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Tag Archive: Now streaming


Review by C.J. Bunce

Is he a superhero?

A character who gives of himself to save lives, repeatedly, using his unusual mental and physical abilities–that’s pretty much our definition of superhero.  If The Punisher is a superhero, if Batman would be a superhero without the costume, then you have the The Equalizer Denzel Washington is back again, in the sequel to the surprise 2014 reboot of the 1980s television series, and if you missed Washington as this character in 2014, it’s time to catch up, as The Equalizer 2 makes its way to several steaming platforms, including Vudu and Amazon Prime, and it’s now showing on Starz.

And what a sequel!  It is another one of those rare films that surpasses its predecessor.  More intrigue, more action, and even without the origin story from the first movie, The Equalizer 2 proves audiences don’t need it to jump into a finally crafted story of spies and revenge.  Washington is back as Robert McCall, and he’s The Saint, Ethan Hunt, James Bond, and The Shadow all rolled up into one.  This time he’s started a new life in Boston, and learns about the city through his job as a Lyft driver.  Diehard film fans really only need to see the one other name on the marquee with Washington to know what they’re in for: Antoine Fuqua.  Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter, The Magnificent Seven) directs the film like he does all his others, like he has something to prove.  The Equalizer 2 is worthy of its popular and critically acclaimed star, and Fuqua adds to the character with a spectacular setting for the film’s finale: a hurricane pummeling the coast of Massachusetts.

If you’re looking forward to the new Star Wars television series The Mandalorian, you have another reason to catch The Equalizer 2, as the series star Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, The Great Wall) plays a former team member of McCall in his CIA days.  The subplots may even be better than the main story, and in one McCall mentors a young neighbor played by Ashton Sanders (Moonlight).  Other supporting roles are filled by some familiar faces, including returning actors Melissa Leo (Homicide, Oblivion, Wayward Pines, Veronica Mars) and Bill Pullman (Deceived, Independence Day, Spaceballs), plus the always versatile Sakina Jaffrey (Heroes, Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Robot).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

M. Night Shyamalan is an auteur in a small league of directors that includes Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese, Francis Ford Coppola, Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, and Stanley Kubrick.  First, you either love or hate each creator’s oeuvre, their signature, their style.  But their works are unmistakably their own.  Shyamalan’s impact to modern film can’t be overstated.  You can look at films before and after his surprise hit The Sixth Sense and see a shift toward films that require that surprise at the end.  That trademark is now an integral part of cinema, even though it has been used as a story tool throughout the history of film and storytelling.  But his use of this, his success from it, made everyone else jump on the bandwagon.  Each of his films has something new to say, but his approach is unique compared to his peers.  His take on superheroes is entirely different from anything else, and yet his love for comics and his genius in digging into what makes a great superhero tale proves his knowledge of the genre.  If you’re a fan of the modern Detective Comics, where Batman is so dark it’s almost as much horror as superhero crimefighter, then you should check out his trilogy, beginning with Unbreakable, followed by Split, and now streaming on Vudu, GooglePlay, YouTube, Amazon, and other home video media, his third chapter in the trilogy, Glass It is truly an epic film, the kind of story written by a comics reader and for a comics reader.

Most superhero movies follow a certain formula.  The tropes are all there for the plucking, so it’s how the story is told that makes the exceptional superhero movie.  Shyamalan’s slowly simmering follow-up returns to Bruce Willis′s David Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson′s Elijah Price from the 2000 first chapter Unbreakable.  We find Dunn has continued his pursuit of justice, brilliantly partnered with his own “man in the chair,” his son from Unbreakable, played again by Spencer Treat Clark (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) now all grown up, in an intriguing update to the character.  Price, however, has been relegated to a medical facility, visited frequently by his doting mother, played by returning actress Charlayne Woodard (Pose, Medium).

Sarah Paulson (Ocean’s Eight) proves exactly why she’s been cast as a young Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the coming series Ratched, co-starring in Glass as Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist studying people who think they are superheroes, out to prove them wrong and get them the mental help she believes they need.  Enter Kevin Wendell Crumb, who has multiple personality disorders–24 personalities in all–brilliantly portrayed by James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dark Phoenix) who introduced the character in the suspense-horror film Split.  Split was a surprise for everyone, carefully marketed as just another creepy Shyamalan movie, with the surprise ending that Crumb’s supervillain persona was The Beast, and an even bigger surprise: that Split was a sequel to Unbreakable.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It aired in the UK in February and March, and it had been reported for several weeks that its fifth season was going to arrive on BritBox in April.  The BBC′s unique crime series Shetland made it in the nick of time, with BritBox releasing the first episode yesterday.  Unfortunately BritBox didn’t drop all six Season 5 episodes, opting to air the series the old-fashioned way, with new episodes arriving every Tuesday.  It’s the kind of series to savor, so why not?

As advertised since last year, the multiple BAFTA-winning series’ key cast returns, with Shetland supercop/investigator DI Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall) partnering again with DS Alison “Tosh” McIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) and DC Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson), this time to investigate the murder of a young man whose body parts have been found washed ashore around the island.  Welsh actress Rakie Ayola (Dredd, Doctor Who, Sea of Souls, Black Mirror) steps into the series as the season’s guest star, playing the boy’s estranged mother.  The first episode of the season does not disappoint, laying out the first of the clues that will lead DI Perez–and the audience–to find the killer before the series wraps with its sixth episode June 4.

Anglophiles wanting another reason to catch up with Shetland will find former and current cast on the series from both Doctor Who (Peter Capaldi, Steven Robertson, Mark Bonnar, Gemma Chan, Brian Cox, James Greene, Anthony Flanagan, Benjamin Cawley, and Susan Vidler) and Game of Thrones (Clive Russell, Ciarán Hinds, Jamie Michie, John Stahl, James Cosmo, and Chris Reilly).  Struan Rodger can boast roles on all three series.  The fourth season knocked out several great shows to be borg′s Best British/UK series of 2018.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

What’s it take to outperform a surprisingly successful supernatural series like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina′s first season?  A core of fine writing in each episode of its second season and a returning cast of actors willing to immerse themselves unwaveringly into a strange world of the occult and the macabre, of witches and warlocks drawn from an expansive comic book universe.  That’s the sophomore season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which arrived on Netflix earlier this month, adapting the comic book series from the Archie Horror imprint.  Mainstream critics weren’t kind to the series in the first weekend of its release, and that may because the series is one best taken episode by episode–each chapter is its own mini-movie, weighty and twisty, dark and heavy–too heavy for one sitting–yet it’s still fun.  But it’s not recommended for binge watching.  Spread this one out over a few weeks and you may agree this is a fantastic series, steeped in mythology and lore, while also outlandish enough to not take too seriously.  And yes, it’s even better than its first season.

Two incredible actresses anchored Chilling Adventures of Sabrina again in the leading roles and two others provided gravitas in supporting roles.  Twenty-year-old actress Kiernan Shipka returned as a bolder and smarter 16-year-old Sabrina, facing off against her favorite teacher who is also the manipulative Lilith, played by Michelle Gomez, right arm of the Prince of Darkness.  It’s fair to say Gomez is fully the co-lead of the series–she is today’s master performer of villainy, following up on her performance as the villain we loved to hate, Misty the Timelord, in three seasons of Doctor Who.  If actors really love portraying villains more than any other type, then she is at the top of the league.  So it takes one heck of a performer to be able to stand firm against a performer like Gomez.  Shipka does it, never flinching no matter what the writers ask of her.  Kill (and play) her doppelganger?  Overpower everyone to save her cousin from the guillotine?  Discover and take down a trio of new demons in town?  Take on the devil himself?  Sabrina can do it all, but it’s only because Shipka never falters in every layered and surprising new script.

The stories this season pulled from past supernatural shows, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Harry Potter to Grimm, and incorporated all kinds of horror tropes (Hellraiser puzzle box?), peppered with clever pop culture references (Stepford Wives Zelda?).  It succeeded where its sister series, CW’s Riverdale, was unable this year, getting better with each episode.  Writers Donna Thorland, MJ Kaufman, Christina Ham, Oanh Ly, Ross Maxwell, Matthew Barry, Christianna Hedtke, Lindsay Bring, Joshua Conkel, and showrunner and comic book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa stretched the boundaries of fantasy into a series like nothing anyone has ever seen on TV.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Eighty-five years ago today, April 1, 1934, two Texas highway patrolmen, 26-year-old Edward Wheeler and 22-year-old Holloway Murphy were on motorcycle patrol, checking on a car they thought may need assistance.  Instead, they were gunned down by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.  It was Easter Sunday.  The two notorious criminals had repeatedly evaded the law, in part because they were sheltered in an era where the stupidity of the masses outweighed sense and a large segment of the populace viewed them as some kind of folk heroes.  Despite being captured by two former Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, that legendary hero status stuck somehow, thanks in part to Hollywood, and specifically the rather popular and also critically acclaimed movie Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  That film portrayed a rollicking, at times humorous, ride, which in fact, shared little of substance about the criminals and their victims.  Hollywood is now doing an about-face with a new, edgy, thoughtful drama, which includes the murders of Wheeler and Murphy and others, in director John Lee Hancock‘s The Highwaymen, now on Netflix.

Hancock, who wrote screenplays for the Kevin Costner/Clint Eastwood film A Perfect World, the screenplay for Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and wrote and directed the 2004 version of The Alamo, offers up a reserved, measured tale not of the infamous criminals this time, but the two aging men, Hamer and Gault, who knew how to track and kill criminals.  That’s thanks to a script by John Fusco, who has experience writing historical accounts for the screen, as found in his Billy the Kid story Young Guns, the Babe Ruth biopic Babe, the 1890s horse rider tale Hidalgo, and his heavily researched series Marco Polo.  Despite the sometimes dry “historical drama” label, The Highwaymen is by no means devoid of compelling storytelling.  Plus, headlined by Kevin Costner, playing the elder more experienced former Ranger Frank Hamer, and Woody Harrelson as the slightly less experienced B.M. “Maney” Gault, the film showcases the chemistry between the duo.  In one key dramatic sequence the two lawmen come upon a temporary residence for the criminals, looking for clues among the closeted clothing in what could be the bedroom of any small town couple of the day.  But Harrelson may get the most satisfying scene, as he responds to being cornered by a group of Barrow supporters while in a public restroom.

The film is fueled by a compelling musical score by Thomas Newman (Spectre, Skyfall, Road to Perdition, The Shawshank Redemption, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Man With One Red Shoe), the kind of a soundtrack that will no doubt stand well as its own creative work.  His score sets the tempo of the picture while not overtaking it, as happened with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-nominated score for Costner’s The Untouchables, a similar era film that will no doubt be compared to The HighwaymenNewman’s music is entirely different, a balance of post-Civil War, Western, and Depression-era motifs with guitar that echoes the former Rangers’ cowboy, horse-riding past.  Cinematographer John Schwartzman delivers the kind of bleak, spacious, 1930s America perhaps last scene in László Kovács’ film work on Peter Bogdanovich’s depression-era film Paper Moon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Last year’s winner for most surprising film to be discussing at the water cooler was A Quiet Place, a uniquely quiet but suspenseful horror thriller that held back the true nature of the threat in its previews similar to Midnight Special, Signs, and 10 Cloverfield Lane.  And as with those films we’re definitely looking at an otherworldly threat for the film’s protagonists.  Critics and audiences seemed to go for this mix of sci-fi and horror, possibly out of an affinity for director and co-star John Krasinski (The Office, Jack Ryan) and his on and off-camera wife, co-star Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns, The Adjustment Bureau, Edge of Tomorrow).  It’s now streaming on most major platforms, including Amazon Prime, Vudu, Hulu, YouTube, Google Play, and Fandango, as well as Blu-ray, 4K, and DVD.

Few movies were hyped in 2018 as much as A Quiet Place, although come awards season it only received a nomination for best sound editing and Emily Blunt took home the Screen Actors Guild Award for supporting actress, despite her clearly starring role in the film.  If there is a reason to watch the movie it’s for Blunt, who steals the show in any film she appears in.  In A Quiet Place, for better or worse, she lets go from an acting standpoint and offers up a beginning-to-end melodramatic and possibly over-the-top emotional performance, similar to her portrayal as an amnesiac in The Girl on the Train.  Some subtlety would have been a good thing, because in contrast to her ever-stoic husband she comes off as hysterical.  We’ll chalk this up to a quirky misstep by an inexperienced director (it’s also an instance of his character doing all the smart and brave things, and Blunt’s all the dumb things, which gets old quickly).

But this one has been done before, especially as seen in the above-referenced films, and multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone.  The plot is thin.  A family of five are among the only people living (on Earth? in the region? we don’t know).  A blind insectoid alien menace (think Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow only here she’s not the badass Angel of Verdun) will slaughter anything and anyone it hears with its sonic-locator brain.  So everyone is quiet all the time.  Only they aren’t–we hear them make all sorts of body and movement noises for the first half of the film, only to learn later from the father that they don’t listen for soft noises.  The daughter of the family (played by Millicent Simmonds) is deaf, and so she doesn’t know when noises are happening around her, leading to the key dire circumstances throughout the film.  The audience can’t help but put themselves in the positions of the characters.  What would you do?  Unfortunately the film is full of many tropes like you’d find in teen slasher flicks:  so many times characters make decisions that are similar to a teen walking outside their cabin in a thunderstorm at night in their underwear after hearing a mass murderer is on the loose.  Any viewer would think the circumstances are more dire than the characters in A Quiet Place.

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Still aren’t in the Christmas spirit yet?  With no Christmas day episode of Doctor Who this year, Netflix is filling in the gap with an episode of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina called “A Midwinter’s Tale,” another solid episode of the series taking the story forward where the first season left off, and delving into some classic tropes of American and Victorian Christmas lore.  It’s all with the twist of the darker, horror-infused world of the show, but as Miranda Otto’s character Aunt Zelda says, “Christmas is the best time for ghost stories.”  See A Christmas Carol, as an example.

Plenty of Christmas episodes of past genre television series are available right now, most via services you may already subscribe to, others for a few dollars (and some you may find free to watch on YouTube).  How about starting with the unofficial sequel to Die Hard and Die Hard 2 starring Reginald VelJohnson (Ghostbusters, Tron: Uprising) in his third appearance as Sgt. Al Powell?  He’s one of several actors guest starring in a trilogy of Christmas episodes of Chuck, available on Amazon Prime.  First is “Chuck vs. the Crown Vic,” then VelJohnson and Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead) in “Chuck vs. Santa Claus,” rounded out with Brandon Routh (Superman Returns, Arrow) and Stan Lee in an early cameo as himself in “Chuck vs. the Santa Suit.”  But be careful, you may end up getting sucked into the rest of the series, starring Zachary Levi (Shazam!, Psych the Movie, Thor: Ragnarok), Yvonne Strahovski (The Predator, The Handmaid’s Tale), and Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Leverage, Castle).

In the same vein as Sabrina, check out Grimm with Christmas episodes “Twelve Days of Krampus” and “The Grimm Who Stole Christmas,” both available on Amazon Prime.  “Twelve Days of Krampus” provides one of the best illustrations of Krampus, the folkloric character who has been a subject of this time of year for more than 2,000 years.  Ever get coal in your stocking?  Learn more here.  And you’ll find some familiarity with the critters in “The Grimm Who Stole Christmas” as the new Sabrina episode.  Each of these Grimm episodes is among the best of Christmas episodes, and overall great episodes of the series.  And if paranormal shows are your thing, don’t forget the Supernatural episode, “A Very Supernatural Christmas.”  Catch it on Netflix.  The Winchester Brothers pursue some pagan gods at Christmastime, revisit their own Christmas past, and try to share a Christmas together as only they could.

That brings us to six classic Christmas episodes.  How about six more?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The right mix of writing, acting, art direction, and music come together in Orbiter 9, a direct-to-Netflix Spanish film that really has it all.  Like the critically-acclaimed Midnight Special, saying too much about the plot will give away too much of what is compelling about this film.  But you can be sure to find a tense piece of science fiction derived from those classic tales of great writers of the past like Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Philip K. Dick.  It’s a tale of future Earth where Earthlings have ravaged the planet, so, like recent sci-fi entries Passengers and the Lost in Space reboot, the only chance for humans is to embark on long voyages to distant worlds.

Clara Lago (The Commuter, The Librarians, LEX) masterfully plays Helena, a young woman left on board a spaceship heading from Earth to a distant colony who encounters an engineer named Álex, coming to repair the ship’s oxygen system, played by actor Álex González (X-Men: First Class).  We learn from a video image Helena is re-watching that her parents left her alone three years ago when the oxygen system broke down–their math showed that with Helena flying alone the oxygen could still get her to Celeste safely.  Raised on the ship since birth, she has never met another human.  She is diligent in her daily rituals, including exercise, with a determination to complete her mission prompted by her parents’ sacrifice.  But after Álex’s arrival, everything changes.

More believable than prior visions of the future in this sub-genre (Passengers, Moon, the Cloverfield series), Orbiter 9 may pull its tale in part from classic Greek sacrifice mythology or closed-room mysteries like Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, and wrestles with the limits of sacrifice, for family or others–again, a concept addressed in many past sci-fi stories, Star Trek in particular (think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Suddenly Human” in Star Trek: The Next Generation and “Child’s Play” from Star Trek Voyager).  Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?  Orbiter 9 attacks this question in many surprising ways.  And unlike many a recent sci-fi film, it’s story belongs in a full feature format like this–it’s not just another short story dragged out to fit a movie-length format.

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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

Say what you like about the three sequels to 2003’s surprise Disney hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, if you love adventures on the high seas, you’ve had a place to come home to, with Dead Man’s Chest (2006), At World’s End (2007), and On Stranger Tides (2011).  If you love the full scope of 3D technology, the series has revealed the potential beauty of the technology as the films provided some beautiful cinematography.  Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales truly brings pirate lore full circle, with Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and more all coming back and as barnacled as ever.  The fifth entry in the series is now streaming on Netflix and available on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, and 4K.

In a year that should see award shows celebrating 17 years of Hugh Jackman fleshing out the story of genre favorite character Logan, also known as Wolverine, 14 of those years saw Johnny Depp create the most memorable character of his career as Captain Jack Sparrow.  Always coming back for more and playing the heart out of his stumbling, distracted, but savvy survivor of visits to the bottom of the ocean and back, Depp solidified what a generation (or two) will always think of first when they hear the word pirate.  Taking a close second for that honor is Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Hector Barbossa, who also graced the screen in each film in the series as an equally interesting but different kind of salty pirate.  When you think of great, modern, master thespians stepping into high-profile genre roles to make them compelling, Rush as Barbossa should be at the top of your list.

Along with the great costumes, weapons, ships, and locations, audiences will find even more Rube Goldberg and Charlie Chaplin-inspired physical comedy in Dead Men Tell No Tales.  For the perennial dose of pirate gravitas, Academy Award winning actor Javier Bardem steps in to the guest star space filled in past adventures by the likes of Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Penélope Cruz, Zoe Saldana, and Stellan Skarsgård.  Bardem is another perfectly cast actor, as a gritty, mighty captain condemned to death with his crew by a young Jack Sparrow.  With some of the series’ best visual effects, Bardem’s Spanish Captain Salazar and his crew roam the high seas looking like they are walking on the ocean’s floor, complete with wet flowing hair and clothes–and missing body parts.  They are ghosts, but a new–and brilliant–take on pirate ghosts (or are they ghost pirates?).  Plus… ghost sharks!

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