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Archive for December, 2017


It’s been one long year of great entertainment.  Before we wrap our coverage of 2017, it’s time for the fifth annual round of new honorees for the borg Hall of Fame.  We have plenty of honorees from 2017 films, plus many from past years, and a peek at some from the future.  You can always check out the updated borg Hall of Fame on our home page under “Know your borg.”

In anticipation of the 2017 film Logan, last year we added Old Man Logan, Laura/X-23, and cyborg-armed mercenary Donald Pierce.  We also added Scarlet Johansson’s character The Major, previewing 2017’s live-action film The Ghost in the Shell.

We didn’t get the big ballroom at our venue reserved early enough for the induction ceremony this year, so it limited us to tapping only 24 named characters into the revered Hall of Fame this year.


As with last year, we’re granting a few early entrances this year, first to Simone Missick’s badass cop Misty Knight, who is getting a borg arm for season two of Luke Cage in 2018.


And here is an early look at Josh Brolin’s Cable, from 2018’s Deadpool sequel.  The borg comic book character Cable was a first round honoree to the Hall, so this is just another update to the character.


Onto this year… Kingsman’s almost-a-Kingsman Charlie was thought to have been killed off in the first film.  But he was back in the 2017 film Kingsman: The Golden Circle, sporting cyborg components.


A host of new borgs–Replicants in Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?–returned to the big screen in Blade Runner 2049, including some new names and faces, like Ryan Gosling’s K

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What inspired you this year to be a hero?

Logan trying to save Charles and the little girl?  Wonder Woman storming the battlefield?

Maybe it was Rose Tico sacrificing herself to save Finn?  Bob Newby trying to save his almost-family?

You don’t need superpowers to change the world.

Several charities are out there in need of your help.  You can change the world one dollar at a time.  And it can even help your own pocketbook if you make charitable contributions by the end of the week for your 2017 taxes.

So change the world.  borg.com endorses the following awesome organizations:

Wayside Waifs

Great Plains SPCA

Alley Cat Allies

Humane Society

ASPCA

Animal Rescue League

Bat Conservation International

American Anti-Vivisection Society

REGAP

Best Friends Animal Society Sanctuary

Frankie’s Friends

Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary

Check out these great charities today and give if you can.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Our borg.com Best of 2017 list continues today with the Best in Print.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2017 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2017 here, and the Best in Television here.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year’s Best in Print:

Best New Edition of Previous Published WorkThe Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, David Petersen (IDW Publishing).  David Petersen’s artwork was the perfect excuse to get Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful classic The Wind in the Willows into the hands of new readers.  The new edition from IDW Publishing was the perfect storybook, and Petersen, known best for his Mouse Guard series, showed his understanding of these characters and their natural world full of wonder through his fantasy images.

Best Read, Best Retro Read – Forever and a Death, Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).  Not every good idea comes to fruition.  Not every excellent project gets off the ground.  Not every great book gets published.  The Hard Case Crime imprint of Titan Books came through again, seizing the opportunity to take a lost, never before published work of Donald E. Westlake--Forever and a Death--and brought it to life.  And what a great adventure!  Originally the story commissioned to be the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the projected was shelved, and only now do we get fantastic characters (like environmental activist and diver Kim Baldur) in a very Bondian situation–destroying Hong Kong as payback for China taking it back from Great Britain.  Honorable mention for Best Retro Read: Turn on the Heat, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Dragon Teeth, Michael Crichton.

Best Sci-Fi Read – Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, Bradley W. Schenck (Tor Books).  Imaginative, new, and fun, Schenck took us into a timeless world full of nostalgia and classic science fiction.  Great tech, and a sprawling story.  Interesting characters and great world-building, this novel will be a great surprise for sci-fi readers.  Honorable mention: War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations, Greg Keyes.

Best Fantasy Read – An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, Curtis Craddock (Tor Books).  The plot of this debut novel is labyrinthine and action-packed, full of assassination attempts from all quarters, courtly intrigue galore, grandiose philosophies, and a cast of characters anchored by the strong, smart, resourceful, and eminently likeable heroes.  Supporting everything is Craddock’s strong, confident, often-funny, and sharply observant writing that goes from heart-wrenching to hilarious on a single page without missing a beat.  A dazzling debut.

Best Genre Non-fiction – Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen, Daniel Falconer (Harper Design).  We wish every genre franchise had such a magnificent, thorough, monumental guide.  Falconer’s guide to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies is full of interviews at all levels of the creative process, and supported by concept art, photographs, maps, and so much more.  Worthy of the six films it covers, it’s the ultimate fan book and a model for any franchise attempting to put everything fans could want into a single volume.

There’s much more of our selections for 2017’s Best in Print and more, after the jump…

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Our borg.com Best of 2017 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2017 here and the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2017 yesterday here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg TV Series, Best TV BorgHumans (AMC). From the awakenings in the first episode of season 2, AMC’s Humans kicked in full throttle as the borg show to watch this year.  Continuing to explore what it means to be real and addressing the desire and need to overcome oppression, the show took ideas from Frankenstein and THX-1138 and everything in between to show us realities of life as a borg as it took the world from robotic cyborgs to sentience.  And this year’s best borg goes to all the Synths on the series, as each showed a different side to what a world full of cyborgs might be like.

Best Sci-fi TV Series, Best Soundtrack for TVThe Orville (Fox).   The Orville expanded on elements from across all sci-fi, like space battle sequences and planet flyovers using Star Wars-inspired camera angles (including real model ships, not just CGI), completely new and unique aliens (the only thing close to these can be found in Doctor Who), and a fantastic, triumphant musical score from Bruce Broughton.  A visually gorgeous show that took itself seriously more than trying to mock anything that came before it.  The science fiction series we’ve been waiting for since Star Trek Voyager ended.

Best Fantasy TV SeriesWynonna Earp (Syfy).  Wynonna Earp’s second season proved the first wasn’t a fluke.  The sharp-tongued, swaggering, tough-as-nails gunfighter, her sister, the sheriff, and the ghost of Doc Holliday added some new team members and some great supernatural villains, providing a series we couldn’t wait to get back to each week.  Wynonna’s handling of the Revenants and a transport back in time was even more fun while she managed her pregnancy.

Best Retro TV SeriesStranger Things (Netflix).  The only question after binge-watching the second season of Stranger Things was struggling to decide whether it was better than the first.   It had the same look and feel of its first season, but somehow the characterization was really amped up, the action more exciting, and the tension pretty much perfect.  Stranger Things really had it all–stars of our favorite 1980s movies, throwback references to video games, music, fashions, and the obscure like no other show–and with a second season that eclipsed the first, it proved it is the real deal.

After the cut, come back for more of our Best in Television 2017, including our pick for Best TV Series:

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When we created last year’s preview of 2017 movies we were pretty sure we were going to have some great movies this year, but we were surprised by what ended up being the best.  All year we tried to keep up with what Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre content we thought was worth examining. We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our borg.com annual Best Movies of 2017.

As always, we’re after the best genre content of 2017–with our top categories from the Best in Movies.  There are thousands of other places that cover plain vanilla dramas and the rest, but here we’re looking for movies we want to watch.  What do all of this year’s selections have in common?  In addition to those elements that define each genre, each has a good story.  Special effects without a good story is not good entertainment, and we saw plenty of films this year that missed that crucial element.

Come back later this week for our TV and print media picks, and our annual borg.com Hall of Fame inductees.  Wait no further, here are our picks for 2017:

Best Sci-Fi Fix, Best Sci-fi Movie, Best Costume DesignValerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  The Valerian and Laureline comic books turned 50 and brought a big-screen adaptation to theaters.  Director Luc Besson handled the material as a labor of love, and that could be marveled at in every scene, and each nook and cranny of the gigantic visual spectacle he created.  More new wonders, more futuristic ideas that had never been seen on film before, bold otherworldly costumes, and incredible special effects made this film a masterpiece science fiction fans will stumble upon in the future and wonder how it was so overlooked by audiences this summer.  Epic space battles, aliens, and loads of sci-fi technology, while all the other science fiction of the year kept to their familiar territories.  A gripping story about a team just doing their job, but that job is saving an entire race of a doomed planet.  Besson was going for something like Avatar, but he far surpassed it.  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was everything a sci-fi fan could want.

Best Fantasy Fix, Best Fantasy Movie, Best Comedy MovieThor: Ragnarok.  As much as Thor: Ragnarok was a natural progression for Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, it was amazing how much the film busted genres, becoming more of a Flash Gordon space fantasy like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies than the rest of the Avengers series.   Just like watching classic Flash Gordon and Conan movies, we saw superheroes on a legendary hero’s journey rise and encounter obstacles and make sacrifices, across a landscape of fabulous worlds and colorful characters, and scenes that looked like they were ripped out of your favorite Jack Kirby comic pages.  Another film about family, it incorporated that always fun plot device of having good guy and bad guy join forces, as Tom Hiddleston’s Loki redeemed himself with his brother and their people, if only temporarily.  We met one of the fiercest warriors in Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and they all faced off against a trio of well-developed villains.  A great superhero story, too, this was the ultimate fantasy fix.

Best Superhero Fix, Best Superhero Movie, Best Easter EggsThe LEGO Batman Movie.  Even as a spoof of superhero movies and the DC Universe, The LEGO Batman Movie created a genuine story full of heart that any fan of comic books could love.  Will Arnett became our second favorite Batman actor this year behind Michael Keaton, and his Batman reminded us why we can’t wait for the DC Universe to get fun and exciting again.  Hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny with a smart script, full of derring-do and super-powered heroics, and better than this year’s and the last decade of live-action DC at the movies, the animated The LEGO Batman Movie proved more good DC movies are out there just waiting to be made.  Honorable mention: Spider-man: Homecoming.

Best Retro Fix Classic Genre Films Return to Theaters.  With all the new releases in 2017 we were lucky enough to witness the 90th anniversary of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, while Disney’s The Jungle Book, The Dirty Dozen, and the original Casino Royale turned 50.  Along with Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind turned 40.  E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Blade Runner, Tron, and The Dark Crystal turned 35.  Predator, The Princess Bride, and Robocop turned 30.  Many of these made it back into theaters this year, giving us the best Retro Fix we could hope for all year long.  But E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (we even interviewed the best Star Trek director of them all here this year), Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Princess Bride, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, on the big screen over only a few weeks?  We can only hope for more in 2018!

Check out the rest of the year’s Best Film and the rest of our picks for the year’s best movies, after the cut…

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It’s time for borg.com‘s annual look at the year’s Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  Again the studios gave us more to cheer about than ever.  We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and cheer on.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong (and, okay, sometimes evil), you’ll find no one here timid or weepy, but all rely on their individual skills to beat the odds and overcome any obstacle that comes their way.  Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, or human, but all have fought, some against difficult circumstances, others against personal demons, and some against gun and laser fire.  And they all showed what a tough, kick-ass character is about.

In 2017 these characters broke new ground, and unlike last year’s great list, this year’s selections would not have worked had the characters been swapped for males.  We had a pregnant gunfighter, a mutant mental patient, a double agent, a space pilot, an alien security officer, a pregnant former psychopathic killing machine, a cyborg assassin, a mythic warrior, a maverick mercenary, a warrior, a commander of armies, an alien slave turned teacher, an angry young mutant, and a teenage high school reporter.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2017:

Wynonna Earp (Wynonna Earp).  Melanie Scrofano not only played Wynonna Earp as pregnant in this year’s second season, she actually was.  And that didn’t slow her down, defeating all the evil Revenants in the town of Purgatory, and incorporating the discomfort of pregnancy made for great comic release all season long.  Who had the tougher task, Earp or Scrofano?  Either way, the series showed it’s a keeper and Earp the sharp-tongued, swaggering, tough-as-nails gunfighter we continue to love.

Valkyrie (Thor: Ragnarok).  As cool and powerful as Cate Blanchett’s Hela was in this year’s pinnacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the real scene stealer in Thor: Ragnarok was Tessa Thompson’s surprising new tough heroine, Valkyrie.  Cocky?  Yep.  And she backed up that confidence with mad fighting skills and brains–enough of a combination to help Thor & Co. save the people of Asgard and get some revenge for the Valkyries who lost the original battle against Hela.  As much as any other character, we’re looking forward to more of Valkyrie in next year’s ultimate team-up Avengers: Infinity War.

Luv (Blade Runner 2049).  If Blade Runner 2049 is remembered for anything, it should be Sylvia Hoeks’ badass Replicant oddly (ironically?) named Luv.  First unassuming, polished, and pristine in her mannerisms, she later reveals she can be the next best thing since Sarah Connor and the Terminators.  Luv is a fierce, brutal borg whose villainy became the high point of the film.

Laureline (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets).  Cocky yet sympathetic, loyal and determined, the space pilot 50 years in the making made it to the screen this year and Cara Delevingne delivered a surprise performance as the co-lead and equal half of Luc Besson’s science fiction space duo.  Her confidence was second to none, she stood up for what she believed and took what she wanted, and still had time to care for a lost rare species while making sure she protected her partner’s back.  We’d like to think she dropped the creepy egotistical Valerian in her next adventure, but she did exactly what she wanted to, and seemed to have one of those modern romances that worked for her.  Quirky, snarky, funny, and tough, she took out a room full of men with weapons and made it look like she wasn’t even trying.  Laureline has it all.

Helena (Orphan Black).  Of all the characters played by Tatiana Maslany in the series’ five seasons, who knew the sestra that would write the book on them all would be Helena, the once ruthless, psychopathic killing machine who once befriended a scorpion in prison?  This year Maslany wrapped up what must be the best role for a performer in the history of television.  No one has ever played so many parts in a series, and played them beautifully.  Each character had her moment, but Helena would make our list if she was in any series.

Antiope (Wonder Woman).  The opening minutes to this year’s DC film Wonder Woman finally adapted to film what comic book readers have seen all along–that the Amazons were a creation that should have been on the screen long before 2017.  The envy of them all was the brave and strong Antiope, played by Robin Wright.  It was the character that launched a thousand memes, and what greater way to illustrate the mentoring of Wonder Woman than via Wright’s ultimate warrior.

Commander Lin Mae (The Great Wall).  Jing Tian’s Lin, commander of the Crane Corps who takes charge of the Nameless Order and staves off the Tao Tieh, may be the year’s most dynamic and talented superhero–not technically a superhero, she looked superhuman in all her battle scenes.  She was decisive and cut through the nonsensical parts of the story.  Her aerobatic skill in defending the Great Wall, leading the largest military force ever, and saving her people in the process makes Commander Lin an easy entry on this year’s kick-ass list.

Betty Cooper (Riverdale).  It took 77 years but fans of Archie Comics finally got what they always wanted: a television series true to the characters generations have grown up with.  CW’s Riverdale gave viewers 1.5 seasons to soak up Archie and his pals with a tremendously well-written story team led by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, but best of all was the casting of Lili Reinhart as Betty and Camila Mendes as Veronica.  Both were badass frenemies, but Betty’s story really allowed her to save the day time after time while taking the high road, even becoming a member of the Southside gang to help Jughead, and as intrepid school reporter, sleuthing out and taking down the town serial killer known as The Black Hood.

Trubel (Grimm).  When the Wesen become too much for Grimm’s Nick Burkhardt, the series’ other Grimm warrior Theresa “Trubel” Rubel came to the rescue.  Reserved and measured in her actions, she also never hesitated to take someone’s head off to protect her newly found family.  In the series finale this year she even took on Nick directly when she disagreed with his plan, only to help take down the Zerstörer after an ultimate confrontation team-up with the ghosts of Kelly and Marie, and Nick.  What we’d give for a Grimm spin-off with Jacqueline Toboni bringing her character into new adventures!

Syd Barrett (Legion).  Many viewers saw the twisted look at the X-Men in the new FX series Legion as the best of the superhero fare on television this year.  The highlight of the show was Rachel Keller’s Syd Barrett, who became girlfriend to series lead hero David Haller.  Revealing a brutal dark side to being a superhero mutant, Syd’s powers won’t allow her to physically make contact with anyone, yet she makes it work anyway.  She’s willing to use her powers to switch bodies with anyone she touches to save those she cares about, even at great pain and loss.  Syd fights through her own doubts, uncertainty of reality, and those that have lied to her to break through and take what she wants.  She’s a fighter and triumphant, with only more battles ahead as season two is just around the corner.

Andrea/Andra’ath Quill (Class).  We only had eight episodes to get to know Miss Quill on the BBC’s Doctor Who spin-off series Class, but what we saw in Katherine Kelly’s alien slave turned teacher was the foundation for an incredible series that could have been.  Quill made the ultimate break from oppressor Charlie, the last surviving prince of an alien war.  That didn’t stop her from finding a way out, while taking care of the prince and the small class of would-be student heroes.  Quill could have taken the show in infinite directions had viewers supported the series more.  Regardless, Katherine Kelly’s Quill will always be remembered as a kick-ass heroine in a class by herself.

Lt. Alara Kitan (The Orville).  Who knew the next great science fiction series since Battlestar Galactica would be half comedy and produced by Seth MacFarlane?  Among the strife and misadventure, one crewmember had the greatest character arc in the series’ first season, and she was also the physically strongest person on the ship: Chief of Security Lt. Alara Kitan.  Halston Sage didn’t skip a beat in portraying a futuristic officer on a starship.  She didn’t begin the show as a leader, but learned the ropes and took us all along for the ride as she became that leader, revealing a sensitive and uncertain, very “human” side, who could still buddy around with the ship commander and save the day more than once.

Lorraine Broughton (Atomic Blonde).  Next year will see a shift where the British treasure Doctor Who sees its first woman Doctor.  Who knows if something like that will ever come of the other Brit icon, James Bond, but the closest anyone has ever come to that was Charlize Theron’s hardened and savvy spy Lorraine Broughton in the film adaptation of the graphic novel The Coldest City.  Has any woman action star ever given this many punches in a movie ever?  She took a pounding as well, but ultimately came out on top with some shrewd tactics.  Lorraine Broughton–nobody does it better!

X-23/Laura (Logan/Logan Noir).  The biggest surprise of the year was the great piece of filmmaking that was Logan, and more specifically the black and white version that arrived in theaters in limited release, Logan Noir, the swan song for both of the X-Men we got to know over the years as Hugh Jackman’s Logan aka Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier aka Professor X.  Incredible direction and cinematography created a film on par with any black and white classic.  But the young actress that the film could not have been successful without was the young Wolverine in training, Laura aka X-23.  What a fantastic actress was Dafne Keen as Laura that you almost forget it’s a little girl ripping all these bad guys’ heads off and digging her sharp claws into their skulls.  And in the next scene she’s nonchalantly eating a bowl of cereal, or acting angry because of something Logan said.  X-23/Laura was simply the best of the best of the list of kick-ass women characters revealed to movie fans this year.  Please, oh, please, Fox or Disney, let’s see Keen reprise the character again soon, huh?

And that’s it.  Keep coming back the rest of this month as we reveal the rest of our Best in Film, Best in TV and Best in Print, and our borg.com Hall of Fame inductees for 2017.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2018.  Are you going to see them all?  Heck no.  These are the genre films we think borg.com readers will want to know about to make their own checklists for the coming year.  We pulled 55 of the hundreds of films that have been finalized or are in varying stages of final production for next year’s movie calendar.

What looks that it may top the list of most fanboys and fangirls?  How about Ready Player One in March?  Solo: A Star Wars Story and Avengers: Infinity War in May?  Sequels to Deadpool and The Incredibles in June?  X-Men: Dark Phoenix in November?  But don’t over look other films that look promising, like Winchester in February, Tomb Raider in March, and The Predator and The Equalizer sequels in August.

So grab your calendar and start making your plans for next year–here is the list of the movies you’ll want to see in 2018:

The Commuter – January 12 — Liam Neeson’s next action thriller finds him on a train with an offer he can’t refuse.  Co-starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.

Proud Mary – January 12 — A hitwoman played by Teraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures, Empire) has her life go sideways when a mob hit goes bad.  With Neal McDonough and Danny Glover.

Ophelia – January 22 — Daisy Ridley stars as Ophelia in a twist on Shakepseare’s Hamlet told from her perspective.  Co-starring Naomi Watts and Tom Felton.

Please Stand By – January 26 — Dakota Fanning, Toni Collette, and Alice Eve star in a story about a young woman with autism who sets her sights on winning a Star Trek writing competition.

Winchester – February 2 — Inspired by true events, the story of the heir to the Winchester firearms fortune finds herself haunted by the deaths of all killed by the weapons, leaving her to try to avoid them in an incredible mansion.  Starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke.

Cloverfield 3 (yet to be titled) –  February 2 — A crew of astronauts fight for survival on a space station.  Starring Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Brühl, and David Oyelowo.

Peter Rabbit – February 9 — Fox Studios brings a great cast of voice talent to their adaptation of the classic Beatrix Potter story.  With Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Rose Byrne, and Domhnall Gleeson.

Monster Family – February 9 — A family is turned into monsters in this animated romp.  Starring the voices of Jason Isaacs, Emily Watson, Nick Frost, and Catherine Tate.

Black Panther – February 16 — Ryan Coogler directs Marvel Comics’ king cat superhero Black Panther in his own standalone movie.  Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, with a reunion of The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You probably haven’t had this much fun watching a rollicking fantasy movie this cool since you first saw the 1980 Flash Gordon movie starring Sam Jones, Max Von Sydow, Melody Anderson, Timothy Dalton, and Brian Blessed, accompanied by that memorable Queen soundtrack.  It shouldn’t be hard to believe–seven weeks from its premiere and Thor: Ragnarok continues to sell-out theater screenings across the country.  In a year full of so many comic book adaptations, and great ones at that, from Logan and Logan Noir to Spider-man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and even The LEGO Batman Movie, this was a great year for comic books on film.  But Thor: Ragnarok rivaled them all from an entertainment standpoint.  In many ways Thor: Ragnarok is a natural progression from both the past Thor films and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.  But something about director Taika Waititi’s vision for Avengers Thor and Hulk in this latest film changed how the MCU can entertain.  Instead of focusing on the events that the earlier Marvel entries–and comic books–are best known for, events like Civil War, Waititi returned to the reason we all turn to superheroes for entertainment:  it’s because we like the characters.  The end of the world is coming for Asgard, three great villains are wreaking havoc for our heroes, but Taikiki does something novel.  He puts the setting where it belongs: in the background.  And so we get closer to Thor, Hulk, Loki, Valkyrie, and even Thor and Loki’s sister Hela, by watching them interact.  The result is a film that should be vying for the top spot with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Logan, and Spider-man: Homecoming, on your comic book movie best-of shortlist.

Waititi really accomplished something difficult here.  It’s not often the third film in a series completely exceeds the prior films (although it’s certainly arguable Spider-man: Homecoming trounced four prior Spider-man movies).  The Incredible Hulk and Hulk were hardly comparable to Thor: Ragnarok as a Hulk movie (sans title only).  And Thor and Thor: The Dark World weren’t remotely as memorable as Thor: Ragnarok.  So what made it all come together?  Clever dialogue from a tight script for one.  And each actor needed no time to take their characters and march forward.  Chris Hemsworth’s cocky God of Thunder has always sported a humorous side, but partnered with Tom Hiddleston’s on-again, off-again baddie Loki, and a Bruce Banner after he’s stuck in “Hulk mode” for two years (played by Mark Ruffalo), Thor: Ragnarok is every bit the next Avengers team-up film–it may as well be called Avengers: Ragnarok.  It’s also a buddy comedy.  Why not?  In the comic books the serious and powerful characters of Hulk and Thor have always been less accessible than the rest so how better to reach audiences?  And why not take that most-comic book of tropes and let them have their hero battle in the ring?  Many comic book readers have been waiting for this film for a long time.

The entire art design and sound should be credited with the film’s success, too.  Classic Jack Kirby imagery and style can be found throughout the production design.  Funky psychedelic colors, lights, and imagery make this a fantasy film, as opposed to a superhero or sci-fi movie.  Action choreography appears like it’s torn from the panels of a comic book page.  Dazzling fantasy costumes by Mayes C. Rubeo (The Great Wall, John Carter, Avatar, The Librarian) include Cate Blanchett’s Hela destroyer outfit, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie/Scrapper 142 outfit, Idris Elba’s Heimdall in Robin Hood garb, and Karl Urban’s iridescent Scurge armor.  Music by Mark Mothersbaugh (The LEGO Movie, Lords of Dogtown, Fanboys, 21 Jump Street) includes audacious, sometimes triumphant, sometimes hilarious choices.  And Magic Sword’s “In the Face of Evil,” Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, were simply inspired inclusions that made the characters and film exactly how we want these characters to look and feel: Cool.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s the largest direct to television film yet made, the $90 million new Christmas weekend Netflix-only release Bright.  And it’s a welcome addition to the world of mash-ups.  It’s a fantasy, action, police procedural.  It’s a Will Smith movie and a high-octane Assault on Precinct 13 and Training Day-inspired shoot-’em-up.  It’s The Lord of the Rings meets Adam-12.  And it’s also like a new film in the Alien Nation series or an episode of the short-lived Syfy series Defiance.  The biggest downfall is that the opportunities for new stories within its massive world building merits more than just a one-shot story.

Joel Edgerton is fantastic as an Orc LAPD officer named Nick Jakoby who’s partnered with a human cop named Daryl Ward, played by Will Smith.  It’s a parallel world where the past 2,000 years of Earth history have been blended with the trope world of classic high fantasy stories.  Evil little fairies annoy and harass and cause mischief.  Elves are refined and tend to run everything.  Dragons fly unassuming across the night sky.  Orcs are the dregs of society and humans are stuck somewhere in the middle.  A Bright can be of any race, and federal agents responsible for magic are attempting to make certain a certain evil Bright is not reunited with a magic wand–an event that could return a dark power to annihilate the planet.

When Daryl and Nick pick up a Bright carrying a magic wand, gangs of humans and Orcs will stop at nothing to possess the wand–a rare object that can grant its owner any and every wish.  But only a Bright can handle a wand, and like the One Ring from The Hobbit series, the temptation to take the wand is great–too great for some poor saps without self-control.  The movie moves into a full-length action chase scene, with Daryl and Nick mirroring the cops in a very similar situation from Alien Nation.  And also like Alien Nation, the subtext is a reflection of all of the ills of society.

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Is it just me or do these look like the same movie?  On the one hand you have the dark and serious second chapter in the Sicario series, Sicario 2: Soldado, following a badass mercenary in the world of international drug smuggling played by Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Guardians of the Galaxy’s own Benicio Del Toro.  On the other you have the dark comedy Gringo, starring David Oyelowo as a businessman who gets caught up in a bad drug deal with a cartel in Mexico.

Sicario had some great things going for it, including Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Del Toro.  But Blunt was the lead, and the typically fantastic actress seemed stuck in a role where she was the only one making mistakes and the big bad guys were the only ones knowing what was going on.  Del Toro’s character was by far the best thing the film had going for it, the kind of character that got Kevin Spacey his Academy Award and in another year could have done the same for Del Toro.  But the 2015 film was most memorable for its long, slow, atmospheric scenes where nothing happened, making it feel like the film would never end.  But with Del Toro’s character driving the sequel and a new director (swapping Stefano Sollima for Denis Villeneuve), is there hope Sicario 2 could rise above the original?

Gringo has a different kind of cast of stars.  In addition to Oyelowo it stars Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried, and Alan Ruck.  This one will be an Amazon Studios release–the studio is still looking for its breakout equivalent of a box office hit.  As with Sicario 2, again we have the theme of drug smuggling and drug deals gone bad.  both of these arrive on the heels of this year’s mildly successful and critically acclaimed drama comedy American Made with Tom Cruise, which took the whole drug smuggling concept in its own direction, poking fun at a real-life drug smuggler from the 1980s as his world crashed in on him.

So which one is for you?  Check out these trailers for Sicario 2 and Gringo:

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