Category: TV


Review by C.J. Bunce

Moviegoers either love or hate Zack Snyder movies.  His latest, Netflix’s Army of the Dead (reviewed here), is very different from the typical movie he directs, which includes 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Justice League.   Despite taking on a heist movie and a zombie picture in a major action movie, he wrote, directed, and took over the camera for Army of the Dead.  The result was a mash-up that may appeal to regular Snyder fans or anyone else.  This month to accompany the film, Titan Books released Army of the Dead: The Making of the Film If you liked the movie, and especially if you’re a fan of the horror genre and zombie films, you will want to check it out.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The new Netflix series Cowboy Bebop, an adaptation of the 1999-2001 anime series, is so good, so well-written, so jazz-filled, stylish, cool, and sexy that you won’t deny it’s the best streaming series yet.  It’s not only the best science fiction series in years, but also solid noir, solid space Western, peppered with martial arts action.  If you loved the space life of Firefly, the dark future Earth noir of Altered Carbon and Blade Runner, and the lived-in future realism of Alien and Outland, you’re in for some great television.  Funny dialogue, actors inhabiting their characters, cool noir vibe, the drudgery of life as a space pilot and exploits of a space bounty hunter.  It’s as good as TV gets.  It’s as good as sci-fi and space westerns get.

But what’s the best part?  The music?  The style?  The characters?  The lived-in sci-fi world?  The dog?  Or the year’s coolest borg character?

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ARMY OF THE DEAD

Review by C.J. Bunce

Zack Snyder finally did it.  Despite taking on a heist movie and a zombie picture in a major action movie, he wrote a script and delivered the type of action blockbuster he has not yet been able to create.  Army of the Dead is his first movie to get it right, a load of tropes, a mash-up of genre ideas, a tightly written story with a great cast, and wall-to-wall fun.  Not a comedy like Shaun of the Dead or iZombie, Army of the Dead features the right amount of humor for this story, while incorporating all the expectations of any fan of the father of the genre, George A. Romero.  Rivaling the incredible action and effects in 6 Underground, it also rises to become one of Netflix’s most promising productions.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Not all TV shows are made for binge watching.  Case in point:  The Umbrella Academy, now streaming on Netflix.  The TV series is based on a six-issue comic book series created and written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá.  Most comic adaptations for the screen have more content to pull from, but there are exceptions, like Cowboys & Aliens, From Hell, A History of Violence, iZombie, Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Men in Black, Oblivion, Polar, Road to Perdition, Sin City, 300, Timecop, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and Wynonna Earp.  Just as most of these were able to hold up something substantial to the audience, some comics, like Cowboys & Aliens, Polar, Sin City, and 300, either didn’t have enough content, were insubstantial, or are simply too difficult to translate.  The Umbrella Academy falls somewhere in this last group.  The story is entirely derivative with nothing new to be found here, which doesn’t need to be a bad thing.  Slow moving, painfully so at times, pretentious in one story thread and over-dramatic soap opera in the other, at ten episodes this might be the most difficult series produced by Netflix to trudge through so far.  But some key elements are so well done it may be worth a try if you’re patient and have the extra time on your hands.  But don’t be afraid to have the remote control handy for fast forwarding.

Unlike timeless characters and worlds from DC Comics and Marvel Comics, which have some benefit in not needing to be completely explained in each adaptation, The Umbrella Academy offers only a brief glimpse at its origin story, leaving many questions unanswered.  In October 1989, 43 women on Earth give birth unexpectedly.  Don’t expect to learn why.  It is never revealed.  Seven of these babies are purchased by a strange, wealthy, apparently Dr. Moreau type, played by an unrecognizable Colm Feore (Thor, Anon, Paycheck).  Do all 43 have superpowers?  It doesn’t seem so and we don’t learn why.  But these seven, or at least six of seven, do.  The wealthy man takes on the role of father in name only, turning them into the Jackson Five of superheroes, and the kids are provided a mother who is actually a life-like robot (Jordan Claire Robbins), and a sort of butler who is a talking ape (Lodge 49’s Adam Godley).  Why?  The story never tells us.  These are but a few of the frustrating parts.

The good–maybe even great–parts are found in four of the seven superpowered siblings.  Number Five is a boy who stepped out of time, deemed lost to the others, and lives into the distant future only to find a way back to his siblings looking like the very boy who left years ago.  Young Nickelodeon actor Aidan Gallagher steps into this role perfectly, playing a kid with life experiences of a 58-year-old with the authority and bravado of George Clooney.  Irish actor Robert Sheehan (Bad Samaritan) plays Klaus, one of the singularly unique characters of comicdom:  He is a mess, an addict, with no drive or direction, and he can see dead people, and maybe much more if he can only stay sober.  He is also the only one who can see the only brother who has been killed in action, off camera, years before, and with no explanation how or why for the viewer.  That’s Number Six/Ben, played by Justin H. Min.  Ben tries to guide Klaus onto the right path from the other side.  And then there is Number Two/Diego, played by David Castañeda (Sicario: Day of the Soldado).  Diego has a history of being nervous about his powers, and he’s the only one who seems to want to save the world with his powers–the classic superhero character of the group that you’ll cheer for.  The special effects are a high point–as when Number Five, Klaus, and Diego get to use their powers.  Of all the characters in the series, only Klaus and Ben get a clear, satisfying character arc, but if you only watch The Umbrella Academy to catch these four characters and fast forward through the rest, you’ll witness some solid superhero performances and story elements.

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Today we’re continuing our annual year-end round-up with the Best TV Series of 2021.  If you missed it, check out our review of the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2021 here.  We watch a lot of television, and probably love a good series even more than a great movie.  We preview hundreds of series, but outside big franchise content you want to know about, we only review what we recommend–the best genre content we’re watching. The theory?  If we like it, we think you may like it.  The best shows have a compelling story, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, and all kinds of well-executed genre elements that satisfy and leave viewers feeling inspired.  It’s even better if we see richly detailed sets and costumes.  And the very best series get usually get canceled at the end of their first season because network execs will never figure out what we genre fans love.

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

Best Borg Series, Best TV BorgCowboy Bebop (Netflix).  Mustafa Shakir’s Jet Black expanded on the anime series to create a space pilot and bounty hunter as cool and real as anyone from the Star Wars universe.  His cyborg implants made him incredibly powerful–necessary in his dealings on behalf of Spike and his family.

Best Sci-Fi TV SeriesBest Western TV Series, Best Space Fantasy Series, Best Retro Fix, Best TV Soundtrack, Best TV Costumes – Cowboy Bebop (Netflix).  Only one science fiction series really knocked our socks off this year.  The stylish look and music, and the fun of the crew of the spaceship Bebop made us want to speed through this series.  For viewers looking for the next Firefly, this is it.  For fans looking for the best futurism, space realism, and the next Altered Carbon, this is it.  Its writing, direction, cast, and overall production values made the series this year’s series to talk aboutRunner-up for Best Sci-fi TV Series: Blade Runner: Black Lotus (Adult Swim), great sci-fi, faithful to the source material.  Honorable mention for Best Sci-fi TV Series: Resident Alien (Syfy) Alan Tudyk’s fish-out-of-water story and his alien story pulled us back to the roots of classic sci-fi with humor and drama as a bonus.

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Tomorrow October arrives at last!

Your annual list of scary, ghostly, spooky, creepy, slashery, and generally monstrous films is back.  The goal?  Not to miss your favorite Halloween movies in October, and maybe find some new favorites.  Below we’ve provided hundreds of movies scheduled to air–hundreds to choose from with a mix of classics and modern fare.  Syfy′s “31 Days of Halloween” is back (only the first 10 days of the month have been released so far), along with Freeform′s “31 Nights of Halloween.”  AMC has its “Fear Fest” again, and as with last year you can get caught up on The Walking Dead airing throughout the month.  Disney+ has the new Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales streaming beginning October 1.  Horror streaming service Shudder is… always… horror, although it has a “61 Days of Halloween” event for the season, which seems to reflect the worst of the back of the old video store horror wall.  Luckily TCM is also back with your favorite classics, and if you’ve subscribed to the free Peacock streaming service, you’re really in luck–check out our rundown of their big Halloween movies and shows here.  You’ll find this year all the usual suspects: Stephen King, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Michael Myers, Blumshouse, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Kruger.

New content out since the pandemic you might have missed includes this year’s Zack Snyder zombie flick Army of the Dead, also on Netflix the new movies There’s Someone Inside the House, and No One Gets Out Alive, Disney Plus’s new Muppet movie Muppets Haunted Mansion, newer series Alice in Borderland and the similar, soon to be reviewed Squid Game, new Australian supernatural series The Gloaming and Glitch, the fantastic, murky Swamp Thing (free on the CW app), the fun supernatural Truth Seekers and the current Syfy series SurrealEstate, and highlights from prior year dark tales like Love and Monsters, the remake of Hitchcock’s Gothic tale Rebecca, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Ratched, the brilliant zombie series Kingdom, the monster-filled October Faction, or The Babysitter, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Enola Holmes on Netflix, The Vast of Night on Amazon, Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island on Starz and Vudu and Blumhouse’s Happy Death Day and sci-fi/horror sequel Happy Death Day 2U, Freaky, and 2019’s Ready or Not all on Vudu.  If you missed 2018’s Halloween movie with Jamie Lee Curtis, or Get Out, find them streaming on Vudu and other services (and you can catch all the past entries in the Halloween series on AMC), plus the sequel to the 2018 HalloweenHalloween Kills–will be coming straight to Peacock on October 16.  Don’t forget classic horror series on Netflix like iZombie, Haven, and Grimm, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer on various platforms.  Also, if you missed Netflix’s latest seasons of Stranger Things or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, now’s a great time to catch up, with season 4 of Stranger Things coming next year.

All month long on streaming services and premium channels like Netflix and Starz you can watch horror movies including Shaun of the Dead, Jaws, Rear Window, The Lost Boys, The Boy, Cloverfield, Coraline, Van Helsing, John Carpenter’s The Thing, They Live, and Ghosts of Mars, Young Frankenstein, Resident Evil, House at the End of the Street, Zombieland, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, Sleepy Hollow, Hollow Man, The Craft, and many more, plus series like The Twilight Zone, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Requiem, Bates Motel, and The Frankenstein Chronicles.  1979’s When a Stranger Calls is on Amazon Prime.  Everything you see in AMC’s listings are offered via their on-demand services, so you should be able to watch those whenever you’d like.  If all else fails, you can find your favorite ghost story or other horror classic on Vudu and Amazon Prime, where you can buy or rent our recommendations like The Fog (both versions, with the original on Amazon Prime), Crimson Peak, Attack the Block, The Birds, Let Me In, The Others, Winchester, The Watcher in the Woods, The Woman in Black, The Woman in White, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Ring, and the great family classic, Charles Schulz’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  Need even more recommendations?  Check our borg lists of past recommendations here–Halloween doesn’t arrive each year until we’ve watched The Watcher in the Woods and Silver Bullet.

So take notes and put your watch list into your DVR now so you don’t miss anything, especially useful for many of the marathons, which still frequently air in reverse order (?!).  We’ve bolded some of our recommendations.  All times listed are Central Time:

Friday, October 1, 2021

6:00 a.m. – King Kong (1933), TCM
8:00 a.m. – Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, AMC
8:00 a.m. – The Most Dangerous Game (1932), TCM
9:15 a.m. – The Vampire Bat (1933), TCM
10:00 a.m. – The Crooked Man, Syfy
10:30 a.m. – Pet Sematary, AMC
10:30 a.m. – The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, TCM
12:00 p.m. – Shut In, Syfy
12:30 p.m. – The Crazies, AMC
12:45 a.m. – White Zombie (1932), TCM
2:00 p.m. – Leprechaun 4 in Space, Syfy
2:00 p.m. – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932), TCM
3:00 p.m. – Friday the 13th, AMC
3:45 a.m. – Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), TCM
4:00 p.m. – The Addams Family (1991), Freeform
4:00 p.m. – Leprechaun 2, Syfy
5:00 p.m. – John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), AMC
5:15 p.m. – Doctor X (1932), TCM
6:00 p.m. – Addams Family Values, Freeform
6:45 p.m. – Freaks (1932), TCM
7:00 p.m. – Halloween 2 (1981), AMC
8:00 p.m. – Tyler Perry’s Boo 2: A Madea Halloween, Syfy
8:00 p.m. – Hocus Pocus, Freeform
10:00 p.m. – Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, AMC
10:02 p.m. – Leprechaun in the Hood, Syfy

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Once a year at borg we ask: What makes a great screen heroine? It’s time for borg′s annual look at the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and root for.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong, 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.  Over the years we have expanded the list to include any tough, savvy, gritty character played by a woman, so villains are welcome here, too.  (Want to see previous years’ kickass genre heroines to see how 2021 compares?  Here are 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015). Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, or human, but all have fought, some against difficult circumstances, others against personal demons (literally, figuratively, or both), and some against gun and laser fire.  And they all showed what a tough, kick-ass, and often badass, character is about.

This year we add three superheroines, an amnesiac bounty hunter, four police detectives, a thief, a grifter, a hacker, 13 martial arts experts, three soldiers, a god, a duchess, two college students, three Russian assassins, a spy, an actress, a cyborg, a bartender, a forensics expert, a hitman, and a helicopter pilot, with eight characters we’ve seen in past years and 13 all-new characters we’ve never seen in any medium before–all in a roster split between 21 television and 13 movie characters. Credit goes to both the writers, costumers, and other creators of the characters and the actors and performers that brought them all to life.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2021:

Antonia Dreykov aka Taskmaster (Black Widow).  Was there a more intriguing, surprising, gut-wrenching character this year than Olga Kurylenko’s super-powered cyborg?  She was one of the best costumed villains this year and certainly the most sympathetic, leaving the question: Where does she go from here? (Disney)

Faye Valentine (Cowboy Bebop).  Daniella Pineda’s spin on this classic sci-fi character couldn’t have been better.  Always eager, always excitable, always refreshing, as she pursued the dramatic journey to discover who she really is. (Netflix)

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20th century fox cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

For a century, 20th Century Fox was a production machine, churning out volumes of motion pictures annually, but never achieving the greatness seen by the likes of MGM and Paramount.  Yet its key movie star assets, its box office successes, and award-winning films were few and far between.  In 20th Century-Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Creation of the Modern Film Studio, writer Scott Eyman takes movie fans back to the beginning and introduces readers to sometimes successful, sometimes not successful businessmen who built theaters and the movies to screen in them, keying in on the mergers that brought William Fox, formerly immigrant Wilhelm Fuchs, to build a corporation that Darryl F. Zanuck would take through important decades of the 21st century.  Both film buffs and historians of the era of film’s Golden Age will find a history in Turner Classic Movies/TCM’s latest film production chronicle, connected by memorable films from its first Oscar-winner, 1927’s Sunrise, to its last, 2019’s Ford v. Ferrari, telling a story of the rise and fall of a movie empire.  TCM’s 20th Century-Fox is just out from publisher Running Press and available here at Amazon.

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luke cage

Ten years!  That’s ten years reviewing TV series in the decade that streaming services began to dominate TV viewing– and binge-watching was born as Netflix began releasing entire seasons at once in 2013.  How do you pick the best series?  As with yesterday’s list of movie recommendations, our theory from the very first day of publishing borg has been reviewing only those things we like, things we think are fun, imaginative, or just plain cool—because if we think they’re cool, maybe you will, too.  What makes a great TV series?  Great writing—great storytelling.  Also we looked to difficulty level and technology innovation—TV productions tend to get a fraction of the budget of big-screen features, so what they do with their time and money is critical, and some television series in the past decade were all-out feats.  The third factor we looked to is re-watchability—we’ll be watching the best series for years to come.  The big difference between ranking movies and TV is the change between seasons, that force that inevitably causes most shows to decline with each season.  So consistency is a factor.  Finally, as with movies the most important factor is the fun—why would you devote so many hours of your valuable time if you’re not going to have a great time?

Manda

One more thing: Ten years is a long time so we narrowed the series we’re including to those recommendations that fall primarily within the ten-year window.  We covered several fantastic, re-watchable series that cemented their status in reruns or syndication, many beginning before borg began publishing and finishing in the years after, including Burn Notice, White Collar, Warehouse 13, Leverage, House, MD, In Plain Sight, and three landmarks among the best pop culture-packed series of all time, Chuck, Psych, and Community.  We were disappointed that some of the best series were canceled and left to only a single season, otherwise they may have gone on to fare better against our top recommendations, shows like Jason Isaacs’ psychological police procedural Awake, Sarah Shahi’s all-for-fun Fairly Legal, Lauren Cohan’s action/spy series Whiskey Cavalier, the Doctor Who spin-off Class, the adaptation of Max Allan Collins’ popular noir novel series Quarry, the slick animated series Tron: Uprising, and the cyborg future-world Almost Human starring Karl Urban, to name a few.

Grimm

So here are the Top 40 series we recommend, spanning 2011 to 2021.  These are our favorites.  How should you use lists like this?  If you like what we talk about at borg, you’re probably going to like these shows.  If you’ve missed any, odds are you have some new series to take a look at.  Let’s start at #40 and move our way to #1.  As with everything borg, we’re stressing genre series.  Title links are to one of our previous borg reviews.

Let’s get started!

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After the 1998 attempt to adapt the 1960s sci-fi series Lost in Space into a theatrical version, hope for a successful reboot was pretty slim.  The Netflix teaser for a new Lost in Space series two weeks ago didn’t give audiences much to go on, but a full-length trailer released this week may reveal just enough to pique sci-fi fan interest.  Nicely creepy sci-fi thriller music from composer Christopher Lennertz (Galavant, Agent Carter, Supernatural), slick new spacesuits by Oscar-winning costume designer Angus Strathie (Moulin Rouge, Deadpool, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem), sweeping cinematography by Sam McCurdy (Merlin) and Joel Ransom (The X-Files, Continuum, Band of Brothers), movie level special effects, and a robot–a completely different robot from the original–with a sleek futuristic design.  And he speaks some familiar dialogue.  And what’s it about the cold of space–namely, winter parkas–that just draws us in every time?  Ten episodes–it’s on Netflix, so that really means we’re looking at a ten-hour sci-fi movie heading our way next month.

As for the robot, unlike in the original series he’s not a member of the crew, but he appears to have more of the role taken on later in the old series by famous Forbidden Planet and The Twilight Zone “guest star” Robby the Robot, a new encounter young Will Robinson discovered later in the series.  Robby was a Robotoid, a robot with the additional faculty of independent decision-making, regardless of programming.  So he wasn’t a borg, but something more than a robot.  Did the new series writers decide to combine the two robots into one?  Robby the Robot was the most famous sci-fi creation for generations of fans, so it makes sense that the new series will try to tie him in somehow.  But the classic B-9-M-3 robot was also a sci-fi icon.  The more humanoid look of the new robot looks a bit familiar.  Maybe he is just an advanced cousin of the robot Isaac from The Orville.  Nah.  The relationships between Will and the robot, and Will and Dr. Smith, were key to the original story, and look to be important again here.

So who’s in?

Molly Parker (Dexter, Deadwood) plays mom Maureen Robinson, Toby Stephens (Die Another Day, Space Cowboys) is dad John, and the kids are played by Taylor Russell (Falling Skies), Minda Sundwall (Freeheld), and Max Jenkins (Sense8).  Engineer Don West will be played by Ignacio Serricchio (Bones, The Young and the Restless).  And Parker Posey (Superman Returns, Best in Show) is the notorious Dr. Smith.

Here’s a new, better look at Netflix’s Lost in Space:

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