Archive for February, 2020


Review by C.J. Bunce

When Oscar gets it right, it highlights something about the current zeitgeist, not necessarily a mirror image of the social, literary, artistic, political, or technological achievements of the day, but at least a taste of it.  Do many of the nominees for the Academy Awards have that this year?  Ford v Ferrari, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Parasite, or The Irishman?  Did they last year?  How about a story about a person trying to make a name for himself, barely getting by, trying to pay his bills, experiencing a tough go at it before he realizes his dream?  Perhaps the biggest miss of this year’s ballot is one of those timeless stories of self-made success: Dolemite is My Name.

Dolemite is My Name is a biopic and a classic underdog story.  The seemingly ageless Eddie Murphy has his best leading role and best performance of his career, playing comedian, singer, actor, and film producer Rudy Ray Moore, who found his niche in cinema in the 1970s.  Murphy as Moore is like Richard Pryor at his best.  Murphy plays Moore as Everyman, pulling together his own outgoing nature from his 1980s stand-up performances and finessing them with the benefit of years of experience into a real, believable, even heroic character.  This is the same character type we saw resonate so expertly last year with Brent Jenning’s lead character struggling to succeed after putting years into a failed career in TV’s Lodge 49.  Murphy’s range of emotion, his subtlety, his depth of struggle and effort in every look and word is exactly why you have awards for acting in the first place.  This film is a smartly scripted drama with comedy notes, written by dynamic writing duo Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Man on the Moon, Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt).  It’s backed up with costumes, hairdos, music, cars, language, and an all-around fashion fest of 1975.  If you didn’t know better you’d think this was a Quentin Tarantino film, because it gets the retro production design just right, as he has been able to do so well.  Instead it’s Craig Brewer directing, the director of Hustle & Flow, the Footloose remake, and Empire series.

Supporting Murphy is a fantastic cast, beginning with Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed, as an immensely entertaining and sympathetic single mom, brushing off her ex as Murphy’s Rudy Ray Moore watches and learns.  Moore invites her into his partnership.  He and his friends go to the movies for laughs and walk out nonplussed.  Moore knows he can do better.  So he tries to get financing and make a movie.  His selected production staff, and the actors behind them, makes for a dream assemblage.  Keegan-Michael Key (The Predator, Tomorrowland), Craig Robinson (Mr. Robot, Hot Tub Time Machine), Mike Epps (Resident Evil, The Hangover), Tituss Burgess (The Addams Family, 30 Rock), and Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Let Me In), plus familiar faces Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock, and Snoop Dogg make for a top tier cast.  When these people are working together in an old abandoned hotel converted to a film set, you witness the same kind of camaraderie as audiences witnessed in those barber shops in Do the Right Thing and Marvel’s Luke Cage. 

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It’s a fantastic sci-fi series with a stellar cast and a story and production values that rival the original Blade Runner and its 2017 sequel.  It’s Netflix’s Altered Carbon, based on Richard K. Morgan’s novel of the same name, a story about Takeshi Kovacs, a future soldier in a world where science has developed a hard drive called a “stack” that is implanted in humans’ necks, allowing our memories to be uploaded to storage and replanted over and over so they seemingly can live forever, even in new bodies called “sleeves.”  See our review of the first season here.  Allowing Kovacs and other characters to be played by any number of actors (allowing the series to run forever like Doctor Who), for the second season that means Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Adjustment Bureau) is replacing Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop, Suicide Squad) as series lead.  Netflix revealed its first teaser for the new season this week.  Check it out below!

So fans of the Syd Mead, Ridley Scott, and Philip K. Dick brand of futurism, and all things borg, should catch up on the first season now.  What does it mean to be human, and how much can you shed away and replace with technology and still retain the “self”?  Altered Carbon tackles the philosophical questions The Matrix film series tried to answer.  Kovacs is a 300-year-old soldier.  As a seasoned fighter 250 years ago he was the last of a mercenary group called the Envoys, leading a rebellion against the new world order.  This is a bleak world, filled with virtual reality and virtual sex, body swapping and trafficking, and the kind of tech noir, bleak, dystopian realm seen in Strange Days, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Ready Player One, The Running Man, Brazil, Total Recall, with the violence of A Clockwork Orange.  

The new teaser trailer showcases Mackie, but also shows glimpses of returning characters, including Kovacs former platoon leader, played by Renee Goldsberry (Star Trek Enterprise, Life on Mars), the original Kovacs, played by Will Yun Lee (Hawaii Five-O, Bionic Woman, Witchblade), the artificial intelligence named Poe who is the runner of a seedy hotel, played by Chris Conner (Burn Notice, House, Bones).  Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the fantastic cop Kristin Ortega, played by Mexican actress Martha Higareda (McFarland USA, Royal Pains), will be back, but new additions include Simone Missick (Marvel’s Luke Cage, The Defenders), Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger, Walking Tall, The X-Files,), and Alessandro Juliani (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Battlestar Galactica).

Check out this quick look at season two of Altered Carbon:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The most twists and turns, the most clever story arcs, and the most faithful adaptation of a comic book series you’ve seen so far.  After a great first season but a ho-hum sophomore season, the creators of the third season of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina kicked every aspect of the show into high gear, making for the best season of any series so far on the streaming provider (yep, including that first season of Stranger Things).  So often it’s easy to binge watch every new series.  But the best you reserve to savor, and each episode of the third season was like a good movie.  More magic, more of the supernatural, and more gold nuggets from centuries of folklore took these established characters and made them shine in exciting new ways, giving us the rare third season that bettered earlier seasons.  Great characters, great stories, great actors, and great writing as the witches of Greendale must fend off an attack by pagans that could mean the end for them and the mortals over eight action-packed episodes.  The season should put the series on anyone’s contender for best series of the year, even if we are only at February–it’s probably Netflix’s most riveting season of programming so far.

Has anyone done this before?  I’m talking about Robert Aguirre-Sacasa.  From the pages of Archie Comics, in 2014 Aguirre-Sacasa took Sabrina Spellman, a 50-year-old supporting character, and with a lot of love and dedication, and the visuals of artist Robert Hack, made her relevant for comic book readers in a new millennium in the pages of Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  Then he took her story to television and created a hit show to match, and kept it going for three seasons (with a fourth season due by year end).  Has any comic book series received this expert an adaptation and a singular champion of a classic character?

In front of the camera, Kiernan Shipka owns her title character and performs at the level of an actress who’s been doing it for 25 years.  Stunningly confident, she carries a swagger when called for as if Clint Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger or some other big movie star’s badass character walked onto the set.  Viewers believe her because she knows this character, able to flip from several versions of a put-upon, angsty high school teen to a genuine leader, fierce manipulator, and ferocious force to be reckoned with–even the forces of evil know to stay out of her way.

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Connoisseur of all things Star Trek, author Dayton Ward is back next month with his next in-universe look at what makes the Federation tick in Star Trek Kirk Fu Manual: A Guide to Starfleet’s Most Feared Martial Art It’s a comical look at everyone’s first (or second) favorite Captain, in his familiar 1960s (or 23rd century) uniform and scene stealing stances, rendered for the willing student or old-school fan by artist Christian Cornia.  Providing a how-to manual of some of Captain James T. Kirk’s more eccentric hand-to-hand combat moves, it gives you some step-by-step instruction in being cool like Kirk, complete with excerpts from his personal log.

Who exactly is the Kirk Fu Manual for?  It’s for those who listened to our recommendations of Ward’s past humorous inside looks at the franchise, seen in his Hidden Universe Travel Guide to Vulcan (reviewed here at borg) and his Hidden Universe Travel Guide to the Klingon Empire (reviewed here).  And it’s exactly the right gift for your office party swap when you can’t figure what to buy, but you know your boss is a Star Trek addict.

Readers better pay attention, as they’ll find a check-yourself test at the end.  And a certificate for those who pass.  If Kirk Fu is not your thing, don’t worry–Spock steps in with alternative suggestions in a bonus section.  Take a look at a preview of the Kirk Fu Manual below, courtesy of publisher Insight Editions.

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Coming this week is a new story from the steampunk crossover genre, those mash-ups featuring stories that blend the adventures of the real and the imaginary with Victorian charm.  It’s Adler–after Arthur C. Doyle’s Irene Adler, who he created for his story A Scandal in Bohemia, a popular character in his Sherlock Holmes stories and novels.  The new comic book series features Jane Eyre from Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Lady Estella Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Ayesha from H. Rider Haggard’s original Amazon Queen in his 1887 novel She, her confidante Carmilla, a vampire from an 1872 Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu novella, The Dark Blue, and little orphan Annie, from the 1920s Harold Gray comic strip, plus real-life physicist/chemist Marie Curie and Queen Victoria, among others.

A follow-on to the 2014 Adler mini-series also written by Lavie Tidhar with artwork by Paul McCaffrey, the band of heroines are readying to again face their nemesis, also Holmes’ nemesis, Professor James Moriarty.  Artists McCaffrey and Jackson Guice will provide variant cover options, along with a silhouette cover series created by Andrew Leung.

 

Author Kim Newman (interviewed here at borg in 2013) has become the master of the crossover and mash-up genres, but the story device has been around for centuries.  Examples in recent comics history include Bill Willingham’s Legenderry, which merged Red Sonja, Six Thousand Dollar Man Steve Austin, Zorro, Vampirella, the Green Hornet and Kato, the Phantom, Ming the Merciless, and Doctor Moreau.  And then there’s Chris Roberson and Alex Ross’s Masks, including The Shadow, The Green Hornet and Kato, Zorro, the Green Lama, Miss Fury, Black Terror, and the Black Bat, and Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have included Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and Tom Sawyer, and others.  Years before Moore, Newman’s several award-winning novels pulled together more than anyone else, literally thousands of characters, many real, historical people, many others fictional and from other famous works.  (We reviewed Newman’s characters in comic book mash-up form, Anno Dracula 1895, here at borg).  As with Willingham’s Legenderry, look for plenty of steampunk elements in Adler.

Here is a preview of Adler, Issue #1, courtesy of Titan Comics:

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Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is likely the most popular villain in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  So a Loki series–coming soon to pay streaming provider Disney+, makes a lot of sense.  But why haven’t we seen more of what it will be about?  A new trailer Disney released this weekend gives a glimpse at the next three TV series for Marvel after winding down all its popular series at Netflix.  This one features WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki Each series is slated to have six episodes, so basically audiences will get three feature-length movies released in six parts, to maximize Disney streaming revenues.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, to star Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, gets some more screen time in this trailer than Loki, but not much.  An odd team-up, it will be interesting to see if Disney can make this into something other than a bridge between the different phases of the Marvel movies.

Although we love seeing co-star Elizabeth Olsen in her traditional Scarlet Witch comic book outfit (above), we must ask: what audience is WandaVision aimed at?  This first real look at the show, still only a peek, makes it appear like a cross between I Dream of Jeanie and Bewitched.  The character Vision (played by Paul Bettany) died in the movies.  Black Widow died, too, and she’s getting a full-length film, but it’s already been explained hers an early story and she’s a major character (so it’s about time).  But Wanda and Vision in a sitcom?

Take a look at this preview for all three shows and see what you think:

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It’s that time of year again–and with the end of football season come some new movie spots.  In case you missed them yesterday on the big 900-years-in-the-making Palindrome Day (02/02/2020), you’ll find the latest below.

We’ve seen full-length trailers for all of these, but you might find something new in each.  There’s No Time to Die, Mulan, Black Widow, Top Gun: Maverick, and–only two days after the full trailer was released–a new spot for F9: The Fast Saga.

Check ’em all out below:

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It may be one of the most beloved movies of all time.  And you can’t get through the holiday without watching it at least once.  It’s the late comedy genius Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day, and 27 years after the movie first put us through hundreds of timeloops, this Groundhog Day the one and only Bill Murray made his return as the perpetual weatherman Phil Connors.  Despite the ending of the movie, he found his way to being unstuck in time again, thanks to a commercial for Jeep for today’s Super Bowl.

Joining Phil in Punxsutawney, PA, again is insurance salesman Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky) and townie Buster Green, played again by Murray’s brother Brian Doyle-Murray.

The best part?  Murray looks like he’s having a blast, unlike his frustrated character in the movie.  Which is the point of the commercial.

Check it out!

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re always on the lookout for the next great British/Irish/Scottish/UK police procedural or mystery, after the next Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes, Hinterland or Shetland, Marchlands or Lightfields, Zen or Quirke, or, of course, Sherlock.  So the pay-channel Starz releasing a late-year mystery series called Dublin Murders was going to get our attention.  Filmed in Belfast and Dublin, with a noir sensibility–dark places, mysterious characters, and murder–the series has the potential to be a good detective series.  Billed as an “eight-part mystery series with a taproot that drops deep down into Ireland’s past, foreshadows the present and brings insight to its future,” the story follows Sarah Greene as Cassie Maddox and Killian Scott as Rob Reilly, homicide detectives on the trail of the murderer of a school girl.  The murder was similar–too similar–to a murder in the city’s past.

Maddox and Reilly appear appealing enough at first.  They share a secret of the past that would get them fired had anyone found out: Reilly isn’t really Reilly, but the alter ego of the sole survivor of the crime years ago that resulted in two missing friends, never to be found.  Unfortunately he’s a witness who can’t remember, and by all accounts he shouldn’t be involved with this investigation because of his clear conflict of interest.  Merged with his pursuit of the person behind the missing kids and the recent murder is a story of Maddox’s history catching up with her.  As a child her parents were killed in an auto accident, and to deal with it mentally she invented an imaginary friend she named Lexie.  As an undercover cop, she took on the name Lexie as her alter ego.  Now she and one of her former colleagues stumble upon another murder, a woman who looks just like Cassie.  And surprise: her name is Lexie.  Always waiting for the possibility that we’ve stumbled into an unreliable narrator series, ultimately that’s not the case, the woman was real and not something we’re seeing through Maddox’s imagination.  But the series stumbles for other reasons.

Based on the first two novels of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels, In the Woods and The Likeness, a key problem is combining the stories from two books to make into one season of television–stories that have little to do with each other.  Both cops have these common stories involving dual personas so it’s easy to see how someone thought it might work.  But it doesn’t.  The first three episodes develop the characters, but suddenly they lose their personalities.  The quiet, likeable, and sympathetic Reilly becomes a jerk, a supremely angry and mean protagonist pushing away Maddox and everyone else and leaving the audience with little to care about from his plot thread.  Maddox has the same collision of character–once admirable and mostly by-the-book, she turns into a nasty character, bitter and horrible to those who care about her.  As Reilly becomes trapped in a development of his own making, Maddox agrees to a job with her former colleague, a preposterous undercover operation impersonating the deceased Lexie in order to discover her murderer.

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Yes, a tricked-out, revved-up Pontiac Fiero is cool.

As movie trailers go, if you’re a fan of the Fast & Furious series, it can’t get much better than the new nearly four-minute trailer for F9: The Fast Saga.  The film is the tenth in the franchise and ninth in the main storyline following Vin Diesel’s action hero car driver Dominic Toretto.  Diesel returns with all the major players from the last film, 2017’s The Fate of the Furious: Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz (who already died once in the series), Jordana Brewster as Dom’s sister Mia, Tyrese Gibson as Rome Pearce, Ludacris as Tej Parker, plus Charlize Theron (sporting a Seven of Nine vibe with that earring) as Cipher, the franchise’s ultimate villain.

There’s been nothing definitive released yet about the next return of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham after last year’s hit tie-in film, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.  But Helen Mirren, who played Shaw’s mom, will be back in the new film and is featured in the first trailer for F9: The Fast Saga (below).

Surprise sibling trope alert!  New to the series is a surprise for fans of the series, a brother to Dom played by John Cena.  And good news: Lucas Black is back as Sean Boswell (we haven’t seen him in the series since Furious 7) and, after an even longer break from the series, look for Sung Kang’s surprise return as Han Lue, who we haven’t seen since he was supposedly killed by Shaw in Fast & Furious 6 (it’s not a spoiler if it’s in the trailer!).

Here is the great, new, over-the-top (and we love it that way) first trailer for F9: The Fast Saga:

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