s more freedom when working with characters who might not be quite as well-known as Kermit, Gonzo, Miss Piggy, and so on: “People recognize them, but we have the freedom to fill out their backstory and do whatever we want.”
Of course, there will be music liberally sprinkled throughout The Muppets Mayhem’s 10 episodes—classic rock covers as well as original tunes. (No word yet if any vintage Electric Mayhem tracks will be making the cut, but The Muppet Movie’s “Can You Picture That?” still rips after nearly 50 years.) “The conceit of the show is bringing this old school band to the modern age and way of making music. That’s the comedy of it. They’re a group of characters that have no real goals or ambitions,” Yorkes said. “Whatever you want to do, they roll with it.”
As Barretta notes, that’s where some of the show’s conflict will come in. “They want to remain true to themselves, but they don’t want to leave anybody out. How do you find that balance? That’s every musician or artist’s struggle—they would love everybody to love them. What’s fun about this band is we like to take the creative approach that they can play just about anything. That allows us to dip ourselves into different types of music and be silly and have fun with it.”
We are fer sure—to quote the Electric Mayhem’s guitarist, Janis—ready to have fun with The Muppets Mayhem, which should be coming very soon to Disney+.
And yes, the show has a very kid-friendly animated style, but the Star Wars vibes are all there. Don’t believe us? See for yourself in the newly released shorts, all three of which are in the playlist embedded below.
Even if you just watch one of the shorts, you see that these characters—especially that Nubs (voiced by Star Wars staple Dee Bradley Baker)—are very lovable and certainly capable, especially since they all already have lightsabers and Yoda-guided missions.
So what’s coming from this group? Well, these three shorts—and three more on YouTube in the coming weeks—will all hit Disney+ April 26, ahead of the series’ debut on May 4. It’s produced by Lucasfilm in collaboration with Wild Canary for Disney+ and Disney Junior. Michael Olson (Puppy Dog Pals) is the showrunner and executive producer along with Lucasfilm’s James Waugh, Jacqui Lopez, and Josh Rimes. In the voice roles, there’s Jamaal Avery, Jr. as Kai Brightstar, Juliet Donenfeld as Lys Solay, Dee Bradley Baker as Nubs, Emma Berman as Nash Durango, Jonathan Lipow as RJ-83, and Piotr Michael as Master Yoda.
And wait, is Star Wars: Young Jedi Adventures the first High Republic story fans can watch on TV? Up until now, the centuries-old stories have almost all been books or comics, plus short video game Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge. But Young Jedi Adventures is obviously going to beat The Acolyte to air, so that’s kind of a big deal. See it yourself when the show debuts on Disney+ and Disney Jr. May 4.
“Franchise.” It’s a word you hear more often than not these days when talking about movies. “It’s part of a franchise” or “We want it to start a franchise.” Franchises are prized in Hollywood because it means much of the hard work is already done; making a new Marvel movie orStar Wars movie is a no-brainer because the interest from the public is already in place. There’s no need for true ground-up creation. That happened a long time ago, and whatever follows reaps the benefits.
Despite this neverending reliance on franchises, when you look at all of the most popular sequels, remakes, reboots, or adaptations in recent years, one thing is very clear: very, very few of these ideas are new. If you define a new franchise by a film that has spawned at least two sequels and is not based on a book, show, toy, movie, etc., seemingly every single big franchise movie to be released in the past decade is from a property that already existed. Cast in point, last year’s top-grossing domestic movie, Top Gun: Maverick, was a sequel 26 years in the making. Star Tom Cruise’s next movie, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1, is (deep breath) the sixth sequel in a nearly 20-year-old franchise based on a TV show from 60 years ago, which also happens to be the first film of a two-part finale. This is what blockbuster movies tend to be today, relics or recreations of the past.
Long gone are the days of groundbreaking originality. Think of films like Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars—risky, original ideas backed by Hollywood studios which then became giant hits and spawned franchises. It’s something that basically doesn’t exist anymore. In fact, outside of a few examples in horror and animation, you have to go back almost a decade to find Hollywood’s last purely original idea that spawned a huge franchise. That movie is 2014's John Wick, which has its fourth movie, John Wick: Chapter 4, in theaters this week, and two spinoffs currently in the works.
In 2014, John Wick basically came out of nowhere. At first, it looked like a seemingly unremarkable little action movie starring Keanu Reeves. But then people realized it was special. Something exciting, new, layered, and awesome. The original went on to gross over $85 million globally on a budget of around $20 million. That gave the studio, Lionsgate, confidence to give the filmmakers more money to make a sequel in 2017. It grossed over double the original. Then, in 2019, the third film grossed almost double that sequel, becoming one of the top-grossing films of the year. All based on an original idea by a writer (in this case, Derek Kolstad) which was supported by a popular actor (Reeves) and executed for maximum entertainment by the director (Chad Stahelski) on a budget a studio could live with.
And while you’d assume the idea of shepherding and giving a chance to high-concept, original ideas would be the norm in modern Hollywood, it is not. At all. That’s probably because when there is an honest attempt at doing that (this month’s 65 is a great example, but there are dozens), it usually goes nowhere. Looking at the highest-grossing domestic filmsof the past 15 years or so—and, again, defining a new franchise by a film that has spawned at least two sequels and is not based on an existing entity—there are only a handful of examples in total, most of which are animation or horror. There’s Despicable Me in 2010, Hotel Transylvania in 2012, The Purge in 2013, and, well, that’s kind of it. They’re the exception, not the rule. So where are the original franchise films geared at non-animation or horror fans in the past decade? There’s one. John Wick.
The further you look back, the more examples there are of these original franchise starters. Final Destination and Fast and the Furious in 2000, Saw in 2004, Kung Fu Panda, The Hangover, a few others. But, even 20-25 years ago, original ideas that become franchises were still rather rare. And though the future will see several growing franchises overtake Wick as the most modern examples of this— 2009's Avatar being a prime example as well as 2018's A Quiet Place, both of which only have one sequel right now but multiple others in development—at this very moment, John Wick is the most recent, and current, reigning champ.
In other words, John Wick is the mythical creature everyone is chasing: an affordable, awesome, original idea that people enjoy and want more of. A franchise. The Hollywood unicorn.
When Henk Rogers attempted to get the rights to publish Tetris on handheld consoles in 1988, he likely had no idea the mess he would be thrust into. What followed was a year of flying in between Moscow, Tokyo, and various cities in the United States as he attempted to negotiate for video game rights while the Cold War began to crack down the middle. When he finally got the rights, he partnered with Nintendo and put Tetris on the GameBoy in 1989, and the rest, they say, is history. At least, until now. Now, the retelling is up to Hollywood.
The best way to describe Tetris (the film) is by imagining The Wolf of Wall Street by way of a Cold War spy thriller focused on video game rights. A year of Rogers’ life is compressed into a frenetic adventure packed with litigation disputes, worldwide travel, and rights negotiations, all the while Alexey Pajitnov—the game designer who invented Tetris while working at his government job in the USSR—is stuck in the middle of capitalist intervention and a network of Kremlin spies and bureaucrats. With a pace that speeds up faster and faster (culminating in a high-speed car chase through Moscow), and a judicious use of pixel graphics to help with the transitions, the high-stakes race set against the fall of the USSR is an exciting and wonderfully poignant film.
As Rogers attempts to negotiate between USSR-owned Elorg, Nintendo, and the corrupt Soviet government, it’s apparent that he is is truly in over his head. He’s not a spy and he’s not a player, he’s a businessman with a family who’se under a lot of pressure. The plot takes place in board rooms and secret meetings, and while the web of backstabbing, lies, and double-dealings is intricate, keeping the major players limited and focused allows Tetris to operate in a space between understanding every single relationship on screen and being able to enjoy the film simply knowing that the stakes are life-threatening, and wouldn’t it be nice if Rogers and Pajitnov end up best friends? (Rest assured, they do.)
You really feel the pathos of Tetris. What could end up mawkish and overacted is instead a kindly rendered look at two men who are risking everything to support their passion. There are grounded stakes in this film, despite literal spycraft and an appearance from Gorbachov. Nothing is world-ending, but the risks these two men are facing feel as important as the mutually assured destruction that underpinned the time period. Rogers’ family is teetering on the edge of breaking up, his company is at risk, he has no more money, and this one longshot is his last hope at success. Pajitnov has his own struggles with the KGB knocking at his door, threatening his life and the lives of his family. But Pajitnov still manages his moments of heroism and comedy, showing the kind of restraint needed to live under and within the Soviet government, while also praising the resilience of the populace.
Both Taron Egerton as Rogers and Nikita Efremov as Pajitnov deliver performances that are restrained and deeply emotive at the same time. Egerton’s comedic timing in the absurd situations Rogers is put into is pitch-perfect; it’s full of very American responses to matters of state that simply do not make sense to him. Efremov’s moments of levity and joy amid his stoic role are really remarkably charming, and if either lead had been less charismatic the film would have fallen apart. It’s these two men that make up the heart of the film, the rest of the characters around them serving as devices for both empathy and motivation.
One of the best parts of this film happens when we realize that there is a full scale breakdown between patriotism, greed, and politics during negotiations. In a government boardroom, amid yelling and back and forth, this idealogical breakdown is mirrored across the miscommunication and double-talk between all these different game publishers. While deeply political, the movie offers only a mild critique, continually brining the focus back to the characters at the core, even amidst nationalist parades and visits to the palace.
Tetris takes what should be a film about business transactions and creates a loving look at nerd culture, gaming history, and the men who risked literally everything for a video game about stacking blocks. It cares so much about details, about giving folks reasons to care about video games the way that Rogers and Pajitnov care about them. Backed by an ‘80s soundtrack and eight-bit beeps, the film is about gaming history, yes, but it’s also about why games are so important. They are fundamental to human nature, they have the ability to create emotional investment, to engage and create change, and they are powerful.
Ultimately, the friendship between Rogers and Pajitnov gives viewers a reason to root for the two of them. Apart they can come off a selfish or stubborn, respectively, but together it’s clear that they care about their work and they care about each other. Their friendship is the missing piece needed to complete the proverbial row, and when everything finally falls into place, Tetris turns into an extremely satisfying film, made all the better when you remember that Rogers and Pajitnov remain friends today.
In spite of a rocky first third, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a delightful, if slightly unsurprising, swords and sorcery film that balances the goofball antics of playing tabletop role-playing games and focused storytelling without sacrificing approachability. It follows a rag-tag group of adventurers who spend a little too long on their traumatic backstories as they attempt to right the wrongs of their past. Sort of. That’s kind of incidental, really. Despite all the marketing about saving a world from evil and fighting epic battles, this is the story of a family struggling to stay together, about a dad and his platonic life partner trying to get back to their kid.
It’s a rough start for Chris Pine’s Edgin and Michelle Rodriguez’ Holga. After spending two years in a panopticon-like ice prison, they finally escape, only to return home and find Edgin’s child, Kira–whom Holga also considers a daughter–missing. As Edgin and Holga trudge from classic Faerun locale to locale with little to no fanfare (but with a good amount of scenic shots) they fail to find their kid. When they finally track Kira down, she’s in the clutches of the double-crossing rogue, Forge (Hugh Grant), and an old enemy.
The only way to get her back is to steal her away in the middle of a blood-and-bread gladiator/labyrinth/Hunger Games event that Forge is putting on in order to make tons–and I mean fucktons–of gold. Edgin and Holga travel around Faerun (again, very scenic, very nice) and gather a team to help them along the way, including their old friend, Simon the Sorcerer (Justice Smith), who doesn’t really believe in himself very much, and Doric (Sophia Lillis), a Tiefling Druid who hates humans because of a deep personal betrayal. They also get helped out by the immortal? -ish? Paladin Xenk (Regé-Jean Page) who has a mysterious tie to the Red Sorcerers.
Amid daring schemes, exciting fights, and flashbacks (like, a lot of flashbacks), Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley have pulled together a solid film. The comedy is a little rushed, but the jokes all land, the characters mostly come together as charming iterations of classic D&D classes, and there’s not a poor performance out of the group. Hugh Grant might be the only person you could argue isn’t pulling his weight, but he’s not given much to do except ooze skeezey rizz and lie, so I’ll forgive him. Even the evil sorcerer, Sofina (Daisy Head), feels dynamic and convincingly nefarious, even if her motivations are just “destroy the city on behalf of my overlords,” which… fine, plenty of films disregard a villain’s motivations in favor of the hero, but it does herald the deeply predictable ending of the film.
The plot clips along, everything else keeps up, the sets are pretty, utilizing a kind of charmingly common medieval fantasy visual everyone can recognize, and the use of both very good practical effects and seamless VFX ties the whole package up in a pretty bow. It’s an easy watch, funny when it needs to be, emotionally compromising when it can, and full of gags and the smallest (so, so small) of nods towards D&D lore. Which is probably for the best! D&D lore is notoriously deep and sometimes contradictory, so referencing it in passing, or just allowing background moments to imply a depth keeps the film lightweight and allows people to enjoy the very fun fight scenes and the absolute beauty of Page when he shows up for a glorious 30 minutes in Honor Among Thieves.
Maybe it’s meta, but one of my favorite parts of the film was how carefully the writers and directors considered all of the characters as possibilities of how the players play the game. There are players who are earnest and all in, who make the campaign about their quest for personal wholeness. They only know half of the rules but they’re really invested. (This is Edgin, btw.) There’s the silent tank who only speaks when she really needs to say something, who knows all the rules perfectly and whenever you need someone to own a fight, everyone waits for her turn. There are players who really want to be a magic user and don’t quite know how to use spell slots. Players who have an ambiguous backstory but are definitely prepared to be dramatic at the drop of a hat, and are just following along until they catch on to how to play the game. And of course, the player who has scheduling issues, and when they show up the DM makes sure to give the table a game that makes the uses their character to the fullest extent because of course this is the guy who insists on playing the Paladin they first started playing in college and he’s at level 18 or something. It’s absurd, silly bits of detail to focus on, but I loved it. It felt like no matter how much of Dungeons & Dragons is in the film (which is, frankly, very little) the film was still deeply invested in rendering a portrait of what games are like.
My biggest qualm with this film is that it is so clearly a setup for the next campaign. Many character arcs remain on the precipice of a zenith, at least three storylines remain mysterious and open-ended–even branching, and handsome men in cloaks hint at hidden depths we’ve only just begun to uncover. Not all these things need to be resolved, and, in defense of the film, most films don’t resolve everything, but the sheer heavy-handedness of this particular narrative is deeply frustrating. Page’s Xenk is a huge part of this, as his unexplained tie to the Szass Tam practically begs for a sequel. Not to mention that Tam doesn’t even show up in this film! I want to see their contracts. I want to know how long these actors are locked in.
All of this open-endedness says that the point of this film is not to emulate a game of D&D, or even to emulate anything in the fantasy genre at all. The point of this film is to set up a franchise. We always knew this was the goal, but it’s disappointing to see it so laid out so transparently. And, for the record, as a proof of concept, it succeeds. It’s a good film! I laughed out loud multiple times! But it’s frustrating to watch a film and know that there will be more, dozens more, if Hasbro has their way, all trying to live up to Honor Among Thieves. It’s just a bummer. I can imagine it now; Dungeons & Dragons: The Emerald Enclave; Rise of the Red Sorcerer; Reign of Death. I’m resigning myself to covering at least three more of these, with no real guarantee that they will be anywhere near as good as this one.
Regardless, Honor Among Thieves is well worth a trip to the theaters. It’s fun. It treats its characters like people, it treats its audience with respect, and despite the bitter aftertaste of franchise opportunity I can hear echoing around in my brain like pitch meeting reverb, it’s a good story and makes all the right nods towards Dungeons & Dragons without ever getting lost in the lore. With a shameless reliance on narrative tropes nestled among genuinely solid action/comedy dialogue and excitingly frenetic action sequences, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves does what it’s meant to do: leave me wanting more.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves will be released in theaters on March 31.
There really is so much good SFF happening right now, it’s kind of wild. Renfield is looking to be a campy, Raimi-esque comedy gorefest, The Power reflects modern inequities through a sci-fi reversal, and... oh, well, I guess Joker 2is still happening. But the animated Gamera miniseries? That looks incredible. Time to get ready for the movies, spoilers!
Deadline reports Emily Alyn Lind has joined the cast of the untitled sequel to Ghostbusters: Afterlife (currently codenamed “Firehouse”)in an undisclosed role.
Keanu Reeves and Lionsgate Group Chair, Joe Drake, both want there to be more John Wick films in the future. Reeves is going to be in the Ana de Armas spinoff, The Ballerina, and is open to doing more films.
During a recent interview with /Film, sound editor Casey Genton revealed the upcoming Toxic Avenger remake starring Peter Dinklage, Kevin Bacon, Elijah Wood, and Jacob Tremblay contains a gory moment referred to as the “butt guts scene” by members of the crew.
It’s a really funny movie. Macon Blair, the director, I think did a really good job with it. Everybody was a dream on the film. I’m so surprised — for me personally, I had not seen the original Toxic Avenger until I had done this film. And it’s a huge cult classic, and I know people are really excited about it. When they have tested it, fans of the film have been over the moon with the film. [...] It’s pretty out there. I think it’s a different crack. They’re giving the fans what they want, for sure. There’s no lack of — I know everybody references the little kid’s head getting run over and stuff. I think that there was an iteration of the film that didn’t have enough of that, so they made a very — I don’t want to ruin it. But it has, it’s been nicknamed the ‘butt guts’ scene, and it’s probably the best way to match that ‘head getting run over’ energy that everybody’s looking for. So it’s in line with the fan base, and I think it’s hilarious.
Bloody-Disgusting also has several new photos of Nicolas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Ben Schwartz, and Shohreh Aghdashloo in Renfield. Click through to see the rest.
Ape Vs, Mecha Ape
After the United States tests an experimental, giant mechanical ape on an unspecified Eastern European country, said country captures and reprograms the weapon to attack Chicago in the trailer for Ape Vs. Mecha Ape.
Ape vs. Mecha Ape - Official Trailer
The Old Man Movie: Lactopalypse
A dairy farmer has 24 hours to recapture and milk his escaped cow before she explodes in the trailer for The Old Man Movie: Lactopalypse, a stop-motion feature from Estonia opening June 2 in the U.K.
THE OLD MAN MOVIE: LACTOPALYPSE Trailer - out June 2nd 2023 fr 606 Distribution previews fr May 24th
Superman & Lois
Lois needs space in the synopsis for “Head On,” the April 11 episode of Superman & Lois directed by Arrow’s David Ramsey.
DAVID RAMSEY DIRECTS – Clark (Tyler Hoechlin) and General Lane (Dylan Walsh) are both having a hard time giving Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) room to make her own decisions. Meanwhile, Lana (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Sarah (Inde Navarrette) have a run-in with an old friend at the diner. Lastly, Natalie (Tayler Buck) has a surprise visitor. David Ramsey directed the episode written by Andrew N. Wong (#305). Original airdate 4/11/2023.
The new spinoff has a summer release date and a new trailer. The Walking Dead: Dead City will premiere June 18th on AMC and AMC+.
Walkers Are Falling From The Sky | TWD: Dead City Tease
Our heroes prepare for a luncheon with their parents in the synopsis for “More Money, More Problems,” the April 11 episode of Gotham Knights.
THE KNIGHTS TAKE ON THE MCKILLENS — A plan to take down the Court of Owls leads Turner (Oscar Morgan) and the team to a notorious mobster family, the McKillens. Meanwhile, Carrie (Navia Robinson) and Stephanie (Anna Lore) prepare for Gotham Academy’s Parents Luncheon, and Harvey (Misha Collins) seeks help from a psychiatrist. Olivia Rose Keegan, Fallon Smythe and Tyler DiChiara also star. Nimisha Mukerji directed the episode written by Elle Lipson & Summer Plair (#105).
Veronica organizes a make-out party after a recent sex ed class leaves the Archie gang “more confused than ever” in “Sex Education,” the April 12 episode of Riverdale.
THE BIRDS AND THE BEES — After a lesson in sex education leaves the gang more confused than ever, Veronica (Camila Mendes) decides to organize a make-out party at the Pembrooke. Elsewhere, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) attempts to help Ethel (guest star Shannon Purser) out of some trouble only to find himself in hot water as well. KJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, Madelaine Petsch, Madchen Amick, Casey Cott, Vanessa Morgan and Drew Ray Tanner also star. James DeWille directed the episode written by Janine Salinas Schoenberg (#703). Original airdate 4/12/2023.
Meanwhile, Alberta and Issac “team up to solve the mystery of what happened to Crash’s head” in the synopsis for “Ghost Father of the Bride,” the April 13 episode of Ghosts.
After learning that Pete’s daughter, Laura (Holly Gauthier-Frankel), is getting married, Sam, at Pete’s behest, tries to convince her to hold her wedding at Woodstone B&B. Also, Alberta and Isaac team up to solve the mystery of what happened to Crash’s (Alex Boniello) head, on the CBS Original series GHOSTS, Thursday, April 13 (8:31-9:01 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+*. Caroline Aaron returns as Carol, Pete’s Wife.
Welcome back to Toy Aisle, io9's weekly roundup of the latest merch mania. This week, Kang conquers Hot Toys’ Marvel movie lineup, Mega Construx gives you a He-Man sword of your own, and it’s a Spider-Verse special as Mezco and Hasbro swing in with new toys. Check it out!
Hot Toys Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania Kang Sixth Scale Figure
Not even the age-defying charm of Paul Rudd was enough to save Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania from box office mediocrity, but at least the film got the chance to introduce non comic book fans to the MCU’s next Thanos-level baddie: Kang the Conqueror. Hot Toys’ new 12-inch, sixth-scale Kang figure features 30 points of articulation, plus two head sculpts of Jonathan Majors, one with a regular face and separate rollable eyes, and a helmeted alternative with LED light-up eyes. Availability is expected to be sometime in early to mid-2024.
Mattel Mega Masters of the Universe Power Sword
Way back in October of 2021, which feels like several lifetimes ago at this point, Mattel released a buildable version of Skeletor’s Havoc Staff from the Masters of the Universe as part of its Mega Construx building toy line. A few years later, with Mega Construx now known as just Mega, Mattel is finally releasing a buildable, slightly scaled-down, 30-inch version of He-Man’s Power Sword. It looks like it weighs in at around 805 Mega pieces in total, and is available for pre-order from Amazon now for $75, with availability starting on August 12.
Mezco Toyz One:12 Collective Ghost-Spider
Swinging all the way in from Earth-65 dimension comes Ghost-Spider, aka Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Gwen, with a fantastic figure treatment by Mezco Toyz. The six-inch figure includes a fitted fabric body suit, four swappable heads including a fully unmasked Gwen Stacy, 12 interchangeable hands, webbing, a dimensional travel watch, a smartphone, and 30 points of articulation. It’s available for pre-order now from Mezco Toyz’ website for $105, but it might not ship out until February of 2024, at the latest.
Hasbro Marvel Legends Series Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 Miles Morales
In time for Spider-Man 2 to hit PlayStation 5 later this year, Hasbro has revealed a “new” version of its spin on the Marvel Gamerverse Miles Morales. Reflecting his tweaked costume in the gaming sequel with new arms, the figure is largely identical to the original Gamerverse Spider-Man, complete with alternate venom-shock FX hands and the standard fist/twhip/crawl hands. But this time: there’s a cat! Alas, no backpack to put him in. Miles is due later this Spring.
McFarlane Toys The Flash Movie Batmobile
Even if The Flash movie ends up being another disappointing theatrical outing for DC Comics, you won’t find us complaining—because along with the movie, we’ll be getting a new wave of toys featuring the classic Tim Burton Batmobile. There are actually quite a few different versions en route from different toy makers, but McFarlane Toys’ version stands out for a couple of reasons, including a cockpit door that appears to either lift or slide forward as it did in the movies, loads of detailing, and at 22-inches long, lots of room for a seven-inch figure inside. But the best feature is that high-gloss paint job. It’s available for pre-order now for $60, and ships out next month.
Mattel Pixar Toy Story Woody’s Roundup Black & White Figure Four-Pack
Despite Stinky Pete’s unfortunate off-camera antics that Pixar has tried to sweep under the rug, we wouldn’t entirely be against the idea of Woody’s Roundup, the fictional TV series featured in Toy Story 2, becoming an actual show. Until that happens, this collection of seven-inch Toy Story figures featuring a monochromatic black-and-white finish could be the next best thing. They look like they’re sporting a decent level of articulation—definitely enough to use them for a stop-motion animation—and are available for purchase now through Amazon for $45 as a boxed set.
Hasbro Transformers Legacy Evolution Transmetal II Megatron
Although it would mean certain death for most sentient robots, Megatron isn’t your typical galaxy-hopping automaton, and when thrown into a volcano after “fusing his spark with his namesake,” the Decepticon leader not only survived, but emerged more powerful with a swanky new dragon alternate mode. The new figure is getting us more and more excited to dive into the Beast Wars lore, or, at least, checking out the next Transformers movie when it hits theaters in June. Beast mode Megatron goes from dragon to bot in 33 steps, and we’re not even going to try to pretend that we’re not incredibly jealous of that dragon head and neck arm in bot mode. The Transformers Legacy Evolution Transmetal II Megatron is available for purchase from Hasbro Pulse for $55.
The spirit of what April Fools’ Day should be is the energy of the Looney Tunes, and with that in mind ACME Fools will debut wacky new content to celebrate the silly antics of animation’s agents of chaos and their Warner Bros. 100 crossover events.
io9 caught up with Josh Hackbarth, SVP of the Animation Franchise Development at Warner Bros., to find out what ACME Fools is all about, how the Looney Tunes transcend generations, and what’s up next for the franchise. We discussed the inspiration behind the upcoming The Wizard of Oz and Looney Tunes mashup (which you can see exclusively in the video below), the first of four 30-second custom shorts debuting Mondays across the company’s socials starting today.
ACME Fools | Looney Tunes & The Wizard of Oz Mash-Up! | @wbkids
In conjunction with the mash-up shorts, collections inspired by the Looney Tunes crossing fandom lines will continue as part of Warner Bros. 100 lines at RSVLTS, Funko, and the WB Shop online. And of course on April Fools’ Day, more mayhem will be unleashed, with 12-hour stunts across Looney Tunes’ social media pages (@LooneyTunes on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter), plus WB Kids YouTube and Cartoon Network marathoning the franchise series—all leading up to the release of new HBO Max Looney Tunes Cartoons on April 6.
Sabina Graves, io9: Let’s talk about this year, which is a huge year for Looney Tunes and the Warner Bros. 100. What are the plans to have the characters ring in the centennial?
Josh Hackbarth: It is a huge year, not just for the Looney Tunes but certainly for the studio. We’re taking the opportunity to essentially leverage our Looney Tunes to showcase all of the fandom of the 100 years of Warner Bros. history. Looney Tunes are such a great platform to tell stories with—and so we thought, what better way than dressing them up as some of our other legendary Warner Bros. characters? Anything from our DC portfolio to Scooby-Doo, Wizard of Oz. We’re using ACME Fools as kind of a continuation of what we’ve started in the past but really amplifying it this year with the 100th.
io9: What’s the selection process like to match up the Looney Tunes with classic Warner Bros. fandom?
Hackbarth: It was such a fun process—and you can imagine the ideas that were flying in. When you look across the Warner Bros. library there’s not an IP we wouldn’t love to mash it up with, but we really started with fan-favorite Warner Bros. iconic properties like Wizard of Oz. Our DC characters, which there’s a long history of Looney Tunes and DC overlap there—so it’s fun to bring that back to life. But then things that we haven’t really done in the past in our animation library across Hanna-Barbera, like Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones, [were] fun to bring to life as well.
Hackbarth: There’s a close alignment there and what you’ve seen in that line. So it’s kind of fun to tell that kind of 360 storytelling from products all the way down to the shorts that we’re going to be releasing.
io9: The Looney Tunes characters have this long history of mash-ups—from their inception, when they riffed on Hollywood back in the day, to being in the Space Jam [movies], like The Matrix moment. Has there been any consideration to expand that into longer form shorts or features, kind of like Carrotblanca [the Looney Tunes feature parody of WB classic Casablanca]?
Hackbarth: I mean, they’re born in parody, right? It’s so nice to talk to a true Looney Tunes fan because you know the history. Since their inception in the ‘40s, they were really meant almost as a mirror onto culture, versus an aspirational window into somewhere else. And so it’s been been fun to see those kind of mash-ups, I don’t think we’re introducing that into the franchise. It’s been long discussed and long eventized with Looney Tunes. So I’ll say: I can’t see an end to it but there’s nothing specific that we have to announce today. It is fun to play with, even in the latest Looney Tunes cartoons that are up on HBO Max—there’s plenty of parody in there that’s been fun to bring to life in different ways.
io9: Oh, yes. I love those. And the work Eric [Bauza, voice of Bugs Bunny, Tweety, and Daffy on the Looney Tunes Cartoons] and all the voice actors do on that is just so incredible.
io9: Yes! What was the reaction to that around the studio?
Hackbarth: Oh, it’s—I mean, Eric’s incredible and just to have Bugs Bunny recognized like that, it’s just awesome. I got to hold [the Emmy]! Eric brought it to lunch and I got to hold it.
io9: Since they were first introduced into pop culture, every generation has had their iteration of the Looney Tunes—not just through whatever content they’re in, but in the ways fans embrace them. I grew up in the Space Jam generation, with the Looney Tunes clothes, Cartoon Network [Boomerang] re-runs, and going to Six Flags to meet the characters—I’m very jealous of Abu Dhabi [location of Warner Bros. World, which has a Looney Tunes Land]. But yes, even down to most recently their life in memes and fashion—I just love how Gen Z is so into them. The Looney Tunes have transcended and become so evergreen in that regard.
Hackbarth:Oh, 100 percent. And you kind of riffed on how every generation has their Looney Tunes—but the interesting thing is it’s all the general kind of same philosophy for Looney Tunes, just maybe it’s the particular pop culture they’re referencing or things like that. But, you know, those shorts from the ‘40s and early ‘50s, those hold up today and that humor holds up. But I too was born of the Looney Tunes ‘90s generation, and I had my denim Looney Tunes shirt from the Warner Bros. studio store that I wore to school—and so, you know, it’s almost more of a pop culture Looney Tunes that I was used to versus the core cartoons. Every generation, to your point, has their own shorts, their own TV shows, their own films, even, you know, whether it’s Space Jam or [Looney Tunes] Back in Action. We have stage plays and you mentioned theme parks. I mean, there’s no better place to see it come to life, whether it’s Six Flags or you mentioned Abu Dhabi.
io9: Tell me more about [Warner Bros. World] Abu Dhabi, because there’s a whole land called the Dynamite Gulch and Cartoon Junction where they all live, right?
Hackbarth: It’s so amazing that land that we built over there. I was able to visit it a couple of years ago. It really does just come to life, and bring Looney Tunes to life in front of your eyes. You see the ACME Factory, you see the characters walking around it. It’s really exciting. I think the wonderful thing about Looney Tunes too is that it’s not historical generations that are only loving them. You know, we’re continuing to feed future generations. There’s a great preschool show on right now called Bugs Bunny Builders.
io9: Yes, it’s so good!
Hackbarth: Such a great show [and] fun way to experience them for the very first time. We still have generations watching Saturday morning cartoons; whether they’re programmed or not they kind of do their own thing.
io9: What what are the plans coming up for more Looney Tunes merch? Not just with the WB 100, but the release of new fan collections for Bugs Bunny Builders and beyond?
Hackbarth: Huge kudos to our consumer products team. All around the world, they continue to bring Looney Tunes to life through our partners in all sorts of unbelievable ways. I was just over in Europe and seeing what’s popping up in the local markets for Looney Tunes is always so incredible. It’s this fan love all around the world. But you know, specifically you’ve seen the first of the four mash-up shorts that we’re doing, we’re really excited about those. We’ll have some other stunts happening throughout the month for ACME Fools [and] of course we have Abu Dhabi [and] a new stage show there. [Laughs] Not to keep pouring salt on that wound. We have a new stage show that the Looney Tunes are going to be front and center of over there as part of 100th anniversary. And then a little more closer to home we do have Bugs Bunny at the Symphony coming back to Los Angeles this summer.
io9: If it’s not too early to ask, is there any news regarding upcoming projects in the works for the Looney Tunes?
Hackbarth: I’ll just say we’re always finding new ways to bring Looney Tunes to life so I’m sure you’ll hear some news on that at some point.
io9: Amazing. And just to get down to some some fun personal questions, what were your first fandoms were growing up? And did they influence your career path?
Hackbarth: Oh, I mean, 100% Looney Tunes. And I don’t just say that because of my job. I have an amazing three-year-old birthday picture of me with the Bugs Bunny birthday cake and I’ve just been a fan ever since. And of animation, just the whole process of bringing those characters to life always just enthralled me. I’m so excited to work on it today, and being whatever shepherd I can for those characters is really a dream come true, for sure.
The Wizard of Oz x Looney Tunes Mashup premieres here first today—and on the rest of the platforms later this afternoon. Weekly Monday drops will reveal the next three fun mashup shorts. All-day Looney Tunes marathons of Looney Tunes Cartoons, New Looney Tunes and Looney Tunes Show will take over channels on April 1; check your local listings for more or watch online. And a new collection of Looney Tunes shorts will premiere April 6 on HBO Max—which will also see an ACME Fools takeover for the month; the newest preschool show, Bugs Bunny Builders, will be adding more classic sci-ficharacters to its roster.
Correction:Due to a transcription issue “Warner Bros.” was identified as “Warner Brothers” in an earlier version of this post. io9 regrets the error.
Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. Fear the Walking Dead is still on the air and a trailer for its eighth and final season is here. In it, the show makes direct reference to a major character in the original series, providing a link that fans have been curious about since day one.
Day one was back in August 2015 and it was a very, very different show back then. It followed a family, lead by Madison (Kim Dickens), at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, a time period the main Walking Dead show never really dove into. In the subsequent seasons though, Fear has moved its timeline pretty quickly. People die, come back, the setting changes, and in this latest season, seven years have passed bringing the show almost up to date with the other one, which you’ll get a sense of at the end of this trailer.
Fear The Walking Dead Trailer | The Final Season
Wait, what the hell is that at 43 seconds? Is that a zombie head attached to a robot arm? It looks like something out of Steven Spielberg’s A.I! That image more than anything else in this trailer piques my interest, even more than now-star of Fear, Morgan (Lennie James) returning home to King’s County, Georgia. That’s where he first met Walking Dead star, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and since Rick is getting his own show soon you have to wonder, will the two meet again? We’ll have to wait and see.
As for everything else, minus robot-zombie-head, here’s AMC’s official description of the final season of Fear the Walking Dead which debuts May 14:
The eighth season begins after the conclusion of Season 7, when Morgan’s (Lennie James) and Madison’s (Kim Dickens) hopes to rescue Mo from PADRE did not go as planned. Now, Morgan, Madison and the others they brought to the island are living under PADRE’s cynical rule. With our characters demoralized and dejected, the task of reigniting belief in a better world rests with the person Morgan and Madison set out to rescue in the first place — Morgan’s daughter, Mo.
Last week, Victoria Alonso, who has produced every single Marvel Studios movie alongside Kevin Feige and Louis D’Esposito, was fired from the company. At the time,no reason was given for the exit but later in the week, a few things came to light.
It began Friday when The Hollywood Reporter released a piece claiming Alonso was fired because she breached her contract by producing Argentina, 1985, a movie distributed by Amazon which was nominated for the Best International Feature Oscar. Alonso not only produced it, but used her name and status to promote it, and, according to the trade, working with a competing company and project was a key factor behind her firing.
However, later that day Alonso’s lawyer Patty Glaser, spoke to the Los Angeles Times and refuted those claims. “The idea that Victoria was fired over a handful of press interviews relating to a personal passion project about human rights and democracy that was nominated for an Oscar and which she got Disney’s blessing to work on is absolutely ridiculous,” Glaser told the Times. “Victoria, a gay Latina who had the courage to criticize Disney, was silenced.”
Here’s where things get spicy though. Glaser added that Alonso “was terminated when she refused to do something she believed was reprehensible.” She did not explain further but added “Disney and Marvel made a really poor decision that will have serious consequences. There is a lot more to this story and Victoria will be telling it shortly — in one forum or another.”
What could possibly be so “reprehensible?” Well, it is of note that Alonso was very outspoken when then-CEO of Disney Bob Chapek didn’t respond strongly enough to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It’s unclear if there’s any correlation related but Glaser mentioned it and it illustrates that Alonso was not afraid to speak out against her bosses.
Raising the stakes even further, a Disney spokesperson fired back at Glaser’s claims. “It’s unfortunate that Victoria is sharing a narrative that leaves out several key factors concerning her departure, including an indisputable breach of contract and a direct violation of company policy,” the spokesperson told the Time. “We will continue to wish her the best for the future and thank her for her numerous contributions to the studio.”
So what’s next, what happened, and what forum could Alonso speak out in? Later this year, she has a memoir coming out called Possibility Is Your Superpower, which will tell her story of growing up in Argentina all the way to being one of the foremost architects of one of the largest brands in Hollywood. That could be one. Or, maybe, this hits the courts and things come out there. Whatever happens, this story has all the makings of another interconnected saga Alonso was at the center of.
This month we’re discussing My Dress-Up Darling – a romantic comedy anime (with some fanservice) all about cosplay, followed up by a discussion about this year’s Crunchyroll Anime Awards and the r/Anime Awards.
That means a whole bunch of you saw the action movie this weekend but we’re guessing not all of you saw the surprise that was saved for the very end of the credits. That’s because, yes, for the first time in John Wick history, there was an end credits scene. And it’s a doozy. Spoilers follow, obviously.
After an ending that sees John Wick and his friends achieve their goals in more ways than one (more on that in a second), the credits pick up with Caine (Donnie Yen) carrying a bouquet of flowers and going to see his daughter, who he has spent the entire movie attempting to save. It should be a happy moment for the now re-retired assassin but the film did leave one dangling thread. It’s Akira (Rina Sawayama), whose father Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) was killed by Caine earlier in the film. “I’ll be waiting for you,” Caine says to her at the time. So in the end credits, as Caine begins to approach his daughter, a hooded Akira emerges and pulls a knife as she strides towards him. This is the moment Akira has chosen to exact her revenge on Caine for killing her father only, the scene ends there.
By ending the scene there, John Wick: Chapter 4 director Chad Stahelski does two things. He both strongly implies that Akira gets her revenge and kills Caine but also, without showing it, leaves his options open for it not to happen too, in case we get to see these characters again. Which, after that near $75 million opening, seems very possible (despite what he’d been saying in the press). About that potential return though...let’s talk about the actual ending of the film for a second.
(I’m gonna drop a rare second spoiler warning here in case you read this just to find out the end credit scene was but haven’t seen the movie because the movie ends with an even bigger spoiler. Beware.)
Last chance. Ready? Okay.
John Wick: Chapter 4 ends with John Wick dying. Probably. Maybe. He takes a bullet to the stomach, keels over, and later both Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Lawrence Fishburne) commiserate at his gravesite. But here’s the question, is Wick really dead? Or is the merely the idea of “John Wick,” an unstoppable assassin, dead, and the grave is put there just so the man can live a life of peace?
Here, we have to imagine, you can believe whatever you want to. Stahelski again leaves this open to interpretation so, if there’s never another John Wick movie, we can all agree he’s dead. Or, if Lionsgate dumps a truck of money at their door and Chapter 5 happens, they can just say it was a ruse. Personally, even if never a Chapter 5, I want to believe it’s a lie anyway. Wick just wanted to live a peaceful, quiet life and by faking his death, he’ll be able to do that much easier. To me, that’s the happiest ending, and just oh so Wick. Do you agree? Let us know below.
Police responded to a 911 call Saturday morning and found a 30-year-old woman who appeared to have been assaulted. The woman said Majors struck her “about the face with an open hand, causing substantial pain and a laceration behind her ear,” a criminal complaint obtained by ABC News says. Upon arriving on the scene, the police saw the injured woman and arrested Majors.
Later in the day, the actor appeared in court and was charged with two misdemeanor counts of third-degree assault, second-degree aggravated harassment, second-degree harassment and third-degree attempted assault. He was released with the next court appearance scheduled for May 8.
“He has done nothing wrong,” a spokesperson for Majors said in a statement. “We look forward to clearing his name and clearing this up.”
The arrest and charges come at a time when Majors’ fame is at an all-time high. After first gaining national recognition from his work on the HBO show Lovecraft Country and the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Majors began to get cast in larger films, several of which hit theaters in early 2023. There was the sequel Creed IIIwhere he played a childhood friend turned rival to the title character, as well as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, where he played Kang, a character who is planned to carry through the next several years of Marvel storytelling.
No word yet if the arrest and charges will change any of that specifically but Majors had been featured in ads for the U.S. Army, which chose to pull those after the events. “While Mr. Majors is innocent until proven guilty, prudence dictates that we pull our ads until the investigation into these allegations is complete,” the Army Enterprise Marketing Office said in a statement to CNN.
A re-release with a tweaked title of “Wrestling With Shadows” – a documentary on professional wrestler Bret Hart, and the Hart Family, that was filmed leading up Bret’s match at the 1997 Survivor Series, meaning they ended up catching the immediate aftermath of the Survivor Series Screwjob.
Finally, the picks of the week. Alex says, “On the anime side, I’m going for Mononoke, as it has a really strong visual style and some well written stories. On the 4K front, I’m looking to pick up the remake of All Quiet on the Western Front.” Blaine says, “I’m also interested in All Quiet on the Western Front and Doctor Who Am I, but of the titles I’ve seen, I’d go with the William Hartnell Doctor Who set.”
The hue matches that of the aforementioned teaser, which contained no footage of the actual movie but featured an abstract snowy (ahem) scene of a songbird and snake melting into brilliant gold, and asking the viewer to choose sides. The official synopsis is as follows: “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes follows a young Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) who is the last hope for his failing lineage, the once-proud Snow family that has fallen from grace in a post-war Capitol. With his livelihood threatened, Snow is reluctantly assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), a tribute from the impoverished District 12. But after Lucy Gray’s charm captivates the audience of Panem, Snow sees an opportunity to shift their fates. With everything he has worked for hanging in the balance, Snow unites with Lucy Gray to turn the odds in their favor. Battling his instincts for both good and evil, Snow sets out on a race against time to survive and reveal if he will ultimately become a songbird or a snake.”
With only the most cursory Hunger Games know-how, you can guess which way Snow ultimately went—not for nothing did President Snow, as played by Donald Sutherland in the main movie series, make io9's list of “Most Blatantly Evil Presidents in Sci-Fi Movies, TV, and Comics.” The most suspenseful part of all of this just might be whether or not audiences are still hungering for more Hunger Games in the first place.
Directed by Hunger Games vet Francis Lawrence and adapted from Collins’ novel by Michael Lesslie (Assassin’s Creed) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes stars Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, Jason Schwartzman, and Viola Davis. It’ll hit theaters November 17. Will you be checking out this Hunger Games origin tale, or staying on the sidelines?
David Cronenberg’s name has become shorthand for skin-crawling body horror, and many of his films do lean into the extremely visceral. But while Dead Ringers tells a story rooted in the medical profession, its shocks are (mostly) more psychologically distressing than stomach-turning—with no potency lost 35 years after its initial release.
You’ve probably seen promos for Prime Video’s upcoming series adaptation of Dead Ringers, which make great use of the original’s blood-red surgical scrubs—a simple color swap that proves incredibly effective at injecting unease into an otherwise sterile hospital environment. The 2023 version stars Rachel Weisz as the story’s unusually co-dependent twins, and it’ll be fascinating to see how making the main characters sisters rather than brothers changes the complex themes it explores. While we wait to see, there’s no better time to revisit the 1988 original, starring Jeremy Irons as Drs. Elliot and Beverly Mantle—Toronto gynecologists specializing in female fertility who’ve found great success both despite and because of their oddities. While separately they’re brilliant, the power of their brains working together has made them superstars in their field, as Beverly makes great strides in research and Elliot puts that work into practice.
However, they’re also extremely ethically slippery, thinking nothing of impersonating each other depending on the situation, and that includes taking turns romancing their unaware patients. The viewer has no trouble understanding why this charade works so well; the Mantles’ carefully calibrated relationship enables both of them to get exactly what they want, and it’s hard to tell them apart at first. Through the subtleties of Irons’ masterful dual performance, however, the distinctions between Elliot and Beverly become more apparent. Elliot, who refers to Bev as “baby brother,” is the stronger, more outgoing personality; Bev is more emotionally fragile, something that’s made very clear when he falls for the Mantles’ latest sexual conquest: Claire (Geneviève Bujold), a famous actress who desperately wants to have children, but whose anomalous cervix—something that makes her instantly fascinating to both doctors—is working against her. Bev’s attachment to Claire throws off the balance between the twins, something that only gets more perilous when he begins to share Claire’s pill-popping habit.
Dead Ringers’ screenplay (by Cronenberg and Norman Snider) is based on Twins, a novel inspired by real-life twin gynecologists who were discovered dead together in 1975 in a New York City apartment, having perished at just 45 from apparent drug-related causes. You don’t need any more details to see how that tragedy provided a fascinating framework for Cronenberg’s film, which further ratchets up the ickiness by giving Bev a peculiar fetish for “mutant women.” It’s sparked by Claire’s unusual anatomy but gets taken to the extreme when Bev commissions an artist (played by Stephen Lack, star of Cronenberg’s Scanners) to make a series of barbaric-looking gynecological tools that—in one of Dead Ringers’ most shocking, most overtly horror-movie scenes—he attempts to use on an actual patient.
Even without knowing what befell the Mantles’ real-life inspirations, you can see Dead Ringers is headed full-tilt into extreme darkness. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that for all its ickiness it’s a hell of an entertaining movie. Irons missed out on winning an Oscar thanks to Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, a slight that feels impossible when you revisit Irons’ performance—full of nuance and incredible range, spread across two characters whose lives soar to professional heights and plunge to junkie lows, and who are tied to each other with a love as deep as it is undeniably unhealthy. And, true to Cronenberg, the movie’s not without its sly moments of humor, knife twists of pathos, and arresting imagery—whether that’s a nightmare that reinforces the idea that Elliot and Bev are actually conjoined twins, those sinister crimson surgical scrubs, a drug-addled Bev’s pitiful longing for ice cream, or Elliot’s forceful declaration that yuppie touchstone Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous is “my favorite fucking program.”
Dead Ringers the movie is currently streaming on HBO Max; Dead Ringers the series arrives April 21 on Prime Video.
The announcement came as part of this weekend’s WonderCon, which featured a panel highlighting the new-old series. Here’s the official logline: “This modern refresh of the Phil Lord, Chris Miller [Lord and Miller’s shared credits include Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Afterparty, and 21 Jump Street] and Bill Lawrence (Ted Lasso, Cougar Town, Scrubs) hit series Clone High is set at a high school for clones of historical figures. After a high school that was secretly being run as an elaborate military experiment to clone the greatest minds in history was put on ice, the clones have been thawed out 20 years later to resume the experiment with new clone classmates—all while navigating a new set of cultural norms and overly dramatic teen relationships.”
Returning stars include Will Forte (Abe) and Nicole Sullivan (Joan), plus Lord as Principal Scudworth, Miller as JFK and Mr. B, Christa Miller as Candide Simpson, Donald Faison as George Washington Carver, and Judah Miller as Scangrade. New to the school, per an HBO Max press release: “Ayo Edebiri as Harriet; Mitra Jouhari as Cleo; Vicci Martinez as Frida; Kelvin Yu as Confucius; Neil Casey as Topher Bus; Jana Schmieding as Sacagawea; Sam Richardson as Wesley; Mo Gaffney as Ms. Grumbles; Al Madrigal as Frederico; Danny Pudi as Dr. Neelankavil; Emily Maya Mills as Ethel Merman; Michael Bolton as Michael Bolton; Mandy Moore as Mandy Moore, Ian Ziering as Ian Ziering; Steve Kerr as Steve Kerr; and Jeffrey Muller, Kyle Lau, Dannah Phirman, and Danielle Schneider.”
“Steve Kerr as Steve Kerr” is especially delightful to me for basketball appreciation reasons, but that is a tip-top cast of funny folks. HBO Max also shared three images from Clone High, including the tongue-tied one at the top of the post. Here’s the provided caption for the below: “Frida Kahlo, Abe Lincoln, JFK, Joan of Arc, Harriet Tubman, Cleopatra, and Confucius stand in front of the Grassy Knoll as it burns.” JFK looks so blasé, considering the context!
And finally, here we see “Principal Scudworth sets the tone during ‘Saxual’ Education Week.”
Star Trek: Picardfans knew that the show’s third and final season would be a Next Generation reunion, featuring characters from the series that introduced Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard. But while Brent Spiner had appeared in previous Picard seasons, many wondered if season three would find a way to bring him back again as Data, his original TNG character.
Turns out Picard showrunner Terry Matalas was one of those people pondering that very thing—and he was very aware of the importance of the character’s inclusion. “One of the first questions I had to ask myself was, ‘How the hell are you going to do a Star Trek: Next Generation reunion without Data being a part of it?’,” he said in an interview with Collider after this week’s episode, which introduced the “ultimate Data,” a multi-faceted version of the familiar android. “This character has died twice, and you can’t just bring him magically back to life. Something else has to happen. However, there are some stories that haven’t really been told with Data, which is he was backed up onto B-4. Lore is still a dangling chad. What if there was a final android that was almost perfectly human in the way that Soji or Picard was, that could look like Brent Spiner today? But what if it was Jekyll and Hyde? What if both Lore and Data [were] in there with all these other things? Wouldn’t that give Brent Spiner something really interesting to play? And couldn’t that promise a really interesting final Data/Lore story?”
That is a lot of what-ifs. But when Matalas spoke with Spiner himself, the actor was enthusiastic about these new possibilities for his character. “I took that to Brent thinking he was going to reject the whole thing, and he was like, ‘Oh, that’s actually really cool.’ Brent was unbelievably collaborative with it, and Brent had ideas that only elevated it in ways I couldn’t have imagined. In fact, some of the best moments of this story were Brent’s idea.”
Star Trek: Picard is just past its season-three halfway point, with new episodes arriving weekly on Paramount + until the series finale on April 20.
After a mishap involving her office’s slick new printer, aging pencil-pusher Marlène gets called out by her smarmy young boss. Perhaps, he suggests, if she can’t evolve with the technology, she should take herself out of the workforce entirely. As sci-fi shortSeniors 3000 reveals, there is another, far wilder way!
Shared by Short of the Week, this 16-minute charmer from Julien David uses both 2D and 3D animation to weave a fantastical tale that explores some real-world themes, including ageism, the generation gap, corporate greed, and the loneliness of an empty-nester. Beyond the real world, Seniors 3000 also imagines what might happen if elderly people embraced high-tech evolution a little too much—and who might be standing by to greedily exploit them before moving on to an equally vulnerable, far younger group of people.
Dark humor short film on the future of work | “Seniors 3000" - by Julien David
That story sure escalated a lot! Like, to apocalyptic levels! Two big takeaways from Marlène’s story: never underestimate the power of organization, even when it’s being done by a group of human-robot hybrids designed for highly specific purposes—and beware any manager type who’s still dabbing as a way to punctuate his sentences.
Shrink down to the size of toys at Toy Story Land in Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, where you can play and dine alongside Andy’s treasures. Disney Parks invited io9 to preview the food and theming at the newest dining destination that has something for everyone, even plant-based BBQ!
The Walt Disney World family immersive area just opened up Roundup Rodeo BBQ, where you’re hosted in a restaurant of Woody and friends’ mini-making. There’s even a moment where the Army men warn guests there’s an Andy sighting—and, true to the toys in the movie, everyone has to freeze mid-meal until he passes.
Check out our gallery for a peek inside!
Toy Story theming and immersion
Here’s the standard BBQ fare, which includes ribs, brisket, and some sides including a cheddar biscuit, plus dessert.
Roundup Rodeo BBQ meat and sides plate
Roundup Rodeo BBQ gluten-free platter
The BBQ is already gluten-free as is, but something to note is that the BBQ sauce is too! No hidden gluten microdose there. There’s even a pie option that’s gluten-free, plus plenty of sides. Pro-tip: a lot of the plant-based options are also gluten-free, including our favorite, the Impossible “rib chop” (trust us).
Roundup Rodeo gluten-free and plant-based food
Roundup Rodeo plant-based platter
Here’s a close up of several of the plant-based options; not pictured are the rest of the vegan/veggie-friendly sides. (There’s more than just peppers!)
Jessie and Trixie
Roundup Rodeo pies in a cup
Roundup Rodeo Toy Story-themed drink
This is the kid-friendly Partysaurus Rex.
Roundup Rodeo drinks
The drink selection is creative, based on juices and smoothies. There’s even some adult twists on what you see.
Bo Peep and her sheep
The design on Bo here is the only figure ever made that’s exclusively inspired by her look in Toy Story 4 and her classic introduction.
Roundup Rodeo drinks and treats
Forky the existential cupcake
Reach for the sky!
Imagineers shared that the puzzle on the wall is missing four pieces and they’re scattered throughout Toy Story Land. So be on the lookout.
Roundup Rodeo BBQ sides
Mr. Potatohead thinking about his spudlings being turned into potato salad.
Roundup Rodeo BBQ platters and sides
Good old rodeo fun!
Roundup Rodeo BBQ Menu
Roundup Rodeo Drink menu
Can you spot the Easter egg?
Hint: look at the expiration date!
Roundup Rodeo allergy-friendly menu
Roundup Rodeo allergy-friendly menu
Find it all at Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios
Check out Roundup Rodeo BBQ in Toy Story Land at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios! To make reservations visit here.
What if I told you that actor Madison Iseman is the reincarnation of the goddess Athena? Would you have any idea I was referring to Knights of the Zodiac, the upcoming live-action adaptation of a hit manga/anime series from the 1980s originally called Saint Seiya? I would be surprised, because adaptations were immensely popular around the world pretty much everywhere except North America, but maybe the movie—and its new trailer—can rectify that.
I know only the broad strokes of the original series, which is that five teens get magical, color-coded powers based on various constellations/signs of the Zodiac to protect the reincarnation of the Greek goddess Athena from other Greek gods who want to destroy her and rule the Earth. And based on this trailer, the movie seems to be... somewhat faithful to that:
Knights of the Zodiac - Exclusive Trailer (2023) Mackenyu, Famke Janssen, Sean Bean
Here’s the official synopsis: “Seiya (Mackenyu), a headstrong street teen, spends his time fighting for cash while he searches for his abducted sister. When one of his fights unwittingly taps into mystical powers he never knew he had, Seiya finds himself thrust into a world of warring saints, ancient magical training, and a reincarnated goddess who needs his protection. If he’s to survive, he will need to embrace his destiny and sacrifice everything to take his rightful place among the Knights of the Zodiac.”
I’m not going to lie, I’m not getting great vibes from this film. It feels like it’s been rejiggered for Western audiences, which, sure, often sounds like it would be the best path to a film’s success, but when it’s an anime adaptation, it often diminishes the source material. And, again, Knights of the Zodiac was never very popular here, making me wonder why it was an English-language production in the first place.
Knights of the Zodiac comes to American theaters on May 12.
After undergoing a procedure aimed at restoring her hearing after 12 years of silence, college student Chloe (Chucky’s Lachlan Watson) heads to her family’s Cape Cod cottage to recuperate. It’s lonely—but as The Unheard explores, she finds she’s not alone, seemingly in both natural and supernatural ways.
Deafness is a surprisingly common theme in horror, used to make a character more vulnerable, and/or empower them in unexpected ways (see: Mike Flanagan’s Hush, the A Quiet Place series). The Unheard taps into that but also pulls in elements from movies like The Eye, in which a formerly blind woman begins to experience ghostly phenomena after a cornea transplant brings back her sight. In Chloe’s case, the experimental treatment swiftly proves successful, an apparent medical miracle that carries with it some disturbing side effects—including the fact that her hearing now appears to be enhanced by extrasensory perception.
This intriguing premise layers into a story that positions Chloe at the center of an ongoing mystery. The year she fell ill and lost her hearing, her mother vanished without a trace, a pair of tragic events that inspired her father to move himself and his daughter several states away. When Chloe returns to Cape Cod, both to recover from her operation and to start the process of readying the long-neglected home for sale, she finds plenty of psychic pain waiting for her, fed by melancholy memories—her mother’s voice is the last she can recall hearing—and a stack of dusty videotapes containing home movies of happier times.
The Unheard’s setting shares some DNA with director Jeffrey A. Brown’s prior film The Beach House—both take place in isolated seaside communities that are ostensibly peaceful, but have a sense of foreboding hanging over them. The Unheard makes good use of the baked-in eerie quality of a vacation town in offseason mode, where something as innocuous as a light flicking on at the supposedly empty home next door can cause instant paranoia.
As we come to learn, Chloe’s not as mentally stable as she pretends to be; still grieving the loss of her mother, she’s been taking anti-depressants, a fact she fails to disclose to the doctor running the hearing project. When she begins to spiral—becoming fixated on those VHS tapes, which seem to be communicating with her somehow; drilling holes in the floor to figure out where the disembodied static sounds she can’t escape are coming from; and even snooping around that home next door—her behavior feels reasonable for a young person dealing with a whole lot of emotional weight, even with the joyful yet confusing sensation of being able to hear again. You wish she’d taken the doctor up on an offer of therapy as part of her treatment, and you also wish her circle of acquaintances on Cape Cod extended beyond two men, both of whom could take up entire chapters in The Gift of Fear. It doesn’t help that The Unheard works in a prominent subplot that lets us know that in the years since Chloe’s mom vanished, the community has had an ongoing missing-young-women problem.
Those latter points are ultimately where The Unheard—which at two hours feels overly long, with maybe too many scenes of flickering, repetitive VHS footage—loses its bearings. Chloe’s restored but unreliable hearing, and the way it ties into her ability to perceive what appear to be voices from beyond, are interesting threads for a horror movie to pull on, even if you get a good sense from the start that her mother’s uncertain fate is going to prove important. Unfortunately, the cast is so small that it’s not hard to pick out exactly who the baddie is. And as The Unheard pivots to a predictable cat-and-mouse scenario, even a last-minute twist can’t make up for the feeling that you knew where this was heading way too early on.
The Unheard is written by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen, who also co-wrote the excellently tense alligator horror movie Crawl. Along with Watson, it stars Michele Hicks (Mr. Robot, Orange Is the New Black), Shunori Ramanathan (Search Party), Nick Sandow (Orange Is the New Black), and Brendan Meyer (The OA). It begins streaming on Shudder March 31.
A recent build up of interest in a new Trek series set in Picard’s early 25th century time period—initially dubbed by fans as Star Trek: Titan, as a chance to see Todd Stashwick’s Captain Shaw return to the helm of his ship from Picard and go on new adventures—has bubbled over this week as showrunners and cast alike have taken to social media and interviews to rally around the idea. Except now it has a bit of a re-brand, thanks to Picard showrunner Terry Matalas: Star Trek: Legacy.
The idea, instantly seized upon by actors from the show as well, already seems pretty fleshed out in all their minds—a new Trek show in the vein of Strange New Worlds, focusing on the Titan’s crew, including Shaw, Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), Sidney and Alandra La Forge (Ashleigh Sharpe Chesnutt and Mica Burton, respectively), and Jack Crusher (Ed Speelers), as they carry on the work of their parents and colleagues in exploring the galaxy. Hell, even Jonathan Frakes wants in, telling Emmy Magazine he’d even want Riker and Troi’s daughter Kestra on board. “I could be like Charlie in Charlie’s Angels, the admiral they check in with,” Frakes suggested.
With both LeVar and Mica Burton running the press circuit this week to promote their debut appearances on Picard in episode six of the season, they too have weighed in positively on the idea of Legacy as a new show. On an appearance alongside fellow Picard guest star Whoopi Goldberg for The View, Burton threw his support behind the idea:
With petitions shared on social media supporting a spinoff by Burton himself and Jeri Ryan, even as Matalas has stressed that no work is actively being done on a continuation of Picard, it seems a good chunk of people are trying to will it into existence. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened in Trek’s contemporary revival, either—after all, we got Strange New Worlds in the first place off the back of fan and critical approval of Anson Mount and Ethan Peck’s appearances in Discovery as Captain Pike and a younger Spock.
But things are different now for Trek than when Strange New Worlds was revealed. Just as the franchise has rapidly expanded in the last six years, it’s about to contract a bit: in a month, Picard will be over, and early next year Discovery, the series that started this new era off, will conclude with a fifth and final season. As streaming services tighten their belts and begin to wind down their approach of blanketing audiences with as much content as possible, the days of Paramount’s plans for “All Star Trek, all the time” might no longer be so desirable. And that’s before we get into the projects that we do know are on the backburner outside of the continuation of shows like Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and Prodigy, like a planned Starfleet Academy series, and the long-in-limbo Michelle Yeoh project based around Section 31.
Even with the surprisingly intense demand for Star Trek: Legacy from the fandom and creative team alike, it’d be just as surprising for Paramount to immediately greenlight the project before Picard season three is done airing. If anything happens, it’s not going to be for a while—but it’s not hard to see that there’s an audience there, if Paramount wants it.
There’s a long-standing tradition in the arts, whether it’s literature, film, music, or all pop culture in general: every once in a while, someone comes along and proclaims a genre irrevocably dead. The jury’s been out on cyberpunk for decades.
I’m a woman writer of color from India, something that sits completely at odds with all the canonicalcyberpunk I’ve ever read, and I’m here to tell you why the genre has never been more alive.
A Crash Course on Cyberpunk
For those unfamiliar with the genre, cyberpunk is characteristically set in a futuristic, technologically advanced dystopia, run by an all-powerful corporation. Its protagonists tend to be outcasts, disenfranchised and on the wrong side of society, who use technology to take down the system.
The origin of cyberpunk is a complex story of cultural shifts occurring simultaneously in different parts to the world, giving rise to perspectives on the future concerned with the role of technology. To offer a highly abridged summary, American cyberpunk can be traced all the way back to counterculture novels, like William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. In the 1960s, Samuel R. Delany’s Nova and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? explored themes that would soon come to be well-identified tropes in the genre. The latter inspired Ridley Scott’s iconic film Blade Runner, which released in 1982, and is now identified as cyberpunk. All this led up to 1984, when William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer, came to define the genre.
Practically in parallel, halfway around the world in Japan, punk culture and Japan’s rise as an economic and technological powerhouse was giving rise to cyberpunk in the 1970s and ‘80s. Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga series Akira established the genre in 1982, and was adapted into an anime in 1988. Cyberpunk themes have found their way into manga, games, and anime ever since.
“Cyberpunk is Dead”… Not
The genre has often been proclaimed dead because it’s allegedly said nothing new for decades. All new work purportedly sticks to the template laid down in Neuromancer: a lone hacker takes down an oppressive and mega-evil corporation. I don’t subscribe to this theory; in fact, I challenge it.
However, cyberpunk doesn’t get a free pass from criticism. Where existing criticism has been most valid, in my opinion, is when it looks at representation. Across the breadth of the genre, cyberpunk has tended towards being Orientalist, both exoticizing and appropriating Asian cultures while expressing xenophobic paranoias about a non-Western technological superpower. It’s largely white, male, heteronormative and relegates women and queer persons to the margins. BIPOC identities have either been fetishized or find no representation at all, and futures imagined by own voices from outside all of un-America and the Western Anglophone world are scant.
This is changing—not as fast as I’d like, and not as extensively as I’d hope for—but it’s a start, and it’s a sign of things to come. It’s also where I believe cyberpunk, and in particular, the cyberpunk novel, is most alive.
Cyberpunk is Alive, Evolving and Relevant
The world does not revolve around the cishet white Western Anglophone male experience, and neither does the future.
The perpetually criticized cyberpunk through line—lone disenfranchised hacker versus evil corporation—might be old hat in the context of the cishet white male narrative, but it takes on an entirely different significance when the hacker, or equivalent tech rebel, represents a marginalized identity.
We live in a reality where women, queer individuals, and BIPOC are minorities in technology, where the glass ceiling is real, and discrimination persists. When the lone hacker is a woman, or belongs to any of these marginalized intersections, what the evil corporation represents comes with added dimensions, their disenfranchisement is compounded, their agency and the expression of their identity are checked by the patriarchy. It’s strange that when one considers the “canon,” one views a largely heteronormative body of work, conforming to the gender dichotomy and reinforcing gender stereotypes, in a genre where reality is fluid, where self-expression through body modification is a staple, where virtual identities can take any shape or form, and where systems of power are routinely upended.
There’s a small but growing body of work that seeks to address issues of representation in the genre. Trouble and Her Friends, Melissa Scott’s 1995 Lambda Award-winning cyberpunk novel, is told from a feminist perspective with queer protagonists. Aubrey Wood’s forthcoming debut, Bang Bang Bodhisattva, features a trans girl hacker-for-hire in a novel that explores personhood while also being an edgy detective mystery. My debut novel, The Ten Percent Thief, is unapologetically feminist.
The narrative changes completely when a character representing an identity that has historically been denied agency—both in real life, and within the genre’s history—takes on the system. The power dynamics shift, the system is far more insidious, and they must contend with challenges a cishet white male protagonist will never experience.
Tech-dystopian futures have also tended to focus on the Western Anglophone world and its culture, history, and concerns. If cyberpunk novels have been set in the rest of the world, the future has usually been imagined through the lenses of predominantly white male writers.
Modern technology has been on different timelines across the world. In India, resources to acquire externally developed tech, or to develop tech internally, have often been limited. India, like many countries with a history of colonization, spent much of the last century playing catchup. The notion that Indians could build their own companies, develop sophisticated tech, and write code caught on only in the ‘90s, and with it came the first stirrings of the evil tech corporation in its present, easily recognizable, global form.
Plausibly, at least so long as capitalism persists and history repeats itself, everyone eventually gets to the point where evil tech corporations are real entities, and when they’re paired with the occasional totalitarian government, things go very wrong. When transposed to fiction, the evil corporation and its methods of subjugation are shaped by the timeline of its arrival—how bad were things when it got there, and what was cutting edge then?—as well as the cultural ethos that a novel might be set in. Inevitably, it also impacts that culture, for better or for worse. Lauren Beukes’s Moxyland follows the lives of four characters in near-future Cape Town run by a totalitarian corporate-apartheid government. Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide, translated from the original Chinese by Ken Liu, explores an alternative class system on an island covered in trash, based on his experience visiting the city of Giuyu.
India is presently home to a startup explosion. Homegrown technology is being widely developed, and successfully so, but its development is largely top-down and capitalist, amplifying India’s existing socio-economic disparities and gating access to technology. In parallel, post-truth news runs rampant via messaging apps—often targeting minorities, while data privacy is under constant threat from a totalitarian regime. Indian cyberpunk, like Samit Basu’s The City Inside, interrogates this web of capitalism, governance, and surveillance, set in a near-future Delhi that is mired in conspiracy. My novel, The Ten Percent Thief, explores existing technological concerns in India, from surveillance and thought-policing to the reinforcement of social disparities, projecting a worst-case scenario in the near-future.
Sometimes, the lone hacker is BIPOC and lives in un-America. Dystopian futures can exist everywhere.
Diverse voices in the genre, who are pushing the envelope and infusing it with new relevance, are often overlooked in the mainstream, especially when it comes to film, television, and game adaptations. Instead, exoticization and appropriation of cultures as seen through the Western gaze persists across these media, from Blade Runner 2049 to Cyberpunk 2077.
Cyberpunk is evolving, and as representation in the genre grows, so does the long list of what-ifs associated with technology, narrated through voices representing multifaceted intersections of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, culture, and geography.
In a world where smartwatches track menstrual cycles and fertility; hate speech, transphobia and racism find a platform on social media; and billionaire tech-bros in cahoots with fascist governments have access to sever rooms full of personal data, the questions about technology raised by diverse cyberpunk narratives are complex and necessary. They need to be talked about in the mainstream, and the ‘canon’ is in dire need of an update. The future of cyberpunk has arrived, and it represents a billion different possibilities.
The Ten Percent Thief will be published on March 28. You can preorder here.
Deadline broke the news and though there’s no official word on who these new additions are playing, you can’t help but dream that they’ll be playing Ghostbusters. What little we know of the film—that it picks up after the events of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and brings back Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, McKenna Grace, and Finn Wolfhard to tell a New York City-based story that includes Ghostbusters’ legendary firehouse—suggests we’ll see more actual Ghostbusting this time around. And if that’s the case, who better to carry on a legacy set by veteran comedic actors like Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis, than popular current comedic actors such as Nanjiani and Oswalt?
While Afterlife was directed by Jason Reitman, the son of original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, he’s stepped back for the sequel, handing the directorial reins to his long-time friend, and Afterlife co-writer, Gil Kenan. Kenan, who directed Monster House and the 2015 Poltergeist remake, began filming earlier this month.
Back when Afterlife was released, io9 spoke to both Kenan and Reitman, and the latter said he hoped it would kick off a new era of Ghostbusters. “One thing I wanted to do is set the table for Ghostbusters as a franchise to have all kinds of movies,” Reitman said. “I want to see all those movies. And we need to do something that really was about setting a foundation and bringing the original 1984 story to a place so that other stories could bloom. I want to see the scary movies, the funny films. I want to see movies involving the original cast. I want to see more movies involving people we haven’t even seen yet. I want to go to new dimensions. I want to go to other cultures and countries. There’s so many places for Ghostbusters to go. The question is, what’s the starting place? And that’s what Afterlife is about. It’s about these generations making amends with each other in a way that brings one story to close and starts another one.”
And now that other one is coming to theaters later this year, with some of our favorite funny people joining the cast. The sequel to Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which is being referred to as Ghostbusters: Firehouse though that may not be the actual title, is currently filming and is aiming at a December 20 release.
Balancing both old-school leitmotifs and modern musical themes, the score for Star Trek: Picard is getting a brilliant vinyl release. We have an exclusive interview with the composers and a comment from showrunner Terry Matalas on the music of the show.
Star Trek: Picardshow follows Patrick Stewart’s iconic Starfleet hero Jean-Luc Picard. The current season—Picard’s third and final installment—has featured veterans of Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as new characters, with a cast that includes LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Jeri Ryan, and Michelle Hurd.
“When Stephen [Barton] and I first sat down to consider the score for Star Trek: Picard season three, we had one very particular goal in mind: return to the soaring cinematic sound that Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Cliff Eidelman, Dennis McCarthy, and so many others had established for these legendary heroes so many years ago,” explains Terry Matalas, the showrunner for seasons two and three of Picard, in an exclusive quote for io9. “With that as our North Star, we brought back many of those themes and motifs as well as establishing new ones like the Titan theme. As the season grew, we knew we needed another heavy hitter so we brought on Freddie [Wiedmann], who shared our same passion. We could not be prouder of the result!”
You can preorder the vinyl from Lakeshore Records here, and scroll down for an exclusive interview with the composers, Stephen Barton and Frederik Wiedmann.
Linda Codega, io9: What was it like trying to find the balance of original music to the show and nostalgic use of old Star Trek, especially The Next Generation, leitmotifs this season?
Frederik Wiedmann: I’d say that the request to incorporate these brilliant melodic ideas of such greats as Goldsmith, McCarthy, [Alexander] Courage, and so forth, was both a huge privilege as well as a rather daunting task. These are some of the most iconic and well-known themes of film music history, so I personally felt a fair amount of pressure to do these pieces justice in the right context. I remember one scene in particular that I scored, during a later episode, that literally made me sweat in my AC-cold studio—a very important scene to say the least, using a fair amount of these leitmotifs.
Stephen Barton: When Terry and I first started talking about the story a few months before he started filming it, we both agreed we wanted to really dive deep into the musical legacy, but also that we were going to need a theme that worked very much in the way the First Contact theme does in its respective movie, as well as a new ship theme for the Titan. Those ideas kind of merged into one; the Titan theme, which underpins most of the season, is really the main new theme. So it was really both weaving in the legacy material—but also using the legacy “ethos” and approach to new material that Goldsmith and Horner in particular used. They always added, and reinvented, as did all the Trek composers, and we try to honor them all. It’s a bit like being asked to add 10 feet to the top of the Statue of Liberty. The first task is not to knock the whole thing over! Which is a tough but fun challenge when writing over six hours of new music.
io9: What was behind the decision to move Picard’s original main title theme to the credits and have a new, TNG-inspired opening instead?
Barton: I think in a sense we realized that this story arc needed something new. We don’t actually use the Picard theme from season one and two at all this season. The title card is two pieces of Goldsmith, and the “main on end” is a reworked edit of First Contact and the Enterprise March from TNG, leading into a version of the Titan theme. First Contact felt right because in its finest, subtlest form in that movie, it’s really shown to be the “nostalgia for spaceflight” theme (when Picard shows Lily the Earth from space). We wanted to evoke that same feeling with the credits, and it felt like a more moving finish to each episode, especially when they end on a dramatic beat.
io9: Were there any old themes or pieces you wanted to use this season and couldn’t?
Wiedmann: I am not aware of any we were not able to use. Terry Matalas had very specific ideas on where to place old themes throughout season three. He is incredibly knowledgeable on Star Trek’s musical history, and therefore was able to guide us using his expertise.
Barton: No, we had free rein! I think we had a self-imposed rule though that it had to make sense. And it made us look back at what all of these themes really mean. Some of that will only become clear with the whole season--particularly the “Busy Man” motif from Star Trek V. There are themes we want to highlight the wide angle of, as it were, and show in a new light, and are themes that are specific in their first appearance that have taken on wider significance in the franchise since. We spent a great deal of time thinking about those things.
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