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Tag Archive: Netflix


Review by C.J. Bunce

Not all TV shows are made for binge watching.  Case in point:  The Umbrella Academy, now streaming on Netflix.  The TV series is based on a six-issue comic book series created and written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá.  Most comic adaptations for the screen have more content to pull from, but there are exceptions, like Cowboys & Aliens, From Hell, A History of Violence, iZombie, Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Men in Black, Oblivion, Polar, Road to Perdition, Sin City, 300, Timecop, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and Wynonna Earp.  Just as most of these were able to hold up something substantial to the audience, some comics, like Cowboys & Aliens, Polar, Sin City, and 300, either didn’t have enough content, were insubstantial, or are simply too difficult to translate.  The Umbrella Academy falls somewhere in this last group.  The story is entirely derivative with nothing new to be found here, which doesn’t need to be a bad thing.  Slow moving, painfully so at times, pretentious in one story thread and over-dramatic soap opera in the other, at ten episodes this might be the most difficult series produced by Netflix to trudge through so far.  But some key elements are so well done it may be worth a try if you’re patient and have the extra time on your hands.  But don’t be afraid to have the remote control handy for fast forwarding.

Unlike timeless characters and worlds from DC Comics and Marvel Comics, which have some benefit in not needing to be completely explained in each adaptation, The Umbrella Academy offers only a brief glimpse at its origin story, leaving many questions unanswered.  In October 1989, 43 women on Earth give birth unexpectedly.  Don’t expect to learn why.  It is never revealed.  Seven of these babies are purchased by a strange, wealthy, apparently Dr. Moreau type, played by an unrecognizable Colm Feore (Thor, Anon, Paycheck).  Do all 43 have superpowers?  It doesn’t seem so and we don’t learn why.  But these seven, or at least six of seven, do.  The wealthy man takes on the role of father in name only, turning them into the Jackson Five of superheroes, and the kids are provided a mother who is actually a life-like robot (Jordan Claire Robbins), and a sort of butler who is a talking ape (Lodge 49’s Adam Godley).  Why?  The story never tells us.  These are but a few of the frustrating parts.

The good–maybe even great–parts are found in four of the seven superpowered siblings.  Number Five is a boy who stepped out of time, deemed lost to the others, and lives into the distant future only to find a way back to his siblings looking like the very boy who left years ago.  Young Nickelodeon actor Aidan Gallagher steps into this role perfectly, playing a kid with life experiences of a 58-year-old with the authority and bravado of George Clooney.  Irish actor Robert Sheehan (Bad Samaritan) plays Klaus, one of the singularly unique characters of comicdom:  He is a mess, an addict, with no drive or direction, and he can see dead people, and maybe much more if he can only stay sober.  He is also the only one who can see the only brother who has been killed in action, off camera, years before, and with no explanation how or why for the viewer.  That’s Number Six/Ben, played by Justin H. Min.  Ben tries to guide Klaus onto the right path from the other side.  And then there is Number Two/Diego, played by David Castañeda (Sicario: Day of the Soldado).  Diego has a history of being nervous about his powers, and he’s the only one who seems to want to save the world with his powers–the classic superhero character of the group that you’ll cheer for.  The special effects are a high point–as when Number Five, Klaus, and Diego get to use their powers.  Of all the characters in the series, only Klaus and Ben get a clear, satisfying character arc, but if you only watch The Umbrella Academy to catch these four characters and fast forward through the rest, you’ll witness some solid superhero performances and story elements.

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First airing in March 2013, BBC’s police procedural Shetland is part mystery, part action, part suspense drama set in the stark and beautiful Shetland Isles.  It follows detective inspector Jimmy Perez, played by Douglas Henshall, as he and detective sergeant “Tosh” MacIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) and detective constable Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson) solve unusual crimes in a rural part of the world that has its own set of rules.  Season 5 has begun on the BBC in the UK, and it will be coming to the U.S. delayed by only a few weeks, arriving this April.

The series is loosely based on characters and stories from a set of novels by Ann Cleeves.  We named season four of the series the best British/UK series of 2018 in our year-end wrap-up here at borg.  Take a look at our review of season four here.

BBC released a preview for the series’ next season.  After a gruesome discovery, Perez and his team track the murderer in a complex investigation.  Here’s the trailer for season 5 of Shetland:

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A classic board game and TV show are getting new tie-in comic book series and a classic creator and character are all coming to IDW Publishing this year. IDW announced several new books this week to expand their line of monthly series. The Hasbro board game Clue/Cluedo is getting a new comic book mini-series. The Netflix award-winning TV series GLOW is getting a limited series.  And Stan Sakai is bringing his world of the swordsrabbit Usagi Yojimbo to IDW with stories old and new, including a full-color, three-part series.

The Sakai announcement is bigger than a single series, as IDW says it plans to bring all 35 years of his Usagi Yojimbo stories into new collected editions–the black and white comic will be in full color for the first time–and new stories are being prepared.  Beginning in June, a three-part story set again in the Edo period in 17th century Japan finds Usagi “embroiled in a puppet drama where the players are not quite what they seem.”  According to Sakai, “Bunraku (Japanese puppetry) captures many elements that make the world of Usagi Yojimbo unique: an adventure filled with Japanese culture, folklore, and history.  It also features the return of a long-awaited fan favorite character and Yokai (Japanese supernatural creatures).”  Usagi Yojimbo #1 will be released in a main cover by Sakai, plus variants by Daniel Warren Johnson (Murder Falcon), Kevin Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and comics legend Walt Simonson.

IDW returns to Clue tie-in mysteries with CLUE: Candlestick, a three-issue comic book miniseries launching in May. “Rife with puzzles, secrets, and lies, and everyone’s a suspect,” the series will be created by animator Dash Shaw writing, illustrative, coloring, and lettering a new Clue mystery.  Check out a preview of the new Clue series below, courtesy of IDW Publishing.
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We haven’t seen Kevin Costner as an Oscar contender for thirty years, but the latest Netflix release has all the right elements for that kind of potential with Costner back with his Gary Cooper-esque style, and that Oscar possibility may line up for Woody Harrelson, too.  The first trailer for The Highwaymen has arrived and if you’re as much of a fan of The Untouchables as we are, this new historical drama about bringing the crime duo of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow to justice in 1934 may be just for you.  And with theatrical releases slated for two weeks in advance of its Netflix premiere, it may also be the Netflix movie that gets you to buy tickets and see it on the big screen.

Director John Lee Hancock (The Founder, The Rookie, Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Snow White and the Huntsman, A Perfect World) is putting aside the comedy of the famous 1967 version–Bonnie and Clyde with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, which garnered ten Oscar nominations–opting for a gritty, realistic take on the brutal murderers and their bloody end.  Originally developed years ago by screenplay writer John Fusco (Crossroads, Young Guns, Marco Polo) to star Robert Redford and Paul Newman, the movie tracks Costner as Frank Hamer and Harrelson as Maney Gault, both real-life ex-Texas Rangers commissioned as special investigators by banks to finally capture the infamous robbers and murderers.  It’s hard not to see Costner’s Eliot Ness from The Untouchables, but this time taking on older cop Sean Connery’s role in the story, or even the Clint Eastwood role instead of the convict part he played in Hancock’s 1993 hot pursuit movie A Perfect World.

The supporting cast could hardly look better, with Kathy Bates (Misery, Titanic) as Governor Ma Ferguson, and Hancock’s The Founder co-star John Carroll Lynch as Lee Simmons, along with Hancock’s The Blind Side co-star Kim Dickens.  It also features Thomas Mann (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Kong: Skull Island), and perennial TV and film favorites W. Earl Brown (The X-Files, Deadwood, True Detective) and William Sadler (Wonderfalls, Deep Space Nine).

Here is the trailer for The Highwaymen:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Is it strange that the two latest Netflix series, Kingdom and Russian Doll, play out like they were written from the same story writing prompt?  The title is perfect, Russian Doll–the traditional Eastern European nesting doll toy is a metaphor for the repetitive existence of the heroine in the next time loop-centric series.  Natasha Lyonne (Blade: Trinity, American Pie) plays Nadya Vulvakov, an emotional, more accessible Jessica Jones–in fact the series might as well be called Marvel’s Russian Doll, because it’s centered on a superpowered heroine with a unique gift (like Deadpool 2’s Domino), the power of the do-over.  The twist here is her power is not in her control, as with the dying and re-birth in the wonderful short-lived series Forever.  Nadia’s got to make the best of it, and figure out why she’s repeating the same day, before it is too late.

In a month with Groundhog Day and the sequel to Happy Death Day just around the corner, the time loop trope shows no signs of stopping.  (Not up to speed on time loops?  Start here, then check out all we’ve covered at borg here).  Even if you’re tired of the same old Noo Yawker shtick that’s been overused in sitcoms a million times, the hook of Russian Doll will keep you around for the full eight episodes.  Vulgar will be your first impression of Nadia.  She’s a mouthy 36-year-old who acts, talks, and seems to think she’s lived 85 years and her life is all used up.  (It’s more than likely the cause is the chain smoking–the character acknowledges two packs per day and the actor sounds like that’s an underestimate, with one montage making it look like she isn’t going to live beyond the end of the series with all she inhales performing the role).  Lyonne plays the accent 25 years older, sounding like Lorraine Bracco, or a brash Rhoda Morgenstern (or Rhoda’s mom?) impersonating Billy Crystal or Don Rickles stand-up routines, with a 1980s hair band orange wig that makes her look like “Andrew Dice Clay and the girl from Brave had a baby,” to top off the vibe.  And every time she dies she appears back in front of a mirror confronting herself, looking something like a 1980s Stevie Nicks album cover.

As a time loop twisting tale, Russian Doll is a fresh surprise, providing no linear pathway for anyone to predict what will happen in the next episode.  It’s the editing of the splices–the weaving of the scenes shot in the same place but at subtly different numerous times–that the production works into the story beautifully, many more than you’ve probably seen before in a time loop tale.  Is it a time loop story of the science fiction, horror, or fantasy variety?  You’ll just need to watch to find out.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After more than a decade watching our all-time favorite series take place in Korea (M*A*S*H), it’s refreshing to at last to see in wide U.S. release a quality series set in Korea.  That series is the first South Korean series released by Netflix, a fantastic medieval historic mash-up with zombies called Kingdom, which began streaming this past weekend.  Sprouting from a well-documented, mysterious plague that killed tens of thousands of people in Hanyang (present-day Seoul) during the 19th century Joseon dynasty, this story nestles the viewer in a fully realized Korea of the past, complete with opulent sets, costumes, and production values said to have cost nearly $2 million per episode.  The result matches a stunning script (based on a web series by Kim Eun-hee, who counts herself a zombie aficionado and proves it with this series), top acting from a slate of South Korea’s most award-winning actors, and cinematography showing locations most Westerners have never seen, with an exciting Braveheart of the Far East meets The Walking Dead genre action feast.

The region’s king comes down with smallpox, and on his sick bed his latest wife, a young pregnant queen (played by Kim Hye-jun) schemes with her father and the king’s supposed confidante, Lord Cho (Masquerade’s Ryu Seung-ryong), to seize control of the throne, conspiring with Cho’s embedded clan of thugs to shun the true heir, the Crown Prince, played by Ju Ji-hoon (The Spy Gone North) as an earnest, Henry V-inspired leader.  But is the king really dead, and what other secrets does the queen keep?  Father and daughter bar access to everyone outside their circle, and so the Crown Prince escapes with his trusted and fierce lieutenant Muyeong, played with equal parts grit and humor by Sang-ho Kim (Octopus), conjuring the versatility of Japan’s Toshiro Mifune.  They set out to discover the source of the spreading plague, meeting up with a doctor played by Sense8 and Jupiter Ascending‘s Doona Bae, and (in a twist worthy of a Tom Clancy novel) the realization fosters the Crown Prince’s viability as a real leader against an unthinkable threat.  Rounding out the main cast is a mysterious warrior named Yeong-sin, an angry, defensive villager who buries a group of the dead against local traditions, played by Kim Sung-kyu.  His character is cloaked in his own secret past.

Deception.  Murder.  Conspiracy.  A prince who above all else looks to protect his father the king and be a good leader.  A heroic race to a stronghold via horse cart.  A mother infected who turns on her own child.  Swords and bow and arrow, and early rifles, as the only means of defense.  Gorgeous, truly cinematic imagery.  Western viewers get an incredible look at a beautiful island, forests, waterfalls, bubbling brooks, palatial estates, lakes and mountain views probably never captured for a wide modern audience, thanks to some stunning cinematography.  Fog, night, and fire eerily presented among cinematic storyboarded action sequences.  The music is a blending of traditional, medieval, Eastern themes, and sweeping programmatic action movie cues.  Costume designs in exquisite fabrics and designs at first may seem odd to modern viewers, but their similarity to the garb of Akira Kurosawa films (that Western audiences have had greater access to over the decades) should ease in most viewers.  The production sets and artistry are probably matched only by History’s Vikings of the current historical and fantasy TV series available.  And the expected horror of the zombie genre–sword beheadings were never filmed so believably.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The trailers appeared like it could have been so much more, but it wasn’t to happen.  Instead of the science fiction thriller promised in the trailer, this month’s Netflix movie Io is a slow, dry character study about a character who isn’t all that interesting.  Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys) has the lead role as Sam, daughter of a world-renowned scientist in the years after a toxin has finally pushed life from Earth.  Most of humanity leaves for a colony on Jupiter’s planet Io, including Sam’s boyfriend, who tries to prompt her to meet him there via future email (that looks like text on a vintage Commodore 64).  But Sam’s father has died, and she continues his research, attempting to prove “life will find a way” on Earth.  Her father’s speeches persuaded many to stay, including Micah, played by Anthony Mackie (Avengers: Infinity War), whose wife has died.  Via air balloon, Micah travels to Sam’s science station, one of the rare places where oxygen still allows life to go on.  He comes to murder Sam’s dad, but when he learns of Sam and her desolation, he tells her she needs to come with him on the last flight from Earth.  Most of the film time is quiet thought, Sam doing her experiments, including killing a bee, apologizing blandly like that makes it okay.  And Sam and Micah talk at each other, contrived anger in spots from Micah, seeming indifference to anything from Sam.  Should they stay or should they go?

Without any emotional punch by Qualley, not much about the film works.  It’s a tale that has been told so much in science fiction and in so many better ways, that Io’s effort to tell the “end of days” story has little to offer other than an attempt at splicing in several mythology allegory references.  But without compelling, believable characters and a story with a coherent message, the effort is pointless.  The entirety of the film is in the Netflix trailer, and the rest of the film is filler.  The message of any apocalypse story is for humanity to wake up and not let the world go to hell.  Beyond that, many other movies have used the concept of apocalypse that are more accessible and interesting.  Netflix’s own Orbiter 9 is much better, and the Tom Cruise sci-fi tale Obsidian offers a similar story with much more to keep viewers engaged.  Even the Mad Max series offers characters who act like they want to survive.  Fans of the slow-paced, sci-fi dramas Arrival or Interstellar might very well like this film, and that may have been Io’s target audience, but with little budget or script it doesn’t come close to those either.

The production expects the audience to infer too much about the character of Sam from the performance of actress Margaret Qualley.  But the director, newcomer Jonathan Helpert, never settles in on who Sam is supposed to be and how much empathy we’re supposed to have for her.  The easy part is understanding her loneliness, since her father died and left her alone.  But the entirety of her emotions are held within–the audience cannot tell anything about her by her methodical, scientific mannerisms, her limited written messages to a boyfriend off-planet, or her stilted conversations with newcomer Micah.  We know she wonders about artwork off in a museum in a territory that is deadly, but so what?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Jon Bernthal returned to Netflix this weekend for Season 2 of Marvel’s The Punisher, continuing in the role of Frank Castle, the comic book vigilante that makes all of the Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Keanu Reeves movie action heroes look wimpy by comparison.  Bernthal’s performance as a 21st century hero offers more than the beatings he dishes out (which will make viewers wince, flinch, and duck throughout 13 episodes), it has that subtlety and nuance that shows again Bernthal has the acting chops to be the next Robert De Niro.  And he’s probably the most believable actor as a Marvel comic book tough guy on the big or small screen.

The Punisher fits the superhero bill in his strength, cunning, and skill, and writers Steve Lightfoot, Ken Kristensen, Angela LaManna, Dario Scardapane, Christine Boylan, Felicia D. Henderson, Bruce Marshall Romans, and Laura Jean Leal outperformed the stellar first season with more elaborate set-ups for Castle & Co.  In 2017 the series’ first season made our borg.com best comic book adaptation and best villain with Ben Barnes‘ Billy Russo, and Barnes does it again, creating a worthy foil very different from last time, a character similar in many ways to the complex and somewhat sympathetic Killmonger in Black Panther.  In many ways it’s more of the same, with Amber Rose Revah (Emerald City) as Dinah Madani and Jason R. Moore (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) as Curtis back supporting Castle, this time balancing two big threats.  The cast plays exceptionally well off each other, and it’s a shame this is the final season for the series.

Castle steps in as good Samaritan to protect a teenager played by Giorgia Whigham (The Orville) who becomes the season’s co-lead, a key part of a strange, Manchurian Candidate-inspired political scheme.  Meanwhile Madani pursues Billy Russo, now under the care of a psychiatrist played by series newcomer Floriana Lima.  The beating by Castle in Season One left Russo with memory loss, forgetting Castle nearly killed him only because he killed Castle’s family in the first season of the show.  The key theme again is PTSD and the results of coming home from war as a trained killer with little community support.  In many ways The Punisher is a modern-day read of the post-war classic The Best Years of Our Lives.  Loyalty is a key theme again, too, as is doing what is necessary to protect your own.

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Marvel’s The Punisher‘s first season easily rated our favorite superhero series of 2017, with Ben Barnes‘ Billy Russo as our favorite villain, and Jon Bernthal in the title role as our pick for the second best actor on TV that year.  Netflix‘s superhero universe was a refreshing surprise after the networks tried to create a TV tie-in plan with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  We still rate The Punisher as second only to Marvel’s Luke Cage of the Netflix comic book adaptations.  With Netflix and Marvel winding down this TV universe and an unknown future ahead for these actors and creators in their current roles, we’ve only two series left to see this year, The Punisher and Jessica Jones.

Netflix released the final trailer for the final season of The Punisher, and the big surprise is the return of Ben Barnes back as the season’s villain, the 1970s Amazing Spider-Man villain and later The Punisher comics hitman, Jigsaw.  The big risk of bringing back the same villain in a sophomore season is staleness.  But we’re thinking the dense action stuffed into the trailer is really what you’re tuning in for if you’re streaming this series.  The second season finds Bernthal’s Frank Castle in a three-episode story arc protecting a 21-year-old woman played by Giorgia Whigham (The Orville), and a surprise–The Man in the High Castle’s Alexa Davalos appears as a new love interest for Castle.

Amber Rose Revah (Emerald City) returns as Dinah with Jason R. Moore as Curtis and new characters played by Corbin Bernsen (Psych, Magnum PI), Floriana Lima (Supergirl, Psych, In Plain Sight, House), and Joe Holt (Supernatural, Monk, Law & Order).

Take a look at the one and only trailer, the final for the final season of The Punisher:

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Where in the world has Carmen Sandiego been lately?

She’s been the subject of an ongoing series of video games since 1985.  She was featured in two game shows, one a Peabody Award winner and the second an Emmy Award winner, featuring Rockapella and late actress Lynne Thigpen (Homicide, Law & Order, Tootsie, Shaft) as The Chief, from 1991-97.  And she had an Emmy Award-winning animated series that ran for five years, with the last episode airing 20 years ago this week.  The animated series starred Oscar-winning actress Rita Moreno (West Side Story, The Electric Company, Jane the Virgin) as the voice of Carmen, and a host of bad guys, including a recurring villain voiced by Tim Curry.  The games and shows have had changing names: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?  Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?  Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?  But the constant has always been Carmen.

A new animated series is coming to Netflix later this month, bringing back the character with some updates.  Netflix’s Carmen Sandiego will deliver two ten-episode seasons starring Gina Rodriguez as the voice of Carmen.  Rodriguez’s most recent voice work can be heard in Ferdinand and Smallfoot, and she’s appeared in front of the camera in genre series from Law & Order to Longmire, and her best known role in Jane the Virgin.  The updated Carmen is first seen younger than her past personas.  Law enforcement agencies see her as a master criminal.  She becomes a modern-day Robin Hood traveling the globe and stealing from the crime organization V.I.L.E., giving stolen goods back to its victims.  The series will follow her escapades, and viewers will learn not only where she is but… Who in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

The series will feature the voice talents of Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things, It, Supernatural, The Addams Family) and Sabrina Carpenter (Horns, The Hate U Give).  The first trailer has Carmen updated from all-out criminal to something like a member of the team in the television series Leverage (“The rich and powerful take what they want.  We steal it back for you.  Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys”).

Take a look at the English and Spanish trailers for the new series Carmen Sandiego:

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