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Tag Archive: Netflix


Review by C.J. Bunce

When next surfing your next adventure on Netflix, fans of seafaring stories will want to make sure they save some time for the 2005 television mini-series To the Ends of the Earth, one of the best accounts of the brutal, nasty, ignoble, and vile side of life in the early 19th century.  In what would be a relatively simple flight across continents today on a jet plane was a life-risking venture on the high seas in 1812, as a young British aristocrat named Edmund Talbot travels by a converted ex-warship to Australia, and learns more about social positions, decency, military discipline, and character than he contemplated when he booked his voyage into politics around the globe.  As with the recently reviewed series The Terror, To the Ends of the Earth is a grimy, authentic look at life below deck for the several tiers of passengers (a mirror of British society) in a classic man-of-war.   But where the production for The Terror looks gorgeously historic, it’s the stench that seems to permeate this tale in a way unmatched by The Terror, the A&E Horatio Hornblower series, Master and Commander: To the Far Side of the World, or Kenneth Brannagh’s Shackleton. 

Sometimes just plain gross, but never in a gratuitous way, To the Ends of the Earth is a smartly written story in the same serial delivery as the Hornblower series, this one three 90-minute chapters for a total of 4.5 hours.  Based on a trilogy of novels from the 1980s by Nobel Prize-winning Lord of the Flies author William Golding, for fans of modern film and modern takes on Sherlock Holmes, the series is a great, early pairing of the BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the big screen Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadow’s Moriarty, Jared Harris.  Although his fictional story is less popular an his voyage less memorable, Harris elevates his layered Captain Anderson to a naval leader comparable to Forester’s Pellew and Foster and O’Brian’s Aubrey (and a comparison of his captain then to his The Terror captain 15 years later is also worth the watch).  A younger Cumberbatch also shows his acting chops and foreshadows his later rise in filmdom, carrying each scene for nearly the entirety of the series’ 4.5 hours as the show’s tour guide, Talbot.

Flies.  Rotted food.  The stench of the wounded and the dying in close quarters.  The constant rocking of the ship, inability to walk, or sit, or drink, or sleep without getting sick, wet clothes, rashes, injuries, preparing for battle, losing men overboard–this film stinks (well, almost) like no other, and thankfully without the addition of Smell-o-vision.  Add to that being lost, the uncertainty of ever landing anywhere, distrust, embarrassment, mutinous types, savvy sailors and poor sailors, alcohol, drugs, sex, and no doctor or surgeon in sight for six months.  Oh, the good ol’ days, right?  We must take the books’ author and the studio’s word for it as to true authenticity, but the costumes and treatment of the human condition seems completely spot-on.  Thomas Hobbes’ life outside society as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” has hardly been more plainly laid out.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you don’t follow international politics you may find it a strange thing when the current affairs of a country far away has eerily similar relevance to the affairs of your own country.  Americans will see that in a big way as “four days in the life” of local government and police affairs in London is the theme of a new four-part British mini-series called Collateral, just released on Netflix.  Sporting that “ripped from the headlines” vibe of the short-lived series Law & Order: UK, Collateral is probably not as thrilling as Homeland or State of Play, but it’s far more compelling and interesting than most recent detective mystery fare like the dreary but ambitious series Broadchurch.  It’s enough that Collateral is worth watching for the showcase of acting talent it features.  Not particularly gritty or fresh as all the police procedurals that have come and gone, and not full of any real surprises for a mystery series, Collateral feels less like a limited, finite series and more like the beginning of a new TV drama.  And it’s a good beginning.

Headlining Collateral is a Doctor Who fan’s dream team: Star of the best reviewed Doctor Who episode of its 50-year run, Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go, Mudbound) played Sally Sparrow in the Doctor Who episode “Blink,” and here she stars as an eight-year veteran of the police force, now pregnant (since Mulligan was pregnant while filming) and recognizable to locals in the city as a professional pole vaulter who ended her career with a well-televised bad landing.  It’s this level of character backstory that doesn’t add much to the plot of this four-episode arc, but provides prime fodder if the BBC were to pick up a full-series run.  Mulligan takes to the role quite well–her character is not quirky or much of a stand-out, just another detective working a case–and that fits the story.  The Master from Doctor Who, John Simm (Life on Mars, Intruders, State of Play) seems to fit well in any role and he’s perfect again here, starring in at least his third series featuring human smuggling.  He portrays a local official who is pulled into the murder of a Syrian pizza delivery boy.  His ex-wife was the pizza boy’s last stop, and she is played by Billie Piper, who portrayed the long-time Doctor Who companion Rose Tyler.  We get to see Piper in a very different role for her here, as a rather nasty mother of two who is a bit of a disaster herself even before the crime appeared in front of her apartment, in part due to her drug use and inability to move beyond her ex-husband.

The series is directed by S.J. Clarkson, well-known for many episodes of quality mystery television.  Clarkson knows her turf well, and she deftly handles what complexity and interconnected subplots the script provides.  She has directed great television from Life on Mars to Heroes, House, M.D. to Bates Motel, plus both The Defenders and Jessica Jones.  So viewers can trust they’re in good hands with this show.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two and a half years since we first met Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones in Marvel’s television universe.  Although we saw her as just one of the many super-powered characters packed into Marvel’s The Defenders last year, despite all she’s been through not much has changed with the private investigator.  That same angry, tough, bitter, and unhappy anti-hero is the same person we meet at the beginning and at the end of the second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, now appearing on Netflix.  For fans of the fringe of the Marvel superhero world where little fun is to be had, Ritter’s gritty heroine stands alongside The Punisher (our favorite superhero series last year).  Yet despite its heavy dramatic component, it’s very much a superhero show, providing a complete picture of the downside of possessing superhero powers created by chemicals in a lab–a key fact of life for so many Marvel creations, including The Hulk, Deadpool, Luke Cage, the Fantastic Four, the Winter Soldier, etc.  For those viewers that thought Jessica Jones’s first season was the best TV had to offer, good luck comparing which is best after watching the second season.

But it’s not really Jessica who shines in Season 2 as much as the supporting characters, and the series doesn’t really reach its stride until Episode 7.  The real standout for Season 2 is a new super-powered character created by the same mad scientists that created Jessica Jones, actor Janet McTeer’s new complex antagonist Alisa.  Alisa is a driven, unstoppable human machine attached to a fantastic, layered core.  Alisa is older and wiser and far more powerful than Jessica or anyone else we’ve seen from the Netflix Marvel realm.  Two scenes with Alisa playing the piano really reveal what viewers are in for (and the cast of characters is up against).  Unfortunately for Alisa and everyone that she touches, she’s been pushed to the extremes, resulting in a decisively volatile foe.  As with Marvel’s Killmonger in this season’s big screen movie Black Panther, calling Alisa the villain of the show omits much about the character.  A cold-blooded killer?  Sure.  But even the worst can still have hope for redemption, especially if what made them bad in the first place was never their fault.  Or can it?

Right along with Alisa, Jessica’s step-sister Trish “Patsy” Walker–Jessica’s rather bland supporter and confidante in Season 1–really leaps into action in a breakaway performance that aims toward Linda Hamilton’s tough-as-nails heroine in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  Credit the acting range required of actor Rachael Taylor this time around and a stellar character arc created for her by the writing team of Melissa Rosenberg, Jack Kenny, Aïda Mashaka Croal, Gabe Fonseca, Lisa Randolph, Jamie King, Raelle Tucker, Hillie Hicks, Jr., Jenny Klein, and Jesse Harris.  Viewers may want to strangle Trish by the halfway mark in the season, but just wait–she only gets in deeper as the series progresses.

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After the 1998 attempt to adapt the 1960s sci-fi series Lost in Space into a theatrical version, hope for a successful reboot was pretty slim.  The Netflix teaser for a new Lost in Space series two weeks ago didn’t give audiences much to go on, but a full-length trailer released this week may reveal just enough to pique sci-fi fan interest.  Nicely creepy sci-fi thriller music from composer Christopher Lennertz (Galavant, Agent Carter, Supernatural), slick new spacesuits by Oscar-winning costume designer Angus Strathie (Moulin Rouge, Deadpool, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem), sweeping cinematography by Sam McCurdy (Merlin) and Joel Ransom (The X-Files, Continuum, Band of Brothers), movie level special effects, and a robot–a completely different robot from the original–with a sleek futuristic design.  And he speaks some familiar dialogue.  And what’s it about the cold of space–namely, winter parkas–that just draws us in every time?  Ten episodes–it’s on Netflix, so that really means we’re looking at a ten-hour sci-fi movie heading our way next month.

As for the robot, unlike in the original series he’s not a member of the crew, but he appears to have more of the role taken on later in the old series by famous Forbidden Planet and The Twilight Zone “guest star” Robby the Robot, a new encounter young Will Robinson discovered later in the series.  Robby was a Robotoid, a robot with the additional faculty of independent decision-making, regardless of programming.  So he wasn’t a borg, but something more than a robot.  Did the new series writers decide to combine the two robots into one?  Robby the Robot was the most famous sci-fi creation for generations of fans, so it makes sense that the new series will try to tie him in somehow.  But the classic B-9-M-3 robot was also a sci-fi icon.  The more humanoid look of the new robot looks a bit familiar.  Maybe he is just an advanced cousin of the robot Isaac from The Orville.  Nah.  The relationships between Will and the robot, and Will and Dr. Smith, were key to the original story, and look to be important again here.

So who’s in?

Molly Parker (Dexter, Deadwood) plays mom Maureen Robinson, Toby Stephens (Die Another Day, Space Cowboys) is dad John, and the kids are played by Taylor Russell (Falling Skies), Minda Sundwall (Freeheld), and Max Jenkins (Sense8).  Engineer Don West will be played by Ignacio Serricchio (Bones, The Young and the Restless).  And Parker Posey (Superman Returns, Best in Show) is the notorious Dr. Smith.

Here’s a new, better look at Netflix’s Lost in Space:

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Straight from her stint last year as a member of the motley band of vigilantes in the Netflix series Marvel’s The Defenders, Krysten Ritter is bringing her brooding heroine back this week for Season 2 of Marvel’s Jessica Jones.  Netflix just released 13 new posters to advertise the show, each created by a woman with a design specific to each episode, featuring directing and writing credits, the episode title, and a hint at the subject of the episode.  Most feature vintage pulp novel style cover art.  But don’t look too close–a few may tell you more than you want to know before you watch all 13 episodes this weekend.

Like the recent series of variants created by several artists for the first issue of Archie Comics’ Betty & Veronica and Josie and the Pussycats comic book series, the posters provide an opportunity for several creators to attack one subject from different viewpoints.  These projects showcase the artists, and fans, in turn, are rewarded by being able to find new inspiration in each impression of the character–and select their own favorites.

The international comic book artists providing cover illustrations for the posters are (in order of episode) Stephanie Hans (Batwoman, Black Widow), Jen Bartel (Jem and the Holograms), Elizabeth Torque (The Mighty Captain Marvel, Elektra), Kate Niemczyk (Mockingbird), Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil, Sandman), Erica Henderson (The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl), Audrey Mok (Josie and the Pussycats, Heroine Chic), Joyce Chin (Red Sonja, Vampirella, Hellcat), Jenny Frison (Wonder Woman, Revival, Xena), Amy Reeder (Madame Zanadu, Batwoman), Ema Lupacchino (Bombshells United, Supergirl, Green Lanterns), June Brigman (Power Pack, Brenda Starr, Mary Worth), and Annie Wu (Hawkeye, Black Canary).

So which is your favorite?  Can you identify the logo styles or art influences that inspired each cover?  If you read our reviews of pulp crime novels here at borg.com, you’ll have no problem identifying the poster for Episode 213.

Check them all out, in order:

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Her name is Mindy McCready and she is one of superhero comics’ most kickass of action heroines.  You know her as the partner/sidekick from the pages of Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s Kick-Ass comic book series, Mindy’s own ongoing series beginning in 2012, and two movies, Kick-Ass in 2010 and Kick-Ass 2 in 2013.  She’s eleven years old, and they call her Hit-Girl.  Hit-Girl is back in a new solo title beginning this month from Image Comics.

The first issue of the four-issue, limited series Hit-Girl in Colombia is full of the same irreverence the very unusual superheroine is known for.  Always slightly off in her methods, but true to her own superhero code, she’s ready to start blowing up bad guys.  But how far off can a girl be who is a fan of Hello Kitty and Clint Eastwood and John Woo movies?

  

Millar (who also wrote Kingsman: The Secret Service, Civil War, and Old Man Logan) returns as writer of this new story, and Ricardo Lopez Ortiz will be the series artist, with color work by Sunny Gho.  Hit-Girl goes off to the drug cartels of Colombia after she finds out the new guy she’s tagged as a replacement for the newly retired Dave Lizewski (aka Kick-Ass) is just not cutting it.  So she’s taken on a client who becomes her very own “guy in the chair” (actually a woman), and acquires a most unlikely sidekick to complete her mission.

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Fathom Events is bringing Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s landmark fantasy The Dark Crystal back to theaters tomorrow and Wednesday, and advance response has resulted in an additional two screening dates the following week and expansion into 700 theaters nationwide.  A member of the Class of 1982, The Dark Crystal just celebrated its 35th anniversary.  The ambitious story of The Dark Crystal takes place in the world of Thra, which has been torn by a fracture in a great magic crystal, which caused two races to be created: the tranquil Mystics, or urRu, and the evil Skeksis, who all but destroyed Thra’s native species, the Gelflings.  The Mystics have summoned Jen, one of the last surviving Gelflings, to find the lost piece of the crystal.  The quest sends Jen on a classic adventure to try to restore harmony and peace to Thra.  Don’t wait–get tickets now here at the Fathom Events website before tomorrow’s screening sells out.

We recently revisited Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal with a groundbreaking look at the film and co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz in Caseen Gaines’ The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, a new deep-dive into the film reviewed here at borg.com.  According to Henson’s daughter Cheryl Henson, The Dark Crystal was Jim Henson’s most personal work.  This is a great time to have The Dark Crystal fresh in our memory, as we expect to see a 10-episode Netflix follow-on series hopefully by the end of 2018.  The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance does not yet have a release date.

Yes, we’re just as excited as Fizzgig–The Dark Crystal was the reigning favorite fantasy film of all time for legions of moviegoers before Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings came along.  The film features performances by Jim Henson as Jen (voiced by Stephen Garlick), Kathryn Mullen as the Gelfling Kira (voiced by Lisa Maxwell), Frank Oz as the astronomer Aughra (voiced by Billie Whitelaw), and Dave Goelz as Fizzgig (voice of Percy Edwards), with Henson, Oz, and Goelz also performing as the Skeksis. Kiran Shah also performs the body of Jen, Kira, and Aughra. With a screenplay by Dave Odell (The Muppet Show), The Dark Crystal also features a majestic score by Trevor Jones (Excalibur, Labyrinth).  Along with Yoda creator Frank Oz, the film was produced by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz.

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In the first teaser for the coming Netflix reboot of Irwin Allen‘s 1960s Lost in Space series, don’t look just yet for a full view of the Jupiter 2 or the latest incarnation of the B-9 robot.  But you will see the new Robinson family, and the teaser introduces audiences to the family and setting with one of those historic montages like that seen in the opening credits for the Enterprise series.  The setting for Lost in Space is only 31 years from now, 2049.  From hints in the teaser, the mission of the Robinson Family appears the same as in the original Lost in Space series: to establish a colony on a planet orbiting one of the stars of the Alpha Centauri star system after Earth is no longer habitable.

Ten episodes were filmed in Vancouver last year, and they will be available to Netflix subscribers this April.  Netflix also released several images separate from the series.  The biggest change-up is Parker Posey taking on the role of Mr. Smith, originally played frenetically by character actor Jonathan Harris.  Posey is shown up in decades of television series, and she played Lex Luthor’s right arm in Superman Returns, and appeared in Blade: Trinity, A Mighty Wind, Scream 3, Dazed and Confused, Coneheads, and was memorable as the ultimate helicopter mom to a prizewinning pooch in Best in Show.

Molly Parker (Dexter, Deadwood) plays mom Maureen Robinson, Toby Stephens (Die Another Day, Space Cowboys) is dad John, and the kids are played by Taylor Russell (Falling Skies), Minda Sundwall (Freeheld), and Max Jenkins (Sense8).  Engineer Don West will be played by Ignacio Serricchio (Bones, The Young and the Restless).

Here’s the first look from Netflix at Lost in Space:

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It was about the time when I got my first dog (first of what would eventually be 12) when my Mom took me to the old Wakonda Theater to see For the Love of Benji.  It was 1977 and the film was a life-changing movie for a little kid.  The original film premiered in 1974, titled simply Benji, and everyone saw it and fell in love with its lead pooch.  Its song, sung by Charlie Rich, was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe Award.  The movie marketers of the day, well aware of its surprise success, used its word-of-mouth popularity in its ongoing promotional campaigns, and the film’s success led to eight movies, two documentaries, and a short-lived TV series.  They hold up surprisingly well because the star character, second in all-time popularity only to Lassie, was a great actor (actually actors), and the stories were about good kids being good to their four-legged friend.  Next month Benji makes his way back into a feature film, one of the new brand of movies released exclusively on Netflix.  It’s a remake of the original, also called Benji, brought to life by the original family that created the character nearly 45 years ago.

The original canine star of the films was a mixed-breed black and tan dog named Higgins, who had a 14-year career in film, going back to Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Green Acres.  Higgins even co-starred in 1971 with Vincent Price and Zsa Zsa Gabor in a film called Mooch Goes to Hollywood.  He came out of retirement at 14 to make the original Benji.  Remember Tramp from My Three Sons?  That was Higgins’ son Mac.  (My grandma named her dog after that character).  But Higgins’ daughter Benjean would go on to star in several films taking on the role of Benji, from For the Love of Benji in 1977 to Benji the Hunted in 1987.  It was Benjean who took on the human voice of Chevy Chase in the very funny and memorable 1980 comedy Oh, Heavenly Dog!  In that film Benjean acted alongside Jane Seymour and Omar Sharif as a reincarnated detective (Chase), seeking revenge on his murderer.

Everybody in the 1970s loved Benji. That’s Higgins (left) on the film re-issue poster and Benjean (right) on the cover of every kid’s favorite magazine.

All the time it was creator, writer, and director Joe Camp who kept the Benji stories fresh and fun.  For this year’s film, Joe’s son Brandon Camp will take the helm, writing, directing and producing the film.  Brandon, who appeared in For the Love of Benji when he was six years old, previously directed Love Happens with Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston, and he wrote the script for the film Dragonfly (which starred Kevin Costner, Susanna Thompson, and Casey Biggs).  His new film stars a new dog unrelated to the past family of Benji stars, and features two kids, played by Gabriel Bateman and Darby Camp, who oddly enough does not appear to be related to Joe and Brandon Camp.

The new poster (above) was released this week.  And check out this trailer for the film:

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Netflix is now carrying a new documentary television series that delves into the creators behind some of our favorite toys from the recent, and not so recent past.  The Toys That Made Us features four episodes in its first season of streaming, each focused on a toy line that should bring in a good cross-section of fandom.  The choices for the first shows include Kenner’s vintage Star Wars action figures and playsets, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe, with an emphasis on the 3 3/4″ line of action figures, Mattel’s Barbie, and the Mattel’s Masters of the Universe No doubt Barbie and G.I. Joe should pull in the older crowd, while the latter half of G.I. Joe and Star Wars will pull in the kids of the 1970s and early 1980s, and Masters of the Universe the kids of the 1980s.

Not a show for kids and not another show about toy collectors, the series devotes plenty of each hour to interviews with designers, marketing, other businessmen discussing the nuts and bolts of negotiating deals, like the lawyer for Kenner discussing the greatest toy deal negotiation ever, and the later not-so-great negotiation because of a loose-lipped CEO.  The Barbie episode features a Barbie expert continually bashing the character as a “hooker” as if she has some sort of love-hate relationship with the doll.  But the politics of toymaking is interesting fodder for the right audience.  Should it be a surprise that toymakers have the same ugly corporate politics, the downsizing, the layoffs, and the takeovers, like every other company?  Prepare yourself for several CEOs and designers as they tiptoe, or not, around decisions and employers they wrestled with in the past as toys and brands came and went.  The creators look back both with nostalgia and anger at the former toy companies that eventually terminated their employment.  So look for an unusual take on these toys and these companies.

The next four episodes will be launched on Netflix later this year, and include Hello Kitty, Transformers, Star Trek, and LEGO.  Sometimes what the show chooses to tell is as interesting as how the show tells it.  The eight toy lines chosen no doubt came from the producer’s own focus groups, like the ideas behind some of the toys they discuss.  If The Toys That Made Us really is a one-time thing, someone else should come along and continue the idea with all the other major brands and influences.

We want to see an episode on Marx toys, including little toy soldiers and the 12-inch action figure series.  We also want to see a history of the broad Mego line of figures, Hot Wheels, Stretch Armstrong, and Big Jim.  How about companies like Fisher Price, Playskool, Playmobil, and Radio Flyer?  A series like this needs to cover more “recent” but still classic toy lines, too, like My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake, and figure out a way to capture famous classic toys like Spirograph, Tinker Toys, Play-Doh, Etch-A-Sketch, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, and the ultimate multi-license toy, Viewmaster.  How about a tour of the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers factories of the past?  Who put out more great board games than these companies?  It’s easy to imagine entire episodes on the history of games like Clue/Cluedo and Monopoly.  And how about featuring a current game company that’s been around for decades, like Wizards of the Coast?

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