Looks like April showers bring a heaping dose of science fiction entertainment along with those May flowers — we’re not complaining! — including a Lost in Space reboot and the return of Westworld, The Expanse, and The Handmaid’s Tale (plus, of course, other comedies and dramas for good measure). We’ve got you covered with everything worth catching up on this month before new installments hit your small screen.
What it is: Based on the series of novels by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of collaborators Daniel Abraham and T Franck), this space-hopping science fiction series follows Earth-bound United Nations executive Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), asteroid belt-dwelling police detective Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane), and officer of an ice freighter Jim Holden (Steven Strait, pictured) as they uncover a conspiracy that risks intergalactic peace within disparate colonies and the survival of humanity as they know it.
Why you should watch it: We see enough social and political turmoil here on Earth to know that if and when we expand our humanly horizons to other planets in the solar system, tension is likely to continue. Here, it just makes for great TV with some timely allegorical themes to spare. Season 3 premieres April 11.
Commitment: Approx. 16 hours
What it is: A classic of the genre, 1965’s Lost in Space from Irwin Allen tells the story of the Robinson family, a clan of space colonists who must adapt to survive after their ship gets flung off course (living up to the series’ title) and crash lands on an alien planet. From there, they’re met with increasing intergalactic dangers with each passing day.
Why you should watch it: The original Lost in Space is one of those series that every sci-fi lover should watch simply because of the influence it wielded over future series of the genre to come — whether it be The Expanse above, or the forthcoming Netflix reboot of the same name. At three seasons and 83 episodes, the original makes for a full week of binge-watching entertainment and cultural education all in one. Netflix’s reboot premieres April 13.
Commitment: Approx. 83 hours
What it is: An extension of the zombie apocalypse world of AMC mega-hit The Walking Dead, Fear starts in Los Angeles, showing how city dwellers deal with the virus outbreak.
Why you should watch it: The season 4 premiere on April 15 features a crossover with the mothership, when Morgan (Lennie James) from The Walking Dead shows up.
Commitment: Approx. 27.5 hours
What it is: Into the Badlands, starring Daniel Wu (pictured), promised to be an exciting genre-fusion of post-apocalyptic Western–Kung Fu, and it hasn’t lost its bite over the course of two standout seasons. Set 500 years after a global war that destroyed today’s world as we know it, the series explores the struggle for power among the feudal lord barons, their lowly contemporaries, and their world’s lawless nomads in a post-society landscape.
Why you should watch it: Here’s another futuristic action-thriller seeped with timely themes. Set in a world where guns are no longer in use, war combat and protection has resorted to martial arts and melee weapons. Not only is it a creative twist on the shoot-em-up style of most sci-fi epics, but it also makes for some of the most thrilling actions sequences on TV today. Season 3 premieres April 22.
Commitment: Approx. 11 hours
What it is: In this hit series, the titular Westworld is a vacation destination for regular men and women to live out their most elaborate — and at times, sickening — fantasies in a Wild West–inspired society manipulated by behind-the-scenes programmers and otherwise populated by near-human artificially intelligent hosts. The series’ main action begins, however, when Westworld’s hosts begin realizing they may have more control over their false reality than they think.
Why you should watch it: Did any other new series excite and divide critics and audiences in quite the same way as Westworld? Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s HBO debut marks one of the most thought provoking and epic sci-fi dramas seen on the pay cable channel to date. Matched with its ambition are breathtaking performances from Hollywood heavy-hitters as varied as Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright (pictured), Thandie Newton, James Marsden, and Ed Harris. Season 2 premieres April 22.
Commitment: Approx. 10 hours
What it is: Here’s another intelligent, original take on the post-nuclear apocalypse from Jason Rothenberg for the CW. Set 97 years after nuclear war wiped out humanity, the mere thousands remaining survived by escaping on an ark-like spaceship that remained within Earth’s orbit. The twisty caveat? The series’ title represents the 100 juvenile prisoners who, against their will, are forced out of the Ark and back to Earth to learn if it’s habitable. To their surprise, it turns out that some humans lived through the nuclear war from the century prior — and not all of them are ready to befriend the young visitors.
Why you should watch it: As is the case with much of the CW’s slate of programming, The 100 is led by an impressive ensemble of young, breakout actors who are made all the more impressive by their series’ meatier material. Plus with an air-tight concept as its foundation, there’s a reason we’ve been coming back for four seasons now. Season 5 premieres April 24.
Commitment: Approx. 40 hours
What it is: From creators Kenneth Biller and Noah Pink and executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer comes National Geographic’s first major foray into prestige television, Genius. An intimate, life-charting look into history’s greatest minds and personalities, season 1 follows Geoffrey Rush (pictured) as Albert Einstein, and season 2, which premieres April 24, follows Antonio Banderas as Pablo Picasso.
Why you should watch it: An enthralling premise that’s ultimately as educational as it is entertaining (as the very best of narrative nonfiction is), Genius’s first outing rightfully earned a handful of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and was widely regarded as one of the year’s best programming options. While you don’t have to watch Einstein to understand Picasso, we recommend you do simply for the quality time spent.
Commitment: Approx. 8.5 hours
What it is: Even the sleekest of action-packed espionage thrillers have an air of cartoonish hyperbole to them (James Bond’s invisible car, anyone?), but FXX’s Archer does away with that suspension of belief by making the whole thing a cartoon to begin with. The half-hour comedy from creator Adam Reed can land a joke as deftly as its titular man-child spy can land a punch, so expect to be thrilled while laughing yourself silly.
Why you should watch it: Over eight hit seasons, Archer has never shied away from genre experimentation — season 8’s Archer Dreamland was a particular highlight. Season 9 continues the genre-jumping trend with Danger Island, which sees Archer not as the ass-kicking spy of ISIS we know from earlier carnations, but as an alcoholic seaplane pilot living in a supposed paradise at the brink of World War II. We’ll also be treated, of course, to Danger Island re-imaginings of all our favorite Archer characters and the voice actors behind them. To truly appreciate the new season, viewers need to have the emotional and intellectual foundation of the seasons before it; that’s where the payoff is. Danger Island premieres April 25.
Commitment: Approx. 35 hours
What it is: After suffering a public meltdown in the aftermath of his wife’s string of affairs, nationally acclaimed sports announcer Jim Brockmire (Hank Azaria, pictured) turns to drugs and alcohol to cope until one day, 10 years later, deciding to pick himself up, move to a small town, and get back to work calling games for the minor league Morristown Frackers.
Why you should watch it: Six-time Emmy winner Azaria is perhaps best known for his voice work on The Simpsons, but it’s always a pleasure to watch him get to work in front of the camera. The laughs still land. To watch his growth through the titular Brockmire’s character arc in season 1 is simply great (and easily binge-able) comedic TV — and that’s not to mention the firecracker energy Amanda Peet (pictured) brings as Azaria’s co-lead. Season 2 premieres April 25.
Commitment: Approx. 3 hours
What it is: Set in a not-too-distant future and adapted from Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed novel of the same name, The Handmaid’s Tale is the harrowing imagining of a society where fertile women are forced into slavery to help procreate for society’s rich and powerful. A gripping and prescient look at modern patriarchy’s darkest corners (and possible futures), it’s one of the few programs airing today that truly is must-watch TV.
Why you should watch it: Last year, The Handmaid’s Tale became the first-ever streaming series to take home the Television Academy’s top honor: the Emmy for best drama. It has big expectations to live up to with season 2, which expands upon the Atwood book that was adapted in full through season 1. But with one of the most formidable ensembles on TV — both Elisabeth Moss (pictured) and Ann Dowd took home Emmys, as well — we’d follow them and their female-heavy behind-the-camera creatives anywhere — including to Gilead. Season 2 premieres April 22.
Commitment: Approx. 8.5 hours
What it is: Named after the real-life FBI Academy in Virginia, creator Joshua Safran’s Quantico follows Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra, pictured) who, once graduating from the academy and becoming an agent, is arrested for treason after becoming a prime suspect in a terrorist attack on Grand Central Station. The first season runs with two timelines: one depicting Alex’s arrest and eventual escape to prove her innocence, and the other depicting her time training with her colleagues to become an agent. The question lingers then: If not Alex, then who’s the sleeper terrorist in their midst?
Why you should watch it: Quantico rightfully earned acclaim for its diverse cast, namely for employing Chopra as as the first South Asian actress to headline a network series. Its representational landmarks aside, the series holds up as a tightly knit cat-and-mouse thriller. Season 3 premieres April 26.
Commitment: Approx. 16 hours
What it is: A contemporary (and gender-bending) update on the classic Sherlock Holmes, Elementary is a New York crime procedural starring Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as the iconic Holmes himself (both pictured). Watson begins as Holmes’ sober companion (the ex–Scotland Yard consultant is also a recovering drug addict), but as the series progresses, she becomes his apprentice and partner in solving NYPD’s most chin-scratching crimes.
Why you should watch it: Lucy Liu is endlessly watchable in just about anything, so her involvement in this Robert Doherty series is reason enough to tune in. But Elementary is more than just a spellbinding leading lady and a clever play on an old classic. Tune in for a few episodes and you’ll see why it’s caught audiences’ devotion for five years and 120 episodes strong. Season 6 premieres April 30.
Commitment: Approx. 88 hours
Notable new releases on home video are a bit sparse this week, but we do get an animated film for grown-ups, a few acclaimed indies, and some action-packed TV for you, as well as a cult favorite box set from the Criterion Collection. Read on for the full list.
This suspenseful drama follows an ultra-orthodox scholar in Jerusalem who experiences an awakening in his body after a near-death experience and begins to question his path in life. No information on special features is currently available.
Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig headline an ensemble voice cast in this raunchy animated film about a number of supermarket food items who suffer a crisis of faith when they realize their purpose is to be devoured by humans. Extras include a gag reel and a number of featurettes on things from the animation to the filmmakers’ pitch to get the movie made.
Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon star in this Certified Fresh drama based on the novel by Philip Roth about a university student who falls in love and squares off against his college dean. Its two special features are a behind-the-scenes featurette and a piece on adapting Roth’s work for the big screen.
Daniel Wu and Marton Csokas star in AMC’s action-packed genre mash-up series about feudal barons who rule the post-apocalyptic American frontier and employ legions of elite martial artists to do their bidding. The season one set comes with featurettes on the fight choreography, the characters, the martial arts training, and the world of the show, as well as a digital comic.
Lastly, from Criterion, we have this collection of action films based on the manga series from the 1970s about a former executioner who wanders the Japanese countryside as an assassin with his infant son and a weaponized baby carriage. The 1980 cult film Shogun Assassin was edited from the first two films in the series, but here, all six are presented in their original form, along with extras like a new interview with Kazuo Koike (the author of the source manga), a 2005 making-of doc, a silent documentary from 1939 about the making of samurai swords, and more.
From the highly acclaimed to the aw-that’s-a-shame, these are the best and worst reviewed television series by network. Unsurprisingly, networks with just a few shows, like BBC America and TBS, fared much better overall than those with more. Even with 10 shows on the docket, though, HBO still managed to stay entirely Fresh; its lowest-rated series is Animals at 60 percent. See below for the full breakdown.
Series included are currently on the air and have not aired their final episode as of May 18th, 2016.
This week at the movies, we’ve got Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Julianne Moore), some party-hearty bros (The Night Before, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen), and a dogged detective (Secret in their Eyes, starring Chiwetel Ejioforand Julia Roberts). What do the critics have to say?
The Hunger Games franchise has helped make Jennifer Lawrence a household name, and critics say her assured performance as Katniss Everdeen is the best thing about The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, a satisfying — if occasionally overly grim — conclusion to the series. This time, Katniss leads a guerilla army to eliminate the despotic President Snow (Donald Sutherland) — and discovers that some within the rebellion may have agendas of their own. The pundits say Mockingjay – Part 2 is bleak and a little too long, but it’s also rousing, jolting, and intelligent, which befits a saga that has done much to alter the action movie landscape.
When Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and director Jonathan Levine last joined forces, the result was 2011’s 50/50, a funny, heartfelt dramedy that was as moving as it was funny. Anthony Mackie joins them in their latest collaboration, The Night Before, and critics say the result is a surprisingly warm holiday bromance, even if its drug-fueled humor sometimes misses the mark. Boyhood buddies Isaac (Rogen), Ethan (Gordon-Levitt)
Not every American remake of a foreign language film is doomed to failure; some, like Best Picture winner The Departed, have equaled or surpassed the originals. Unfortunately, critics say Secret in their Eyes (based upon the Oscar-winning 2009 Argentinian film of the same name) never justifies its own existence, despite the best effort of an A-list cast that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, and Nicole Kidman. Ejiofor stars as a former FBI agent who has resumed his investigation into the murder of a colleague’s daughter after discovering new information — but solving this mystery may uncover even darker secrets. The pundits say Secret in their Eyes lacks the specific political context that made the original so chilling, and what’s left is little more than a decent police procedural.
The Man in the High Castle is unlike anything else on TV, with an immediately engrossing plot driven by quickly developed characters in a fully realized post-World War II dystopia.
Jessica Jones builds a multifaceted drama around its engaging antihero, delivering what might be Marvel’s strongest TV franchise to date.
Also Opening This Week In Limited Release
If you watched last night’s premiere of Into the Badlands — AMC’s post-apocalyptic martial arts epic starring Daniel Wu and Aramis Knight — chances are, you were impressed by the cinematic-worthy fight scenes. And while the stars can make the act of flipping onto a wet car look effortless, you can be sure that a lot of prep went into getting that one take.
Rotten Tomatoes chatted with Wu and Knight about what it’s like to star in a series that requires such a high level of athleticism and training, including a six-week boot camp for the actors.
“The biggest challenge was getting all the actors who didn’t know how to fight to learn how to fight in order to get ready for the show. It was a huge challenge; six weeks is not a lot of time to turn someone into an expert,” explained executive producer Wu, who plays the head “clipper” Sunny — and who is something of a martial arts expert himself. Starting at ten years old, Wu began kung-fu and wushu, and then later took up boxing, Muay Thai, and tai chi.
“It’s always been a lifestyle thing for me and a hobby and I always kept it up,” said Wu, “but filming martial arts action is totally different because you’re working 12 hours a day, fighting constantly throughout the day — and it’s a ten-week period. It’s not even what a fighter goes through. A fighter goes through six weeks of training and they fight one fight that lasts maybe 40 minutes. We have to keep that up for ten weeks.”
For Knight, jumping into a martial arts series was a big change-up from his existing experience. “I really had no martial arts background, but I’ve always been somewhat of an athlete,” explained the 15-year-old actor who plays M.K., the boy Sunny discovers in a trunk and takes under his wing. “Growing up, I played… mostly basketball. I’m a huge basketball fan. So the strength has always been there for me and the agility and the speed. But the issue was flexibility. And going in, Daniel and Stephen [Fung] and [Huan-Chiu Ku] — our fight director and fight choreographer — they really helped me in that six-week boot-camp.”
The training clearly pays off in the early episodes of Into the Badlands — especially in last night’s main fight scene, in which Sunny is ambushed by a group of the Widow’s [Emily Beecham] henchmen. “That flip [onto the car] took over twenty takes to even land one of them,” Wu told Rotten Tomatoes, laughing. “And that was the one that was good. It was impossible because the car’s completely wet so as soon as your foot hits you could slip.”
Wu admits that the aim for Into the Badlands has been ambitious. “Our main goal was really to try and bring that level of [martial arts movie] action to American television, which has never been done before. Now we know why. Because it’s very, very difficult.” admitted Wu.
One of the restrictions is the truncated production schedule. A film might allow for two or three week for an action scene, but for Into the Badlands, the schedule gives the cast and crew about a week. “A lot of these actions scenes were much more complex than the ones we’ve done in the past, so to cram that into seven days was a big, big challenge.”
Challenges aside, it seemed to Wu and the others involved in making Into the Badlands that the time was right to bring the genre to TV. Producer Stacey Sher had attended the premiere of kung-fu movie The Man With the Iron Fists in 2012 and was inspired to do martial arts on TV. She called Wu and he offered to produce the series on the condition that he could hire a Hong Kong action team to bring it to life.
“There was a goal in mind — to try and bring that kind of exciting action to television — and I think there’s a need for it now,” Wu said. “People want to see it. We’ve seen it in the movies with Matrix and Crouching Tiger, but we haven’t quite seen it on television. I think some shows like Arrow and Daredevil are getting close to that, but it’s still a different kind of action.”
Part of what’s unique to the action of Into the Badlands is the use of long takes. “In sequences in American action films, they do one or two punches and cut, and then you go to another sequence,” Wu explained. “We do 20 to 30 moves in one take so that you can see that it’s the actor doing all that action himself. That way, as the audience, you’re way more invested in the action because you know they’re doing it and there’s a dangerous element in that.”
Another difference is that the action in Into the Badlands doesn’t feel overly-rehearsed — because it’s not. “I’m not sure if a block is really going to work… and I think that’s what’s different than the way it’s been done in the West in the past,” said Wu, to which Knight added, “My favorite was doing fights with Daniel because you know he’s a ninja, so he’s gonna block my shots anyway. So I just go for it.”
Into the Badlands airs on AMC on Sunday nights at 10 p.m. Check the schedule for encore presentations of last night’s premiere here.
It’s time for our weekly Fall Premieres TV Review Countdown. Here are the best (and worst) premieres for the week of Friday, November 13. See how this week’s shows Into the Badlands, W/Bob and David, and Donny! stack up against each other on the Tomatometer!
This week at the movies, we’ve got heroic miners (The 33, starring Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche), yuletide revelers (Love the Coopers, starring Olivia Wilde and Diane Keaton), and a gridiron underdog (My All American, starring Aaron Eckhart and Sarah Bolger). What do the critics have to say?
The story of the brave Chilean miners who were rescued after being trapped more than 2,000 feet underground is the kind of real-life inspirational tale that practically begs for a big-screen adaptation. Unfortunately, critics say The 33 shoehorns its inherently dramatic tale into a formulaic disaster movie template. If you watched the news in 2010, you know the basic outline: a cave-in traps a group of mine workers for nearly two months, and the film follows events both below and above ground, as the miners’ families and supporters try to stay strong while a rescue team goes to work. The pundits say the cast of The 33 does well with its limited characters, but the film is ultimately too predictable and surface-level to fully resonate.
The holidays can turn even the staunchest Scrooge into a gooey sentimentalist, so there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with a film that follows an age-old seasonal recipe. Too bad, then, that critics say that despite its all-star guest list, Love the Coopers is louder — and less funny — than a bad Christmas sweater. Diane Keaton stars as the matriarch of the Cooper clan, the members of which are all on shaky ground in their personal lives as they gather for presumed seasonal merriment. Will everyone hit some sort of low point before banding together in celebration? The pundits say Love the Coopers might jerk a tear or two, but mostly, it’s alternately too gloomy and too contrived to achieve any kind of festive goodwill.
With so many inspirational sports films in the world, it takes something truly special to rise above the competition. Unfortunately, critics say My All American, the directorial debut of Rudy and Hoosiers scribe Angelo Pizzo, fails to distinguish itself from the pack, even if it’s earnest and well-acted. Based on the true story of college football player Freddie Steinmark, the film stars Aaron Eckhart as University of Texas coach Darrell Royal, who spots talent in the undersized Steinmark (Finn Wittrock) and offers him a full scholarship. Upbeat and dedicated, Steinmark leads the 1969 Longhorns through a legendary season even as he is struck with tragic news. The pundits say My All American is uplifting and heartfelt with strong performances from its cast, but it’s predictable and far from subtle, and viewers with an aversion to schmaltz should steer clear.
Often unfunny and occasionally creepy, Donny! draws unfavorable comparisons to any number of superior improvisational comedies.
Also Opening This Week In Limited Release
After achieving success with Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead, AMC hopes to continue its winning streak with its latest offering, Into the Badlands, which premieres this Sunday, Nov. 15 at 10/9c. Very loosely based on the classic 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, this action-adventure series is a genre mashup set in a post-apocalyptic American frontier ruled by feudal “Barons” who live on plantations and employ legions of martial artists to do their bidding. While the jury’s still out on its storytelling, one thing is for certain: Badlands wears its martial arts influences on its bloody, tattered sleeve. With that in mind, we decided to offer a handful of feature recommendations that share thematic territory with the show. Martial arts cinema is a rich, surprisingly layered genre, so this isn’t intended to serve as a definitive compilation of the best it has to offer, but as a complementary guide to help pinpoint where Into the Badlands may have gleaned some of its inspiration.
The primary hero of Into the Badlands is Sunny (played by Daniel Wu), a lethal enforcer for a cruel Baron (Martin Csokas) whose allegiance is tested when he’s approached by a rival Baron hoping to solicit his services. Brutally effective with a pair of katanas, Sunny feels like a kindred spirit to Toshiro Mifune’s Sanjuro, a wandering rōnin who plays two opposing small-town gangs against each other in Akira Kurosawa’s samurai classic Yojimbo. Strictly speaking, Yojimbo isn’t so much a typical martial arts film as it is a period crime drama with some swordplay, but its timeless themes have echoed through decades of pop culture, most famously in Sergio Leone’s western remake A Fistful of Dollars. In keeping with modern trends, Sunny’s battles are far bloodier than Sanjuro’s, but if you switched up just a few of the details, Yojimbo’s plot would feel right at home in the world of Into the Badlands, even if it were adapted wholesale.
The aforementioned rival Baron who attempts to woo Sunny to her cause is The Widow (Emily Beecham), who wields daggers with deadly precision and commands an army of female assassins known as the Butterflies. Chinese cinema has featured women warriors like The Widow since the silent era, so it’s not tough to see where Into the Badlands got its inspiration, but this Shaw Brothers production feels particularly relevant. Based on the well-known folkloric tales of the legendary Yang family, The 14 Amazons centers on matriarch Mu Kuei-ying (Ivy Ling Po), who leads the women generals of the Yang clan on a revenge spree when she herself is widowed by a corrupt warlord. Amazons features a lot of the trademark flourishes that are emblematic of 1970s kung fu cinema – fingerpaint blood, quick zooms, frenetic editing – but it boasts a handful of unforgettable scenes (human bridge, anyone?), and it’s fairly unique in its presentation of a female-centric army leading the charge in a righteous war.
The action set pieces in Into the Badlands are impressively choreographed exercises in mayhem, and they often conclude with a shot of Sunny standing amidst a pile of severed limbs and skewered foes. The violence on display is graphic and visceral, and it likely owes a debt to this bloody curio from 1980. Originally released as the first two films in a Japanese franchise adapted from the popular manga series Lone Wolf and Cub, Shogun Assassin was recut to combine both movies into one, dubbed in English, then unleashed upon unsuspecting international grindhouse audiences by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. The result — a somewhat muddled tale about a disgraced executioner who embarks on a mission of vengeance with his young son when a powerful Shogun murders his wife — became a sensation with genre enthusiasts who reveled in its unrelentingly bloody swordfights, which were so gruesome that the film was nearly banned in the UK. If Badlands drew any inspiration from Shogun Assassin, it wouldn’t be the first to do so; Quentin Tarantino and the Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA are among those who have famously helped perpetuate its cult status over the years.
The advent of the Shaw Brothers studio in the 1970s brought with it a significant boom in kung fu cinema, specifically the types of movies that favored grounded hand-to-hand combat over the more supernatural elements of traditional wuxia films. One of the giants of the era was director Lau Kar-leung, who helmed such classics as 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Dirty Ho (not what it sounds like), My Young Auntie, and later, the Jackie Chan masterpiece Drunken Master II. In 1982, Lau broke with his typical kung fu sensibilities and delivered a slightly fantastical tale in Legendary Weapons of China, in which a promising pupil during the Boxer Rebellion is tasked with recruiting warriors who can withstand bullets. While there is a bit of magical voodoo peppered throughout the story, the film’s centerpiece is its climactic duel, a dynamic eight-minute battle that showcases 18 different weapon styles skillfully wielded by Lau himself and his opponent. If the axes, spears, and swords clashing in Into the Badlands make your heart go pitter-patter, wait until you get a load of Legendary Weapons of China.
The Baron who commands Sunny in Into the Badlands is also father to an impetuous son named Ryder (Oliver Stark), who is visibly perturbed by his father’s affection for Sunny. This rivalry between brothers (full-blooded or adoptive) is certainly not an uncommon narrative theme, and one of the most entertaining versions of the story in wuxia comes in the form of Tai-Chi Master (aka Twin Dragons). Directed by celebrated industry veteran Yuen Woo-ping, Tai-Chi Master stars Jet Li and Chin Siu-ho as a pair of brothers who part ways when one of them chooses to enlist in the evil local governor’s army while the other leads a rebellion. Betrayed by his own brother, the rebel (Li) effectively loses his mind, and it’s only through the power of Tai-Chi that he is able to come to his senses and bring his brother to justice. The film utilizes wire work sparingly but effectively, and the choreography on display is breathtaking, which shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Yuen Woo-ping; he gave us Iron Monkey and the original Drunken Master, and his hands are all over the Matrix trilogy, the Kill Bill films, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, among countless others.
With better filmmaking techniques and technology at their disposal, modern fight directors have become increasingly precise and creative in the ways they are able to portray the infliction of martial justice upon the wicked. For example, the opening scenes of Into the Badlands‘ premiere episode include a kinetic action sequence in which Sunny dispatches a gang of bandits with a series of bone-crunching maneuvers, and it looks excruciatingly painful. It’s reminiscent of a scene from this film from Thailand, in which Tony Jaa stars as a martial arts master named Kham who’s out for revenge (natch) when his sacred family elephants are stolen. Okay, so the plot’s as thin as rice paper, but the film is notable both for Jaa’s electric athleticism and a brilliant unbroken tracking shot that follows Kham up a circular hotel walkway as he battles his way through a horde of opponents. Most relevant to Into the Badlands, however, is what happens when Kham reaches the top floor: traumatized by the sight of his elephant’s skeleton (don’t snicker) and assaulted by an endless swarm of baddies, Kham expertly and furiously dislocates every joint in sight. Necks are twisted, elbows are bent the wrong way, knees are hyperextended, ankles are rolled like so much sourdough. If Sunny’s chiropractic exploits on Badlands made you cringe, be prepared to gag when you see what Tony Jaa can do.
If Donnie Yen has yet to achieve the breakout stardom of Jackie Chan or Jet Li in the Western world, he at least has benefited from some stellar collaborations with director Wilson Yip. The baton vs. knife fight in Kill Zone crackles with energy, and the knock-down, drag-out brawl between Yen and Collin Chou in Flash Point is absolutely brutal. But their most famous work together is 2008’s Ip Man, which retells the story of the famed turn-of-the-century master who fought to keep Chinese martial arts alive during the Sino-Japanese War and later went on to teach Bruce Lee. Thanks to the efforts of Sammo Hung (who starred alongside Yen in Kill Zone and served as choreographer here), the film excels at portraying Ip’s almost effortless Wing Chun technique, particularly in a scene when Ip fends off 10 Japanese fighters during a demonstration. Remember the bone-cracking from The Protector? There’s a bit of that here, too, but it’s mixed with a flurry of lightning-fast punches and strategic takedowns. The sight of a single man facing a circle of opponents is another familiar theme repeated both here and frequently in Into the Badlands, and for good reason: it allows for fluid, sweeping camera movement and perspective shots that milk the tension. Lots of films, however, have little else to offer outside of a few well-shot fights, and thankfully, Ip Man isn’t one of them.
Speaking of Ip Man and well-shot fights, it should be noted that several movies have been made about Ip, especially in recent years. What happens, though, when one of those movies is helmed by an auteur known for dramatic long takes and moody romance? The result is The Grandmaster, a lushly photographed 2013 film by acclaimed director Wong Kar-wai (Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love), which stars Wong regular Tony Leung as Ip Man and centers on his life after the fall of the last dynasty. Wong’s trademark sensibilities are all present, but the reason it appears on this list is its opening sequence, which finds Ip squaring off against multiple opponents on a city street at night during a downpour — something Into the Badlands very closely mimics in Sunny’s first encounter with The Widow. Fights in the rain possess a rather poetic, otherworldly quality that makes them beautiful to behold, so they are, again, not entirely uncommon — 1991’s Once Upon A Time in China and 2002’s Hero both feature memorable battles like this, for example — but the resemblance between The Grandmaster‘s opening and the scene in Badlands look eerily similar, right down to a handful of choice camera angles, that it’s hard not to assume the latter took some inspiration from the former. And if you’re taking cues from Wong Kar-wai’s eye for sumptuous cinematography, you’re doing something right.
Emmy nominations are out for last season, but it’s already time for a new one. Television continues to rival, and sometimes surpass, the quality and success of film industry releases, with more networks than we ever thought possible 20 years ago. And, with the growing number of cable networks, we witness the capability of catering to more adult-oriented content. This fall, we will continue to see television grow, for better and for worse. Which new shows will achieve Fresh, or even Certified Fresh, status? Which will quickly go Rotten? And which of your favorite returning shows made the cut this year? Here’s the list as we know it, and we’ll continue to update it as premiere dates continue to be broadcast.
Monday, Aug. 3
Significant Mother series premiere, 9:30 p.m., CW
Tuesday, Aug. 4
Playing House season two premiere, 10 p.m., USA
Saturday, Aug. 8
Funny or Die Presents America’s Next Weatherman series premiere, 11 p.m., TBS
Sunday, Aug. 16
Show Me a Hero miniseries premiere, 9 p.m., HBO
Tuesday, Aug. 18
The Hotwives of Las Vegas series premiere, Hulu
Thursday, Aug. 20
Documentary Now! series premiere, 10 p.m., IFC
Monday, Aug. 24
Switched at Birth season four return, 8 p.m., ABC Family
Wednesday, Aug. 26
The Carmichael Show series premiere, 9:30 p.m., NBC
Friday, Aug. 28
Narcos series premiere, Netflix
Tuesday, Sep. 1
Drunk History season three premiere, 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central
Friday, Sep. 4
Hand of God series premiere, Amazon Instant Video
Sunday, Sep. 6
Arthur & George series premiere, 8 p.m., PBS
Thursday, Sep. 10
Longmire season four premiere, Netflix
Saturday, Sep. 12
Ferrell Takes the Field special event premiere, 10 p.m. HBO
Friday, Sep. 18
Black Jesus season two premiere, 11 p.m., Adult Swim (Cartoon Network)
Saturday, Sep. 19
Doctor Who season nine premiere, 9 p.m., BBC America
Sunday, Sep. 20
67th Primetime Emmy Awards special event, 8 p.m., Fox
Monday, Sep. 21
The Big Bang Theory season nine premiere, 8 p.m., CBS
Gotham season two premiere, 8 p.m., Fox
The Voice season nine premiere, 8 p.m., NBC
Life in Pieces series premiere, 8:30 p.m., CBS
Minority Report series premiere, 9 p.m., Fox
Scorpion season two premiere, 9 p.m., CBS
Blindspot series premiere, 10 p.m., NBC
Castle season eight premiere, 10 p.m., ABC
NCIS: Los Angeles season seven premiere, 10 p.m., CBS
Tuesday, Sep. 22
NCIS season 13 premiere, 8 p.m., CBS
The Muppets series premiere, 8 p.m., ABC
Scream Queens series premiere, 8 p.m., Fox
Fresh off the Boat season two premiere, 8:30 p.m., ABC
NCIS: New Orleans season two premiere, 9 p.m., CBS
Limitless series premiere, 10 p.m., CBS
Wednesday, Sep. 23
The Middle season seven premiere, 8 p.m., ABC
The Mysteries of Laura season two premiere, 8 p.m., NBC
Rosewood series premiere, 8 p.m., FOX
Survivor season 31 premiere, 8 p.m., CBS
The Goldbergs season three premiere, 8:30 p.m., ABC
Empire season two premiere, 9 p.m., Fox
Law & Order: SVU season 17 premiere, 9 p.m., NBC
Modern Family season eight premiere, 9 p.m., ABC
black-ish season two premiere, 9:30 p.m., ABC
Nashville season four premiere, 10 p.m., ABC
Thursday, Sep. 24
Grey’s Anatomy season 12 premiere, 8 p.m., ABC
Heroes Reborn series premiere, 8 p.m., NBC
Scandal season five premiere, 9 p.m., ABC
The Player series premiere, 10 p.m., NBC
How to Get Away with Murder season two premiere, 10 p.m., ABC
Friday, Sep. 25
The Amazing Race season 25 premiere, 8 p.m., CBS
Last Man Standing season five premiere, 8 p.m., ABC
Margaret Cho: psyCHO comedy special premiere, 9 p.m., Comedy Central
Hawaii Five-0 season six premiere, 9 p.m., CBS
Blue Bloods season six premiere, 10 p.m., CBS
Saturday, Sep. 26
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy series premiere, 9:30 p.m., Disney XD
Sunday, Sep. 27
Bob’s Burgers season six premiere, 7:30 p.m., Fox
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation two-part series finale, 8 p.m., CBS
Once Upon a Time season five premiere, 8 p.m., ABC
The Simpsons season 27 premiere, 8 p.m., Fox
Brooklyn Nine-Nine season three premiere, 8:30 p.m., Fox
Blood & Oil series premiere, 9 p.m., ABC
Family Guy season 14 premiere, 9 p.m., Fox
Indian Summers miniseries premiere, 9 p.m., PBS
The Last Man on Earth season two premiere, 9:30 p.m., Fox
Quantico series premiere, 10 p.m., ABC
Blood & Oil
Monday, Sep. 28
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah series premiere, 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central
Thursday, Oct. 1
Bones season 11 premiere, 8 p.m., Fox
The Blacklist season three premiere, 9 p.m., NBC
Sleepy Hollow season three premiere, 9 p.m., Fox
Benders series premiere, 10 p.m., IFC
Gigi Does It series premiere, 10:30 p.m., IFC
Friday, Oct. 2
Dr. Ken series premiere, 8:30 p.m., ABC
Saturday, Oct. 3
Saturday Night Live season 47 premiere, 11:30 p.m., NBC
Sunday, Oct. 4
Home Fires series premiere, 8 p.m., PBS
Madam Secretary season two premiere, 8 p.m., CBS
The Good Wife season seven premiere, 9 p.m., CBS
Homeland season five premiere, 9 p.m., Showtime
The Leftovers season two premiere, 9 p.m., HBO
The Affair season two premiere, 10 p.m., Showtime
CSI: Cyber season two premiere, 10 p.m., CBS
The Widower miniseries premiere, 10 p.m., PBS
Saturday, Oct. 10
The Last Kingdom series premiere, 10 p.m., BBC America
Sunday, Oct. 11
The Walking Dead season six premiere, 9 p.m., AMC
The Walking Dead
Wednesday, Oct. 14
Kingdom season two premiere, 9 p.m., DirecTV
Thursday, Oct. 15
Nathan for You season three premiere, 10 p.m., Comedy Central
Friday, Oct. 16
The Knick season two premiere, time TBD, Cinemax
Truth Be Told series premiere, 8:30 p.m., NBC
Please Like Me season three premiere, 10 p.m., Pivot
Satisfaction season two premiere, 10 p.m., USA
Saturday, Oct. 17
Amy Schumer: Live from the Apollo comedy special premiere, 10 p.m., HBO
Wednesday, Oct. 20
Being Mary Jane season three premiere, 9 p.m., BET
Friday, Oct. 23
Hemlock Grove season three premiere, Netflix
Billy Elliot the Musical: Live special event, 9 p.m., PBS
Saturday, Oct. 24
Da Vinci’s Demons season three premiere, 8 p.m., Starz
Monday, Oct. 26
Supergirl series premiere, 8:30 p.m., CBS
Tuesday, Oct. 27
Wicked City series premiere, 10 p.m., ABC
Friday, Oct. 30
Exorcism: Live special event, 9 p.m., Destination America
Grimm season five premiere, 9 p.m., NBC
Ash Vs. Evil Dead
Monday, Nov. 2
Legends season two premiere, 10 p.m., TNT
Friday, Nov. 6
Master of None series premiere, Netflix
Saturday, Nov. 7
Untitled U2 Documentary, HBO
Flesh and Bone
Tuesday, Nov. 10
Donny! series premiere, 10:30 p.m., USA
Thursday, Nov. 12
2 Broke Girls season five premiere, 9:30 p.m., CBS
Friday, Nov. 13
With Bob and David series premiere, Netflix
Tuesday, Nov. 17
Chicago Med series premiere, 10 p.m., NBC
Thursday, Nov. 19
The Art of More series premiere, Crackle
Friday, Nov. 27
South of Hell series premiere, 3 p.m., WE
Unforgettable season four premiere, 9 p.m., A&E (new network)
Monday, Nov. 30
Superstore series premiere, 10 p.m., NBC
Tuesday, Dec. 1
Real Rob series premiere, Netflix
Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce season two premiere, 10 p.m., Bravo
Wednesday, Dec. 2
RocketJump: The Show series premiere, Hulu
Thursday, Dec. 3
The Wiz Live! special event, 8 p.m., NBC
Friday, Dec. 11
Transparent season two premiere, Amazon
Sunday, Jan. 3
Downton Abbey season six premiere, 9 p.m., PBS
Sunday, Jan. 10
73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards special event, 8 p.m., NBC
Thursday, Jan. 14
Colony, series premiere, 10 p.m., USA
Sunday, Jan. 17
Mercy Street series premiere, 10 p.m., PBS
Sunday, Jan. 24
The X-Files season 10 premiere, 10 p.m., FOX
Sunday, Jan. 31
Grease: Live special event, 7 p.m., FOX
Monday, Feb. 15
58th Annual Grammy Awards special event, 8 p.m., CBS
Sunday, Feb. 28
88th Annual Academy Awards special event, 4 p.m., ABC
11/22/63 series premiere, Hulu
American Dad season 12 premiere, TBS
Crowded series premiere, NBC
Emerald City series premiere, NBC
First Dates series premiere, NBC
Game of Silence series premiere, NBC
Haven season five return, SyFy (October)
Heartbreaker series premiere, NBC
Hot & Bothered series premiere, NBC
Legends season two premiere, TNT
Shades of Blue series premiere, NBC
Uncle Buck series premiere, ABC
The Way series premiere, Hulu
You, Me and the End of the World series premiere, NBC