Tag Archive: Amazon Studios


Review by C.J. Bunce

Some mysteries will never be solved.  That assertion is the subject of a smartly directed six-part series adaptation of Australian writer Lady Joan Lindsay’s 1960s historical Gothic mystery, Picnic at Hanging Rock, a 2018 Australian production with Amazon Studios, streaming now on Amazon.  Inspired by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Lindsay’s story is a mix of fantasy and reality, an indictment of intransigent Victorian mores and class strictures, and this version is a vast improvement on director Peter Weir’s 1975 infamous film adaptation.  Blending ethereal pastoral settings with dark terrors, via tight writing, impeccable historical settings and costume recreations, and a cast of intriguing, strong women, this is a must-watch for fans of British mysteries looking for something different.  It’s also a good way to catch some of your favorite young actresses in unique performances.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The price of knowledge is often great and grim.  If you like your historical biopics about scientific discoveries of the inspiring and motivational variety, Amazon Studios and Studiocanal’s latest film Radioactive, a barely recognizable adaptation of the Lauren Redniss graphic novel, RadioactiveMarie & Pierre CurieA Tale of Love and Fallout, may not be for you.  Yet exceptional performances by Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, Jack Reacher, Die Another Day) as Maria Skłodowska aka Madame Marie Curie and Anya Taylor-Joy (Emma, Split, The New Mutants) as her daughter Iréne, and a dearth of new films this summer, will likely make this 2018 production worth your time.  It arrived in the U.S. for the first time this week streaming on Amazon Prime.

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The great thing about a world with an abundance of superhero series–last year we had more than ever to choose from–is you have a choice.  Two television series from 2019 about superheroes that fell far from our “best of” list were The Umbrella Academy and The Boys.  Both adaptations of comics and graphic novels, they were bleak and lacking in any hopeful or spirited messaging, choosing instead to continue the search for the next Frank Miller or Alan Moore shocker.  One featured Ellen Page as an emotionless sort-of sibling in an apocalypse and the other the rape of a young new superheroine among an irredeemable story reflecting as many real-world horrors as the creators could find.  Oddly (and probably not coincidentally) the two competing networks Netflix and Amazon Studios released Season 2 trailers for their dueling superhero shows both on the same day this week.

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Leverage cast b

The rich and powerful, they take what they want.  We steal it back for you.  Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys.  We provide… Leverage.

Some television series work because the cast has a chemistry that drives viewers back for more each week.  Even if they have a repeat framework, it doesn’t matter, and even if you swap out a character or two (or more) along the way, it still works.  If you watch police procedurals or crime dramas, it’s why you come back for more, whether it’s Law & Order, Castle, or Without a Trace, all the way back to The Equalizer or Dragnet, and even earlier… the list goes on and on.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Screenwriter Sarah Phelps (EastEnders, Dublin Murders) is back with her next project, another adaptation of a well-known Agatha Christie work, a year from release of her first Amazon Studios project, The ABC Murders (reviewed here at borg), which starred John Malkovich and Rupert Grint.  The new series is Christie’s creepy tale The Pale Horse, a supernatural mystery from 1961, directed by Leonora Lonsdale (Beast).  The series stars Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle, Zen, A Knight’s Tale) as Mark Easterbrook, a man of questionable character whose wife dies in the bathtub at the beginning of the story.  Remember his name, because it is included last on a list found in the shoe of another dead woman.  Why women are ending up dead found on the list, and why Easterbrook’s name was included, is the key mystery of this two-part series.

As Easterbrook is hounded by the local police led by Sean Pertwee (Gotham, Doctor Who) as Inspector Stanley Lejeune–who is investigating the string of deaths.  Easterbrook decides to investigate himself, to beat the inspector to the answer, which takes him to the small town of Much Deeping.  Much Deeping has an inn, an inn that is home to three witches, and he figures that somehow they are connected.  Easterbrook’s second wife, a key player in the story, is played by Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Maze Runner).  This is another Christie story of lies, and the lying liars that tell them, with the oddball, quirky twists we saw in both The ABC Murders and Murder on the Orient Express.

Rounding out the cast are familiar genre faces Georgina Campbell (His Dark Materials, Krypton, Broadchurch, Black Mirror) as the first Mrs. Easterbrook and Bertie Carvel (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Sherlock, Doctor Who) as another man interviewed in relation to the deaths.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the failings of many creators for kids is talking down to them.  If you treat children from the very beginning like adults, they will step up to the task and embrace acting like adults.  Kids know when adults are speaking down to them.  They also will be excited when you give them the straight dope.  So if you’re creating anything for an audience that includes kids, whether they are seven to seventeen, don’t hold too much back.  And that applies double for relationships–kids are smarter than you think and they listen to everything and absorb everything.  One of the best parts of Troop Zero is that you can’t tell if its a coming of age movie for adults or kids.  And that’s a great thing.

Troop Zero is a new Amazon Studios direct-to-streaming release, and a great movie to watch while sitting at home with your family this weekend.  We love coming of age movies (scroll through several we’ve discussed over the decade here at borg), and Troop Zero easily makes our top 20.  This is the more nostalgic, sweet, genuine brand of coming of age film (the best kind), part The Bad News Bears, part Paper Moon, and it’s obviously a little bit Moonrise Kingdom and maybe even enters Shirley Temple territory like in The Little Princess.  It also ties into one of our favorite NASA accomplishments, the Voyager space probes and golden records prepared by Carl Sagan with voices and music from Earth (also add the PBS documentary The Farthest–Voyager in Space to your must-watch list, reviewed here).

The movie stars the then-12-year-old actress McKenna Grace, who performs like someone with 20 years of experience.  This girl has done everything, from playing young Sabrina in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, to young Captain Marvel in last year’s hit film, young Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, and she’s the star of the coming summer release (we hope), Ghostbusters: Afterlife.  Plus Independence Day: Resurgence, Ready Player One, and a regular on The Haunting of Hill House (the list goes on!).  In Troop Zero she plays Christmas Flint, a girl with that same awkward but adorable appeal as Tatum O’Neal in her Oscar-winning performance in Paper Moon.  Christmas has the reputation at school for still wetting the bed, she wears red galoshes so no one notices one leg is longer than the other, and no matter how much bad is thrown at her she responds with this incredible positivity.  She also loves space, and thinks her dead mother is looking back at her from the stars.  When she learns a member of NASA is in town to select a girl to voice the greeting on the Voyager space record, she assembles a ragtag team of girls (and one boy) to join the local scouts, and earn the minimum merit badge each to qualify to go to Jamboree where the troop with the best performance routine will have their voices recorded.

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A celebrated Agatha Christie supernatural mystery from 1961, The Pale Horse has been adapted into a mini-series, and it’s coming to Amazon next month.  The series stars Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle, Zen, A Knight’s Tale) as Mark Easterbrook, the story’s main protagonist, a historian who accompanies a celebrated mystery author named Ariadne Oliver to a small town called Much Deeping (Oliver was based on Christie, but may or may not be a player in the Amazon adaptation).  The story’s title comes from the Revelations story from The Bible: “Then I looked and saw a pale horse.  Its rider’s name was Death…” In the novel the Pale Horse is the local inn.  An inn that houses three witches.

Sean Pertwee (Gotham, Doctor Who) is Inspector Stanley Lejeune, responsible for tracking down a series of murders.  He approaches Easterbrook when his name is found on a list hidden in a shoe of one victim.  This adaptation comes from Sarah Phelps, who adapted Christie’s The ABC Murders (reviewed here) and Dublin Murders (reviewed here).  Easterbrook’s wife, a key player in the story, is played by Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Maze Runner).

Will this adaptation be typical Christie cozy mystery or one of her more over-the-top tales?  (The witches are probably a hint).  It looks to have some of the flair of Minky Woodcock and The Wicker Man Take a look at this trailer for Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re accustomed to seeing non-fiction tie-in books digging into what makes the big sci-fi franchises so popular.  But it’s only a recent trend that publishers are meeting fan demand by digging into those television series that don’t have the established fan bases and studio support.  Firefly was probably the first series to break out in this way, but publishers are now seeing–thanks to streaming platforms specifically–that fans want more content about their favorite shows.  Following recent books like Jeff Bond’s The World of The Orville (reviewed here at borg) and The Art and Making of the Expanse (reviewed here), the next acclaimed science fiction series has a behind-the-scenes account with Mike Avila’s The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World from Titan Books.

Designed almost identically to the successful The World of The Orville, this look at Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World is both an overview of the series, its characters, its source material, and the creation of its detailed alternate world, and it’s also a visit with the creators behind and in front of the camera that made a complex, highly regarded work of classic sci-fi literature into a compelling benchmark in television storytelling.  As we’ve seen in interviews with Lisa Henson in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance–Inside the Epic Return to Thra and interviews about the Broccoli family in The Many Lives of Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy, this look at the Amazon series provides one of fandom’s first glimpses at Philip K. Dick’s daughter, Dick estate trustee and series executive producer Isa Dick Hackett.  So whether you liked (or not) how the series took portions of the novel, left some behind, and added new bits, Hackett explains the thought process behind the production’s choices.

The book covers the entire series–all four seasons–and is divided into four sections by theater: the Japanese Pacific States, the Neutral Zone, the Greater Nazi Reich, and Alternate Worlds, and these sections further highlight specific components of the series, including characters, locations, design, costumes, props, and music.  There’s even a section on creating the creepy opening title sequence, slightly altered each season.  And stills of the signage, both re-created concepts and alternate history imagery, provide fans the opportunity to at last study them in detail.

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This year we found one series that could easily sweep most of the categories–a single television series that had everything: compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, all kinds of genre elements that were satisfying and left viewers feeling inspired.  Richly detailed sets and costumes.  An impossible feat to replicate.  No drama came close.  No other visual effects spectacle could touch it.  And its audience is everyone.  A truly epic addition to television viewing, that series is The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the greatest television series to come along in years.  If you love genre like we do, this was as good as it gets.  And like icing on the cake, along came The Mandalorian at year end.

But we’re not going to ignore the other good things that happened on the small screen this year.

Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here and the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here.

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

Best Borg SeriesDoom Patrol (DC Universe).  With this year’s series Doom Patrol we got a look at two borgs, DC Comics’ Cyborg, an update to Martin Caidin’s original Bionic Man from the 1970s, and an older borg created before the word was even coined in the 1960s, Robotman.  Both characters revealed a glimpse at what life might be like with significant cybernetic enhancements (when brought together by a modern Dr. Frankenstein).  For 2019, it was the way to get your borg fix on the small screen.

Best TV Series, Best New Limited TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, Best TV SoundtrackThe Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix).  It was worth the wait.  Jim Henson’s seemingly impossible to replicate artistic vision was successfully achieved thanks to his daughters and the company he founded.  The kindest heroes, the darkest evil, a truly epic, legendary story for the ages.  Everybody is cranking out CGI extravaganzas, but how many are creating artistry so fundamentally real, with so many individual artists and artisans contributing and achieving so much?  Even that wouldn’t be enough if not for the layered mythology and epic adventure story.  Add great humor, high stakes, emotional impact, an all-star voice cast, Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim’s  imaginative musical score, and those puppets and all that go into them–it adds up to a rare thing–a Henson masterpiece.

Best TV Sci-fi Series, Best TV DramaThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  Amazon Studios could not have adapted a series more faithfully, making changes for the medium and the times, than its take on Philip K. Dick’s most celebrated novel.  The use of science fiction to tell a deep and twisty level of subplots and unique setting all came to a perfect conclusion in the series finale.  Exciting, intelligent, frightening, and the most thought-provoking series this year, it was also different from its sci-fi competition.  Honorable mention: The Mandalorian (Disney+)–but only if we allow space fantasy since the series is not true science fiction, The Orville (Fox)–for its two-part epic movie-worthy space story, “Identity.”

Best New Ongoing TV Series, Runner-up: Best TV Soundtrack, Runner-up: Best TV Costumes/Makeup The Mandalorian (Disney+).  Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which in only its first two hours we rated it closer to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back than anything with the Star Wars label on it since.  The Western motif is still alive, not all that hidden here in space fantasy garb.  And we won’t get started on the impact of The Child (aka Baby Yoda) on the genre-loving world and beyond.  Credit Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for the success of this surprisingly awesome arrival–the series is proof Star Wars is far from over.

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Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2020.  Are you going to see them all?  Heck no.  These are the genre films we think borg readers will want to know about to make their own checklists for the coming year–and they are only the films we know about so far.  We pulled 85 of the hundreds of films that have been finalized or are in varying stages of final production, slated for next year’s movie calendar.

What looks to top the list for most fanboys and fangirls?  Ghostbusters: Afterlife Scarlett Johannson solo in Black WidowA new James Bond movie, No Time to DieVin Diesel in Bloodshot and a new Fast & FuriousThe original Tom Clancy novel series is finally continuing with an adaptation of Without Remorse Comic book adaptations are in less supply in 2020, but look for Venom 2, Wonder Woman 1984, Eternals, The New Mutants, Morbius, Birds of Prey, The Old Guard, and did we mention Black WidowCompare the below list to our 2019 list and even the 2018 list, 2017 list, 2016 list, 2015 list, or 2014 list, and your takeaway may be seeing the studios moving genre content from the big screen to the small screen via streaming services.

Do you like sequels?  There are far less coming to theaters in 2020 than in 2019, but many more remakes of movies, books, and TV shows are on the way.  In fact, with all the blockbusters in 2019, 2020 looks pretty tame as the cinema marquee is concerned.  Some films don’t have locked in release dates yet: Amazon Studios and Netflix haven’t revealed dates for the following 2020 releases (those we know you’ll find on the calendar below):

  • 7500, a film about a highjacked airplane, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Amazon Studios)
  • The Dig, a film about a woman finding archaeological treasures on her land, starring Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, and Carey Mulligan (Netflix)
  • Horse Girl, Alison Brie stars and directs this story about an awkward girl who fuses her dreams with reality (Netflix)
  • Jingle Jangle, an animated Christmas story with the voices of Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, and Hugh Bonneville (Netflix)
  • Louis Wain, biopic of the 19th century artist starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, and Andrea Riseborough (Amazon Studios)
  • The Old Guard, adaptation of comic book story, starring Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Netflix)
  • Radioactive, a film about Marie Curie, starring Rosamund Pike and Anya Taylor-Joy (Amazon)
  • Rebecca, adaptation and remake of the Daphne Du Maurier classic novel, starring Lily James, Keely Hawes, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Armie Hammer (Netflix)
  • Welcome to Sudden Death, sequel to Jean-Claude van Damme 1995 movie starring Michael Jai White (Netflix)
  • The Willoughbys, animated adaptation of the Lois Lowry book, with voices of Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, and Jane Krakowski (Netflix)
  • Wonderland, murder conspiracy mystery starring Mark Wahlberg, Allan Arkin, and Colleen Camp (Netflix)

Some of these films will have revised release dates, or get pushed to 2021.

So grab your calendar and start making your plans–here are the movies you’ll want to see in 2020 (and some you might not!):

January

The Informer – Thriller, starring Joel Kinnaman, Rosamund Pike, Ana de Armas, Common, and Clive Owen – January 10.

Underwater – Thriller, stars Kristin Stewart in underwater horror story – January 10.

Dolittle – Family/Comedy, stars Robert Downey, Jr. in remake of the classic, with voices of Tom Holland, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Emma Thompson, Antonio Banderas, Ralph Fiennes, and Michael Sheen – January 17.

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