Tag Archive: BritBox


Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Call it an “upstairs/downstairs” police procedural.  Britbox’s newest original series, The Tower, follows a team of detectives investigating their fellow coppers after an incident on a London rooftop goes horribly awry, resulting in the death of a civilian and a veteran beat cop.  In three short episodes, the story grows increasingly complex as secrets are revealed, careers unravel, and conflicting loyalties test every character.  The British ITV series is now streaming on BritBox via Amazon.

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After the first of our two pandemic years, when we created last year’s preview of 2021 movies we admit we thought the year was looking iffy from a movie standpoint–so many films delayed or held back, others expected but canceled early in production, etc.  All year we wondered what we’d get to see and what we wouldn’t–and thanks to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu, and similar streaming services, a smaller but still impressive array of movies kept us entertained, especially by way of genre content.

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.

Come back tomorrow for our best print media picks and our annual borg Hall of Fame inductees.  And if you missed it, check out our Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2021 here and Best TV of 2021 here.  Wait no further, here are the Best Movies of 2021:

Best Superhero Movie  Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Sony). Overlooked like the original Venom, sharp writing and faithful adaptation of the comics made for the best, most fun superhero movie of 2021.  Runner-up: Black Widow (Disney).  Despite the delays it was worth the wait, and it stands as a rewatchable and fun movie. Honorable mention: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Disney), a great tie-in to characters from throughout the MCU.

Best Action/Adventure Film, Best Visual Effects: Jungle Cruise (Disney), another Disney rollercoaster ride translated to the screen; a film that surprised us as the next incarnation of a Raiders of the Lost Ark-level adventure.  Runner-up: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Disney).  A solid martial arts adventure, a bus scene out of Speed, and great finale action.

Best Film, Best Drama, Best Director (Simon Stone), Best Cinematography (Mike Eley) – The Dig (Netflix).  A powerful film, exploring life at the precipice of change, missed and almost missed opportunities, the fleeting nature of life, and the survival of humanity through what we leave behind.  Runners-up for Best Film: The Courier (Amazon), Black Widow (Disney), one of the MCU’s best contributions.

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Today we’re continuing our annual year-end round-up with the Best TV Series of 2021.  If you missed it, check out our review of the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2021 here.  We watch a lot of television, and probably love a good series even more than a great movie.  We preview hundreds of series, but outside big franchise content you want to know about, we only review what we recommend–the best genre content we’re watching. The theory?  If we like it, we think you may like it.  The best shows have a compelling story, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, and all kinds of well-executed genre elements that satisfy and leave viewers feeling inspired.  It’s even better if we see richly detailed sets and costumes.  And the very best series get usually get canceled at the end of their first season because network execs will never figure out what we genre fans love.

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

Best Borg Series, Best TV BorgCowboy Bebop (Netflix).  Mustafa Shakir’s Jet Black expanded on the anime series to create a space pilot and bounty hunter as cool and real as anyone from the Star Wars universe.  His cyborg implants made him incredibly powerful–necessary in his dealings on behalf of Spike and his family.

Best Sci-Fi TV SeriesBest Western TV Series, Best Space Fantasy Series, Best Retro Fix, Best TV Soundtrack, Best TV Costumes – Cowboy Bebop (Netflix).  Only one science fiction series really knocked our socks off this year.  The stylish look and music, and the fun of the crew of the spaceship Bebop made us want to speed through this series.  For viewers looking for the next Firefly, this is it.  For fans looking for the best futurism, space realism, and the next Altered Carbon, this is it.  Its writing, direction, cast, and overall production values made the series this year’s series to talk aboutRunner-up for Best Sci-fi TV Series: Blade Runner: Black Lotus (Adult Swim), great sci-fi, faithful to the source material.  Honorable mention for Best Sci-fi TV Series: Resident Alien (Syfy) Alan Tudyk’s fish-out-of-water story and his alien story pulled us back to the roots of classic sci-fi with humor and drama as a bonus.

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At last!  Season 5 of the detective/police procedural Shetland arrives in the U.S. today, via streaming service BritBox.  This is speedy for the U.S. airing of Brit TV–Season 6 arrived on BBC One and iPlayer only days ago on October 20, more than two years since we last caught up with Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall)–thanks to the world’s nemesis, Covid-19 and surrounding delays.  Call it Scotland Noir or Nordic Noir, in its fifth season viewers were treated to a satisfying wrap-up to the year’s six-part mystery of human trafficking, murders, blackmail, dead bodies in the ocean, and cheating hearts.  Shetland may have pulled off its best scene of all in the final minutes of the season finale.  How can they keep coming up with such good police drama in such a small and desolate setting?  In the season opener, Perez and trusty right arm Alison “Tosh” MacIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) take on their next crime: the murder of one of Shetland’s most prominent individuals… on his doorstep.

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Grace d

Review by C.J. Bunce

The star of the original Life on Mars is back as a detective solving crimes in the new BritBox original series from IPT, Grace John Simm, also known for his run on Doctor Who, State of Play and other British dramas plays Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a cop sent down to desk duty a few years ago for embarrassing the bureau by bringing in a psychic to help solve a crime.  When a former colleague rises up the ranks and pulls D.S. Grace in to a high-profile case, viewers get to meet the next great TV detective.  The first episode of Grace is now streaming in the U.S. exclusively here on BritBox via Amazon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’ve been watching Michael Apted’s ground-breaking Up Series from its first installments, you know each new chapter in the real-life time travel journey makes the viewer feel like he or she has also reached some kind of achievement with the arrival of the new episode.  But the series of documentaries is not for the faint-hearted, filled with gut-wrenching views into participants’ lives, participants who feel like family after watching them over 56 years since their first appearance.  So compelling and personal is Apted’s look at this select group of fourteen English boys and girls turned men and women, revisiting them every seven years of their lives since 1964, the documentary series is practically an interactive experience.  With Apted passing away since the UK premiere last year, and the U.S. arrival of the latest installment–the eagerly awaited 63 Up arriving on BritBox via Amazon Prime this weekend–the question is whether this ninth installment is the last.  Key members of the crew since 28 Up have expressed an interest in continuing the series in 2027, but until then expect this to be a bittersweet end for the series, which Roger Ebert called the noblest project in cinema history and among the ten best films ever made.

At last Apted addresses the thesis of the show to each participant, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” and asks whether they agree after decades participating in this unique social experiment.  Apted was a researcher when working on director Paul Almond’s Seven Up! in 1964.  Seven years later the well-known director of Gorillas in the Mist, The World is Not Enough, Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorky Park, was just out of university, and at 22 he revisited the original Seven Up! project.  He would go on to direct the subsequent eight episodes over 56 years.  The idea was to get a glimpse of England in the future year 2000 when these kids, the future leaders of England, were only seven years old.  It is difficult to surpass the jolts and surprises of 42 Up, but 63 Up holds its own, although sadly viewers will say goodbye to one participant who has died, another is seriously ill, and another decided not to participate.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In an age where television shows continue to be stretched into a bloated ten episodes, it’s refreshing to to find a six-episode series without the filler.  One of those is the Scottish crime series Traces, a tightly, cleverly written story following a team of college forensic professors, scientists, and anthropologists and their work with the local Dundee, Scotland detective branch to solve crimes.  The first season is a fictional account centered on the case of a woman who went missing during the real-life Tall Ships festival in Dundee in August 2001, whose body was later found in a shallow grave.  The plot closely follows some of the more realistic and mysterious bits of any number of episodes of the true crime series Forensic Files, while working in some well-developed characters–enough to make for a compelling ongoing series.  Fans of television from Great Britain are also near guaranteed to find several familiar faces from some of your favorite genre films and TV series along the way.

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Today we move from the big screen to the small screen with the Best TV Series of 2020.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2020 here and the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2020 here.  We watch a lot of television, and probably love a good series even more than a great movie.  We preview hundreds of series, but outside big franchise content you want to know about, we only review what we recommend–the best genre content we’re watching.  The theory?  If we like it, we think you may like it.  The best shows have a compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, and all kinds of well-executed genre elements that satisfy and leave viewers feeling inspired.  Even better if we see richly detailed sets and costumes.

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

Best Borg SeriesAltered Carbon (Netflix).  Showing life in a world well past the merger of the organic and inorganic via stacks placed in human individuals’ vertebrae in the back of the neck, the second season of the series further revealed the dark side of being able to live forever.  What parts of life have the most value in a cybernetic world?  What crimes emerge when body and mind can be separated and re-shuffled?  Honorable mention: Star Trek: Picard (CBD All Access)–revisiting Star Trek’s old nemeses The Borg and introducing the cyborg-like nonbiological humanoids called Synths, the same term used in the BBC’s Humans.

Best TV Borg, Best TV VillainDarth Maul (played by Sam Witwer and Ray Park), Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Disney+).  The athletic performer Ray Park provided the best-ever lightsaber duel scenes in his co-starring performance in The Phantom Menace.  Watching the animated series this year it was clear Darth Maul wasn’t just another animated character.  Add another great duel to the books–Park’s motion capture abilities live on and continue to set the bar for Star Wars action sequences, and Witwer voices a character we never want to see go away again.  Honorable mention for Best TV Villain: Grand Moff Gideon, Giancarlo Esposito, The Mandalorian (Disney+).

Best Sci-fi TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Western TV SeriesThe Mandalorian (Disney+).  Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which continues to be compared to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back more 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) now called Grogu, on the genre-loving world and beyond.  Credit Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for a series that only gets better with each episode, despite their short lengths.  Honorable mention for Best Sci-Fi TV Series: Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

BritBox may not be the #1 streaming service around, but thanks to the pandemic its subscriptions have reportedly doubled this year.  And you’d think that would give a series like Wild Bill the possibility of a second chance.  Wild Bill was a 2019 British series in the great tradition of police procedurals featuring coppers with attitude starring the unlikely lead in a British series, Rob Lowe.  It’s probably Rob Lowe’s best personal performance to date, and certainly his most mature role, yet the series was canceled by production company ITV after the first season.  And that was a scrawny British season of six episodes, not 10 or 13 like we’d find on this side of the pond, which makes it doubly unfortunate to lose a series with so much promise.  Since American viewership has brought a new life to all things British TV, you’d think that might mean something, but apparently British television studios don’t like making money over here.

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Sam and Gene

My name is Sam Tyler.  I had an accident, and I woke up in 1973.  Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?  Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet.

First off, it’s really going to rile some people when you pronounce something the greatest ever.  But we’re talking here about the British television series Life on Mars.  And not just Life on Mars, but The Empire Strikes Back of television series, Ashes to Ashes.  You can quibble with M*A*S*H or Law and Order or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Twilight Zone, or engage you people over there shouting Firefly and Supernatural and the others over there fighting over the best Star Trek series–but we’re talking about Life on Mars here.  And if you’ve watched its two seasons in 2006 and 2007, or the three seasons of Ashes to Ashes from 2008 to 2010, then the news that another chapter of the series is in the works is the kind of happy news that can actually distract you from the real world right now.

Yet it’s true.  Life on Mars co-creator Matthew Graham confirmed it all yesterday as part of a Twitter “watch-along” of the first episode of the genre-bending series for the UK audience.  Graham first hinted at the possibility in a Tweet he posted Tuesday promoting the event, and he provided more details after the show.  Just like over the past 15 years, Brits posted how much they loved the series, how they believe it to be the best series ever made.  The series follows John Simm (Doctor Who, State of Play) as Sam Tyler, a British cop in 2006 who is working on a case when he is hit by a car.  He awakens in the same police station 33 years earlier, in the year 1973.  He knows he’s unstuck in time, but unsure how he got there.  Is he in a coma?  Did something supernatural take over?  Is this what death is like?  This is where the genre-bending begins.  Until you’ve watched all five years of episodes, you won’t really know what is the true genre behind the genres hinted at in the series.  Tyler befriends and shares his situation only with co-worker Annie Cartwright, played by Liz White (Doctor Who, The Woman in Black).  He finds he is now working under the cantankerous Detective Police Inspector Gene Hunt, played by Philip Glenister (Cranford, Horatio Hornblower), one of my picks of the greatest characters of all time (seriously, I wrote about it here eight years ago).  DCI Hunt becomes the centerpiece of this strange world, continuing past the second season of Life on Mars to co-star in the same role in Ashes to Ashes along with Keeley Hawes (Doctor Who, The Bank Job), a police officer named Alex Drake who is shot in 2008 and wakes up in 1981.  Life on Mars continued with Ashes to Ashes much like The Closer continued with the series Major Crimes for U.S. audiences, swapping out the lead roles, but continuing with the rest of the cast.  Here that included two other cops, played by Dean Andrews (Father Brown, Marchlands) and Marshall Lancaster (Doctor Who, Casualty) who appeared in all five seasons.

Ashes

During yesterday’s watch-along, Graham peppered Twitter with glimpses at what lies ahead in what he called, The Final Chapter.  Although he didn’t say if any actors had confirmed returning, it seems impossible anyone would make this announcement without buy-in from Glenister, Simm, Hawes, White, Andrews, and Lancaster.  To that point he said, “we intend to get as many back (across both decades) as we can.  So when you wonder who will be coming back for The Final Chapter – think Avengers Assemble!”  He specifically referenced wanting Annie (Liz White) back, and Hunt’s boss DCI Litton.  Graham mentioned the series will be set in Manchester and London, partially in the 1970s, partially in the 1980s, but mostly in an alternate now, all running for four or five episodes.  “I’d like to tell you that in The Final Chapter there will be a TV show WITHIN our TV show.  TYLER: MURDER DIVISION,” adding, “We would never make another Mars unless we really had something to say and could push the envelope all over again.  Finally we have something.”  While watching a classic scene in the first episode, co-creator Ashley Pharoah Tweeted, “I wonder if Phil and John could jump over that desk now?  I guess we’ll find out”.

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