Tag Archive: Amazon Studios pilots


Review by C.J. Bunce

The Man in the High Castle was Philip K. Dick‘s most critically acclaimed novel, which says a lot for his parallel history World War II tale when stacked up against his other brilliant short stories and novels (that’s 121 stories and 44 novels in all).  It’s also the first of his stories to become a big-budget television series, premiering in 2015 with the well-received pilot for The Man in the High Castle.  Amazon Studios proved it can make a drama on par with any other network or studio in its first two seasons, and at San Diego Comic-Con the studio announced the series renewal for a fourth season.  This past week Amazon released a great preview for the next season (see it below).  So you now have a full month to get caught up on the first 20 episodes before Season 3 arrives on Amazon Prime in October.

The series is well worth your time.  The first season was a bit of a slowly building story, providing all the twisty elements to take viewers in a believable way into a parallel version of Earth’s past where the Nazis and Japan were victorious in WWII and America was divided up between them.  As gritty a dystopian show as anyone could muster, the back half of each season is reward enough to stick with the series, even for viewers not especially in the mood for the bleak subject matter.  The winner of two of eight Emmy Award nominations, the series begins in 1962, long after the end of the war–long enough for a new culture to have been solidified across the regions of North America.  The series leads created the best performances you’ll find on television: Alexa Davalos (Angel, The Chronicles of Riddick, The Mist, Defiance), as Juliana Crane, an American whose actions are pivotal for the future, Rufus Sewell (Knight’s Tale, Zen), a former American soldier who becomes one of the Nazi leaders in the former States, Joel de la Fuente (The Adjustment Bureau, The Happening) is stunning as the most ruthless of characters, the Japanese leader of the Pacific region of America, and an incredibly nuanced performance of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Lost in Space, Star Wars Rebels, Grimm, Heroes, Alien Nation, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Big Trouble in Little China) as trade minister for Japan based in San Francisco–a brilliantly layered character like nothing you’ve seen.

Building on Dick’s original ideas and expanding on them is what the series does best, blending the best of the old (like keeping Tagawa’s character having a special power to see an alternate version of the world from the novel) and the new (like using film footage vs. books to inspire actions).  The writers nicely integrate updates and new characters into the series.  Who is the Man in the High Castle?  You’ll just have to watch to find out.  Look for a stellar supporting cast, two fantastic season finales, and a great set-up for the show’s third season.  Fan-favorite genre actors in the show include Rupert Evans (Hellboy, Lexx, Fingersmith, Charmed), Luke Kleintank (Bones), DJ Qualls (Supernatural), Rick Worthy (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural), Michael Hogan (Battlestar Galactica, 12 Monkeys, Supernatural, Haven, Warehouse 13), Callum Keith Rennie (The X-Files, The Dead Zone, Tru Calling, Battlestar Galactica), Daniel Roebuck (Lost, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Grimm, Quantum Leap), Tate Donovan (Memphis Belle, Argo, Shooter), and many more.

Here is the latest trailer for the third season of The Man in the High Castle:

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jean claude van johnson

Sometimes you vote and your nominee wins.

That’s what we were hoping when Amazon Studios asked audiences last August what series they wanted to see move forward with a full season.  The underdog contender was a pilot called Jean-Claude Van Johnson, starring 1980s and 1990s B-movie superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme.  If you’re a fan of Van Damme, you probably would agree he has never failed to deliver a solid Van Damme action flick, whether it’s Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Lionheart, Double Impact, or TimeCop, or whether it’s Van Damme as a villainous voice on Kung Fu Panda 2, or star villain among a bunch of other “has-beens” in Expendables 2, Van Damme always delivers as promised.  We thought he did it again with a great series pilot last year.  And Amazon Studios agreed.

Amazon Studios has released a new trailer and a teaser plus a firm release date for season one–it’s available next month.

Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as a meta-Jean-Claude Van Damme in Jean-Claude Van Johnson.  We reviewed the incredibly fun pilot here at borg.com last year.  Jean-Claude is a retired action hero, going through the motions, living the life we would expect of this famed, otherworldly-superhero-acrobatic-martial-artist-extraordinaire known as the “Muscles from Brussels”.  He awakens to a ho-hum average day, among all the products which have licensed his name (JCVD soap, after shave, slippers, an iron statue, etc.), with the obligatory supermodel exiting his bed.  He moves on to a Ramen noodle restaurant for lunch only to encounter a lost love, played by 39-year-old ex-Weeds and Royal Pains actress Kat Foster (Van Damme is 57).  She is leaving for a gig in Bulgaria and shuns his affections.  This prompts Van Damme to visit his agent, played by Phylicia Rashad.  She has some lame (and quite funny) acting parts for him, but–no–he wants to return to his other job.  It turns out Van Damme was doing what many of us dreamed about over the years–a story where these movie tough guys were actually put to the test in real life.  That’s right, Van Damme was America’s real-life answer to James Bond.  As Johnson, Van Damme was the world’s most dangerous undercover operative.  And he’s back.

And he has plenty of disguises.

Here is the new teaser and full-length trailer for Jean-Claude Van Johnson:

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jean claude van johnson

Review by C.J. Bunce

So much good television, so little time.  iZombie, Killjoys, Galavant, Thirteen, Mr. Robot, Angie Tribeca–so many new television series are trying new things and stretching the boundaries of what makes fresh entertainment.  While premium cable channels and innovative networks like Amazon Studios and Netflix keep trying, usually via tired formulas and weak attempts to shock viewers over providing any substance, nothing from those sources in the past few years has stood out as a truly great series.  Could it be content overload?  Would Daredevil and Jessica Jones have fared better if we watched them in small doses over a normal season?  In a flat era of television these might take off as great shows, but seem to be easy to pass over for something else.

Amazon Studios keeps trying and may finally have a winner.  Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle started off well and was rewarded with a second season beginning this December.  Now Amazon is launching its own Kickstarter of sorts, letting we the audience influence what series is made next, based on three pilots, including a drama with Kevin Bacon, and another superhero series featuring The Tick.  But it’s difficult to resist the third entry–a pilot called Jean-Claude Van Johnson, starring 1980s and 1990s B-movie superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme.  If you’re a fan of Van Damme, then you probably would agree he has never failed to deliver a solid Van Damme action vehicle, whether it’s Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Lionheart, Double Impact, or TimeCop, or whether it’s Van Damme as a villainous voice on Kung Fu Panda 2, or star villain among a bunch of other “has-beens” in Expendables 2, Van Damme always delivers as promised.  And he’s done it again.

Van Damme Kat Foster

Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as a meta-Jean-Claude Van Damme in Jean-Claude Van Johnson.  Like all those great real and fictional characters interspersed in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series of novels, Van Damme is both real and unreal.  He is a retired action hero, going through the motions, living the life we would expect of this famed, otherworldly-superhero-acrobatic-martial-artist-extraordinaire known as the “Muscles from Brussels”.  He awakens to a ho-hum average day, among all the products which have licensed his name (JCVD soap, after shave, etc.), with the obligatory supermodel exiting his bed.  He moves on to a Ramen noodle restaurant for lunch only to encounter a lost love, played by 38-year-old ex-Weeds and Royal Pains actress Kat Foster (Van Damme is 55).  She is leaving for a gig in Bulgaria and shuns his affections.  This prompts Van Damme to visit his agent, played by Phylicia Rashad.  She has some lame (and quite funny) parts for him, but–no–he wants to return to his other job.  It turns out Van Damme was doing what many of us dreamed about over the years–a story where these movie tough guys were actually put to the test in real life.  That’s right, Van Damme was America’s answer to James Bond.  And he’s back.  But audiences must make it happen.

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