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Category: TV


Review by C.J. Bunce

What’s it take to outperform a surprisingly successful supernatural series like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina′s first season?  A core of fine writing in each episode of its second season and a returning cast of actors willing to immerse themselves unwaveringly into a strange world of the occult and the macabre, of witches and warlocks drawn from an expansive comic book universe.  That’s the sophomore season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which arrived on Netflix earlier this month, adapting the comic book series from the Archie Horror imprint.  Mainstream critics weren’t kind to the series in the first weekend of its release, and that may because the series is one best taken episode by episode–each chapter is its own mini-movie, weighty and twisty, dark and heavy–too heavy for one sitting–yet it’s still fun.  But it’s not recommended for binge watching.  Spread this one out over a few weeks and you may agree this is a fantastic series, steeped in mythology and lore, while also outlandish enough to not take too seriously.  And yes, it’s even better than its first season.

Two incredible actresses anchored Chilling Adventures of Sabrina again in the leading roles and two others provided gravitas in supporting roles.  Twenty-year-old actress Kiernan Shipka returned as a bolder and smarter 16-year-old Sabrina, facing off against her favorite teacher who is also the manipulative Lilith, played by Michelle Gomez, right arm of the Prince of Darkness.  It’s fair to say Gomez is fully the co-lead of the series–she is today’s master performer of villainy, following up on her performance as the villain we loved to hate, Misty the Timelord, in three seasons of Doctor Who.  If actors really love portraying villains more than any other type, then she is at the top of the league.  So it takes one heck of a performer to be able to stand firm against a performer like Gomez.  Shipka does it, never flinching no matter what the writers ask of her.  Kill (and play) her doppelganger?  Overpower everyone to save her cousin from the guillotine?  Discover and take down a trio of new demons in town?  Take on the devil himself?  Sabrina can do it all, but it’s only because Shipka never falters in every layered and surprising new script.

The stories this season pulled from past supernatural shows, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Harry Potter to Grimm, and incorporated all kinds of horror tropes (Hellraiser puzzle box?), peppered with clever pop culture references (Stepford Wives Zelda?).  It succeeded where its sister series, CW’s Riverdale, was unable this year, getting better with each episode.  Writers Donna Thorland, MJ Kaufman, Christina Ham, Oanh Ly, Ross Maxwell, Matthew Barry, Christianna Hedtke, Lindsay Bring, Joshua Conkel, and showrunner and comic book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa stretched the boundaries of fantasy into a series like nothing anyone has ever seen on TV.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In his new novel Firefly: The Magnificent Nine, author James Lovegrove embarks on his next journey with the crew of Serenity following his highly successful launch point for the first ever novel series for the franchise, last year’s Firefly: Big Damn Hero (reviewed here at borg).  It’s been thirteen years since we last saw a Firefly story like these two novels, which each contain the contents of about an entire movie.  Along the way creator Joss Whedon has authorized some shorter tales via the comic books (discussed here).  Firefly: Big Damn Hero was the Firefly event of last year, and this year we’ll have two novels competing for that honor, with Tim Lebbon′s contribution to the series of novels coming this fall in Firefly: Generations So how did Lovegrove’s Firefly: The Magnificent Nine compare to his Firefly: Big Damn Hero?

As with Firefly: Big Damn Hero, Lovegrove writes the voices of the entire crew perfectly.  This is another space Western, the core of the original series, and both books feel like natural progressions following the original 14 episodes (Firefly: The Magnificent Nine fits between the last episode and the 2005 film Serenity, allowing the inclusion of two fan-favorite characters–and they’re all fan-favorite characters–Hoban “Wash” Washburne and Shepherd Book).  In a significant way the challenge of writing new Firefly stories is that writers only have 15 “canon” stories to build from, along with any notes from Whedon’s story development.  The potential pitfall is mining the original episodes too much for throwback references.  At 336 pages that’s not anything to worry about for Lovegrove.  Yes, fans will appreciate the Easter Eggs throughout the tale: Jayne Cobb’s famous hat (“a giant piece of candy corn gone wrong”) does not get ignored here, and neither does his weapon of choice, Vera.  But the framework of the story allows for plenty of opportunities for Lovegrove to do more with the characters.  It’s hard to beat his ability to get inside the head of River in Firefly: Big Damn Hero–a difficult character who didn’t get enough time to get fleshed out in the series.  But this time River takes a backseat and Jayne gets the spotlight.  As a completely original story Firefly: Big Damn Hero wins, but not by a lot.

As the title should indicate, Firefly: The Magnificent Nine is an homage to the classic, epic Western The Magnificent Seven, its source Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and countless adaptations since.  It’s notable and important that this isn’t another actual adaptation or full retelling of the story, as Lovegrove takes his own tangent from the story after setting up the novel’s first act.  But he peppers the story with familiar references, like using actors’ names and Kurosawa himself for new characters in his story.  He also has plenty of Louis L’Amour tropes and references.  One thing this novel makes clear is there are at least as many opportunities for new novels in the series as there are Kurosawa movies and L’Amour novels to pull good ideas from.  So this isn’t merely another take on The Magnificent Seven so much as establishing that the nine heroes of the Serenity are worthy of that title.

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Now is as good a time as any to climb aboard the TARDIS with the Thirteenth Doctor in Jody Houser and Rachael Stott′s monthly Doctor Who series.  The book continues right after the season one finale, taking readers along with the Doctor and her latest companions Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan, and Graham O’Brien.  If you haven’t been keeping up, you can pre-order the first four issues of the new Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor series “A New Beginning,” now here at Amazon in a paperback trade compilation.  With Issue #5 on the stands a new story arc is underway, “Hidden Human History,” and Issue #6 arrives in comic book stores today.  Check out a preview of the new story arc below courtesy of Titan Comics.

Jody Houser, today’s most prolific comic book writer, joins fan-favorite artist Rachael Stott, completely reflecting the look and feel of the actors and characters from the BBC television series in their stories.  In fact each four-issue story plays out like a new episode of the show.  In the first four-part adventure “A New Beginning” the Doctor must escape new villains–the cybernetic Grand Army of the Just–and face a new alien threat, an intergalactic collector of rarities, as two manipulated human scientists get stuck in a time loop.  But as with the Doctor’s exploits old and new, not everything is what it seems.  Roberta Ingranata joins Rachael Stott as interior artist in the second adventure, “Hidden Human History.”  The Doctor and friends catch up with Stilean Flesh Eaters, also known as the Habsburgs’ Demons, as the TARDIS drops the crew into the 16th century.  Is the Doctor jealous of a history-themed podcast everyone else is following?

 

Colorists, inkers, letterers, cover artists on the first eight issues include Giorgia Sposito, Valeria Favoccia, Enrica Eren Angiolini, Viviana Spinelli, Sara Michieli, Andrea Moretto, Tracy Bailey, Richard Starkings, Will Brooks, Iolanda Zanfardino, Sanya Anwar, Rachael Smith, Claudia Ianniciello, Rebekah Isaacs, Dan Jackson, Sarah Jacobs, and John Roshell.

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Happy April!

Planet Comicon Kansas City wrapped its 2019 convention yesterday, another great show this time highlighting the event’s 20th anniversary.  We snapped several photographs of sights we’re sharing today as we wind down our coverage of this year’s show.


I snapped some photographs of a family in front of this great fire-breathing dragon.  Whenever I see a person taking photos of their family I offer to step in so everyone can be included.  How many people have photos of everyone in them except their mom?  This was another success.

We also caught up with several authors at the show, including…

… our pal Jason Arnett, writing and signing his books Evolver and A Map of the Problem.

And we met up with Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee, enjoying their second year at the event, highlighting their books Wrath of the Fury Blade and Unremarkable.

As usual, there were lots of cosplayers at the show, especially compared to the first years of the show back in the 1990s when cosplay was a rarity.


Hard to beat this great Darkwing Duck.


This was a fantastic, fully lit-up Ghost Rider.

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Lines for Friday guests started early on the opening day of Planet Comicon Kansas City 2019.  Today is expected to be the biggest day of this year’s show, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.  The event is open today and tomorrow at the Kansas City Convention Center.  A big plus for the tens of thousands of parkers today: no NCAA Final Four game is scheduled today, so parking east of the convention center should be freed up for the convention’s annual biggest attended day.

In part because of the 20th anniversary, and because of the great slate of celebrity and creator guests this year, Comicon Friday by all counts seemed to be better attended than a typical Friday at a pop culture convention.  That didn’t stop us from tracking down some actors from TV and film.

Like Henry Winkler, visiting Kansas City this weekend with his lovely wife of 41 years, Stacey.  Winkler, who became a household name in the 1970s and 1980s as Fonzie on Happy Days and as co-star of Night Shift (followed by more than a hundred starring and guest-starring roles in TV and film since), never sat down, graciously greeting everyone who stood in line to meet him, he chatted with adoring fans, signing autographs, and posing with fans for photographs.

John Wesley Shipp became a familiar face in the 1980s on Guiding Light, and then became the star of the first modern superhero TV series in 1990, portraying Barry Allen on The Flash.  He went on to star and co-star on several series over the past 30 years and has a legion of fans on social media.  Most recently fans of the superhero genre saw him portray not only the father of Barry Allen on the CW’s The Flash, Shipp also returned as the Flash that he portrayed in 1990 in the new series last season–fulfilling the dream of those who loved the original show.

We enjoyed talking about his favorite character as a kid (he wanted to be Luke), the weight of a crossbow, and what it felt like to be one of the most beloved characters in the history of film with Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo, who played Chewbacca in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.  No matter how tall you think Chewbacca is, in person, he’s much, much taller.

This weekend visitors also can meet, from film and TV, William Shatner, Lori Petty, Cary Elwes, Dean Cain, Linda Blair, Jennifer Morrison, Daniella Panabaker, Mark Pellegrino, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Bonnie Wright, and James and Oliver Phelps. Check out the entire line-up of celebrity guests and great creator guests like Chris Claremont, Jim Steranko, Jim Starlin, Denys Cowan, Kevin Eastman, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Keith Giffen, Bob McLeod, at the PCKC website here.

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Netflix released the first trailer for the third season of Stranger Things, on its way to the streaming platform this Fourth of July.   The main cast is all back, with David Harbour‘s Sheriff Hopper trying to raise teenager Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown), who is now best buds with Max (Sadie Sink)Following up on last season, Gaten Matarazzo‘s Dustin is still pals with Joe Keery‘s Steve Harrington, and everyone else looks more than a bit older.  With last season’s hero Bob Newby (Sean Astin) obviously not returning, backfilling the fan favorite actors from the 1980s means the introduction to the series of newcomers Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Psych) and Jake Busey (Starship Troopers, Contact) taking on more than guest roles this season, as revealed in the trailer.

It’s now the Summer of 1985, but we’re back in Hawkins, so that means more bad things are coming our way from the Upside Down.  More music you remember that was played to death on the radio.  More fashion, big hair, and 1980s designs.  New villains, new beasties.  And a big new addition: The Mall and the battle at Starcourt.  But we hear the pretzels aren’t even that good, so…

Take a look at this great preview for Season 3 of the next best thing since the 1980s, Stranger Things:

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Captain Kirk, The Fonz, Chewbacca, The Flash, Starbuck, the Weasleys, two Supermans, Tank Girl, and a slate of characters from The Princess Bride are heading to Kansas City

For twenty years Planet Comicon has been one of the Midwest’s biggest comic book and pop culture conventions and that was no less so in 2014 when it became the largest attended event in the history of the Kansas City Convention Center.  And it’s only gotten bigger.  Last year’s show featured guests including Jason Momoa, John Cusack, Michael Rooker, Danny Trejo, and Alan Tudyk, and this year Planet Comicon Kansas City is bringing in some of the most memorable names from TV and movies from the past and present for its 20th anniversary show.  Leading things off, Captain (and Admiral) James T. Kirk, William Shatner is returning to Kansas City for the annual event, which takes place at Kansas City’s convention center at Bartle Hall, March 29-31, 2019.

The guy who invented cool, the first person to “jump the shark,” Arthur Fonzarelli “The Fonz” from Happy Days actor Henry Winkler is making his first comic-con appearance in Kansas City.  Star of last year’s big Star Wars event, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Chewbacca actor Joonas Suotamo is scheduled to attend.  Star of one of the best sci-fi TV series of all time–the reboot of Battlestar Galactica–Starbuck actor Katee Sackhoff will be appearing at the show.  Two co-stars of the CW’s The Flash will be on-hand for autographs and photographs: Danielle Panabaker and the original 1990 Flash, John Wesley Shipp, both attending the event for the first time.  And for more of your superhero retro fix, two Superman actors, Lois & Clark’s Dean Cain and Smallville star Tom Welling, will have autograph booths on the convention floor.

Famous for her role as Tank Girl, and star of A League of Their Own and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, actor/director Lori Petty will be in the house.  Harry Potter fans can meet actors that portrayed three of their favorite Weasleys: Ginny Weasley’s Bonnie Wright, and brothers Fred and George, James Phelps and Oliver Phelps.  Also in the fantasy movie realm, three stars of The Princess Bride are making their way to Planet Comicon 2019:  Westley’s Cary Elwes will join Prince Humperdinck’s Chris Sarandon and the inconceivable Vizzini himself, actor Wallace Shawn.

–there’s something for every TV and movie fanboy and fangirl at this year’s show.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Primarily in-universe looks at the first three seasons of ABC/CW’s series Supergirl and the first four seasons of CW’s The Flash, two new books offer up a complete look at the superheroes, their encounters, and the extensive and diverse world of supporting characters in the shows.  The last of the series to round out CW’s Arrowverse–the live-action world of DC Comics characters outside the movies–Supergirl, the series, revolves around the famous daughter of Krypton created by the performance of Supergirl aka Kara Danvers actor Melissa Benoist.  The character’s personality comes to the surface in Supergirl: The Secret Files of Kara Danvers, a diary style guide to the TV series, which includes a three-season episode guide.  It’s a companion to both Arrow: Oliver Queen’s Dossier (previously reviewed here at borg) and S.T.A.R. Labs: Cisco Ramon’s Journal, and another new book in the series, The Flash: The Secret Files of Barry Allen, another diary style book documenting the latest incarnation of the superhero aka Barry Allen, as portrayed by Grant Gustin.

The first takeaway of these books is the breadth of stories that have been adapted from the comic books into these series.  The guest actors fill in the world from the comic books, and for older viewers, they conjure a bit of nostalgia, several from past superhero incarnations, from the movie version’s Helen Slater to Smallville’s Erica Durance and Sam Witwer, Lois and Clark’s Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain, Heroes’ Bruce Boxleitner and Adrian Pasdar, Hercules’ Kevin Sorbo, and the original Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter.  The wealth of villains alone in The Flash series makes The Flash: The Secret Files of Barry Allen a must-have for CW Arrowverse fans.

Both books feature dossiers of the good guys and the bad guys you need to know about, whether based in National City for Kara Danvers or Central City for Barry Allen.

Here are previews of each book, published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams:

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With Amazon Studios releasing a new, full-length trailer for its six-part series Good Omens, showrunner Neil Gaiman discussed his creative process for the book and the show at this weekend’s South by Southwest (SXSW 2019) conference and festival in Austin, Texas.  Check out his panel interview below, with Gaiman discussing the series and his creative process.  Gaiman co-wrote the novel Good Omens on which the series is based with Terry Pratchett way back in 1989.  Pratchett passed away in 2015, and now, led by Gaiman’s efforts, twenty-nine years after its creation the book is on its way to a TV adaptation later this spring.

In Good Omens the end of the world is coming, and opposite personalities in the form of an Angel and Demon are brought together to form an unlikely alliance to stop Armageddon.  They have lost the Antichrist, an 11-year-old boy unaware he’s meant to bring upon the end of days, sending the pair to find him and save the world before… The End.  The series combines the talents of Douglas Mackinnon, who directed episodes of Sherlock and Doctor Who, and it stars David Tennant (Doctor Who, Jessica Jones, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Viva Blackpool) and Michael Sheen (Passengers, Doctor Who, Tron: Legacy, Frost/Nixon, Alice in Wonderland).  Other big names appearing in the series include Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, The Hobbit, Star Trek Into Darkness), Jon Hamm (Baby Driver), Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Muppets Most Wanted), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), Michael McKean (Clue, Laverne and Shirley), David Morrissey (Doctor Who, The Walking Dead), Frances McDormand (Fargo, Three Billboards, Isle of Dogs), and Brian Cox (Shetland, RED, Doctor Who).

First, take a look at the new full-length trailer for the series, followed by the discussion with Neil Gaiman this weekend at SXSW 2019, and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette:

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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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