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Tag Archive: Now streaming


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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Review by C.J. Bunce

This is what I was hoping for in Jonas Åkerlund’s movie Polar, the brutal Mads Mikkelsen dark action movie that was more wannabe Zack Snyder than anything interesting, fun, or thought-provoking.  Cold Pursuit is something like Polar.  You’ll feel the cold, sure.  But director Hans Petter Molland′s take on dark comedy is a little more subtle, less “look at me and all the carnage I can fit on a screen and have my characters laugh about.”  But Cold Pursuit is also not the Coen Brothers’ Fargo.  And that’s a good thing if you don’t worship Coen Brothers movies.  It’s also a good thing if you like Fargo only a little bit.

What the heck am I talking about?  Unlike a lot of films that go direct to streaming services, this was a theatrical release.  You can tell the difference.  So it beats out most direct-to-Netflix, Amazon, etc. fare.  But Cold Pursuit was marketed and billed more like a dark comedy.  Only it’s not very funny.  But it’s an enjoyable, satisfying revenge flick.  So blame the marketing.  Cold Pursuit is a steady, measured drama about a resourceful snowplow driver near Denver, played by Liam Neeson (sporting a Han Solo at Hoth parka), who is successful at his job, but less successful with his family relationships, including communicating with his wife, played rather blandly by Laura Dern (it’s the part, not the performer).  When their son is murdered by a low-level member of the local drug community, Neeson’s character, Nels Coxman, first tries to kill himself.  When he learns his kid wasn’t really involved in drugs he begins relentlessly pursuing everyone involved in the world that killed his son, aiming for the top, which reaches back to an anal-retentive, self-absorbed, young, wealthy kingpin called Viking back in the city, played expertly vile by Tom Bateman (Murder on the Orient Express).  This is when the movie takes the action turn.  Bateman plays that villain you love to hate and really want to see get a comeuppance.

Dozens of named characters get killed in different ways throughout the picture (I thought about counting the bodies but didn’t).  Each cleverly gets their own pre-sound era cinema “tombstone” as they are marked off the list (including their religion–oddly irrelevant but humorous).  Even if it’s a little spoliery (yes, that’s the correct spelling) to know it, if it helps get people to see the movie then it’s worth knowing that Neeson’s character is not a criminal type or tough guy, but calls forth that familiar guy from the Taken movies to open ample six-packs (several) of whoop-ass on the bad guys.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With his Vietnam veteran-turned-hitman Quarry, author Max Allan Collins has built a substantial, possibly never-ending crime noir series.  Now at book 14 and adding a 15th this November with Hard Case Crime’s release of Killing Quarry, Collins has surpassed the number of books Collins’ pal Mickey Spillane published about Mike Hammer.  Collins has finished or co-authored nearly as many crime novels with Spillane posthumously, reflecting the prolific nature of Collins’ crime writing and expertise.  And that’s not even addressing Collins’ noteworthy Road to Perdition, five other book series and countless tie-in novels.  Cinemax′s 2016 series Quarry is inspired by Collins’ character, and thanks to writers/show creators Graham Gordy, Michael D. Fuller, with an episode by Collins and another by Jennifer Schuur, you have eight intriguing episodes of television waiting for you.  Its eight episodes are now streaming on Vudu, Amazon Prime, other platforms, as well as home video.

Director Greg Yaitanes created a rarely seen snippet of history as the backdrop for the series, with show lead Logan Marshall-Green (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Prometheus) as Mac Conway, dubbed Quarry as the show progresses, accused with his friend of misdeeds in Vietnam as he returns home to Memphis after his second tour.  Along with the Vietnam War and its aftermath is turmoil with bussing a desegration that envelopes his friend’s family.  Costume designer Patia Prouty, who worked on Almost Famous, Justified, and Pulp Fiction, re-creates the good but mainly the bad designs of the era, with equally good art and production design that will have you feeling like you’re been transported back in time.  Conway is quickly reeled into a local (and somewhat yokel) crime underworld, resulting in his friend’s death and requiring him to kill for the local, quirky kingpin to earn off the amount his buddy owed.

It’s Cinemax, so expect more sex and bloody gore than necessary, but you’ll feel enough sympathy for Marshall-Green’s Conway as a put-upon anti-hero that you’ll keep coming back for more as ugly and as strange as he finds his circumstances.  The supporting cast fills into the layered characters nicely, with Jodi Balfour (True Detective) as his wife, Peter Mullan (Children of Men) as the kingpin called The Broker, Nikki Amuka-Bird (Doctor Who, Jupiter Ascending) as his friend’s widow, and Mustafa Shakir (Marvel’s Luke Cage) as her mysterious new admirer.  Damon Herriman (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood) is outstanding as an intermediary with The Broker, a layered character who has his own problems beyond his job as killer and killer’s aide.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With costumes designed by Anna B. Sheppard, the designer for Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers, Inglourious Basterds, and Captain America: The First Avenger, you know your World War II movie is in good hands.

The first ninety minutes of Overlord is the stuff of the classic World War II movie.  Think Guns of Navarone or Von Ryan’s Express or a later film, Force 10 From Navarone.  It’s also modern in the way of Inglourious Basterds, but that movie if it had been filmed by John Carpenter, complete with special effects from The Thing and action from They Live.  It also co-stars Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt Russell (also Goldie Hawn’s son) as the tough and confident Corporal Ford, a John Wayne role like he plays like he’s been making movies for 40 years.  If that isn’t enough to go out and get your hands on Overlord, I don’t know what you could want.

It begins with a paratrooper drop, filmed believably, like Memphis Belle, but with the action of Edge of Tomorrow.  The first 40 minutes follows British actor Jovan Adepo as American soldier Private Boyce, a nice, naïve kid drafted recently and dropped into harm’s way behind enemy lines in France the day before D-Day.  Like Starship Troopers and Edge of Tomorrow, this is 100% authentic war, look and feel, and we follow Ford and boyce and their squad from the air on down to the gates of a town where they hide out and plan to blow up a German radio tower.  Despite J.J. Abrams producing this film and hints to the contrary, don’t expect aliens or zombies–this is not a secret Cloverfield 4.  What Boyce, Ford, & Co. find is a lab beneath the tower where the Germans are conducting experiments on the local French villagers and their own men.  It’s here where the story takes a turn for the weird.

The first 90 minutes are brilliant, face-paced, heart-pounding, nail-biting stuff.  Young director Julius Avery and writer Billy Ray pursue the lore of the German experiments toward a the creation of a “superman” or “super soldier” and what that might be like.  To their credit, they approach this like the Korean series Kingdom, which looked to a virus as the creation of a village of zombie-like villagers.  Here Avery and Ray look to twisted science as well, but they add in a bit of a fountain of youth element as part of the creation of these soldiers.  Spoiler:  They don’t all turn out exactly as planned by the Germans.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After its first episode back in 2015, we called it “your next favorite TV series.”  This week iZombie saw its last episode.

Rob Thomas hasn’t directed the blockbuster movies or gained the same fame, but he’s filled in the gaps on television for genre fans where Joss Whedon left off.  Along with giving us Veronica Mars (and refusing to let the world of Neptune, California, fade into TV history), Thomas brought Liv Moore and the post-apocalyptic zombie world of iZombie to life, a bigger and better heroine than the one found in the original Chris Roberson and Michael Allred comics.  That was thanks to New Zealand actor Rose McIver, whose versatility and charm took her from roles in Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Legend of the Seeker to create one of our newest favorite superheroes.  And with Thursday night’s fifth season and series finale episode it’s all over now, yet still leaving plenty of opportunity for future episodes, series, a film, or novels, just as Thomas has provided for his sleuth Veronica Mars.

Can the middle–the place of reason our heroes are striving to fight for–survive the extremism from both sides of the ongoing struggle?  In the finale, “All’s Well that Ends Well,” Thomas brings everything full circle, wrapping up every last plot thread for Liv, Major, Clive, Ravi, Peyton, Dale, Blaine, and Don E.  But he throws an eleventh hour wrench into the plot–the cure for zombies won’t help the kids with Fröhlich’s syndrome.  Are they doomed either way?  As always, Thomas leaves plenty of room for fun–the actors and characters, the banter, and that chemistry, that made iZombie so good for five seasons.  Along with McIver, Malcolm Goodwin, Robert Buckley, Rahul Kohli, David Anders, Aly Michalka, Bryce Hodgson, and Jessica Harmon formed probably the best ensemble cast on network genre TV.

A perfect series finale is a reminder of how iZombie matched the success of Grimm in so many ways, and filled the void left by that show so well.  iZombie also improved with each of its five seasons, and exponentially improved in its final season–as Grimm did–once the end of production was in sight, complete with the year’s best hour of TV, the noir send-up episode “Night and the Zombie City.”  Series like these prove that when ratings aren’t the only driving force and creators have freedom to take characters in new directions, audiences are in store for a real treat.

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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

Call it Scotland Noir or Nordic Noir, in its fifth season the BBC’s Shetland just keeps getting better.  Just as viewers were treated to a satisfying wrap-up to this year’s six-part mystery of human trafficking, murders, blackmail, dead bodies in the ocean, and cheating hearts, Shetland may have pulled off its best scene of all in the final minutes of Tuesday’s season finale.  Airing for the first time in the U.S. as a weekly series on streaming service BritBox, the series is a rarity: a police procedural with a following in the States that survived five seasons.  It’s telling that the series has been renewed for a sixth season, which should air in the UK in the first half of next year, and a few months later in the U.S.

How can they keep coming up with such good police drama in such a small and desolate setting?  Credit for another good twisty mystery should be split between the writers, Shetland regulars David Kane and Paul Logue, the five cast members that have carried the series since the first episode back in 2013. and the stark natural beauty of the Shetland backdrop.  Better storytelling is difficult to find on TV, but the series knows how to juggle the murders, kidnappings, local and political leaders with deadly secrets, and the surprising interplay of international crime syndicates in Glasgow, Norway, and Africa.  Douglas Henshall continues to lead the series as the driven detective inspector Jimmy Perez, and this season he solidified his defining theme: Everyone is a suspect.  Often that nagging reality wedges its way into frustrating his most personal relationships.  Is there a better way to empathize with your hero than seeing him stuck looking into the eyes of someone he cares about, forced to question them about their honesty and possible participation in a murder?

The ongoing relationship between Perez and his step-daughter’s father Duncan only gets more complicated and interesting.  Mark Bonnar′s ability to portray Duncan as part sap, bungler, buffoon, sad sack, perpetual guy in the wrong place, and well-meaning everyman continues to cement Henshall and Bonnar as the best pairing and blend of buddy movie magic and chemistry since the Odd Couple.  For fans who can’t get enough of Alison O’Donnell′s curious, determined, savvy, and lovable detective sergeant Alison “Tosh” MacIntosh, season five was a welcome change for the character, getting her back in control of her life and rounding out a multi-season story arc with a new love interest and the next too-cute TV couple.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The three 90-minute episode television series is one of those staples of the BBC that is both refreshing and infuriating.  It’s refreshing because it avoids all the padding that is so commonplace among those direct-to-binge, 10-episode shows premiering regularly now on Netflix and other streaming providers.  But it’s infuriating to find a series that is so well written and produced, you love the characters and wish there was more.  Much like another great 4.5 hour series we loved, BBC’s 2011 series Zen starring Rufus Sewell (reviewed here at borg), in BBC’s Quirke, Gabriel Byrne inhabits his lead character in one of his best performances, leaving viewers wishing the series would have continued for a few more seasons.  First airing in the UK in 2014, Quirke is now available on the BritBox streaming service, along with Zen.

Byrne (Vikings, Assault on Precinct 13, The Usual Suspects) plays Dr. Quirke, the chief pathologist of the Dublin city morgue in the 1950s.  He has an affinity for alcohol, his brother’s wife, and solving murders, partnering on- and off-the-books with the local police inspector played by Stanley Townsend (Ashes to Ashes, Sherlock, Zen, Galavant).  In what feels like three gritty Irish noir movies, we learn about the doctor’s family struggles as his past and future collide, as he investigates an orphanage siphoning babies from Ireland to Boston, as he connects the deaths of two women found dead from suicides, and as he tracks down the whereabouts of a missing friend of his daughter.

The focus of Dr. Quirke’s life is the well-being of his niece, played by Aisling Franciosi (Game of Thrones, Vera), who is really his biological daughter, raised by his step-brother and his wife when the girl’s birth resulted in the death of Quirke’s wife 20 years ago.  Quirke was adopted into his family, and years later his father (played by Michael Gambon (Harry Potter series, Doctor Who, Cranford)) continues to treat him with disdain, but he hides his own secrets.  Along with the Professor Dumbledore actor, look for the actress behind Harry Potter’s mother (Geraldine Somerville) as Quirke’s sister-in-law, and the actress behind Batman’s mother in Batman Begins (Sara Stewart).  Other genre actors include Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story’s General Dodonna (Ian McElhinney) as an influential politico, Ella Enchanted and Mr. Selfridge’s Aidan McArdle as the politico’s nephew, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Life on Mars, and Master and Commander’s Lee Ingleby as one of the men attracted to Quirke’s daughter, and Merlin, Doctor Who, and Humans’ Colin Morgan as a journalist.

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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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