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Tag Archive: Netflix


Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the criticisms so far into the third trilogy of Star Wars movies (the third and finale episode, The Rise of Skywalker, is due out this December) is not making the most of the original cast.  This seems to go double with fan expectations for Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.  This is not some fault of fandom, it’s how Lucasfilm prepped its fans with great futures for Skywalker and his family, delivered via Timothy Zahn’s original sequel trilogy and then decades of brilliant stories via Dark Horse Comics.  There you’d find Luke Skywalker, grown into the role of Jedi Master, was everything you’d want from the hero we met in the movies.  Now fans can see that future in a History channel series streaming on Netflix, if they only bring along a little imagination.  That series is Knightfall.

The series follows a re-imagined history of the Knights Templar at the dawn of the 14th century.  If you ignore the historicity, good or bad, and see the film as a fantasy tale of knights in conflict and knights in training, you can see why the Jedi Knights were derived from these historic figures.  The Star Wars influence comes full circle as Mark Hamill himself joins the cast as a master knight named Talus in Season 2.  Here is that very same Luke Skywalker as you might have imagined him from Zahn and Dark Horse’s storytelling, war-weary and battle hardened, as he storms his way into the tale, leading and training knights, sometimes Mr. Miyagi style, sometimes with swords, sometimes with surprising methods.  Tilt your head a bit, cover one eye–do what you need to do–but some of Luke Skywalker’s best scenes as a Jedi Knight are in this series.  The very best is Talus’s final scene.  Mark Hamill, and Luke Skywalker, never were cooler than in his final conflict on the series.

Fantasy emphasis over history aside, for those students of the Middle Ages you’ll find a mix of truth and cinema twisted for story purposes, but overall this is that series about knights and swords, the Pope and the twisted King (they’re all twisted, always) and the beautiful Queen that you’re looking for.  The story follows hero Tom Cullen (The Five, Downton Abbey) as Landry, a wise but conflicted Knight Templar, whose band of trusted brothers botch protecting the Holy Grail, the same biblical cup so many medieval tales are based upon, but more of a McGuffin for this version of the tale.  Landry’s band of knights, Pádraic Delaney (The Tudors) as Gawain, and Simon Merrells (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Ashes to Ashes) as one of the best knights you’ve seen onscreen as Tancrede lead viewers from enough intrigue to keep them coming back for more.  Olivia Ross (War & Peace) is particularly engaging as Queen Joan, one of the only women characters in the series, and Jim Carter (Downton Abbey) is great fun to watch as the regal yet conniving Pope Boniface VIII.  Of the bad guys, you’ll love to hate Ed Stoppard (Zen, The Frankenstein Chronicles) as King Philip (again, all kings are bad), and Julian Ovenden (Downton Abbey, Charmed) as his on-again, off-again confidante and henchman.  As Cullen’s Landry and the Queen of France fall in love, how both the knight order and the King handle the aftermath is the conflict that plays out over 18 episodes, with the backdrop of a coming battle between France and England beckoning.

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There was always the possibility that you get the opportunity to step into the cornfield in Field of Dreams and find it isn’t all that pleasant.  That seems to be the case with In the Tall Grass, an adaptation of a Stephen King and son Joe Hill novella.  The movie is arriving direct to Netflix in a few weeks and the trailer looks like prime viewing material for the Halloween season.

It’s anyone’s guess how much or little it will follow the 2012 novella, but the trailer has a nice and creepy closed room mystery vibe, with a touch King’s original foray into the field, 1977’s Children of the Corn and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening.  The horror movie street cred comes from versatile actor Patrick Wilson, who took on The Phantom of the Opera before joining the Watchmen, faced aliens in Prometheus, and cannibals in Bone Tomahawk, before his co-starring role in Aquaman.  Now he’s the top horror film pick as a staple of the Insidious and The Conjuring franchises with four Conjuring films so far (and another coming next year).

In the Tall Grass is directed by familiar TV filmmaker Vincenzo Natali (The Returned, Orphan Black, Wayward Pines, Luke Cage, The Strain, American Gods, Lost in Space, Westworld) and co-stars Laysla De Oliveira (Locke & Key, iZombie) and Rachel Wilson (Charmed, Impulse), with spooky music by Mark Korven (The Lighthouse).

Check out the trailer for In the Tall Grass:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Nothing in my lifetime in the fantasy genre has had an impact as great as Jim Henson, his creations, and influence.  That stretches to The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, tangent puppet creations like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, and Henson’s masterwork, the 1982 holiday release The Dark Crystal.  So nothing could be greater than to revisit The Dark Crystal in a new incarnation, and not only find the people behind it got it right, but set a new standard in storytelling along the way.  No visual storytelling medium is older than puppetry, and nothing reaches inside you like a story told with creations you know aren’t real, yet when done exceptionally well they convey every emotion as if they were real.  The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, now streaming on Netflix, sets a new bar because it expands on the original film’s story, bringing to life a larger, fully fleshed-out world and a timeless tale that firmly installs the name Henson (Jim and daughters Lisa and Cheryl) as equal to fantasists like the Grimms, Kipling, Milne, Howard, Tolkien, Lewis, Beagle, Harryhausen, Lucas, Jackson, and Rowling.  “Wonder” should be the Henson family hallmark.  Beyond that, the series surpasses the best fantasy of television and big-screen productions, so from here on audiences may ask comparatively, “Yes, but does it convey the emotion and wonder The Dark Crystal series created?”

Dynamic, thrilling, suspenseful, and full of action, mythology, sorcery, good and evil, despair and triumph, swashbuckling adventure, unimaginable beauty and love for nature and community, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance presents better than anything before what every other fantasy before it seems to stumble on: Stakes.  The preparation of the viewer for a world of dire fantasy stakes couldn’t have been more artfully revealed.  What is at stake in the film isn’t just another “end of the world” story, but something that reaches in and makes you believe a stack of rocks can be lovable, the innocent can rise against the darkest evil, where the world of humans and their conflicts is not a consideration, and where you may find you want a hug from a giant spider.  Glorious, ground-breaking, faithful to the original, with thousands of creators making a film in a spectacularly difficult way, it more than fulfills its promise.

You could heap all sorts of praise on the series, beyond Netflix for betting its money on a prequel, the Hensons and original visionary family the Frouds, beyond director Louis Leterrier, writers Jeffrey Addiss, Will Matthews, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, haunting music by Daniel Pemberton, the spectacular assemblage of voice actors, from Simon Pegg and Warrick Brownlow-Pike (who perfectly resurrected Chamberlain the Skeksis, one of fantasy’s greatest villains) to Donna Kimball and Kevin Clash (resurrecting fantasy’s greatest sorceress, Aughra).  The unsung heroes will be those puppeteers and the designers of the production, the puppets, the costumes, and props.  There’s not a big enough award for this series or its many creators, artists, and artisans, and all that had to come together to make it.  A glimpse behind the scenes can be found in a must-see feature following the ten episodes of the series.

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You may have gulped it down in one sitting or maybe you think it’s so good you’re (like us) enjoying this new series slowly, but there’s no doubt Netflix′s original series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will be a contender for the best series of the year in any category.  Lisa Henson and The Jim Henson Company have created something special here, and we’re now seeing some of the first tie-ins from this reboot of The Dark Crystal franchise, which began only two years ago with Caseen Gaines’ authoritative look at Henson, his inspiration, and his original Thra creations in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History (reviewed here at borg).  If you’re enjoying the new series, you’ll want to dive in to learn about the Hensons and how they created the world of Thra from the very beginning.

Funko has six 3 3/4-inch action figures to add to its earlier The Dark Crystal collection (first discussed here in 2016, these figures sell for top dollar on the aftermarket, with a few still on Amazon like Jen, Kira & Fizzgig, Chamberlain, Aughra, Landstrider, Garthim, and UrSol).  For the new TV series Funko’s first wave of figures have better sculpts and paint work than the prior series.  They feature gelflings Deet and Rian, Hup the podling, Aughra the Oracle, the Hunter Skeksis, and a Silk Spitter (see larger images below, and click on the names to learn more and order these at Amazon, currently about $10 each).

 

The tie-in books to choose from truly have something for all ages.  Look for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Inside the Epic Return to Thra, Heroes of the Resistance: A Guide to the Characters of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and Aughra’s Wisdom of Thra.  Below, check out a 10-page preview of the beautifully detailed behind the scenes art book The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Inside the Epic Return to Thra Each book is now available for pre-order from Amazon, and the publisher descriptions of each book is included below:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Comic book fans saw an unprecedented 13 television series based in the Marvel Comics universe since Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 2013.  Of those the six best produced of these landed on Netflix, beginning with Daredevil and Jessica Jones.  You’ll not likely find two people who can agree on which was best.  My #1 goes to Luke Cage, which went beyond the typical superhero turf to show a completely unique two seasons of stories.  I thought Daredevil offered nothing new, and The Punisher turned a ho-hum character into something exciting thanks primarily to the performance of actor Jon Bernthal.  The team-up The Defenders just couldn’t find chemistry between its members, and the best part of Iron Fist was Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing and appearances by Simone Missick’s Misty Knight and Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple.  Which brings us to the third and final season of Jessica Jones, the last of Netflix’s trip through the Marvel characters at least for the foreseeable future.

Jessica Jones started out promising, and that was no small feat considering the superhero was more anti-hero than the typical Marvel story.  Actor Krysten Ritter knew her character from her first episode, and in three seasons never veered from the moody, angry detective we first met in 2015.  Unfortunately, in three seasons the character never changed, unless even more moody, angry, and alone is enough.  The first season worked because Jones had to face a particularly unique and vile villain in David Tennant′s Kilgrave.  As he’s done with this year’s Good Omens, Tennant’s energy and intensity tends to elevate even the most bland material.  Season 2 of Jessica Jones had another interesting villain as Jones’ biological mother, played by Janet McTeer.  The third season?  It lacked a compelling villain at all, with Jeremy Bobb playing a Law & Order villain-of-the-week transplant fans were stuck with for an entire season (Bobb’s played guest Law & Order characters four times).  The actual villain was the one lurking the entire time, Carrie-Anne Moss′s dying lawyer and Jones’ former comrade in sleuthing, Jeri Hogarth.  Despite the talent of the actors, the story arc this season was flat.  The series begged for episodic tales, and instead it dragged what could have been a single episode story.  It’s Netflix ending on a sour note, and confirms new creators are needed to salvage what could be a great group of characters on the small screen.

The saving grace for the entire series, and the only reason to invest your time for all three seasons, is that it launched the character Hellcat.  Just like Jessica Jones introduced Mike Colter’s Luke Cage (who returns briefly to bookend the series) and Daredevil launched The Punisher, something bigger and better than the title hero arrived.  Upstaging the star, no character had a greater character arc than Rachael Taylor′s “messed-up” child star Patsy, grown up into Trish Walker, a human with powers, known as Hellcat in the comics and in the show’s credits.  The writers knew they had something good, showing her struggle to help her sister in the second season to become an equal during season three.  But they bungled it.  Trish was loyal to her sister, trying to do what every good superhero character tries–to create good for people and try not to get corrupted.  But the show tripped into the common superhero trap–superheroes, at least these superheroes, can’t cross the line of the law for any reason and kill the bad guy.  In this case, even if a serial killer continues to murder relentlessly, and even if the cops have practically given up trying to catch him, and the legal system has failed.  So how many opportunities are presented and skipped over by the characters?  A dozen?  And the result by Jones failing to let Trish act is–surprise–more dead bodies.  If Jessica Jones, the character, is about anything, isn’t it getting dirty to take down bad guys?  So why give her series this stale Superman/Batman/Green Arrow, etc. Boy Scout story?  The question of whether superheroes can ever kill is as overdone in the genre as origin stories, and completely unsatisfying as the only dilemma here.  Yet through it all Taylor as Trish/Hellcat was fantastic stuff.

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Feeling the heat?  A new San Diego Comic-Con trailer for Snowpiercer might help.  First a series of graphic novels we discussed five years ago here at borg, then a movie starring Chris Evans (reviewed here and discussed here), the futuristic, post-apocalypse universe of Snowpiercer is now making its way to your television set.  For the 2013 movie, the casting of big names, Marvel superhero Chris Evans, Academy Award-winning actor Tilda Swinton, and multiple Oscar-nominated actors John Hurt and Ed Harris, reflected the critical and popular appeal of the comic version of the story more than the resulting B-movie that ended up on the screen.  Now it’s up to Academy Award-winning actor Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Alita: Battle Angel, The Princess Bride) carry the baton.

Originally published in French in 1982 as Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob with art by Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer, Volume 1: The Escape is available in an English translation by Virginie Selavy with follow-on English translations of Volume 2: The Explorers by Benjamin LeGrand and Volume 3: Terminus by Olivier Bocquet also available, and a prequel Extinction by Matz, on the way.  For the new TBS television series (available on Netflix elsewhere), stage actor Daveed Diggs joins Jennifer Connelly with several new faces and background actors.  And it’s already been renewed for a second season.

Repressive like the world of George Lucas’s THX-1138 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, thematically political like the similarly wintry Dr. Zhivago, and drawn with the stark, black and white look of Aha’s Take On Me music video from the 1980s, Snowpiercer is a bleak, but ambitious, series of graphic novel about many things.  The back of the train like the back of the bus in the 1960s, or the lower sections of the ship on the Titanic, you can analogize the social strata of the train to many things. But neither the rumored horrors at the “tail” of the train, nor the “golden carriages” of the first class at the front of the train are what they appear to be.  At one level Snowpiercer is a strange, existential retelling of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  As with the movie, the trailer for the series shows something different from the graphic novel that inspired it, but maybe an alternate story of the train a la Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.

Here’s the trailer for TBS’s new series, Snowpiercer:

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Netflix and The Jim Henson Company previewed even more from the forthcoming sequel series to Jim Henson’s fantasy masterpiece, The Dark Crystal this week at San Diego Comic-Con.  We previewed The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance back here at borg in May, including all the voice cast playing characters both familiar and new.

The new footage shows a little more of what is coming next month, plus it offers some behind the scenes imagery, with brief commentary from creators, including director Louis Leterrier, executive producer Lisa Henson, production designer Gavin Bocquet, creature and costume designer Brian Froud, assistant costume designer Wendy Froud, and actor Simon Pegg, the new voice of Chamberlain.  What is clear is that Jim Henson would likely have approved of their method.  We’ll have to wait to see it to confirm whether it also has the heart, the wonder, and the fear of the original.

The Muppet-like characters so far look as good as anything The Jim Henson Company has created.  Aughra, the Skeksis, the new Fizzgig, and new Gelflings also appear to be faithful updates to the originals.  At SDCC the director announced a behind-the-scenes documentary is also in the works.

Take a look at the new footage and behind the scenes glimpses at The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance:

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The next auction of items from Marvel is quickly approaching.  The London and Los Angeles-based Prop Store, one of the five best sources for screen-used entertainment memorabilia, is readying for its next auction, only a month away, just releasing its catalog of items used by the cast and crew of Netflix’s short-lived but critically acclaimed spin through adaptations of Marvel characters for the small screen.  Will these lots sell remotely in the range of Profiles in History’s 2012 auction of Marvel Cinematic Universe costumes in props, which netted a high of just south of a quarter of a million dollars for a Chris Pine Captain America costume and shield?  Probably not, but some have some high starting estimated auction values.

Only covering three of the Marvel Television series, Marvel’s Daredevil, Marvel’s Luke Cage, and Marvel’s Iron Fist, you’ll find 893 items for sale that were featured in these TV series.  These are the actual props and costumes, worn or handled by either the actors or their stand-ins or stunt people, including what amounts to some of the series’ supersuits, some recognizable and some only background, prop weapons and focal objects, and set decoration items created or collected specifically for the shows.  Sorry, fans of Jessica Jones, The Punisher, and Defenders will have to wait out this auction–no items from these shows are included in this catalog.  But a big highlight is Lot #623, Misty Knight’s prop cybernetic arm.  It carries an auction estimate of $10-$12,000.

You really get an understanding of how little the Netflix Marvel series looked liked superhero stories after flipping through the new Prop Store auction catalog available online for viewing at the Prop Store website here.  Compare this catalog to the above-mentioned auction catalog (discussed back in 2012 here at borg) where Marvel Studios sold off Captain America: The First Avenger pieces, plus a few other Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor movie costumes and props.  There’s little to compare.  More suits and street clothes that appear off-the-rack (but probably aren’t, as often costume designers can spend as much work creating items to look like common clothing) can be found in this auction than helmets, hammers, and shields.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not every location for a TV series that becomes the best part of the that series.  For the third season of Stranger Things, which arrived on Netflix this Fourth of July weekend, the big win was Starcourt Mall.  Maybe it’s the fact so many of us have vivid memories of their own mall for their first jobs, for birthday parties, or where they bought their favorite shoes, rendezvoused with friends, and watched their favorite movies–or just as likely, the fact that so many younger viewers weren’t around to witness malls of the 1980s and can only guess what they were like–whatever the reason, Stranger Things showrunners the Duffer Brothers (Ross and Matt) made a wise move setting a major part of this year’s eight episodes there.  Initially Netflix kept its Starcourt Mall intact for a possible tourist attraction (actually a rebuilt section of Duluth, Georgia’s Gwinnett Place Mall, far away from Indiana), but early crowds and the inability to make a deal resulted in trashing the sets entirely (except Scoops Away, which went into storage).  Now nothing remains of the rented space in the mall used for the series, but what a great idea gone to waste!

So what other than the mall makes for the good and bad this season on Stranger Things?

Six writers concocted interwoven storylines that matched the prior two seasons–the series is consistent, neither better nor worse than past seasons, but just as good and even great in places.  That fandom phrase “I’d rather watch bad [insert: Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. here] than anything else” rings true for Stranger Things, although you’ll rarely find much that qualifies as completely “bad.”  Each season has those early season episodes that make the story seem like the greatest thing since the 1980s, and yet other episodes stumble.  That was true this season.  The best thread tracked older teen Joe Keery′s Steve Harrington and one of the series’ main four kids, Gaten Matarazzo′s Dustin Henderson.  Dustin has just returned from a science camp, to find the two series kid leads Finn Wolfhard′s Mike Wheeler and Millie Bobby Brown′s Eleven/El inseparable in their young romance.  The best recurring question of the season is whether Dustin’s girlfriend Suzie is real or imaginary.  Steve works at the mall now with a grumbly gal named Robin, played by Maya Hawke, who becomes another high point of the season, and integral to moving the story forward.  What better way to launch the career of the daughter of popular and acclaimed actors Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke than a fun season of Stranger Things (Her work and quick development of a likeable character promises a huge career is in store for her).  Growing out of the events of last season, Dustin and Steve, with co-worker Robin, embark on a mission to save their friends, Hawkins, and the world from a beast connected to El, Noah Schnapp′s Will Byers, and the Demogorgon of past seasons, and a new, perfectly timed 1980s nemesis: the Russians, led by Andrey Ivchenko as a thug mash-up of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick in their Terminator series roles.

The other series cast members are divided into three teams, each slowly piecing together clues to solve the season’s riddles, with older teens Natalie Dyer′s Nancy Wheeler and Charlie Heaton′s Jonathan Byers still a couple, but now struggling against 1980s office politics, including a vile co-worker played in typical Busey fashion by Jake Busey.  The other kids–El, Mike, Will, Caleb McLaughlin′s Lucas Sinclair and Sadie Sink′s Max Mayfield, also still a couple, reflect most of the “coming of age” story that dominated past seasons.  The best of this is the visual nostalgia accompanying an El and Max outing to the aforementioned Starcourt Mall.  The adults are back, with top-billed star Winona Ryder getting some better development this season as Joyce Byers, the first to realize something is again wrong in Hawkins.  David Harbour is back as police chief Jim Hopper, but unfortunately his character is the low point of the season–he gets tossed around and becomes the butt of jokes as with last season, instead of carrying forward that decisive, strong, cool personality we met in Stranger Things first season.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Using a meticulously designed new robot from Weta Workshop, the Australian science fiction movie I Am Mother has all the components of a good story steeped in the classic sci-fi of the 1950s.  It takes place on Earth after an apocalypse that could easily be interwoven into the Cyberdyne/Genisys destruction from the Terminator series, and has that futurism straight out of a Philip K. Dick short story.  What’s left are robots running everything, some on the surface, but one in particular inhabits what looks like a space station buried beneath the planet’s surface.  This robot is called Mother, voiced seamlessly by X-Men series co-star and Australian actor Rose Byrne.  She has preserved several of the last bits of humanity–embryos–in order to repopulate the species via rapid-growth technology.  The production, the design, the light-up props, and the pacing all create the right framework for a significant sci-fi film.  Unfortunately the story is single-threaded, building opportunities for subplots that get left ignored, much like January’s direct-to-Netflix sci-fi release Io.

The build-up is nicely rendered by first-time movie director and script writer Grant Sputore.  The common theme of this genre, as much sci-fi horror as merely sci-fi, is “things aren’t what they seem.”  Or maybe they are.  The audience sees Mother raise a single child from the bank of embryos stowed on the facility, a girl known simply as Daughter, played first by young Tahlia Sturzaker, then for the bulk of the movie by Clara Rugaard, both giving fine performances.  We believe the humans are long gone outside, until a woman arrives, played by two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner Hilary Swank.  She’s been shot, and whether she was shot by humans or robots becomes a mystery for Daughter to solve.  Both Swank and Rugaard look so much alike, their likeness simply must be a plot point:  Are they related, and if so, how?  Sisters?  Clones?  Same hair color and length, eyes, bone structure.  Was Swank’s lost human a former captive in the underground bunker?  How many times has Mother created Daughters or Sons?  How many years from Armageddon is this story really happening?  It’s the answers–or lack thereof–to these questions, and the ultimate payoff Sputore delivers that doesn’t match the rest of the film.

Part of the legitimacy of the film as something more than mainstream popular sci-fi is the amazing body movement work of Luke Hawker acting inside the robot suit he helped design and build with the Weta team.  How rare is it that the designer of the tech is also the actor, who is featured in 90% of the scenes of the film?  The added surprise is this was not a CGI motion capture process, but a practical effect that had to be created with real-world materials.  There is some actual chemistry between Daughter and Mother, and Mother is a pretty great mother to see in action.  It’s like watching young Will Robinson interact with his Robot in Lost in Space.  Add to the believable robot the cold and lonely tenor of the film and you have something like New Zealand’s low budget 1985 sci-fi marvel The Quiet Earth.

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