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Tag Archive: Best of 2018


Our borg Best of 2018 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2018 here and the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2018 here.

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

Best Borg TV Series, Best TV BorgHumans (AMC).  No other series touches on the ramifications of technology, specifically the perils of an onslaught of real-world cyborg technology, like AMC’s Humans.  This year three characters stood out, including Gemma Chan’s Mia, the cyborg Synth from past seasons, who sacrificed everything for the liberty of cyborgs in the UK.  Then there was Ruth Bradley’s Karen Voss, a Synth who refused to live segregated from the humans, opting instead for a normal life for the cyborg son she assumed care for.  And Katherine Parkinson’s Laura Hawkins, a human lawyer who fought so hard for the cause of the Synths all year, only to throw away all the good she had done, failing the first real challenge that was presented to her.  This year’s best TV borg is shared by Synths Mia and Karen, as each showed the uphill battle any future outsider must overcome when faced with humans.

Best Sci-fi TV SeriesThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  What had been a two-season build-up all came together in the series’ third season with the audacity of killing off key characters, wisely adhering to the framework of the source Philip K. Dick novel.  The use of science fiction to tell an often gut-wrenching array of subplots and unique characters has set up a fourth season with plenty to address.  Exciting, smart, scary, and even fun, it is an unusual science fiction show that isn’t merely trigger-happy sci-fi.  Honorable mention: Humans (AMC), Counterpart (Starz).

Best New TV Series, Best Reboot, Best Ensemble CastMagnum PI (CBS).  If you would have told us a year ago our favorite show this year would be a reboot of Magnum, p.i. starring Suicide Squad’s Jay Hernandez and an actress in the iconic role of John Hillerman’s Higgins, we wouldn’t have believed it.  And yet, even as diehard fans of the original, we had to acknowledge that many elements of the reboot series were even better in the new series.  With the dangerous risk of taking on a beloved property, the production maintained loyalty to the original while making it fresh, scoring Magnum PI high marks on all counts.  Every character was smartly written–suave and confident Magnum, energetic Rick and TC, and a savvy Higgins–every actor was perfectly cast, and each show was another round of nostalgic fun for fans of the original.  Best New TV Series Honorable mention for Best New TV Series: Counterpart (Starz), Lodge 49 (AMC).

Best Series, Best Drama, Best ComedyLodge 49 (AMC).  Lodge 49 told two stories: a darkly serious drama of real people dealing with real-life 2018 adversity, and the other a comedy farce like no other.  Hanging over our heads was the idea that this was going to be a fantasy show, complete with secret codes, hidden rooms, and psychic visions.  If you’re looking for all the elements of great fantasy the hint of it all could be found throughout this series.  And yet it wasn’t fantasy at all.  An oddball Cheers?  A southern Twin Peaks without the Lynchian weirdness?  Star Wyatt Russell’s hero Dud could be dismissed as a typical young man with no vision, or maybe he’s that idealist that everyone needs to strive to be.  Maybe we’ll learn more about that next season.  Honorable mention for Best Drama: Counterpart (Starz).  Honorable mention for Best Comedy: Baskets (FX).
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When we created last year’s preview of 2018 movies we were pretty sure we were going to have some great movies this year, but we were surprised by what ended up being the best.  All year we tried to keep up with what Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre content we thought was worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our annual Best Movies of 2018.

GenredomAs always, we’re after the best genre content of the year–with our top categories from the Best in Movies.  There are thousands of other places that cover plain vanilla dramas and the rest of the film world, but here we’re looking for movies we want to watch.  What do all of this year’s selections have in common?  In addition to those elements that define each part of genredom, each has a good story.  Special effects without a good story is not good entertainment, and we saw plenty of films this year that missed that crucial element.

Come back later this month for our TV and print media picks, and our annual borg Hall of Fame inductees.  Wait no further, here are our movie picks for 2018:

Best Film, Best Drama – Bohemian Rhapsody (20th Century Fox).  For the epic historical costume drama category, this biopic was something fresh and new, even among dozens of movies about bands that came before it.  Gary Busey played a great Buddy Holly and Val Kilmer a perfect Jim Morrison, and we can add Rami Malek and Gwilym Lee’s work as Freddie Mercury and Brian May to the same rare league.  But it wasn’t only the actors that made it work.  Incredible cinematography, costume and set recreations, and an inspiring story spoke to legions of moviegoers.  This wasn’t just another biopic, but an engaging drama about misfits that came out on top.  Honorable mention: Black Panther (Disney/Marvel).

Best Sci-fi Movie, Best Retro Fix, Best Easter EggsSolo: A Star Wars Story (Disney/Lucasfilm).  Put aside the noise surrounding the mid-year release of Solo before fans had recovered yet from The Last Jedi, and the resulting film was the best sequel (or prequel) in the franchise since the original trilogy (we rate it right after The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars as #3 overall).  All the scenes with Han and Chewbacca were faithful to George Lucas’s original vision, and the new characters were as cool and exciting, and played by exceptional talent, as found in the originals, including sets that looked like they were created in the 1970s of the original trilogy.  The Easter Eggs scattered all over provided dozens of callbacks to earlier films.  This was an easy choice: no other science fiction film came close to the rip-roaring rollercoaster of this film, and special effects and space battles to match.   Honorable mention for Best Sci-Fi Movie: Orbiter 9 (Netflix).

Best Superhero Movie, Best Crossover, Best Re-Imagining on Film Avengers: Infinity War (Disney/Marvel).  For all its faults, and there were many, the culmination of ten years of careful planning and tens of thousands of creative inputs delivered something no fan of comics has ever seen before:  multiple, fleshed out superheroes played by A-list actors with intertwined stories with a plot that wasn’t all that convoluted.  Is it the best superhero move ever?  To many fans, yes.  But even if it isn’t the best, its scope was as great as any envisioned before it, and the movie was filled with more great sequences than can be found in several other superhero movies of the past few years combined.  But teaming up Thor with Rocket?  And Spider-Man with Doctor Strange and Iron Man?  That beat all the prior Avengers team-ups that came before (and anything offered up from the other studios).  It’s easy to brush off any given film with so many superhero movies arriving these days, but this one was the biggest, grandest, and greatest made yet and deserves all the recognition.  Honorable mention: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures Animation), Black Panther (Disney/Marvel).

Best Fantasy Movie, Best Comedy MovieJumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Columbia Pictures).  No movie provided more laugh-out-loud moments this year than last winter’s surprise hit, a sequel that didn’t need to be a sequel, and a video game tie-in for a fake video game.  A funny script and four super leads made this an easy pick in the humor category, but the Raiders of the Lost Ark-inspired adventure ride made for a great fantasy film, too.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Movie: Black Panther (Disney/Marvel), Ready Player One (Warner Bros./Amblin).

Best Movie Borg, Best Borg Film – Josh Brolin’s Cable, Deadpool 2 (20th Century Fox).  Brolin’s take on Cable ended up as one of those great borgs on par with the Terminator from the standpoint of “coolness” factor.  But the trick that he wasn’t really the villain of the movie made him that much more compelling in the film’s final moments.  Ryan Reynolds was back and equal to his last Deadpool film, and his Magnificent Seven/Samurai Seven round-up of a team was great fun.  If not for all that unwinding of what happened in the movie in the coda, this might have made the top superhero movie spot.  But Deadpool 2 was a good reminder there is something other than Disney’s MCU to make good superhero flicks.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As a high schooler who wasn’t a gamer, I watched my friends with their stack of books and wondered why the books looked so… corporate.  I knew enough about the basics of Dungeons & Dragons, and knew the focus on role-playing and imagination, and couldn’t see why players didn’t use some kind of fantasy covers, like poster art from Dragonslayer or The Dark Crystal.  Wandering a Borders or Barnes and Noble bookstore more than 15 years ago, I thought the faux leather and metal locks-and-hinge look from the 3.5 Edition was what I had expected for an in-universe look of a game that was about bringing players inside a new world.  Wizards of the Coast stepped into a different flavor of that theme with its variant series of books for the 5th Edition, and the result has been pretty stunning.

The variants Wizards of the Coast chose were created by Hydro74.  That’s the alias of artist Joshua M. Smith, whose artwork often reflects a unique style that pulls together the bright-on-black contrasts of 1970s black velvet posters, magical stylized creatures, and eye-popping foil-embossed, metallic inks.  In a series where magic is key, the selection of Hydro74 for the 5th Edition special variant covers was a great choice.

Wizards of the Coast has been slowly releasing the variants beginning late 2016 with Hydro74 covers on special editions of Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and continuing with Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, this year’s history of D&D: Art & Arcana, and a stylized D&D ampersand dragon used for other covers and poster art that began as a cover for Dragon+ magazine in 2015.  But now the publisher has created a one-stop ultimate collection of special covers for the key 5th Edition books released before the other Hydro74 covers became the theme, in the Special Edition Core Rulebooks Gift Set.  The set includes Hydro74 cover versions for the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Monster Manual, and the Player’s Handbook, and a sturdy storage box and screen–both decorated with shiny red and gold embossed dragon imagery.  If you haven’t picked up the core rulebooks for the 5th Edition yet and you’ve been thinking about diving in, this is the place to start.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The Christmas movie releases began big this weekend with the first out of the gate: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, an animated superhero movie in a year that has seen the animated Incredibles 2 and live action versions of Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Deadpool 2, and Venom.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse holds its own against them all.  A rich story and layered characters in an easy to digest, familiar, multi-verse story make this rise above other recent animated superhero shows.  In-world references to comic books–sporting the main characters on the covers, multi-view panel sequences, and even first-person narrative captions appear pulled from the pages of any real-world Spider-Man book.

The cast list has been publicized for months, and as the trailers promised, the voice actors take the film from good to great.  Familiar–maybe over-used–Spidey villain Kingpin, played by Liev Schreiber, is trying to take control of all the multi-verses with a new weapon that initially pulls in Spider-heroes from five other universes.  Shameik Moore plays star Miles Morales, a new Spider-Man trying to find his way at the beginning stage of his journey in his universe along with Chris Pine (Star Trek, Jack Ryan, Wonder Woman) as your more familiar neighborhood Spider-Man.  After an explosion Miles catches up with another Spider-Man, Peter B. Parker, a view of Parker in another dimension 20 years older, played perfectly (and hilariously) by Jake Johnson (Jurassic World, The Mummy, New Girl).  They are soon joined by cool and confident Spider-Woman aka Gwen “Spider-Gwen” Stacy, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld (BumbleBee, True Grit, Ender’s Game).  Early scenes present lots of great action, including a memorable scene where Miles drags Peter to safety aboard a speeding commuter train, but this story is more about sentiment and humor.  And it gets better.

Three other Spider-heroes arrive.  Rounding out the cast previewed in the trailers is Spider-Man Noir, allowing the great Nicolas Cage another superhero role after his performance as Big Daddy in Kick-Ass (after almost starring in a Tim Burton Superman movie years ago).  A lifelong comic book connoisseur, Cage was born to portray superheroes, and here his Spider-Man is pure perfection.  The oldest of spin-off Spideys emerges with the entrance of Peter Porker aka Spider-Ham (John Mulany), first seen in print back in 1983.  And a newer webslinger, the anime heroine Peni Parker from Earth-14512 (Kimiko Glenn), complete with her high-tech “SP//dr Suit,” gets her own great scenes.  The film features plenty of surprise characters, too.

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By C.J. Bunce

Of all this year’s books we’ve read and reviewed at borg in 2018, more than 100 all told, we’re hard-pressed to find one that matches the beauty of design in The Archive of Magic – The Film Wizardry of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, a new elaborately designed and detailed look at the film, the story, and the production of the new fantasy film from the mind of J.K. Rowling.  Not only is the photograph reproduction quality superb, every page incorporates the style of the film, created by the very designers who made the images for the film.  That’s MinaLima–the dynamic art duo of Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima–who also designed props for the Harry Potter movies as well as a new series of classic book reprints (reviewed here previously at borg).

Writer/editor Signe Bergstrom provides several textual elements that make The Archive of Magic stand out.  She presents the narrative of the story itself in a way that will help moviegoers understand the sequence of events in the densely packed film.  She also incorporates in-world elements, like examining new characters and story elements, and she steps out of the fantasy and interviews the film’s creative staff, writers, and actors, to provide an in-depth guide through the production.  Readers will find final as-filmed versions of costumes and set production, in contrast with The Art of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, which consists primarily of pre-production concept artwork (see our review here yesterday).

The Archive of Magic takes the paper ephemera book tie-in concept that has exploded in the past three years to another level.  Included are several reproductions of paper props that were key to the story, not merely set dressing, but the book also includes tipped-in reproductions of set dressing, too, created by the artists who made the very props seen in the film–for any past Harry Potter universe film replica props like this would sell for at least $10-20 each.  It begins with a deluxe hardcover, magnetic wraparound cover with gold embossed Art Nouveau designs.  Included are Leta Lestrange’s note she finds in the Ministry Records Room, a 3D-lenticular photo identification card for Newt Scamander, a book mark incorporating Grindelwald’s logo on paper stock like that seen in the film, Credence Barebone’s dual-sided birth certificate, Queenie’s postcard from Tina, the Spellbound magazine that incorrectly reports on a Newt Scamander/Leta Lestrange engagement, Nicolas Flamel’s business card that Dumbledore gives to Newt, Butter Beer logo label stickers, six reproduced newspaper pages, and two folded, full-size circus posters.

Take a look at this book trailer produced by Harper Design, and sixteen interior pages from the book:
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Review by C.J. Bunce

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the rare show that tries to be many things and actually succeeds at them all.  If you are looking for the ideal way to spend this Halloween, absent a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon, you’re not going to find a better TV pursuit than this new Netflix series.  It features a captivating lead in its teenage witch Sabrina, played perfectly by Kiernan Shipka, who shows every frustrating feeling, emotion, and indecision any teenager must go through, reflected in a mythology-rich world with enormous stakes.  Sabrina is a kid–a smart kid, but still a kid–so she makes the kind of mistakes teenagers make.  Raised in the occult world by a family of witch aunts and a warlock cousin, Sabrina is a half-breed (her mother was human, her father a high priest in the dark arts), but viewers will see she shares some commonality with Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books–she’s loyal, she’s book smart, she’s street savvy, and conscientious, dabbling in the magical world.  She also is trusting and able to be manipulated by the adults around her.  She may not be the fully realized, badass, confident heroine everyone wants to see–just yet–but by the end of Season 1 she’s well on her way.

The series protagonist is actually not Sabrina, but a demon who takes over the body of Michelle Gomez‘s Ms. Wardwell, a teacher at Sabrina’s mortal-realm high school, an ever-present mentor steering her out of dilemmas when Sabrina’s aunts fail to give Sabrina the help she wants.  Gomez, who played Doctor Who’s #1 nemesis The Master, is even more engaging here, fully inhabiting a character whose motivations are hidden by a fog–a blurred reality paralleled by a clever fuzzy tweak in cinematography throughout each episode.  Sabrina’s aunts, played by Miranda Otto, The Lord of the Rings #1 heroine who saved Middle-earth (“I am no man!”) and Lucy Davis, the #2 female lead in the WWI era of the movie Wonder Woman, unite to create a classic duet in the spirit of Arsenic and Old Lace.  Otto’s Zelda is strict and a devout believer in her dark religion, Hilda a sweet and doting aunt who gets excommunicated for her support of Sabrina.  All three actresses bring their genre star power to the series, providing a jolt of heroine gravatas to support the title character.

Sabrina is approaching her 16th birthday, when she must choose between the world of mortals and the world–and protections–of the witching world.  She must decide whether she will relinquish her decision-making from then on to the devil himself or take her chances as a mortal.  She is surrounded by those she thinks she can trust and others whose motivations are hidden in a dark world of several levels of good and evil.  Making sense of the darkness and evil and placing a pantheon of 56-old comic book characters he rejuvenated in the pages of Archie Horror comics four years ago onto the screen for a new audience is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, chief creative officer of Archie Comics, and executive producer and writer for the comics and CW’s Riverdale and Netflix’s Sabrina.  Quite shrewdly, Sacasa doesn’t comment on the dark religion of the series or any political stance his characters may reflect, instead letter the viewer bring their own value set to the show and making their own analysis.  Who do you want to cheer for, the equivalent of Darth Vader or Princess Leia in science fiction, or Sauron or Eowyn in fantasy?  Sacasa pulls from age-old classic stories, like Cain and Abel from the Bible, W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw, John Carpenter’s films including The Fog, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Robert Eggers’ The Witch, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and a classic horror film mirrored in the comics that might be a spoiler for Season 2–so we’ll hold that title back for now.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The music biopic is as much a cinema fixture as Film Noir or the Western.  Just look back at a quick swath of the genre and you’ll find Clifton Webb as John Philip Sousa in Stars and Stripes Forever, James Cagney as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, Jimmy Stewart as Glenn Miller in The Glenn Miller Story, Gary Busey as Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story, Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter, Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams, Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens in La Bamba, Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in The Doors, Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray, and Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line.  If Milos Forman’s Amadeus was worthy of a Best Picture Oscarif the Academy gets it right–then director Bryan Singer’s new biopic Bohemian Rhapsody should also take home an armful of Oscars.  Actor Rami Malek, in one of the decade’s most immersive, riveting, and powerful performances, conjures the spirit of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury in a sweeping whirlwind of music and seismic spectacle celebrating individuality.

Few bands have the extensive catalog of music that can support a 2.5 hour film with familiar hit songs that fit the mood of every scene as Queen has.  With the participation behind the scenes of Queen lead guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor as executive producers, from the first scene Malek’s Freddie Mercury will take Queen fans back in time, and yet it’s the casting of the other three band members that provides a cohesive whole, convincing the audience this was a real band, and a real family.  Where Oliver Stone came close to getting his four actors lined up as mirrors for The Doors, anyone who grew up with the band can see how closely director Bryan Singer came to matching up the acting talent to Queen’s members (and it’s right there for comparison with archival footage in the film’s end credits).  Audiences already knew Malek was a unique talent from his series Mr. Robot and his previous TV and film appearances.  Like Val Kilmer transformed into Jim Morrison, American actor Malek becomes Anglo-Asian rock god Freddie Mercury.  British actor Gwilym Lee (Ashes to Ashes, Midsomer Murders) is the all-out doppelganger of Brian May, and the next acting talent to watch for.  The growth of American actor Joseph Mazzello from the boy in Jurassic Park to bass guitarist John Deacon (with a seamless British accent) is an eye-popping surprise.  And Ben Hardy (The Woman in White, X-Men: Apocalypse, Mary Shelley) holds his own as edgy drummer Roger Taylor.

Anthony McCarten‘s (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour) script has several parallels to both Amadeus and The Doors.  Some clever–and some audacious–decisions include scenes incorporating Mike Myers (Wayne’s World, 54) as record producer Ray Foster, Tom Hollander (Gosford Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mission Impossible series) as lawyer Jim Beach, and scenes showing the development of Queen hits “Another One Bites the Dust” and “We Will Rock You”–altogether 20 hit songs made the soundtrack, including five of the eight songs from the band’s memorable 1985 Live-Aid concert.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The right mix of writing, acting, art direction, and music come together in Orbiter 9, a direct-to-Netflix Spanish film that really has it all.  Like the critically-acclaimed Midnight Special, saying too much about the plot will give away too much of what is compelling about this film.  But you can be sure to find a tense piece of science fiction derived from those classic tales of great writers of the past like Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Philip K. Dick.  It’s a tale of future Earth where Earthlings have ravaged the planet, so, like recent sci-fi entries Passengers and the Lost in Space reboot, the only chance for humans is to embark on long voyages to distant worlds.

Clara Lago (The Commuter, The Librarians, LEX) masterfully plays Helena, a young woman left on board a spaceship heading from Earth to a distant colony who encounters an engineer named Álex, coming to repair the ship’s oxygen system, played by actor Álex González (X-Men: First Class).  We learn from a video image Helena is re-watching that her parents left her alone three years ago when the oxygen system broke down–their math showed that with Helena flying alone the oxygen could still get her to Celeste safely.  Raised on the ship since birth, she has never met another human.  She is diligent in her daily rituals, including exercise, with a determination to complete her mission prompted by her parents’ sacrifice.  But after Álex’s arrival, everything changes.

More believable than prior visions of the future in this sub-genre (Passengers, Moon, the Cloverfield series), Orbiter 9 may pull its tale in part from classic Greek sacrifice mythology or closed-room mysteries like Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, and wrestles with the limits of sacrifice, for family or others–again, a concept addressed in many past sci-fi stories, Star Trek in particular (think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Suddenly Human” in Star Trek: The Next Generation and “Child’s Play” from Star Trek Voyager).  Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?  Orbiter 9 attacks this question in many surprising ways.  And unlike many a recent sci-fi film, it’s story belongs in a full feature format like this–it’s not just another short story dragged out to fit a movie-length format.

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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

Arsenic and Old Lace?  Truth is often stranger, darker, and more insidious than fiction.  Where the classic horror comedy dramaticized the historic use of arsenic as poison via elderberry wine, a routine use of the substance killed an incalculable number of people, probably at least in the tens of thousands, over the course of a little more than a century.  Imagine everything around you right now that is printed in the color green is printed with an ink which, if you brush against it, inhale it, touch it, or ingest even a minute amount of it, would kill you violently?  A recent scholarly account weaves together a tale of 18th-19th century science and psychology, beauty, style, and design, products liability and corporate greed, political cartoonists and iconic leaders of art history, and a scholarly account of an artform and staple of the arts and crafts movement in the most unlikely of collisions with day-to-day life.  Lucinda Dickens Hawksley’s Bitten By Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home is a book about wallpaper.  And it could be the most surprising and intriguing book you read this year.

At one level Bitten by Witch Fever could be a useful tool–included in its pages are facsimiles, and thankfully only facsimiles, of 275 color wallpapers from the 19th century.  It’s almost unprecedented and an ideal sourcebook for the period, for local or commercial set decorators, or for any artists and designers attempting to recreate in any medium the average household of the day or the most opulent business setting.  Yet each of the papers represented was tested by current scientists to include arsenic.  Predominantly tied to greens of a century of wallpaper style and taste, ultimately arsenic would be worked by designers into a broad spectrum of the color palette.  But mankind has known the harm of arsenic going back to ancient times, right?  It’s the complexity of the “Why?” that art and social historian (and Charles Dickens’ great-great-great granddaughter) Hawksley wrestles with in revisiting the use of arsenic in all its forms: as domestic poison, as health tonic, as pigment enhancer, and as murder weapon, and its rise in production with the rise of fashion of decorative wallpaper.  But why “witch fever”?  That reference in the title was from a comment by apologist William Morris–the arts and crafts movement innovator artiste–who also inherited from his father one of the few mines that produced arsenic.  To brush off arsenic safety scaremongers, he had responded, “As to the arsenic scare a greater folly it is hardly possible to imagine: the doctors were bitten as people were bitten by the witch fever.”  In part, the realities were fuzzy: many people lived with wallpaper with no ill effects, and yet others sleeping in a closed room with wall-to-wall arsenic coated papers would become violently ill.  Hawksley identifies cases of alleged crimes, court cases, alleged murders, and attempts to halt arsenic use.  Throughout the 19th century political cartoonists drew cartoons mocking the public’s continuing use of the poison in daily life.  Many of these cartoons are also included in the book.

The horrors were real:  young siblings die after pulling wallpaper off their walls and licking off the strange flavor.  From an ancient Greek physician using arsenic as an antiseptic to Nero using arsenic to murder Britannicus, to Napoleon rumored to have died in exile from arsenic poisoning, to the death of a Swedish king and the Borgias, the history of the substance crosses borders and social strata.  A few countries were quick to ban its commercial use, while factories where it was used were slow to address safety issues for workers.  In 1775 chemist Carl Scheele’s new green was so vibrant that the real fever was very much public fascination with new, beautiful colors.  It was used on walls, but also in flypaper, flocked papers, rodent and insect poison, asthma and eczema cream, as a Victorian aphrodisiac, face creams and soaps, artificial decorative fruits and vegetables, dress fabrics, mail labels, playing cards, all sorts of product packaging, and (gulp) cake icing coloring, candy, and lickable postage stamps.

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