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Category: TV


Review by C.J. Bunce

Everyone likes Paul Rudd, right?  Rudd is the center of a new comedy-drama on Netflix that began this weekend, Living with Yourself And his fans won’t be disappointed.  The same struggling character reaching for success–but just missing it–in shows like Ant-Man, Anchorman, and Clueless is back, but this time his character is actually characters, plural, and, like Ant-Man, this show has a sci-fi twist.

In fact you could spend the 3.5 hours of the eight episode, half-hour series spotting all the sci-fi tropes picked up in the script by Timothy Greenberg (The Daily Show).  It all begins with a twist on Orson Scott Card’s short story Fat Farm (found in Isaac Asimov, George R.R. Martin, and Martin Greenberg’s collection, The Science Fiction Weight Loss Book).  In that story, a person goes to a secret clinic to lose weight, not realizing he is actually being cloned, and the “real” him shuffled off to a work farm for the rest of his life, while “new him” returns to his life slim and trim not knowing the difference.  In Living with Yourself, it’s Rudd’s character Miles who is unhappy not with his weight but his underachievement and overall dissatisfaction with himself.  A co-worker puts him onto a pricey spa that can solve his problems, which turns out to be a third-rate, pop-up cloning shop, where, unknown to clients, they get replaced with like-new clones of themselves and their old selves get suffocated and buried in the woods.  The cloning tech isn’t quite so refined so Miles experiences something like Total Recall’s schizoid embolism–instead of killing Miles’ older self, he wakes up in a shallow grave and must confront his new, cloned self.

This all plays out like another Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Twins, with old Miles left to forge ahead with his stale, unrefined DNA and new Miles “cleaned” and ready to conquer the world.  But this is just in the first half hour.  If you stay around for all eight episodes (and Rudd is fun playing two characters, so why not?), expect to catch scenes straight out of Multiplicity, Gattaca, Rachel Rising, The Last Jedi, Harry Potter, even Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and more.  Rudd’s performance in dual roles is done so much in the actor’s laid back style that the double duty goes unnoticed, seamlessly, until the two halves confront each other in the season finale.  It’s not that kind of complex, award-winning visual effects work we saw from Tatiana Maslany as a dozen-plus characters in Orphan Black, but it doesn’t need to be.  The series hits on the classic internal struggle of man versus self, but this is first and foremost a comedy.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

At last a new Nancy Drew television series has arrived, but except for the odd screencap (a quick shot of Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase, or Nancy Drew and The Secret in the Old Attic) it has little resemblance to the novels the series is based on.  Billed as a brilliant teen detective by the studio, CW’s Nancy Drew presents a heroine that is anything but, if the rest of the series is anything like the pilot episode.  If you like disinterested young adults begrudgingly solving crimes that would be solved quicker by reasonably motivated teenage kids with half a brain, then this is your show.  This is not the smart, driven hero detective beloved by generations of readers.

The pilot reveals yet another series-long mystery set-up, instead of a mystery-of-the-week a la The X-Files.  Coincidentally the pilot introduces the same kind of body-in-a-box mystery as the far more engrossing new series, Fox’s Prodigal Son (but compelling writing and acting is pulling me back for more of that series).  It even shares the same story of a split family and parents somehow conspiring (or not) over a corpse in a trunk, while tricking the younger version of the series lead that it was all a dream.  Nancy Drew unfortunately also shares a lead character much like the brooding under-achiever in this year’s new AMC mystery series NOS4A2, a series that handled strange mystery and a confused young woman protagonist more believably.

Nancy Drew is played by 23-year-old Kennedy McCann.  Sometimes a series will cast young adults for teenage roles and make it work, but McCann just doesn’t look like a high schooler (nor do her friends).  Nancy’s boyfriend is played by Tunji Fasim, and her key circle includes diner (think Twin Peaks, Riverdale, etc.) co-workers played by Maddison Jaizani, Leah Lewis, and Alex Saxon, with Nancy’s dad played by Scott Wolf, and his lover/city detective played by Alvina August.  The mystery begins with Nancy and her co-workers present as the last to see a local socialite alive–Nancy finds her dead in the diner parking lot, and everyone is hauled downtown to get interrogated.  The backdrop shuffled in is some local lore about a teenager who committed suicide by diving off a local cliff years ago, and Nancy coming to terms with her father after her mother recently died.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For all the hype, CW Network’s latest series adapting DC Comics had an uneventful start this week.  After Arrow, The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Black Lightning, and several crossovers, Batwoman is the next crimefighter to throw her dagger-lined gloves into the ring.  The pilot is a straightforward introduction following the Greg Berlanti model of the other CW Network shows:  A voiceover by the caped hero/heroine, backstory training in a far off strange land, and a tidy origin tied up in a bow with a closely-connected villain, to be the focus of conflict over the course of the first season.  And like the other series, excepting the later introduction of Superman in Supergirl and crossovers, there’s no expectation that one of the biggest characters of the DC line-up will ever show.  In this case, that means Batman, but the set-up for the first episode of Batwoman pretty much requires an appearance at some point in the show’s future.

Batwoman is Kate Kane, played by Ruby Rose, who has had cameo appearances in the other CW series, starred opposite Jason Statham in last year’s summer action flick The Meg, and she got to show her skills as a badass character in John Wick: Chapter 2, the last Resident Evil, and appeared opposite Vin Diesel in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.  She brings an edgy quality that matches the comic book superheroine, complete with tattoos that would distract from any other character but works for Kate Kane.  Batwoman changes the course for the CW Arrowverse, with real-world issues of lesbians in the military, gender identity, and bias, so hopefully the series ultimately finds the right balance to match that edginess.  The first episode very much reflects that less-than-edgy quality of Arrow.  But it’s only the beginning, and the other series in this genre took some time to get going, too.  Sorry–Rose doesn’t don that cool red supersuit in the first episode.

The only question is whether Ruby Rose, who seems to fit perfectly into the superheroine role and this take on the comic book story, can match the charisma and acting of series antagonist Rachel Skarsten, who plays Alice, an Alice in Wonderland-inspired villain who isn’t really who you think she is.  It feels early to let loose an identity bombshell, but Batwoman’s writers jump right in, revealing what you’d think would be big secrets (we won’t disclose them here).  Skarsten has had her share of fantastic badass roles, too.  She was Dinah Lance in the original Birds of Prey, Tamsin the Valkyrie in Lost Girl, and she was the young Queen Elizabeth on Reign.  Skarsten’s Alice has some similarities of the Arkham Asylum variety as that millennial-favorite character Harley Quinn, but Skarsten’s level of acting is more subtle and polished than we’ve ever seen Harley portrayed.

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Every single episode of season five left us breathless and anxious for the next.  History’s Vikings is returning in early December to begin its sixth and final season, and the network just released the first trailer and poster for the show, based on the sagas of the Vikings in medieval Scandinavia, England, and France.  For followers of the series it’s goosebump-inducing stuff.  Action-filled, bloody, and dramatic, the series has seen brilliant characters in Ragnar Lothbrok, his sons Bjorn and Ivar, Lagertha, and Floki.  It’s also seen some powerful guest stars with roles taken on by the likes of Donal Logue, Linus Roache,  Adam Copeland, Kris Holden-Ried, and Gabriel Byrne.

Series star Katheryn Winnick has lead the way with her powerful, historical character Lagertha.  Credit goes to creator and showrunner Michael Hirst for his vision and smart writing, getting viewers to this season, and as the trailer reveals, some kind of a resolution between Bjorn and Ivar, for better or worse.  It’s great television, and if you haven’t been watching, you have two months left to catch up.

Alexander Ludwig is back as Bjorn, with Gustaf Skarsgård as Floki and Alex Høgh as Ivar.  Here is the new trailer for the sixth and final season of Vikings:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

British actor Michael Sheen is one of film and TV’s best actors, and he proved that again in the first episode of a new Fox mystery series, Prodigal Son.  Don’t expect that comical chap from Good Omens, this is the kind of mix of the dramatic and the strange that might just net him an award or two.  Although the second episode teetered some, some tight writing, quick action, and witty banter plus an engaging cast is turning out to be the recipe that may get viewers to come back for more, even if this is just a spin on the villain’s story from Silence of the Lambs.

Sheen plays The Surgeon, a serial killer who murdered 23 people before being caught.  All along during his crime spree The Surgeon was being a good father to young son Malcolm.  Flash forward a few decades and Malcolm (the series lead, played by another British actor, The Walking Dead’s Tom Payne) is a troubled victim of PTSD and some other maladies prompted by his unusual father, while he’s also a genius profiler of the Sherlock Holmes and House, M.D. school of sleuths.  In the first episode Malcolm is fired by the FBI and hired by the NYPD, thanks to a long-time relationship with a police detective, played by Lou Diamond Phillips.  Malcolm’s relationship with the detective provides some of the secrets of  Malcolm’s past that unfold during the pilot episode.  Malcolm is close with his sister, a broadcast journalist played by ex-crewmember of The Orville Halston Sage, and their mother (and The Surgeon’s ex-wife), is played by Bellamy Young, who primetime audiences watched grow into playing mom roles from her beginnings guest starring on every other major crime show back to Law & Order and The X-Files.  Young never goes for the straightforward stuff, and there’s more than enough peppered in the initial two hours to suggest her character may have been more aware of what her husband was up to.  How much and how far will certainly be what is ferreted out over the first season.

The show is led by Chris Fedek (Forever, Chuck, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), Sam Sklaver (Deception), and master comic book-to-screen adapter Greg Berlanti.  It has bits and pieces reminiscent of plenty of prior genre series:  The tone of Castle, the quirky lead in Forever, and the supporting sibling relationship of Tru Calling all come to mind.

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Happy October!

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.  You’ll be able to find many staples of the holiday season.  Below we’ve provided hundreds of movies scheduled to air–hundreds to choose from with a mix of classics and modern.  Syfy′s “31 Days of Halloween” is back, along with Freeform′s “31 Nights of Halloween” (which continues to be a dozen or so movies played over and over all month, with some kind of world record to be set with its too-many-to-count airings of Hocus Pocus).  As always AMC doesn’t kick in with its “Fear Fest” until October 14, and as with last year you can get caught up on The Walking Dead, and The Terror all airing throughout the entire month (you’ll have to check the AMC website for the last week of the month, as they don’t release their listings this far in advance).  Best of all, TCM hosts Godzilla with 17 movies airing Fridays in October, and 41 horror classics on Thursdays–really your best bet for the season.  You’ll find this year another Stephen King movie marathon, some Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Vincent Price, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Kruger.  Disney channel will be releasing its listings for Monstober later in the month so you may want to check the Disney website for updates.

We’ve bolded some of our recommendations and asterisked other notable events in October.  If you missed last year’s new Halloween movie with Jamie Lee Curtis, find it streaming on Vudu and other services–it’s not to be missed (and you can catch all the past entries in the series on AMC).  Also, if you missed Netflix’s latest seasons of Stranger Things or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, now’s a great time to catch up.  And with showings of both Predator and Hellboy movies, you might as well catch the new releases on Vudu, The Predator and Hellboy (2019).

All month long on streaming services and premium channels like Netflix and Starz you can watch horror movies including The Sixth Sense, The Lost Boys, The Boy, Cloverfield, Coraline, Children of the Corn, Cult of Chucky, Van Helsing, John Carpenter’s The Thing, They Live, and Ghosts of Mars, Young Frankenstein, Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, Underworld: Blood Wars, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Zombieland, Life, Scream, Amityville: The Awakening, 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.  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 recommendations like The Fog (both versions), The Birds, The Shining, Orphan, Let Me In, The Others, The Woman in Black, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Ring, Grimm, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (all these are highly recommended, and you can catch many of these airing this month, too).  Need more recommendations?  Check our past recommendation lists here.

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 often play in reverse order (?!).  All times listed are Central Time:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new cookbook has the recipes to get you through your travels wherever you are in the ‘Verse.  Firefly: The Big Damn Cookbook pulls together foods seen throughout the series and some just inspired by it with lots of good in-universe commentary from Mal Reynolds and his crew.  I’ve been a fan of the sci-fi series since the San Diego Comic-Con 10th anniversary reunion (discussed here), and have reviewed every tie-in from the series released so far here at borg.  Banter of the crew is a great feature of many of the Firefly books published in the past ten years, and author Chelsea Monroe-Cassel gets all the characters right in her latest cookbook.  Firefly: The Big Damn Cookbook is now available for all Browncoats from Titan Books–you can take a look at a preview of recipes below courtesy of Titan Books, and order a copy here at Amazon.

Among all the tie-ins, this is the first foray into the food of the series.  A great focus is placed on the types of meals that make sense in the ‘Verse for a ship’s crew, as well as Joss Whedon’s incorporation of a future filled with Asian influences.  Five-spice is a common seasoning incorporated into the recipes, along with ginger and soy sauce, and that simplicity of nomadic life that underscored the travels of Serenity come through, too, with everyday ingredients, like honey for a sweetener, and white sauce, brown sauce, and biscuits a key component.  You’ll find foods discussed on the series by the crew of Serenity, other foods tangentially seen on screen, with some added in a creative way to fill in the blanks in between.  The author includes appropriate specs for meals with simple ingredients but also some dishes from more extravagant fare (like you might find at a formal shindig on Persephone).  The only way to tell if a cookbook is good is to dig right in.  So I tested four of the recipes that appealed to me the most on paper.

First I made Simon’s Eggy Oat Mush from the Recipes for Shipboard Living section.  This turned out to be a hearty breakfast concoction, a savory oatmeal cooked with veggies, egg, and garlic.  The egg brings the flavors all together and it will fill you up for the day.  It had a unique flavor profile for anyone only accustomed to oatmeal with brown sugar, cinnamon or other sweeteners–different enough that you could see being stuck on a ship and coming up with this as a staple.  It took only 15 minutes to prepare, and would also make a good dinner side dish.

The prep for River’s Meat Pie could hardly have been simpler.  This recipe was in the Recipes from the Core Worlds–Underbelly section (as opposed to an “upper crust” item).  The result was a tasty dish, highlighted by the right amount of fennel, onion, and garlic, and a perfect pastry dough crust (pictured above, top).  I halved the cookbook recipe and it made four perfect hand pies, great for carrying to lunch any day of the week (think Hostess fruit pies, but savory).  The crust was well-suited for a hand pie, sturdy enough to hold everything in, yet nice and flaky.

Next up was the Blue Sun Canned Peach Cobbler:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Cobie Smulders has enough street cred playing badass leads, including co-starring opposite Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, serving as the most powerful non-superheroine of the Marvel movies as Maria Hill, and she’s the perfect Wonder Woman, although we only hear her voice as the character in The Lego Movie series.  So why head back to television?  Maybe after 200 episodes of being part of a hit ensemble cast on How I Met Your Mother, she wanted her own series?  Whatever the reason, it’s a win for TV viewers.  Her new project is Stumptown, and the first episode aired this week on ABC.

Smulders is promising as Dex Parios, an army vet with PTSD, who takes care of her brother and has a gambling problem.  Happily for her, everyone, including the head of the gambling house, seems to be on her side.  In her first case, she’s trying to locate the missing daughter of her deceased college boyfriend, in exchange for having a five-figure tab written off at the local Portland casino (yes, evidently Portland has had casinos since 1988).  Initially she fails, but before she’s totally written off by everyone except her brother (played by the engaging Cole Sibus), the writers skillfully show viewers why she might be a character to return to each week.  Dex is a fighter, while also a mess and a bit snarky, but hopefully that’s not all she is.  Her old red Ford Mustang and its broken cassette tape deck that offers up the right song at the right time is a nice throwback to Philip Glenister and his red Audi Quattro on the classic detective series Ashes to Ashes.

Along with good writing in its opener, Stumptown boasts a supporting cast that brings plenty to the show.  Jake Johnson (New Girl, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Jurassic World) as bartender pal Grey demonstrates again why he’s the best at playing the best friend.  If you missed Michael Ealy as a great cop on Almost Human (or as Slap Jack in 2 Fast 2 Furious) you’ll appreciate him back with a badge on this series.  Even better, it looks like Donal Logue (Gotham, Vikings, Life, Zodiac, Sneakers) will join the cast in next week’s episode.  The only thing the series could benefit from is tapping all those local Portland actors like NBC’s Grimm did so well.  Unfortunately, other than some establishing shots, it doesn’t look like the series will be filmed there.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the criticisms so far into the third trilogy of Star Wars movies (the third and finale episode, The Rise of Skywalker, is due out this December) is not making the most of the original cast.  This seems to go double with fan expectations for Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.  This is not some fault of fandom, it’s how Lucasfilm prepped its fans with great futures for Skywalker and his family, delivered via Timothy Zahn’s original sequel trilogy and then decades of brilliant stories via Dark Horse Comics.  There you’d find Luke Skywalker, grown into the role of Jedi Master, was everything you’d want from the hero we met in the movies.  Now fans can see that future in a History channel series streaming on Netflix, if they only bring along a little imagination.  That series is Knightfall.

The series follows a re-imagined history of the Knights Templar at the dawn of the 14th century.  If you ignore the historicity, good or bad, and see the film as a fantasy tale of knights in conflict and knights in training, you can see why the Jedi Knights were derived from these historic figures.  The Star Wars influence comes full circle as Mark Hamill himself joins the cast as a master knight named Talus in Season 2.  Here is that very same Luke Skywalker as you might have imagined him from Zahn and Dark Horse’s storytelling, war-weary and battle hardened, as he storms his way into the tale, leading and training knights, sometimes Mr. Miyagi style, sometimes with swords, sometimes with surprising methods.  Tilt your head a bit, cover one eye–do what you need to do–but some of Luke Skywalker’s best scenes as a Jedi Knight are in this series.  The very best is Talus’s final scene.  Mark Hamill, and Luke Skywalker, never were cooler than in his final conflict on the series.

Fantasy emphasis over history aside, for those students of the Middle Ages you’ll find a mix of truth and cinema twisted for story purposes, but overall this is that series about knights and swords, the Pope and the twisted King (they’re all twisted, always) and the beautiful Queen that you’re looking for.  The story follows hero Tom Cullen (The Five, Downton Abbey) as Landry, a wise but conflicted Knight Templar, whose band of trusted brothers botch protecting the Holy Grail, the same biblical cup so many medieval tales are based upon, but more of a McGuffin for this version of the tale.  Landry’s band of knights, Pádraic Delaney (The Tudors) as Gawain, and Simon Merrells (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Ashes to Ashes) as one of the best knights you’ve seen onscreen as Tancrede lead viewers from enough intrigue to keep them coming back for more.  Olivia Ross (War & Peace) is particularly engaging as Queen Joan, one of the only women characters in the series, and Jim Carter (Downton Abbey) is great fun to watch as the regal yet conniving Pope Boniface VIII.  Of the bad guys, you’ll love to hate Ed Stoppard (Zen, The Frankenstein Chronicles) as King Philip (again, all kings are bad), and Julian Ovenden (Downton Abbey, Charmed) as his on-again, off-again confidante and henchman.  As Cullen’s Landry and the Queen of France fall in love, how both the knight order and the King handle the aftermath is the conflict that plays out over 18 episodes, with the backdrop of a coming battle between France and England beckoning.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Nothing in my lifetime in the fantasy genre has had an impact as great as Jim Henson, his creations, and influence.  That stretches to The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, tangent puppet creations like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, and Henson’s masterwork, the 1982 holiday release The Dark Crystal.  So nothing could be greater than to revisit The Dark Crystal in a new incarnation, and not only find the people behind it got it right, but set a new standard in storytelling along the way.  No visual storytelling medium is older than puppetry, and nothing reaches inside you like a story told with creations you know aren’t real, yet when done exceptionally well they convey every emotion as if they were real.  The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, now streaming on Netflix, sets a new bar because it expands on the original film’s story, bringing to life a larger, fully fleshed-out world and a timeless tale that firmly installs the name Henson (Jim and daughters Lisa and Cheryl) as equal to fantasists like the Grimms, Kipling, Milne, Howard, Tolkien, Lewis, Beagle, Harryhausen, Lucas, Jackson, and Rowling.  “Wonder” should be the Henson family hallmark.  Beyond that, the series surpasses the best fantasy of television and big-screen productions, so from here on audiences may ask comparatively, “Yes, but does it convey the emotion and wonder The Dark Crystal series created?”

Dynamic, thrilling, suspenseful, and full of action, mythology, sorcery, good and evil, despair and triumph, swashbuckling adventure, unimaginable beauty and love for nature and community, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance presents better than anything before what every other fantasy before it seems to stumble on: Stakes.  The preparation of the viewer for a world of dire fantasy stakes couldn’t have been more artfully revealed.  What is at stake in the film isn’t just another “end of the world” story, but something that reaches in and makes you believe a stack of rocks can be lovable, the innocent can rise against the darkest evil, where the world of humans and their conflicts is not a consideration, and where you may find you want a hug from a giant spider.  Glorious, ground-breaking, faithful to the original, with thousands of creators making a film in a spectacularly difficult way, it more than fulfills its promise.

You could heap all sorts of praise on the series, beyond Netflix for betting its money on a prequel, the Hensons and original visionary family the Frouds, beyond director Louis Leterrier, writers Jeffrey Addiss, Will Matthews, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, haunting music by Daniel Pemberton, the spectacular assemblage of voice actors, from Simon Pegg and Warrick Brownlow-Pike (who perfectly resurrected Chamberlain the Skeksis, one of fantasy’s greatest villains) to Donna Kimball and Kevin Clash (resurrecting fantasy’s greatest sorceress, Aughra).  The unsung heroes will be those puppeteers and the designers of the production, the puppets, the costumes, and props.  There’s not a big enough award for this series or its many creators, artists, and artisans, and all that had to come together to make it.  A glimpse behind the scenes can be found in a must-see feature following the ten episodes of the series.

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