Category: TV


Review by C.J. Bunce

Following up on The Toys That Made Us (previously reviewed here at borg), Netflix’s surprise hit documentary series leaning on viewers’ nostalgia with a look behind select high-profile toy lines of the past, this weekend the streaming provider added a new series based on the same formula.  The Movies That Made Us takes a four episode-per-season look at what someone somewhere thinks are important movies in the national consciousness.  The series arrives nicely timed, since season three of The Toys That Made Us already is showing signs the studio has run out of ideas.

Like The Toys That Made Us, the new series isn’t really about the subject of the series, instead taking viewers on a deep, dark dive into the business world of pop culture.  Like the first series, The Movies That Made Us has some fascinating gold nuggets.  It also has its problems.  The biggest issue being the odd introductory selection of movies, and the second, the glaring omission of key players viewers want to see interviewed for the stories.  As for the first issue, understandably the show is trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of viewers.  But it seems highly unlikely any single person, whether a movie buff or casual moviegoer, would put the following four movies on their list of must-see films: Dirty Dancing, Home Alone, Ghostbusters, and Die Hard As for the second problem, part of the issue is the series is too late to the table.  So many of the key players behind and in front of the camera in these films have died, like Ghostbusters writer/actor Harold Ramis, Dirty Dancing director Emile Ardolino and co-stars Patrick Swayze and Jerry Orbach, Home Alone writer John Hughes, and Die Hard actors Alan Rickman and Alexander Godunov and writer Roderick Thorp.  But people die and that shouldn’t hold up a good story, except that so many players that could have been interviewed who are living also didn’t participate.  A documentary about Dirty Dancing without star Jennifer Grey?  Die Hard without Bruce Willis?  Ghostbusters without Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, or Rick Moranis?  And the clincher… they couldn’t get Macauley Culkin, Joe Pesci, or Catherine O’Hara to say anything about Home Alone?

It really gets to the point of audience expectation.  Movie buffs will enjoy this series’ first season even if they didn’t care for the films, simply because it’s always going to be interesting for them to watch the wheeling and dealing of the studio machine told from the people who were there.  In that regard, the episodes about Dirty Dancing and Home Alone were entertaining by virtue of their tales of odd ideas that managed to emerge like the phoenix from dead deals to become major box office successes through a lot of luck and happenstance (told nicely in the episodes).  And the same was true for The Toys That Made Us, although after nine episodes an hour of the retired talking heads of Toyland has lost its luster.  To that end, the series should be called something more accurate, like The Making of the Movies That Made Us, etc.  But even that would set the expectation that you’d see more than talking heads interspersed with fuzzy snapshots from productions of the past.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Jawas, Ugnaughts, and Bounty Hunters… oh, my.

With three episodes in and a new episode dropping today on the new Disney+ streaming service, it’s time to dig into the latest entry in the Star Wars universe.  Great music, callbacks to prior Star Wars elements, and the best alien creations of any sci-fi or fantasy that have come along in years provide fans a lot to talk about.  With a complete story arc, and what is essentially a new, full-fledged Star Wars movie in the A Star Wars Story vein, The Mandalorian might be the greatest innovation in the Star Wars saga since the original movie that started it off back in 1977.

If there are faults in The Mandalorian, it is in its faithfulness to George Lucas’s world building.  Sometimes that includes clunky, simple dialogue.  Sometimes that includes characters with names that lack creativity (such as a mercenary named Greef, since a General Grievous wasn’t enough).  Sometimes that includes lack of rich character development and layered storytelling.  That said, there is so little fan service in the major creative franchises, so that when–at last–someone is listening to fandom, and the people pulling the strings grew up with the original trilogy like they did (I’m talking about you, Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau), and they artfully deliver in such a satisfying way, well, the perceived faults just don’t seem to matter.  The Mandalorian is the dream of every kid who lived through Star Wars in multiple viewings in the theater in 1977.  Every kid who played with a Jawa in a plastic Kenner Sandcrawler.  Every kid who had action figures of Boba Fett, IG-88, and Bossk, battling each other, and mashed up his/her Ugnaught action figure from The Empire Strikes Back with a patrol dewback toy from the first movie.  And every kid who still thinks Boba Fett can’t be surpassed as the word “cool” is defined, despite lots of variants on the character in the prequels and animated shows.  All that plus so, so many Easter eggs to find.

But The Mandalorian probably couldn’t have happened before now.  It relies on the effectiveness of Roger Christian’s lived-in distressed look of buildings and objects replicated so well in Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One in 2016.  It relies on the confidence that the Western is not dead, as tried on for size in Ron Howard’s Solo in 2018.  And it even skips over The Empire Strikes Back to find what may be a simple Western story framework as seen in Lucas’s original Star Wars, itself an interpretation of Akira Kurosawa and Jin Yong’s legendary heroic adventures.  In good writer style, it has all those beats needed so that the first three episodes could have been released with only little tweaks in theaters, and shown on the big screen, as a standalone.  Say, The Mandalorian: A Star Wars Story, as a major motion picture.  You need a good story and good writing, regardless of genre, to grab viewers.  This first tale may not be complex, but compare it to the first three episodes of any other sci-fi or fantasy series or any movie, and it’s The Mandalorian that rises above the rest.

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WKRP Nessman reporting Thanksgiving stunt

Pull the TV dinner out of the oven.  Throw some butter on those peas.  It’s time again for your annual tryptophan coma.  And another annual tradition.

Yes, it is time again for your annual viewing of the best Thanksgiving episode that ever graced the small screen.  Finish this phrase: “As God is my witness, I thought…”

Then watch and enjoy our traditional viewing of the greatest Thanksgiving episode of TV ever (note: no actual turkeys were harmed in the making of the show):

(YouTube versions change a lot, so feel free to look around for a better version, unless it’s already carried by one of your streaming providers)

And in between your seconds and thirds of tofurkey, this epic roasted cabbage (we tried it, it’s actually good), mashed potatoes (or cauliflower), corn casserole, bean casserole, pea casserole, brown and serve rolls–and don’t forget the gravy–and PIE, then check out other Thanksgiving blasts from the past here.

And don’t forget the cranberries.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The BORG Staff

Review by C.J. Bunce

The next level of books on film animation is here.  But Klaus: The Art of the Movie, a behind the scenes look at the new Christmas movie from Netflix, doesn’t dig into the next advances of CG-animation.  Instead you’ll find a story about a group of creators wanting to advance the style of animation before the advent of CGI.  And that’s what they did, finding new ways to take hand-drawn animation forward in a way that will appear just as exciting and new to movie audiences.

Written by Ramin Zahed, Klaus: The Art of the Movie is a peek inside the mind of long-time animator Sergio Pablos, who has worked on his share of popular animated movies that have taken a more typical approach to the modern animated movie, as co-creator of Despicable Me, in addition to serving as animator on Disney movies like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Tarzan, and Treasure Planet, plus more modern films like Rio and Smallfoot.  This book is the next step for students of animation techniques, following in a long line of movies whose behind-the-scenes accounts have been reviewed previously here at borg, like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse–The Art of the Movie, The Art of Ferdinand, Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie, Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films, Jonny Quest Speaks, Harryhausen: The Lost Movies, and Special Effects: The History and Technique.

Although you may be distracted from the background details by the stunning, innovative use of light and shadow in Klaus, this book features dozens of double-page artworks that allow you to take your time, marveling over the techniques used to create everything from snowy peaks to old, dusty floorboards.  It’s then that you see the influence of the styles of Christmas classics from Rankin & Bass and early Walt Disney Studios on the artists that worked on the film.  With decisions like having animal characters act like real animals instead of the typical talking comedy foil, stark contrasts in the direction of the story’s various environments, and vivid color choices, all the key production creators are able to point to what specifically sets their movie apart.

Here is a look inside Klaus: The Art of the Movie:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For years it seemed like new Christmas classics were few and far between.  It usually takes some time for a movie to gain “classic” status, and that itself is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.  Early on audiences stamped the label on Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas.  You have your A Charlie Brown Christmas, your How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and a bevy of Rankin & Bass stop-motion animated shows like Frosty the Snowman.  Then more modern fare came along, like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Elf.  Oh, and we can’t forget Die Hard.  All stamped with an anvil as “classics.”  If you want to see more movies from cinema history, check out the Turner Movie Classics book Christmas in the Movies, reviewed last year here at borg.

Putting aside the modern made for TV movies, if you’re younger, you may count as a classic something like The Polar Express, with Tom Hanks.  It’s that kind of recent film category where you can add in Netflix’s new movie–its first animated feature, Klaus Both of these movies are animated in interesting ways that will keep you entertained simply from a visual perspective, Klaus from its unique lighting and color choices and a strong Spanish comic art style (as seen in Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy).  They also share a certain traditional storybook look, and their tales also look back to nostalgia for their ideas.  Klaus is another origin story take on Santa Claus.  Audiences have seen this many times, including in the not to be missed films Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (featuring the voices of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, and Keenan Wynn) and in books like L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and more recently, the brilliant Santa: My Life and Times, with artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz (we reviewed it here).

Spain’s Sergio Pablos directed Klaus intentionally stepping away from modern Disney-style CGI animation to traditional hand-drawn art, so it looks more like Disney’s top technical achievement, the Oscar-winning Beauty and the Beast from 1991, and less like The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  The story is cute, and contrasting with the traditional visual style, is the inclusion of humorous dialogue told by voice talents famously known for being snarky.  We follow a postman named Jesper, who couldn’t look or sound more like David Spade, actually voiced by Jason Schwartzman.  Jesper is a non-achiever, and his father sends him to a distant Scandinavian town to learn to be successful at his job.  The town ends up like a lawless town out of the Old West.  His job is to get people to use the mail service again.  Along the way he runs into a Hatfield-McCoy conflict, with one part voiced by Joan Cusack, and an old man with a house full of toys named Klaus, voiced by J.K. Simmons.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

How often does a television series stay powerfully compelling for the entirety of its run?  Most series, especially science fiction series, have a freshman and sophomore season full of bad episodes and clunky storylines.  With a fourth season now one for the books, Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle is the exception, and nothing short of cinema magic that the final season of the series didn’t miss a beat in its final ten episodes.  The series has been a slow burn from the first season, but if you enjoy the idea of an alternate universe that doubles as an alternate history story–and nobody made them better than author Philip K. Dick–then this is the series for you, waiting for you to stream its 40 episodes right now.  It all began with a first-rate pilot (first previewed here at borg) set in a gut-wrenching world where the Axis beat the Allies in World War II, created five years ago for Amazon’s first run at a series format.  From the meticulously re-created sets, buildings, landscapes, costumes, props, and vehicles, to a script that may very well reflect the smartest and most tense science fiction ever to hit television sets, The Man in the High Castle proves Amazon Studios can match (and beat) the quality of programming of any of its competitors.

The themes are unfortunately current, grand and weighty like the best science fiction should be, and Santayana’s warning was probably never better illustrated in fiction form, asking the question: Could Nazi leadership of the homegrown American variety be worse than a threat from foreign invaders?  The show also explores other big ideas, like the idea that you may not be the very best possible version of yourself (and what you could do about it).  Most series are top-heavy, relying too much on the lead characters to drive the story.  The writers of The Man in the High Castle took the time to completely flesh out dozens of key supporting characters, each one critical to the story, and all an example of world-building detail that every writer should take notes on.  Every thread they created gets nicely tied up by the final episode.  The very best, most complex and creative character arcs on any series this decade happened here.  And the series’ climactic scene is simply goosebump-inducing.  The pool of candidates for anyone’s best TV actor and actress this year?  They should begin with this series.

Back again is Alexa Davalos as the world-bending, judo teacher-turned resistance strategist.  She was joined by last year’s new suave, rogue soldier, played by Jason O’Mara.  They have the knowledge to potentially save their world and infinite others, but how do they decide what is the right way to do it? Leading the bad guys on the American front again is Rufus Sewell′s Reichsmarshall John Smith, whose performance as the rising Nazi leader is so convincing viewers will never see what’s coming next, and his wife Helen, played by Chelah Horsdal, gets to step into the spotlight in nerve-wracking ways this season.  Joel de la Fuerte, as Japan’s Emperor’s leader in San Francisco, is so versatile he should be the most sought-after actor on the planet.  This year they are joined by new good guys played by Frances Turner and Clé Bennett, who bring a welcome, late-breaking twist to the outcome of the world, plus the return of Quinn Lord as the alt world’s Thomas Smith.  Even the kids playing the daughters–Genea Charpentier and Gracyn Shinyei–are scary good (meriting inclusion on our ever-growing horror film “creepy little girls” list).

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Reviewed by Art Schmidt (with commentary from a few Ricks)

Today Wizards of the Coast is releasing two new supplements for the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game, one a hardcover sourcebook based on the Fourth Edition Eberron campaign setting, and the other a new boxed set themed after the popular Adult Swim cartoon Rick and MortyThe Eberron hardcover Rising from the Last War (available today here at Amazon) is sure to appeal to those folks who enjoyed playing in the dark, techno-magical, pulp fiction world of Khorvaire, but the Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons set (available here) may appeal to a broader audience, including fans of the show who may never have rolled a twenty-sided die before.

Similar to previous boxed sets, the Rick and Morty set is named for the popular comic Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons written by Patrick Rothfuss (author of the Kingkiller Chronicles and The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle) and Jim Zub (Samurai Jack, The Young Adventurers Guide series and the upcoming run of Conan the Barbarian) and illustrated by Troy Little (Chiaroscuro, The Powerpuff Girls).  The boxed set contains a 64-page rulebook with the basic rules to get a group of players exploring, a set of five pre-generated characters for the players to use (or they can of course make up their own), a dungeon master’s screen to help the game master run things in relative secrecy, a set of eleven sickly-yellow polyhedral dice, and a 32-page adventure (written by the legendary D&D adventure writer Rick Sanchez of Earth C-141, himself), designed to take a group of up to five characters from first to third level.

Seriously, you game nerds should have seen this coming.  D&D, once little more than Satan’s Gateway to the Occult, is friggin’ everywhere these days.  A crap-ton of folks even sit around watching people live-stream their play sessions, which is, apparently, more fun than actually playing the game.  Think about that, Wizards of the Coast: ever heard of the ‘Law of Diminishing Returns’?  Read a book!  The more popular the game becomes, the less copies you’ll sell!  You’re digging your own graves! – Rick C-137

Like the comic series, the game Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons is filled with self-aware and fourth-wall breaking commentary and dialogue, giving the characters an unsettling but hilarious point of view of being viewed while also knowing full well the world of the viewer.  The result is a gaming experience sure to please fans of the series and the roleplaying game equally, while introducing those who may be unaware of the other to new and enjoyable experiences.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Start with the obvious comparison: Marvel’s Iron Fist.  If you were disappointed with that series, get ready for what you probably wanted.  It’s called Wu Assassins, and the ten episodes of the new direct-to-Netflix series arrived late this past summer.  Wu Assassins weaves so much into its ten very different chapters of its storytelling, you’ll quickly find it’s not only an American attempt at a wuxia martial arts heroes show–it bends the genre into a supernatural, urban fantasy story with characters on the brink of their unique brand of apocalypse, with several Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Grimm parallels.  And lots of lots of great hand-to-hand fight scenes.  This may not measure up to being the next Buffy or a top Chinese tale like Legend of the Condor Heroes, but as a watch-alike, it far surpasses the Buffy spinoff Angel, as well as most of the Marvel Netflix series.  If Netflix can pull together series like Wu Assassins, especially with absolute writing freedom and without the need to rely on some existing brand like DC or Marvel (or anything Disney), then its future is secured.

The world of Wu Assassins begins in our world today, as we meet Kai Jin, played by 36-year-old Indonesian actor and burgeoning martial arts pro, stuntman, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais.  Kai is a young master chef who wants to own his own food cart in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  This is a Chosen One story, and Kai is introduced to a world where the Chinese philosophy of wuxing is interpreted to rely on human masters of the elements of this world (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) who can exist both in this realm and a supernatural otherworld.  In the middle of an already difficult life, Kai is tapped as the Wu Assassin and he is told by a bellwether and instructor from the otherworld named Ying Ying, played by Celia Au (Lodge 49, Iron Fist, Gotham), that he must kill the Fire Wu, who just happens to be Kai’s adoptive father, known by most as Uncle Six.  He’s not just any dad, as Uncle Six, played masterfully by the scene stealing Byron Mann (The Expanse, Arrow, Smallville, Dark Angel), is also the head of the Chinese crime family, the Triads.

Kai’s Buffy-esque band of friends includes a restaurant owner named Jenny Wah (Li Jun Li, The Exorcist, Quantico), her drug-adled brother Tommy (Lawrence Kao, Sleepy Hollow, The Walking Dead), and Kai’s oldest friend Lu Xin (Lewis Tan, Iron Fist, Deadpool 2), who is a suave up-and-coming thief of high-end cars.  Spliced into the story is a San Francisco cop played by The Vikings queen Katheryn Winnick, a badass on a motorcycle who knows her own street fighting and inadvertently witnesses the magic of the otherworld while undercover trying to bust gang activity at China Basin.  These lead characters are just the beginning, as the series packs in a few seasons’ worth of ideas, and all of it is great fun.

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Joel Edgerton, best known for his role as Uncle Owen in the Star Wars prequels and co-star of Midnight Special, and David Michôd direct of 2017’s direct-to-Netflix Brad Pitt movie War Machine, have come together to write the latest adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V, in the new direct-to-Netflix drama, The King.  Michôd directs the film with Edgerton co-starring.  Timothée Chalamet (Interstellar, Homeland) stars as the man who would be King Henry V, who seeks the advice and confidence of Edgerton’s Falstaff.

This is the first major film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V with an American actor as the King.  The best received version was the Oscar-winning 1989 version, titled Henry V, starring Kenneth Branagh in a classic take on the King in contrast to Chalamet’s much younger appearing character.

The next Batman, Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse), plays the French Dauphin, with Ashes to Ashes and Mission: Impossible’s Sean Harris as William, Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One, Ready Player One) as King Henry IV, and Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose Depp (Yoga Hosers) as Catherine of Valois.  Critics in Europe have criticized both Chalamet and Pattinson for their affected accents, Chalamet’s British English and Pattinson’s French.

Here is the trailer for Netflix’s The King:

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Is that Bossk?

The trailers look just like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Solo: A Star Wars Story, which both reflected so much the original Star Wars from 1977 more than the other entries in the franchise.  It’s not so much that Disney and Lucasfilm put together a movie based on every kid in the 1980s’ favorite background character, because George Lucas already made a movie about that guy, his dad, and a whole army of lookalikes.  It’s hard to find a cooler character than Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back, until Lucas delivered on the fan service and inserted him into the original, special edition of Star Wars.  It’s not only that.  Or that, like Solo: A Star Wars Story, it’s clearly a full-fledged space Western.  Or that fans get to see familiar elements of the franchise again, like carbon freezing, speeder bikes, scout walkers, patrol dewbacks, familiar bounty hunters, and Imperial bunkers hidden in the forest.  And it’s not that the lead is played by its rising young actors known for badass characters, Pedro Pascal and co-star Gina Carano.  Or that the series features a story by genre favorite Jon Favreau, with a host of episode directors like Thor: Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi, or noted Star Wars animaster Dave Filoni, or Solo director Ron’s daughter, actor Bryce Dallas Howard.

Well, it’s that, but not only that.  It’s that added gravitas that Star Wars is better at than possibly any other franchise.  It’s adding those dynamic, major character actors in supporting roles who make the magic happen sometimes even from the corner of the screen, from the likes of Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Christopher Lee, Terence Stamp, Brian Blessed, Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Linda Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Max von Sydow.  Would Star Wars be Star Wars without the characters these actors brought to life?  Definitely not.

For the second trailer for the new streaming series The Mandalorian, that means more Carl Weathers–who we saw in August’s first public trailer and April’s “sizzle reel” at the annual Star Wars convention.  Along with Giancarlo Esposito and that toughest of older tough guys in movies, director and Jack Reacher villain Werner Herzog, we have plenty to look forward to.  As the norm these days, unfortunately to watch this series you’ll need to subscribe to another streaming platform, this time that’s the Disney+ streaming service (or… once the Blu-ray arrives should you not want to feed the Disney machine any further).

So check it out–your next look at The Mandalorian, plus five new official posters:

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