“The Bastard Executioner” has killer potential, despite its slow start


Those still saddened by the end of Kurt Sutter’s outlaw biker drama, “Sons of Anarchy,” didn’t have to wait too long for his return to television, which sees him trade guns and Harleys for swords and horses in the new FX series, “The Bastard Executioner,” debuting September 15th with a special two-hour premiere. But while the show represents a radical change of setting compared to Sutter’s last outing, it carries many of the same themes – particularly loyalty, revenge and redemption – which will make it feel very familiar to fans of “Sons of Anarchy,” provided they’re willing to stick around past the first hour.

Set in the early 14th century, “The Bastard Executioner” tells the story of Wilkin Brattle (newcomer Lee Jones), a former knight in King Edward I’s army who makes a vow to lay down his sword when he receives a divine message beseeching him to lead a peaceful life. But when his idyllic world is shattered by a cruel English lord, Wilkin is forced to pick up his sword once again, although this time under the guise of a journeyman executioner, in order to exact his revenge amid the backdrop of a political rebellion in Northern Wales.

It’s not exactly the most original story, but Sutter’s writing elevates the material beyond the typical medieval tale, wasting no time in shaking up the status quo with shocking deaths, secrets and betrayals that will undoubtedly continue to stack up as the season progresses. Though “The Bastard Executioner” operates more like historical fiction than fantasy (with a few tweaks, it could easily pass as “Braveheart: The TV Series”), there are hints of supernatural elements (black magic, divine intervention, etc.) that suggest there’s more to the show’s mythology than Sutter is initially letting on.

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Blu Tuesday: Gotham: The Complete First Season

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Gotham: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: In the wake of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murders, idealistic Gotham City police detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) makes a vow to young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) to capture his parents’ killer, all while dealing with corruption within the police department and Gotham’s burgeoning criminal underworld.

WHY: Bruno Heller’s “Rome” is one of the most underrated TV series of the past decade, so when it was announced that he was producing a crime drama centered around a young James Gordon in pre-Batman Gotham City, that’s pretty much all it took to get me onboard. Unfortunately, despite Heller’s insistence that “Gotham” isn’t about Batman, the numerous villains that pop up throughout the first season suggests otherwise, turning the series into something quite different than even Heller himself probably intended. The allure of exploring the various origin stories of Batman’s rogues’ gallery (arguably the best in all of comics) was undoubtedly too enticing to pass up, so it should come as no surprise that the villains are the stars of the show. Robin Lord Taylor and Jada Pinkett Smith are the obvious standouts as Penguin and new creation Fish Mooney, respectively, while Carmen Bicondova delivers a star-making turn as young Selina Kyle. Ben McKenzie also fares well as Gordon, as does Donal Logue as his morally corrupt partner, but their characters often suffer due to some really shoddy writing. And that’s the biggest problem with “Gotham” – it’s an incredibly mixed bag that succeeds as often as it fails. For every great episode, there are two more that fall flat, and although the show starts to find its groove in the latter half, that inconsistency prevents Season One from being anything more than a mildly enjoyable experiment that still needs to iron out a few wrinkles if it ever hopes to make the most of its potential.

EXTRAS: In addition to a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the series, there are three additional featurettes on the show’s production design, Penguin’s story arc and making the pilot episode, as well as footage from DC Comics Night at Comic-Con 2014, character profiles, deleted scenes and a gag reel.



“Disney Infinity 3.0″ is the best installment yet, and here are five reasons why


Just like the Marvel Universe was a natural fit to headline last year’s edition of Disney’s “toys-to-life” video game franchise, it was a forgone conclusion that the “Star Wars” universe would play a key role in “Disney Infinity 3.0,” especially with the new film coming out later this year. But while George Lucas’ space adventure saga is undoubtedly the main draw, there’s a lot to love about the latest installment, which makes some big strides towards improving the game’s all-around experience, as well as its future potential.

1) Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars

“Star Wars” is sort of like the cinematic version of The Beatles – everyone likes it, but we all have our favorite movie/album and character/band member. Thankfully, that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the team at Disney Interactive. Though it’s a little strange that the original trilogy isn’t featured in the game’s official Starter Pack – instead, you get prequel characters Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano along with the “Twilight of the Republic” Play Set – Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia will be getting their own playable adventure (“Rise Against the Empire”) at the end of September. In addition to those four characters, you can purchase other figures individually, including fan favorites like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Darth Maul, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Boba Fett and most of the “Star Wars Rebels” crew, all of which are compatible with any “Star Wars”-themed Play Set.

Those with a PS4 or PS3 don’t even have to wait to play “Rise Against the Empire” thanks to an exclusive Saga Bundle that includes both Play Sets and an advanced copy of the Boba Fett figure, but if you’re in the Xbox One or Wii U camp, don’t fret, because “Twilight of the Republic” is still loads of fun. In fact, it’s a marked improvement upon the Avengers Play Set from “Disney Infinity 2.0,” with more exciting gameplay and improved combat mechanics, that basically operates like a greatest hits of locations and characters from the prequels and “Clone Wars” animated series.

2) Upgraded Toy Box features

One of the biggest complaints about previous iterations of the Toy Box was that, despite trumpeting all of the great things you can do with the software, it was incredibly confusing to use. Version 3.0 fixes most of those issues by including a central hub with specialized guides that help you along the way, as well as introduces some new tools, like farming crops that give your sidekicks abilities; a Path Creator that can be used to build theme park rides, parades and more; and a Toy Dispenser that provides instant access to toys you would otherwise have to unlock through gameplay. Additionally, there’s a new online matchmaking system located inside Flynn’s Arcade, as well as an in-game access point at the famous El Capitan Theatre for uploading and downloading customized Toy Boxes.

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Blu Tuesday: Mad Max, Star Wars Rebels and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

WHAT: Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is just barely surviving in the post-apocalyptic wasteland when he’s captured by tyrannical leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and forced to serve as a human blood bank for his diseased minions. But when a chance meeting between Max and war-rig driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) – who’s trying to rescue a group of female sex slaves that Joe plans to use for repopulation – results in his miraculous escape, he reluctantly agrees to help get the girls to safety.

WHY: George Miller may be 70 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from outclassing filmmakers half his age by making one of the craziest and most badass action movies in ages. Though “Fury Road” looks absolutely gorgeous, with John Seale’s stunning cinematography providing a painterly quality to the visuals, the real reason to see it is for the action. Conceived as one long car chase, the film is packed with some of the most amazing action sequences you’ll ever see. It’s a minor miracle that no one died during the making of this movie, because Miller’s high-adrenaline set pieces are so visceral and unbridled that you genuinely fear for the lives of the actors and stuntmen with each explosion, car flip and crash. The overcranked, sped-up look works better in some places than others, but for the most part, the gonzo vehicular mayhem is a jaw-dropping assault on the senses that gets weirder as it goes along. Every minute of action is pure cinematic magic, though the dead space in between proves troublesome. Tom Hardy does what’s required of him as the mysterious, soft-spoken Max, but Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the only character who’s given any actual development, bringing a humanity to her performance that stands head and shoulders above the rest. While the movie would have benefited from a tighter runtime and falls short of the worship-like praise that many people have heaped upon it, this is easily Miller’s best “Mad Max” film yet.

EXTRAS: In addition to a fairly extensive making-of featurette, there’s an interview with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron about their experiences on the movie, a look at designing the cars and other props, some behind-the-scenes footage from filming the action sequences and three deleted scenes.


“Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One”

WHAT: In the wake of the Clone Wars, the Galactic Empire rules the galaxy with an iron fist. But a group of rebels – including Jedi-in-hiding Kanan, Twi’lek pilot Hera, Mandalorian weapons expert Sabine, Lasat honor guard Zeb and astromech droid Chopper – take a stand against their oppressors with the help of newest member Ezra Bridger, a teenage pickpocket with the ability to control the Force.

WHY: Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and subsequent announcement that more “Star Wars” films were on the way, it only seemed natural to launch a new animated series as part of the hype machine. Though “Star Wars Rebels” doesn’t have anything to do with the upcoming movies (at least, not that we know of yet), it is part of the franchise’s official canon, set between the events of the “Clone Wars” animated series and the original trilogy. Unfortunately, the show is a little confused tonally as a result of trying to cater to both younger audiences and older fans. So while there are some things to really enjoy about “Rebels” (like the action and Ralph McQuarie-inspired designs), I’m not crazy about the jokier, PG-rated bits with Ezra, Zeb and Chopper. Additionally, the endless barrage of cameos featured in the first season (from C3P0 and R2D2, to Lando Calrissian and Darth Vader) is an unnecessary attempt to connect the “Rebels” crew to more familiar characters when it should be trying to exist as its own entity. The allure of that type of fan service is understandable, but it gets to the point where it makes the show feel beholden to the past when it should be looking ahead to the future.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes 14 behind-the-scenes featurettes, a collection of short films, a sneak peek at the upcoming second season and more.


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A roundtable chat with the drunk historians of “Drunk History”


It’s hard not to kind of love the very simplicity of the concept behind Comedy Central’s “Drunk History.” Every episode features three absolutely true episodes from U.S. history as recounted by a really and truly very drunk person, and then reenacted by a cast of often famed and always 100% sober actors who are nevertheless mouthing dialogue direct from the drunken booze-addled narrator’s mouth. Yes, it’s a one-joke premise, but it’s a very good joke and somewhat educational besides.

As both a tried and true geek and Bullz-Eye’s official cocktail guy, it made total sense for me to meet with some of the creators and cast of “Drunk History” at Comic-Con last July. Each episode of the show, which returns to Comedy Central September 1st, is based in a different U.S. city, featuring important political, social and pop cultural stories from that particular city’s storied past. This year’s list includes Miami and two of this writer’s favorite drunk places, Las Vegas and New Orleans.

I was fortunate to meet with the show’s creators who first launched the series as a set of “Funny or Die” web videos. That would be actor and comic Derrick Waters – who appears in segments as a sort of drinking chaperone for the featured drunk historian, as well as in all of the reenactments – and producer Jeremy Konnor. Also along for the ride were performers Taran Killam of “SNL” fame, and the voluble actress Paget Brewster (“Community,” “Criminal Minds”), who holds the rare honor of being both a reenactor and a drunk historian. She and her cohorts had plenty to say on the topic of mixing history with booze.

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