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Tag Archive: Alfre Woodard


Review by C.J. Bunce

Marvel has diversified its creations on film and television so much that anyone can find a series or film that grabs them and surprises them with action, drama, strong characters, superheroics and great storytelling.  It’s going to be a subjective call for anyone, but the depth of every storytelling component in two seasons of Marvel’s Luke Cage makes it our nomination for the best superhero series yet.  With all that a comic book fan could want (except maybe supersuits), Season Two of Marvel’s Luke Cage, now on Netflix, rises to the occasion again.  The writers, actors, and other creators of Luke, his partners, and the crimelords of Harlem, could hold their own against any of the entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  A “best of” list of the villains of Marvel adaptations will no doubt have Loki and Killmonger from the movies fighting for top spots, but it also must now have Season One’s Cottonmouth Stokes, and this season’s trifecta of villains:  Bushmaster McIver, Shades Alvarez, and Mariah Stokes.

We compared Season One–which was borg.com’s Best TV Superhero Series of 2016 along with Cage actor Mike Colter and Misty Knight actor Simone Missick taking top acting kudos for the year–to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, and again, Season Two is worthy of that comparison.  All the key social and cultural issues affecting every-day people inside or outside New York City neighborhoods, from the 1960s and today, work their way into the storytelling of the series.  The season kept its fresh approach with a new director at the helm of nearly every episode, while maintaining its focus thanks to Cheo Hodari Coker penning the overall story and leading the series as showrunner.  The show’s style is unique.  Even more than in Season One, nearly each episode featured the setting of the nightclub Harlem’s Paradise with an incredible performer on-stage with a relevant song to the episode.  Where a modern take on 20th century Speakeasy-inspired jazz and blues was the background for Season One, music derived from the roots of hip-hop and the heritage of key show characters in Jamaica defines the style this time.  This was topped off in the last episode with a song performed by Rakim that echoed Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s 1970s retro-funk series theme.

Family roots and legacies left behind top the season’s themes.  Along with the drama, the superheroics were present in Cage’s Power Man persona and new villain Bushmaster’s exquisitely choreographed battle scenes.  Charismatic actor Mustafa Shakir, who isn’t Jamaican, is perfectly convincing with the accent as Johnny “Bushmaster” McIver, and like Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk and series star Colter, Shakir looks like a superhuman with no need for any superhero costume.  And yes, Shakir performed most of the fabulous stunt fights with Colter, with training incorporating capoeira fighting, aptly selected for the series from its focus on power, speed, kicks, and spins.  Looking for the best superhero genre one-on-one battles at the movies or on television?  They can be found in Season Two of Marvel’s Luke Cage.  It’s even more refreshing because the series casts aside the current lazy trope in cinema of slow-motion action sequences, which can pull you out of the momentum of the action every time.

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The best is back next month.  Television’s best comic book adaptation to date, the Emmy-winning Marvel’s Luke Cage, is returning next month as Season 2 arrives on Netflix.  Can Season 2 match the one-two punch of the first season?  It looks like we’re going to get a return of everything fans are after:  More Mike Colter protecting the streets of Harlem as “Power Man” Luke Cage.  The first trailer for the 2018 season is out and we’re learning a lot about what to look for in June as the next season is released on Netflix:  Supercop badass Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is bringing a new weapon to the law with her own cybernetic arm.   Alfre Woodard’s Mariah Dillard is taking her place as leader of the underground criminal element.  Luke’s pal Bobby (Ron Cephas Jones) is back with Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple to watch over Luke.  And even Theo Rossi’s master manipulator and henchman “Shades” Alvarez makes an appearance in the trailer.

The challenge of all superhero tales ultimately is the same:  How intriguing and compelling is the villain?  Season 1 had Shades and Mariah, Frank Whaley’s cool bad cop Detective Scarfe, Erik LaRay Harvey’s sinister Diamondback, and the awesome and gritty Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth.  With Scharfe, Cottonmouth, and Diamondback out of the picture, we’re getting a new villain: Quarry’s Mustafa Shakir is Bushmaster.  Showing Cage there’s always someone bigger and stronger to come along, Bushmaster surprises our hero with equal strength and power.

Does Bushmaster hail from the same mad science that created Cage, or is someone new behind the scenes?

Take a look at this first trailer for Season 2 of Marvel’s Luke Cage:

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Our borg.com Best of 2016 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Top Picks and Best Movies of 2016 here and the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2016 yesterday here.

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

Best Borg TV Series, Best TV Borg — Ash vs Evil Dead (Starz), Bruce Campbell.  We searched high and low for the year’s best TV series featuring one or more borg characters, but didn’t really need to go that far.  The brilliantly funny pop culture ace actor Bruce Campbell’s reboot of the borg.com Hall of Famer Ash could have gotten overlooked had it been just another horror series.  Yet underneath this over-the-top, blood and gore-filled demon hunt is a whole lot of silly fun.  And the actors could have been better, with the likes of Lee Majors (pictured above), Lucy Lawless, and Ted Raimi all making appearances.  We couldn’t ask for a better actor than Campbell to take our borg.com TV title this year.

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Best TV Series, Best TV Horror Series – Grimm (NBC).  The fifth season of Grimm was simply fantastic, full of gripping writing and a change-up of character roles in a way we’ve never seen before.  This season we saw the best action, twists and turns, and flat-out excitement, above every other series on television.  Pulling bits and pieces of folklore from Western and Eastern mythologies and everything in between, the writers delivered all season long.  The writing team’s best work was what they have done all along, taking the story in a direction no one could have predicted.

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Best TV Retro Series – Stranger Things (Netflix).  It’s nearly impossible to list all the influences that came together to form our pick for this year’s Best Retro Fix.  Stand By Me, Firestarter, Silver BulletStranger Things could be another coming of age Stephen King tale, but with nicely creepy John Carpenter undertones and the wonder and sci-fi of a Steven Spielberg movie.  Think Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, and Super 8.  Whatever it is, great performances by a lead group of kid actors, teen actors, and a few adults from filmdom’s past made for a fun season one.

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Best New TV Series, Best Re-Imagining on TV  – Wynonna Earp (Syfy).  We knew Syfy had a winner in the first episode of this year’s best new TV series, Wynonna Earp.  A great mash-up of Western, paranormal, and horror, Wynonna Earp took an American legend and made it interesting for today’s viewers.  Melanie Scrofano’s Wynonna is a classic heroine in a supernatural setting.  And her interactions with Tim Rozon’s Doc Holliday include some of the best humor on TV.  Did we mention the villains are basically zombies?  Wynonna’s got a gun–a Peacemaker–and she knows how to use it, giving us a fun, over-the-top shoot ’em up each week to look forward to.

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Best Sci-Fi SeriesThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  With the slow start of the first season of the series we had doubts where the show would take us for the second season this year.  But the last half of the season cinched it.  A rare look at science fiction on television that showed what could all be attained with an alternate history story, and a great adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel to boot.

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Best Animated TV Series – Star Wars Rebels (DisneyXD).  For the second year in a row, Star Wars Rebels proves that animated shows are just as compelling as big budget theatrical blockbusters.  This season we met the great villain Grand Admiral Thrawn, finally introduced to Star Wars canon.  Every episode gave fans something to be excited about, as in the episode “The Antilles Extraction,” where Sabine goes undercover as a cadet in the Empire’s elite flight academy to bring Imperial pilots over to fight for the Rebellion.  Darth Maul and Captain Rex are also standout characters.  Original trilogy voice actors, compelling visuals, and rousing music, make this one of the best series on TV.

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Best TV Superhero SeriesLuke Cage (Netflix).  Although Marvel Studios adaptations have done well at the movies, its television shows haven’t measured up so well.  Until now.  The Netflix series Marvel’s Luke Cage is full of so many elements that make it a quality series you can expect it to be a contender at next year’s Emmy Awards.  Luke Cage is completely loyal to its 1970s origin.  Carl Lucas, played by Mike Colter (reprising the role he began in Marvel’s Jessica Jones), is a man from Harlem, imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.  The writers successfully updated the story to today, for today’s viewers, and to make the story timely.  Set in a New York City neighborhood with a gritty tale like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (with Harlem swapped for Bedford Stuyvesant), the rough-and-tumble Harlem of the series encounters the same class warfare, the same friction between police and minorities, and the same political corruption that is, as once professed by the original Law and Order series, “ripped from the headlines.”  It is at once a mix of the M. Night Shyamalan hooded superhero played by Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, and an updated mobster town story.

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Best TV Fantasy SeriesThe Librarians (TNT).  The Librarians continued its great mix of fantasy and comedy this year with its excellent ensemble cast.  The chemistry of the show’s characters continue to gel, resulting in a fully realized series in the vein of past hits Warehouse 13 and Leverage.  We were excited to see great guest appearances with Sean Astin, Noah Wyle and Jane Curtin.  And we can’t get enough of Rebecca Romijn, John Larroquette, and the rest of the crew.

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Best TV Comedy – Angie Tribeca(TBS).  Angie Tribeca has the perfect setting and ensemble cast for a gritty police procedural.  But it was actually the comedy we all need.  Nothing was written for the screen in any genre this year that made us laugh like this new series.  Every now and then we need someone to try to remake Police Squad! and the sight gags here rivaled that classic.  We just hope the writers can keep the great comedic scripts coming.

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Best TV Writing Baskets (FX).  At first you might not know what to make of Zach Galifianakis, Louis C.K., and Jonathan Krisel’s surreal, black comedy drama Baskets.  How down in the dumps can a rodeo clown possibly get?  And was that really comedian Louie Anderson playing his mother?  Galifianakis was able to play two competing roles as the twin brothers, and Martha Kelly added yet another odd wanderer into the mix to somehow result in a crazy, funny, and strangely poignant series we couldn’t help getting addicted to.

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Best TV Episode – Grimm Season 5 finale “Beginning of the End” (NBC).  Season 5’s finale of Grimm barreled ahead as if the producers believed the show wasn’t going to get renewed, prompting many story threads to be tied-up and a satisfying wrap-up that leaves viewers excited for Season 6.  It’s Black Claw, who caused Sean Renard to rise to become mayor of the city, against Nick and his friends as they work with Eve, Trubel, and Hadrian’s Wall to try to prevent the coming evil that risks the destruction of the barrier between the supernatural and the rest of the world.  Incredibly after all the back and forth over five seasons the original villains are villains again and the good guys back together again.  The season finale left us wondering how this will all play out as the series ends next season.

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Best TV Soundtrack Stranger Things, Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon.  Using 1980s analog synthesizers, the musicians created the perfect sound for a B-movie horror flick that would have fit right in back in the 1980s.  Half the credit for the series success with retro aficionados probably should go to the duo, who helped to fully immerse viewers in this familiar, but strange, look into our own childhoods.

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Best TV Actress – Tatiana Maslany in multiple roles, Orphan Black (BBC America).  In any other year Rose McIver’s weekly new character update on iZombie would have given her the win, but Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany came back this year after last season’s so-so stories to prove she has the best dramatic role on television and is well up to the task, further separating and redefining the differences between the ever-increasing number of clone sisters she portrays.  Runner-up Rose McIver as Liv Moore, iZombie (CW).

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Best TV Supporting Actress – Simone Missick as Misty Knight in Luke Cage (Netflix).  With big name actresses like Alfre Woodard and Rosario Dawson co-starring in this year’s new superhero series Luke Cage, it was Simone Missick who broke through to create one of the more interesting characters this year with police officer Misty Knight.  She believes in the justice system and is assigned to go after Luke Cage–too bad she has a past with him.  Missick plays Misty as a modern version of a Pam Grier character–she’s flawed but she’s tough and smart and we know she’ll cut through all the mess and come up on top.  Runner-up: Leanna Lapp as Gilda (iZombie).

Marvel's Luke Cage

Best TV Actor (TIE) – Mike Colter as Carl Lucas/Luke Cage in Luke Cage (Netflix).  Luke Cage is as mild-mannered as they come.  We first met him in season one of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, but in his own series Mike Colter showed how great this comic book character from the 1970s could be, and how relevant he is today.  The problem with networks dropping an entire series on us at once is that with a day long binge session we don’t get the sense of the work that goes into building a character like Cage over a full season like we’re accustomed to.  Hopefully the studio will realize how great the series is and how its lead actor can provide us with a real, gritty hero that the world needs.  We just can’t wait to see more of what Colter has in store for us next season.

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Best TV Actor (TIE) – Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Ambassador Tagomi in The Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  Tagawa has played in countless TV series and films but his role as a trade ambassador of an alternate world where Japan controls the western United States may be the most stunning work of his career.  His expressions are understated and yet the audience can read so much in his simple looks.  His character’s surprise as he maneuvered a parallel world to his own–our real world–was some of the best acting of the genre and among the best performances of the year.

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Best TV Supporting Actor (TIE) – Louie Anderson as Mrs. Baskets in Baskets(FX).  Louie Anderson has been priming us for this role for decades now.  His impersonations of relatives helped make him one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time.  Bringing him in to play to mom to Zack Galifianakis’s Chip Baskets was one of those inspired moves that doesn’t happen very often.  And the result was TV gold.

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Best TV Supporting Actor (TIE) – Tim Rozon as Doc Holliday in Wynonna Earp (Syfy).  Rozon brilliantly played the ghost of Doc Holliday this year in the new series Wynonna Earp, sporting a lazy drawl and unclear motives that make him absolutely captivating.  He was mysterious as Wynonna’s questionable love interest, an intermediary between Wynonna and the vile Revenants.  He’s a man out of his time, an anti-hero we hope to see more of next season.

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Best TV Villain – Vaughn Du Clark (Steven Weber, iZombie (CW)).  What kind of sick bastard throws his daughter to the wolves to become a zombie, and then laughs about it?  That’s Vaughn Du Clark, whose barbs with daughter Gilda (Leanne Lapp) provided some of the best quick-witted writing we’ve seen since Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Du Clark was the ultimate corporate villain, and we watched his rise with great interest all season long.  Runners-up: Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard, Luke Cage), The Demogorgon (Stranger Things), Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen, Star Wars Rebels). 

Best YouTube Video – “Seagulls (Stop it Now),” A Bad Lip Reading of The Empire Strikes Back.  You know you haven’t seen this Fall’s funniest Star Wars fan video enough, with that catchy, goofy tune.  Go ahead, watch it one more time.

Come back tomorrow as we reveal more of the borg.com Best of 2016!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

 

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In comic books featuring decades old characters, years of monthly stories stack up, build up to allow characters to get fleshed out, defining plots ironed out and redone until they are synonymous with the characters, and those stories sculpt characters and worlds that fans feel they know very well.  Well enough to defend the characters if a modern adaptation doesn’t get it quite right.  Although Marvel Studios adaptations have done well at the movies, its television shows haven’t measured up so well.  Until now.  The Netflix series Marvel’s Luke Cage is full of so many elements that make it a quality series you can expect it to be a contender at next year’s Emmy Awards.  And the successful 13-episode Season One of the famous Power Man of Marvel Comics’ past is readying us for the next Marvel series, featuring Luke Cage’s martial arts partner Iron Fist.  We’re previewing the first trailer for Marvel’s Iron Fist here at borg.com below.

Marvel’s Luke Cage succeeds in two unique ways.  First, Luke Cage is completely loyal to its 1970s origin.  Carl Lucas, played by Mike Colter (reprising the role he began in Marvel’s Jessica Jones), is a man from Harlem, imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.  A very Stan Lee-style, comic book experiment gone bad much like that found in the origins of The Incredible Hulk, Spider-man, and Deadpool results in Carl gaining incredible physical strength, cellular changes in organs that allow his skin to deflect bullets, and rapid body repairing, all thanks to a mad scientist named Dr. Noah Burstein (played in the series by Michael Kostroff).  Lucas escapes and changes his name to Luke Cage.  Key characters from the comic books fill in the blanks of his life, including Dr. Claire Temple (a role reprised from the other Netflix Marvel series by Rosario Dawson), Reva Connors (Parisa Fitz-Henley), Misty Knight (played brilliantly by Simone Missick), nemesis Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey), and a mobster named Shades (played by Theo Rossi).  The story hails from the Blaxploitation era, with Cage similar in cool toughness to Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft, and female characters that could all have been portrayed by Pam Grier if this were a contemporary adaptation.

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The other indicator of success for this adaptation is the ability to update the story to today, for today’s viewers, and to make the story timely.  Set in a New York City neighborhood with a gritty tale like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (with Harlem swapped for Bedford Stuyvesant), the rough-and-tumble Harlem of the series encounters the same class warfare, the same friction between police and minorities, and the same political corruption that is, as once professed by the original Law and Order series, “ripped from the headlines.”  Luke Cage is a mix of plenty of good genre moments we’ve seen before, yet, thanks to the likeable and believable series star Mike Colter, it succeeds on its own merits.  It is at once a mix of the M. Night Shyamalan hooded superhero played by Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, and yet its first season follows a modern mobster-based story much like that of Fox’s current DC Comics-inspired television series Gotham.  And it all starts with that local barber shop we see in so many inner-city-based stories-unlike the typical superhero story the hero is not trying to save the world, he’s trying to save his neighborhood.

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Luke Cage is dark, darker than other Marvel properties, just as it was when the comic book first appeared.  This New York City is not a sparkly comic book Metropolis or even a Batman-grim Gotham City.  It was rough like real life is rough.  And where this adaptation could otherwise land in the PG-13 realm since it lacks the volley of F-bombs from most pay channel series, because of some nudity, Deadpool-level violence, and prevalence of the N-word in street talk, this is one for the adult audience.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t some great fun here, to be found in the viewers’ empathy for this anti-hero/vigilante as he takes his lumps and their subsequent cheers as he “gains justice” from those who wrong both him and those he cares about.  The throwbacks to the original are also quite fun, throwbacks like those used in the G.I. Joe movies, like Cage’s tagline profanity replacement “Sweet Christmas,” a phrase Colter gets exactly right and somehow makes work completely in 2016, plus references to his “Power Man” comic book title as well as his “hero for hire” tagline, and in one scene he disparages his outfit when he finds himself in one of his comic book era outfits.  Woven into the series are Easter eggs to listen for, including many indirect cross-references to Netflix’s previous Marvel series Daredevil and Jessica Jones that are relevant to this story.  This adaptation of a 1970s comic book series reveals the producers can stick to the original elements and still make this story relevant in 2016.

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