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Tag Archive: Leverage


Rod Roddenberry’s website (where the son of Gene Roddenberry sells and promotes a lot of Star Trek replica merchandise, among other things) put me onto a new Internet series on gaming.  It’s not about video games.  It’s about good old-fashioned “game night” games, board games with dice and cards and tokens, and it’s called TableTop.

If you’re a fan of Wil Wheaton, it’s the show for you.  Wheaton is best known for his role as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation and as the young star of the Rob Reiner/Steven King film Stand By Me, but he has been quickly branching out as a stellar guest star on series like Leverage (as a superb IT villain) and Big Bang Theory (where he often plays himself), showing he’s gone beyond the kid actor thing.  And even if you’re not a Wheaton fan–like you thought Wesley Crusher should have been left on Rubicun III–give this series a try anyway.

Tsuro game in play on Tabletop.

My favorite thing about Wil Wheaton is he seems to thrive at all things geek and nerd.  He’s not apologetic in the least, and in chatting up his love for games and TV and books, he is bringing everyone along for a fun ride.  He’s a regular at San Diego Comic-Con, and I saw him at a Star Trek writers panel with Star Trek authors where he showed a great rapport with fans, and seemed to love talking about what he liked (and didn’t like) about Trek.

Wil Wheaton with authors Kevin Dilmore and Dayton Ward on a panel at Comic-Con in 2008.

TableTop is an online half-hour, biweekly series just beginning and in its first five episodes, which is a bit like Comic Book Men and Celebrity Poker, but far, far better than both of those shows.  In fact, the introduction, production values, and content should get some network exec to take notice.  This is the first online-only series we’ve taken note of here at borg.com that we think is worthy of another look and we think a wider audience is out there for this show.

TableTop has host Wheaton playing a few board or dice games with some friends, including explaining quickly and clearly the game’s rules, and just chatting it up around the table with people like Rod Roddenberry, Felicia Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Monk, House, M.D., Eureka), Colin Ferguson (Eureka),  Grant Imahara (Mythbusters), James Kyson (Heroes, Hawaii 5-0), and Neil Grayston (Eureka).  I think it would be an interesting twist to add in other celebrities, maybe genre actors or legends Wheaton himself is a fan of, but may not previously know personally.  I’d love to see someone like Billy Mumy do an episode and see what these guys would talk about while playing Apples to Apples, or pull some obscure old games out of the game closet that are long forgotten but still fun, like Bionic Crisis or the Star Wars board game.

Which brings us to the episode with Rod Roddenberry, where they covered a few games including TsuroThe episode intrigued me enough that I wandered past a game shop this weekend while hanging out with family and I bought it.  We were able to pull out the board and playing pieces and start playing at a local coffee shop in minutes.  Just as I had discovered watching the players in the episode of TableTopTsuro is a blast.  In a nutshell, you have 35 cardboard tiles that players lay out one by one, in turn, and each tile has a different set of paths, some straight, some crisscrossed, some coming back at you.  The goal is to create a path for yourself and maybe even knock others off the board and be last player on the board.  Even the barista stopped by and commented how awesome the game looks (it has the beautiful Chinese red dragon board, parchment divider page, and cool rune playing tokens) and I passed along Wheaton’s show and the game shop across the street that had one more copy in stock.

We’ve played it three times so far and I can’t wait to play Tsuro again.  Thanks, Wil Wheaton!

Update: I met Wil and his lovely wife Anne and a few friends outside the Starbucks at Comic-Con 2013. His wife graciously snapped this shot of us.

wheaton-and-bunce

(and for the record I look like this after staying up without sleep in Ballroom 20 lines at SDCC for 40 hours straight) I relayed the above and how much we enjoyed his online show.  A very nice accidental run-in and fun to be able to give him feedback on his show directly.

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If you happened to watch this week’s episode of TNT’s hit TV series Leverage, you’ll have seen one of the best constructed episodes of the series so far.  The “Brains” Nathan Ford, played by Timothy Hutton, brings his team to track down his father, who broke into the federal patent and trademark office.  Soon we learn everyone has been set up, and a small town’s worth of SWAT and local law enforcement surround the building.  In strategizing the Leverage team’s way out, “Hitter” Eliot, played by Christian Kane, poses as a police officer to communicate with a cop outside the building–a cop played by Michael Paré (The Philadelphia Experiment, Greatest American Hero, Eddie and the Cruisers) already getting brow beaten by the local head of Homeland Security who has taken over the investigation of the break-in.  As with most episodes of Leverage we get an ample dose of great pop culture references (“Hacker” Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) sports a tie and mimics Doctor Who saying “bow ties are cool”).  Here Eliot maintains all his dialogue in the voice and drawl of Die Hard’s John McClane, just as Bruce Willis did, in order to get through his walk of the gauntlet in the original Die Hard movie.  Die Hard interest is alive and well, after four movies in the franchise since 1988.

This winter Twentieth Century Fox announced that Bruce Willis will be returning as John McClane in 2013 with the fifth film in the franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard.  Fox indicated Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Picard) as a possible villain, to play a disgraced Russian general plotting to assassinate the visiting president.  John Moore is scheduled to direct a script by Skip Woods (X-Men Legends: Wolverine, The A-Team).  Bruce Willis has stated he wants to bring back Bonnie Bedelia as his wife from the first two films.  Shooting is scheduled to begin this month in Budapest, Hungary.

A Good Day to Die Hard is to follow John McClane as he goes to Moscow to convince the government of Russia to let his son John McClane, Jr. out of prison.  Somehow his son gets caught up in a global terrorist plot, and the inevitable McClane getting-in-over-his-head story will emerge.  It sounds like the story is in initial stages, but since the first and third movies were pretty good, maybe the curse of the even-numbered movie sequels here will get us back to the Willis we love to watch.  Casting for McClane Junior has included auditions by D.J. Cotrona, who will play Flint opposite Willis in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Liam Hemsworth (Hunger Games).

But while we’re waiting until the scheduled release date of Valentine’s Day 2013, you can get a good dose of John McClane in comic legend Howard Chaykin’s graphic novel Die Hard: Year One.  Here was BOOM! Comics’s blurb for the comic series spanning eight issues through April 2010:

BOOM! Studios is proud to present America’s greatest action hero translated into the sequential art form for the first time! Every great action hero got started somewhere: Batman Began. Bond had his Casino Royale. And for John McClane, more than a decade before the first DIE HARD movie, he’s just another rookie cop, an East Coast guy working on earning his badge in New York City during 1976′s Bicentennial celebration. Too bad for John McClane, nothing’s ever that easy. Join legendary industry creator Howard Chaykin on a thrill ride that’s rung up over $1 billion in box office worldwide and become the gold standard for classic action! Yippee Ki Yay!

 

Hype aside, as with nearly everything Howard Chaykin touches, Die Hard: Year One is pure gold.  Twelve years before the Nakatomi building siege in Die Hard, Willis is a beat cop in Manhattan.  He is working with a loud-mouthed training officer that might as well be played by Dennis Franz.  The art by Stephen Thompson is well done, and McClane is drawn to resemble a young Bruce Willis, enough that you never doubt it with McClane’s trademark dialogue style.

The first four issues of Die Hard: Year One were compiled into volume 1 of a hardcover editionDie Hard: Year One, Volume 2 comprises Issues #4-8.

In Volume 1, it is the Fourth of July, 1976.  Writer Chaykin describes New York of 1976 almost as if he is there right now.  But he does not sugar coat NYC of 1976.  He describes an ugly place with ugly people, locals trying to rip off every tourist–locals trying to one up each other every chance they get.  Here, a new immigrant to the Big Apple from Indiana witnesses two cops killing another man, they spot her and chase her down.  McClane happens to get a detail as security on one of the tall boats in the bay, readying for the fireworks celebration, babysitting the wife of the third richest man in the world.  All hell breaks loose as an odd jumble of locals, including the two bad cops, led by a local hippy terrorist, try to blow up the rich man’s yacht and escape in a mini-sub with all the money onboard.  Plain clothes McClane hides below decks with the girl from Indiana, and McClane’s first big problem as police officer is underway.

Chaykin clearly knows the people of the 1970s and the streets of New York.  His descriptions feel real and his storytelling is superb.  We quickly get to know McClane, someone we already think we know, and the setting helps illustrate the put-upon cop we will later see on the big screen.  I remember the look and feel of July 4, 1976, vividly, and Thompson here captures the sites, fashions, and images incredibly well.

Die Hard: Year One, Volume 2 follows the exploits of McClane in the black-out of 1977.

Both volumes are available for sale online.

Look for special covers by current popular cover illustrator Jock in the back of the hardcover edition.

C.J.  Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Finishing up our speculation of a future James Bond that began here yesterday, we’ve got two actors who would be good picks, and who are probably not obvious choices for the super-spy shortlist.  These picks are for an older vs a younger Bond, figuring an actor who can look 40-45 is probably in the ideal range.  Then again, Roger Moore played Bond at age 46 and 58, so there really doesn’t need to be any age limit on choosing a good actor to play Bond.  First up, Paul Blackthorne, followed by Jason Isaacs.

Paul Blackthorne may be best known for his portrayal of wizard Harry Dresden in the short-lived but excellent TV adaptation of Jim Butcher’s novels, The Dresden Files.  Blackthorne has had his share of “guest star of the week” appearances on TV shows such as Medium, Monk, Burn Notice, Leverage, Warehouse 13, and White Collar.  If there is any reason he might not get selected in the future as James Bond it is because he is primarily had TV roles, but he is only 42, with plenty of time to get some movies behind him.  And besides, Pierce Brosnan didn’t do much that was notable before GoldenEye other than Remington Steele.

Blackthorne is a British actor that has honed his American accent so well that you would never know his British background.  If the Broccoli family continues with actors like Daniel Craig down the line as Bond, Blackthorne would fit right in.  And if they want him to play up the Brit-speak he could easily play a Bond of the Sean Connery or Timothy Dalton variety.  In fact, Blackthorne looks like a young Connery.  All that aside, as Harry Dresden we got to see Blackthorne as a versatile actor, the role itself a bit X-Files, a bit cop drama, a bit Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  He’s fun to watch and a likeable actor.  And he looks the part.

Forty-eight year old British actor Jason Isaacs may be most famous for his portrayal as the sniveling, white-haired wizard Lucius Malfoy (Draco’s dad) in the Harry Potter movies.  But in this year’s BBC/public television Masterpiece Mystery series Case Histories, we get to see Isaacs in a more down to Earth role, as a soldier turned cop turned private investigator.  More than anything else, Isaacs comes across as a very cool character, the kind of cool required of Bond, with a fair amount of self-effacing scenes that show his capacity for some good humor, something we haven’t seen so much of in recent Bond portrayals.  Maybe it is time to see how an older Roger Moore type Bond would appeal to fans?

Isaacs also has had a fair number of big screen roles, besides the Harry Potter films, including DragonHeart, Event Horizon, Armageddon, Soldier, Black Hawk Down, Resident Evil, and a lot of voice-over work–he’d have the sound of Bond down pretty well, too.  And like Rufus Sewell and Paul Blackthorne, he sort of has that British renegade agent look about him.  And he’s a dead ringer for Timothy Dalton.

So that’s just three recommendations.  Any others?

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

Jonathan Frakes has directed nine of the 60 episodes of Leverage in its first four seasons. Leverage is a good series that lacks some consistency, maybe because it has several creators that have been rotated in and out in the ordinary course of the series. Each of the episodes directed by Frakes demonstrates a knowledge of the material, which includes a level of informality and humor between the characters that is rare in episodic television.  You wonder whether he learned it as cast member Commander Will Riker in his seven seasons and four Star Trek: The Next Generations films, a place where he got to work with a close-knit family of actors that reflect their camaraderie on-screen.  If you happened to see this season’s finale, then you witnessed a perfect episode of TV, with a great ensemble cast, and everyone in prime form.  Frakes and me at Comic-Con in 2008:

Leverage is a good series in its simplicity.  It’s a fun show and never takes itself very seriously.  We’ve compared it before to shows like The A-Team.  There is a mission, these are the good guys, they are understood.  They always get the job done.  And episodes are peppered with the best character actors.  And one of our favorites of any series popped up in this season’s finale–Mark Sheppard as Jim Sterling.

This season’s finale, “The Queen’s Gambit Job,” was a great action drama on several fronts:

Academy Award winning actor Timothy Hutton’s Nathan Ford got to revel in his mastermind role, playing a high stakes game of chess in a Casino Royale story with the fate of a nuclear weapon up in the air.

Parker gets to get stuck in a vault, only to figure her way out and end up on the roof of the second tallest building in the world, the Skyspire of Dubai.  And she gets to free fall over the edge because of a parachute packed by Hardison.

Hacker Hardison (Aldis Hodge) and thief Parker (Beth Riesgraf) get closer and become even more of a team, thinking like each other and covering each others’ backs.

Hitter Eliot (Christian Kane) actually loses this round for once, to none other than Sheppard’s Sterling.  Eliot and Sheppard’s verbal sparring rival any actual fighting Eliot has encountered in the series so far, as well as his verbal sparring with Hardison in several episodes.  This episode shows Sheppard at his best–his normal dark and quiet demeanor gets stretched here and he seems to really lose it when engaging with Eliot in the car.

The only character who doesn’t get much screen time this round is grifter Sophie (Gina Bellman).  For the most part her role is the weakest and some focus from the writing team on her character next season is overdue.

There is always a double cross on Leverage, and clues are carefully laid out for the viewer to catch what is really happening before the big reveal.  The team always gets caught, but are they really?  In this episode, even though team members feel a loss, everyone actually wins.  It is a good spin on the normal Leverage story.  The cast has such chemistry at this point you just hope they can keep it up for a few more seasons.  And while they are at it, since this was his second appearance, why not make Sheppard a series regular cast member?

And how about Frakes as the permanent series director?  His other episodes were also top-notch shows: The Lonely Hearts Job, The Wedding Job, The Snow Job, The Juror #6 Job, The Fairy Godparents Job, The Bottle Job, The Reunion Job, The Studio Job and The Morning After Job.

For the fun of it, here is E.C. Bunce and me at Comic-Con where we ran into Mark Sheppard in the Gaslight District in our Chuck meets Alien Nation garb.  Photo courtesy of the gracious Mrs. Sheppard:

BTW, Sheppard said he read this borg.com article on him in a prior post.  Definitely our favorite guest star on nearly every all of our favorite TV series.

   

Review By Elizabeth C. Bunce

Two of my favorite TV shows made their season premieres this week:  TNT’s Leverage began its fourth season, with USA’s Burn Notice moving easily into its fifth.  Anyone who’s seen at least a couple episodes of both series can’t fail to recognize that they’re pretty much the same show.  They’re both basically an update of The A-Team: a crew of lovable outcasts who use their unconventional skills to help desperate people fight back against the corrupt and powerful.  I remember The A-Team as being rather campy, so I hope that Leverage and Burn Notice are a little more sophisticated than the ’80s cult favorite I recall from my childhood, although Hardison’s van, Lucille, does look a little familiar.

   

That said, clearly it’s a formula that works as well in the 2010s as it did thirty years ago, or we would not have two such successful parallels airing simultaneously on competing cable networks.  Even in cable, it takes a lot to make it to a fourth and fifth season–not the least important being loyal viewers.  And speaking as one of those loyal viewers, I’m excited to have both shows back.

Burn NoticeCompany Man joins out-in-the-cold-of-Miami hero Michael Westen working with the CIA team trying to track down the mysterious people responsible for framing him for the dastardly crimes of madman Simon Escher.  It was nice to see Michael back inside for an episode, and nicer still to see the burn notice plotline take center stage for once (instead of being the ongoing series subplot to the “Desperate Client of the Week” main storylines).  Typically, when longterm plotlines are “resolved” in TV series, they’re done kind of ham-handedly, leaving viewers dissatisfied with the writers’ efforts to round off the throughlines that have built tension and momentum for the series. Not so with Company Man.  I was impressed by both the handling of Michael working for the CIA (not as an agent, but as a civilian asset, something I, at least, found totally convincing), as well as the way in which they left Michael’s storyline unresolved.  We feel we got what we wanted from last year’s setup, without sacrificing the core of the show we love so much.  Michael, Fiona, Sam, and Mrs. Westen will continue to look out for the exploited citizens of Miami, and Michael still has questions left to answer from his past.  Last season’s rookie member, Jesse Porter,  played by Coby Bell, returned for the briefest of brief appearances, and although he didn’t have a role in this episode’s story, the writers made it clear he’ll stay part of the team.  I wasn’t altogether thrilled by Sam and Fiona’s roles in the episode; the wounded friend routine felt juvenile and out of place.  These people are professional soldiers; pouting over being left out of a mission is something I’d expect from Buffy’s adolescent Scooby Gang, not an ex-Navy Seal and IRA gunrunner. Overall, it was an excellent conclusion to last year’s cliffhanger, and a smooth transition into Season Five.

As for Leverage, the criminal gang is back for more of the same.  In The Long Way Down Job, the crew “steals a mountain. Again…” foiling a crooked investor (and probable murderer) in a mountain climbing adventure that would do the old A-Team proud!   I’ve been a big Leverage fan since the beginning –can’t resist a great heist– but as much as I love the gang and the schtick, I confess I’m often left vaguely disappointed in the episodes and series as a whole.  Though there have been some terrific episodes (last season’s Rashomon Job was the show at its best), and it’s fun to see familiar faces in guest appearances (from Saul Rubinek of Warehouse 13, to Star Trek’s Q, John deLancie, and last night’s Eric Stoltz) I hardly ever feel that it lives up to its full potential, and I’m not entirely sure why that is.  The cast is great, with Beth Riesgraf, Christian Kane, and Aldis Hodge being the clear standouts.  And maybe that’s my problem.  “Mastermind” Timothy Hutton should be the standout star; he has the talent and he has the chops and he’s clearly billed as the leader, and yet… sigh.  Maybe it’s unfair of me, but every time I watch an episode, I find myself wishing it was Nero Wolfe.  Hutton’s turn as Archie Goodwin…

…may be one of my alltime favorite TV performances (and from a life spent watching as much TV as I do, that’s saying something!).  He sparkled in that role and took a wonderful show to something sublime.  For whatever reason, Nathan Ford just doesn’t do it for me.  

All of that aside, I do respect the Leverage team’s efforts to raise the stakes with the series–Season Three’s ongoing series plotline about international criminal Damien Moreau was ambitious, and certainly led the crew to some interesting locales and episodes, and yet it, too, didn’t really work for me.  Typically, raising the stakes for your characters and your plot is one of the most important components of better, more compelling storytelling.  So it should work, but I felt like the Moreau storyline was forced and inauthentic–trying to make Leverage something it’s not.  I’m not entirely sure what it is, and it doesn’t always achieve whatever it’s trying to do… but I’m still a fan, and I’m still going to keep watching.  Because whatever silly, convoluted plot they have up their sleeves, I want to see Eliot and Hardison sparring.  I want to watch Parker fumble her way through being a normal person.  And, against my will, I even want to see Nate Ford grow as a character.

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