Thursday, December 28, 2017

Our Favorites from 2017!


We proudly present our favorites from 2017!*

Movies (including DVD and Blu-Ray releases):

Peter's picks -


Easily the year's best movie, Christopher Nolan delivers a white-knuckle ride that also spotlights a little-known (outside the UK, that is) episode of World War II. Nolan eschews his usual three-hour-plus running time and wastes not one minute. A glorious adventure story.

McKenna Grace, Chris Evans. Gifted.
War for the Planet of the Apes

A satisfying conclusion to the Apes saga but so much more than just an Apes chapter. An homage to the first series and to, strangely enough, Apocalypse NowWar keeps the energy amped up to ten while telling an intelligent story.


The closest a Marvel property has ever come to the Nolan Batman trilogy, this "final" Wolverine chapter is bleak and pessimistic and I loved every minute of it.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

After nearly capsizing their gargantuan tent-pole with three awful flicks in a row, Sony ran to Marvel Studios to right their ship and the results are fabulous. Michael Keaton almost steals the show as the Vulture. Can't wait for a future chapter where we get the Goblin we've been clamoring for (rather than the silly Power Ranger we got from Sam Raimi).

Wonder Woman

Only Chris Nolan, it seems, knows how to tackle superheroes the “dark” way if Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman are any indicators so why not try something with a Marvel-ish (read: lighter) vibe?  The result: the best DC hero flick since the Nolan trilogy ended is, not so coincidentally, the one with the lightest tone.

Thor: Ragnarok

How cool is it that Marvel is green-lighting scripts that parody their own beloved characters? Ragnarok comes off like a Not Brand Echh strip fully realized on the big screen. Who knew Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston had real comedic chops (not just for one-liners)? Who would believe a talking Hulk would be effective? Most of all, who could conceive of a really hot Cate Blanchett?

Atomic Blonde

The plot and accents are a bit hard to follow at times but the pay-off is in the wall-to-wall action, most of it looking as if star Charlize Theron was shunning her stunt double. Best hand-to-hand combat scenes this side of Bond and Bourne.


On a long plane trip back from London, I hovered over the button on the video screen that read "Gifted," thinking it might just be another Hallmark Movie of the Week-type drone but, much to my delight, this was one hell of a good watch. Chris Evans (yes, you knew there would be some kind of superhero tie-in after seeing my other picks, didn't you?) is perfectly understated as the concerned uncle of a pre-teen genius (and there better be a nom from the Academy forthcoming for the insanely good McKenna Grace) who's having a hard time fitting in with the "normal" kids in school. Put aside your prejudices for this genre and be taken in by a captivating story.

John's picks-

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - While Peter will say it was a foregone conclusion, I have to preface this with a reminder that despite my being a life-long Star Wars fan (having seen the original on the big screen as a 7 year-old in 1977), The Force Awakens was not in my best of 2015 post a few years back. While I enjoyed the film, it was similar to the prequels in that aside from a few fleeting moments, it didn’t have the emotional impact that I got from watching the original trilogy. In fact, I have walked out of every Star Wars film since 1999 needing to see it a second time to get a more accurate sense of what I thought of the film, separate from all of the baggage I brought to the first viewing. You can imagine my surprise when I walked out of The Last Jedi loving the film after my first viewing. It’s certainly not more of the same Star Wars formula fans have grown accustomed to (and in many cases, tired of). And in taking chances, it has a freshness that I really liked. Daisy Ridley once again shines as Rey, and Adam Driver continues to impress as the ever-conflicted Kylo Ren. Mark Hamill finally gets his moment in the sun, after his cliff-hanging cameo in the last episode, and I thought he was fantastic. I get that some people don’t like changes that challenge what they think they know about Star Wars lore, and others find the humor not fitting. I thought the film was a thrill-ride from start to finish, and had the emotional weight that I haven’t felt (again, aside from an occasional fleeting glimpse) in Star Wars films since Return of the Jedi. I've seen it four times, and it continues to impress me on each viewing.

Logan - I grew up reading the X-Men, or the 2.0 version of the group, and so it will come as no surprise that Wolverine was a favorite character. Nothing trumps the Byrne/Claremont era in terms of art and storytelling. Through all of the X-Men movies, the one bright spot I could always count on was Hugh Jackman’s performance as Logan. While I hate to see him go, I couldn’t have asked for a better swan song than Logan, a truly adult comic book movie (and not adult in the way the childishly funny Deadpool is an adult movie). It also succeeds as an introduction to X-23, our potential Wolverine replacement for future films.

Blade Runner 2049 - I was 12 when Blade Runner opened, and as it was Rated R, I didn’t experience it until it arrived on home video. I was aware of it, which was not hard considering it was a science fiction film starring Han Solo/Indiana Jones, and while the character Harrison Ford portrays is nothing like the two heroes I was well versed in, there was something about the film that was captivating; some combination of the visual look and the sound of the film. As a fan of Blade Runner, I was excited and yet concerned about the notion of a sequel, particularly one starring Ryan Gosling, who I had all but written off as a Hollywood pretty boy. And then I saw (and loved) The Nice Guys. And I’ve warmed up to Gosling. I appreciated his humor as he went on the media junket with Ford. And then I saw the film, and was blown away by Denis Villenueve’s vision. He not only lived up to the visual and aural majesty of Blade Runner, he delivered a more complex story than the original.

The Shape of Water - As a Creature from the Black Lagoon aficionado, I really enjoyed Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to the gill man. It’s full of his trademark beautiful production design, and it’s a well told story that will hopefully have mainstream viewers rethink their definition of a monster.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - I wanted to see this as soon as I saw the red-band trailer for it. Frances McDormand is great as the lead, with fantastic supporting performances by Woody Harrelson and others, but it’s Sam Rockwell who manages to steal every scene he’s in. While the film has several great laugh out loud moments, it’s dark, as the subject matter would suggest.

Night of the Living Dead 4K MoMA Restoration - If you’ve seen one of the authorized Night of the Living Dead Blu Ray releases (such as the Happinet disc from Japan - NOT the cash grab sub-DVD quality transfer from Mill Creek), you know just how sharp and beautiful Night of the Living Dead can look. While those releases have been plagued by framing issues (overly cropped shots throughout), the Museum of Modern Art restoration of the film is revelatory. Not only does it look better than ever, it sounds better, too (and in a minor albeit welcome adjustment, the hammering sound is finally in sync with the picture!). The film premiered at the MoMA in New York in November 2016, and as the announcement came at the last minute, I was unable to make the cross country trek to see it due to previous commitments. But I swore I would make it out to the Pittsburgh, PA premiere, and I did just that this past October. It was a great experience to see the film on the big screen, in the town where it was made 50 years ago. It’s definitely bittersweet in that we lost director George A. Romero this summer, just as Night was re-emerging to the new publicity surrounding this theatrical re release and the forthcoming Blu Ray from the Criterion Collection. The 50th anniversary year of Night of the Living Dead will be a great one for fans, but getting to see this restoration on the big screen was a highlight for 2017.

Suspiria 4K Blu Ray - A last minute arrival this year, Dario Argento’s magnum opus arrives on Blu Ray with a brand new 4K transfer from Synapse Films. Of particular interest to fans will be the original 4-channel stereo soundtrack, which beautifully matches the film's amazing visuals. If you’re a fan of the film, act quickly to snap one of these up before they’re gone. Despite a run of 6000 steel book copies, compared to 3000 of most other limited Argento titles, this was nearly sold out on release. This edition features a second Blu Ray of bonus features and a third disc featuring an expanded CD of Goblin’s hard-hitting score to the film. Rest assured, if you miss out on this deluxe edition, it seems likely that there will be a follow on (if feature-only release) so that you don’t miss out on this amazing restoration of Argento’s greatest film.

Dawn of the Dead
4K - I’m not a 4K UHD guy, but I will buy the occasional 4K Blu Ray when it’s the only way to get certain content - like the Blu Ray 3D version of Ghostbusters, or the remastered Blu Ray of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. In this case, I spent the big bucks on this Italian release of Dawn of the Dead just to get a particularly odd extra of value only to the most obsessive of fans - a full frame transfer of the European cut that allows viewers to see material cropped out of shots for the theatrical release. A strange extra, to be sure, as the image size fluctuates between the 1.33:1 35mm Full Aperture and 1.375:1 35mm Academy aperture depending on the different negative used. But for die hard fans of the film, it’s an interesting inclusion, to say the least.

Streets of Fire - Walter Hill’s Rock N’ Roll Fable arrived on Blu Ray in the US from Shout Factory, looking and sounding fantastic. The film has a great visual style, a cross between a dystopian future and 50s period piece. Michael Pare never launched into leading man stardom despite roles in this and The Philadelphia Experiment, but Diane Lane in particular shines as Ellen Aim, delivering powerful and believable on-stage performances despite the fact that she’s not actually the singer who recorded the songs.

Jack's picks-

The Founder-Michael Keaton gives another excellent performance as Ray Kroc, the ruthless founder of the McDonald's restaurant chain. He manages to take a character who is, in many ways, a jerk, and make him relatable.

The Salesman-Asghar Farhadi's latest film is a brilliant examination of a traumatic event in a marriage that leads to all sorts of complications and misunderstandings. Riveting and harrowing.

Their Finest-I enjoyed this much more than the over-rated Dunkirk; Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy try to rewrite a script for a popular film about Dunkirk while the bombs fall all around them during the Blitz.

Obit-My favorite documentary of the year, this looks at the group of reporters and editors who write obituaries for the New York Times. One might not think that this would be a good subject for a film, but it is surprisingly entertaining.

Wind River-Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen team up to investigate a murder on a Wyoming Indian reservation. Gil Birmingham is outstanding in a supporting role.

Wonderstruck-A beautiful film about two deaf children, one in the 1920s and the other in the 1970s, who run away to New York City and begin to find direction for their lives at the Museum of Natural History. I loved seeing Manhattan in both eras and I thought the depiction of the hearing impaired and the problems they face was sensitive and inspiring.

Gilbert’s picks -

Song to Song. Unlike the more abstract Knight of Cups, Terence Malick’s Song to Song has a less fractured narrative that relies on a small ensemble cast.  Set against an Austin music-scene backdrop, it is essentially a messy love triangle among Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, and Michael Fassbender that spills over into the lives of Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett.  Malick uses this “triangle” to explore men and women fumbling for a committed, transcendent, almost sacramental love. Look for Val Kilmer in a cameo with a chainsaw.

Rules Don’t Apply.  Warren Beatty harbored a Howard Hughes project for many decades, and considering the subject matter, it was expected to be a dark exploration along the lines of Martin Scorsese’s Aviator.  In fact when The Aviator came out, it seemed a safe bet that Beatty’s biopic was never coming to the big screen.  But apparently Beatty never abandoned the dream, and the result, Rules Don’t Apply, is more a madcap screwball comedy from Hollywood’s Golden Age than it is an unsettling psychological portrait.  Beatty delivers a manic performance reminiscent of what he gave in Bugsy and McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and Lily Collins is charming as an aspiring actress-chanteuse. The clue to the lighter touch may be Beatty’s co-writer Bo Goldman, known for imbuing the eccentric Hughes, in Melvin and Howard, with a sense of pathos. Rules Don’t Apply appeared on Blu-ray and DVD back in February of this year. 

The Hollow Point. A small independent modern-day Western about small-town border patrolling and gunrunning.  There are attention-sustaining performances from Ian McShane, Patrick Wilson (from Bone Tomahawk), and Lynn Collins, all of whom create some interesting scenes and interactions amongst themselves.  The diverting film is enjoyable for those reasons, so long as you are braced for a predictably conventional ending, but at least the thriller plot makes up for it by throwing audiences one early-on (and lasting) shock. 

The Founder. The Founder has much in common with the 2008 movie Flash of Genius, and by extension the 1988 Francis Ford Coppola film Tucker: The Man and His Dream – taken together, the movies are true-life portraits of old-fashioned American can-do optimism that lionize these inventors and their entrepreneurial spirit. 

The McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac (Nick Offerman and John Carroll), were prime examples of that pioneering combination.  It was not just their concept of a stripped-down hamburger stand engineered for maximum efficiency, but the introduction of the “Speedee Service System” that allowed for 30-second assembly-line burger production. This food-service miracle catches the eye of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a milkshake salesman who sees this as the way to duplicate and proliferate the triumph of this lone little burger stand with military precision. 

The genius of their McDonald’s lay in the visionary wholesomeness of the brothers. Their simple idea was to create a family-friendly restaurant. Capitalizing on – a better word might be exploiting – the Capraesque brothers’ piety and patriotism, Kroc wrests their creation away, cheats them out of royalties, and usurps the title of “Founder.”

Knowing Hollywood, The Founder is probably meant to be a damning indictment of American capitalism or corporate America, at least to some degree. But it (along with Flash of Genius and Tucker) could equally be viewed as a brash celebration of audacious free enterprise and the ambitious small businessmen who used their God-given talents to invent and deliver a product that benefited millions of fellow Americans.

The Founder was released this past April on DVD and Blu-ray.

TV Series:

Peter's picks-

Peter's Best Series of the Year: Mindhunters

Bloodline Season 3
Bosch Season 3
Braquo season 4
Broadchurch Season 3
Game of Thrones Season 7
Godless Season 1
Mind Hunters Season 1
Shooter Season 1
Stranger Things Seasons 1 and 2
Les Témoins (Witnesses) Seasons 1 and 2

Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu continue to present new frontiers to binging viewers, not just rerunning old favorites but providing new laughs, thrills, and chills as well. What’s fabulous about these streaming channels is that they allow the filmmakers quite a bit of freedom to explore various genres, be they the Western (Godless), the Bad Cop (Braquo), the Fantasy (Game of Thrones), Horror, the Procedural (Bosch, Witnesses, Broadchurch), Noir (Bloodline) and the Fincher (Mind Hunters). Yeah, sometimes they’ll suck you into something bad with a really pretty lollipop (Iron Fist and The Defenders, take your bows) but, chances are, even the lesser has more to offer than what the big networks are foisting on us.

John's picks-

Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series - I was more excited to find out that Twin Peaks was returning to television than I was that Star Wars was returning to movie theaters. And Lynch/Frost did not disappoint. While it can be more accurately described as an 18 hour feature film split into bite size chunks than a traditional episodic TV show, Twin Peaks: The Return dazzled, amazed, and confounded viewers. Those who came with expectations about what should happen to their favorite characters were bound to be disappointed. Those who went in with an open mind, and the realization that what made Twin Peaks amazing was not following standard formulas, were treated to quite an experience, both visually and aurally. The original series remains one of my all-time favorite television shows, Fire Walk With Me is one of my all-time favorite films, and Twin Peaks: The Return has earned its place alongside them. Without delving into spoiler territory, as I’m sure there are many who have yet to experience it, Kyle Maclachlan delivers tour de force performance on par with the one Sheryl Lee delivered in FWWM. There are so many  interesting new characters appearing alongside the original cast, I was left longing for more, and I hope that perhaps someday, Twin Peaks will return. If not, I’m perfectly satisfied with the body of work we’ve been gifted.

Dark Shadows - A year later, and I’m still loving the daily experience of working my way through every episode of Dark Shadows on the anniversary of their original airing. The vampire Barnabas arrived on the scene earlier this year, and we shifted from black and white to color over the summer. We’re currently in the year 1795, where Victoria Winters was transported back in time during a seance gone wrong. A good chunk of episodes are available for streaming for Amazon Prime viewers. I highly recommend checking them out, and if you’re so inclined, following along at

Jack's picks-

The Vietnam War-Intense and sometimes hard to watch, the new Ken Burns mini-series is a fascinating look at a war I barely remember. It takes a long time to get through all ten episodes, and I recommend watching them in pieces, but it's worth it. I learned a lot and it did not seem at all one-sided.

Noir Alley-Every Sunday morning, TCM gives us a little gift with a classic noir film. Eddie Muller is the host and his introductions and wrap ups are packed with information and enthusiasm. This is why DVRs were invented.

Broadchurch, season 3-Season one was great and I wondered how they could possibly do a second season, but then season two was great in a different way. The third (and final) season managed to introduce new characters and a new story line while still keeping the same characters we loved from the first two seasons. The crime that sets the season in motion is unfortunately timely.

Stranger Things, season 2- I enjoyed the first season with reservations, the main one being Winona Ryder, who seemed like she was there to get financing and annoy the viewers. Like The Terminator, the sequel took the show to another level of fun. Other than the notorious episode where 11 goes to the city--which was not as bad as all that--this was non-stop fun.

Alias Grace-Based on a novel by Margaret Atwood, this six-part series takes place in the eighteenth century and tells of a young woman who immigrated to America from Ireland and was later jailed for murder. But is she really guilty? The depiction of what a servant girl went through in those days is brutal and the acting is stunning, especially by the lead actress. The final episode is particularly satisfying.

Better Call Saul, seasons 1 & 2-I resisted this because I never watched Breaking Bad, but enough people told me to try Saul that I finally gave in--and I was hooked right away. I can't wait for season three to come out on Netflix!

Fargo, season 3-Not as good as season one or season two, the third year of Fargo was still worth watching, mainly for Carrie Coon as dedicated former police chief Gloria Burgle, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nikki Swango, and Olivia Sandoval, as plucky Winnie Lopez. Ewan McGregor was the weakest part of the show, playing troubled brothers. Noah Hawley's other show this year was better (see below).

Call the Midwife, season 6-This may be too PBS for some people, but I love it. The nuns and midwives of Nonnatus House, in the poor, East End of London, strive to help pregnant women and young mothers amid the growing turmoil of the early 1960s. There is no other TV show where I am almost guaranteed to well up with tears practically every episode. The acting is great, the writing is strong, and the show makes me feel like there are good people in the world. What's wrong with that?

Feud: Bette and Joan-The behind the scenes look at the toxic relationship between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the making of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a hoot. This is just plain fun TV, with (again) great acting and writing. Next year: Prince Charles and Lady Diana. I can't wait.

Legion-Noah Hawley's other show this year was this X-Men spin off and, for me, it was the most creative show of the year. I immediately got over my bias against Dan Stevens for leaving Downton Abbey and got pulled into the story. The way time shifted around was amazing and I especially liked the character who had been stuck in another dimension since the 1970s and was still dressing like it was that decade. I'm not explaining it well, but this is a great show.

Gilbert’s picks-

The State. While the Emmys fawn over the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, The State (which aired on the National Geographic Channel) gives a picture of a real-life oppressive patriarchal theocracy even more heinous than the fictional Republic of Gilead – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS for short.

The State follows four ISIS recruits (Ony Uhiara, Sam Otto, Shavani Cameron, Ryan McKen) who expatriate from the West to Syria to join the jihad. Along the way they gradually become uneasy with all that they witness and grow increasingly reluctant to participate, to the point of dissent at times. In fact they seem surprised at the barbarity and authoritarianism they encounter, which is hard to swallow unless they were living in a news blackout. (Or perhaps they regarded the news they consumed as Western propaganda, though that is never addressed.) While it is true that monsters are not hatched from eggs like dragons, the recruits at times seem overly humanized as a result.

Whether this is a psychologically accurate portrait of jihadists is open to debate, but perhaps the writers felt that three nights (it is a four-part miniseries) with nihilists hellbent out of the starting gate on apocalyptic destruction would not be a hook for audiences, or for a compelling character development arc. Either way, ISIS leadership immediately and systematically begins to quash the remnants of their humanity, not with brutality, but with the seductive brainwashing of cult leaders everywhere, and from this comes the drama.

The truth about ISIS is so much worse than what The State dares to show – there are probably YouTube recruitment videos exceedingly more graphic than anything shown by Nat Geo – but the series deserves kudos for addressing a current event that has inexplicably been controversial to a certain segment who is probably more comfortable with the paranoid fantasies of Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood.

Genius. Marketing for this ten-episode National Geographic Channel biopic series, executive produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer who brought audiences A Beautiful Mind (which it sometimes resembles), heavily promoted it as a Geoffrey Rush (Shine) vehicle. However his scenes are largely a framing device designed to show the older Albert Einstein reflecting on his early career and younger days. This at first sounds disappointing, but Johnny Flynn (Clouds of Sils Maria), playing the early Einstein, is more than up to the task. He turns in a performance that could have too easily been bland, much the way youthful characters often are, instead capturing the charisma, eccentricity, and ego that men of genius often possess; Flynn does this by making Einstein neither overly sympathetic nor an ogre (which is sometimes the limited palette of many biographical portraits).

In turn Samantha Colley, as his first wife Mileva Marić, proves equal parts collaborator and foil to young Einstein, and she holds her own against a self-centered and sometimes callous husband who for all his flaws remains nonetheless devoid of malice. It is a tricky tightrope performance that Flynn mostly manages to pull off. On the other side of it, Colley portrays her marital and mental disintegration at the hands of this passive abuse, and she does it with a long-suffering dignity that vigorously avoids defining her by victimhood or, as frequently happens to women characters in today’s supposedly enlightened Hollywood, as a hopeless female hysteric.

The parallels Genius tries to make to present-day controversies are overly strained, and as with many a biographical film it sometimes makes too many excuses for its subject’s extramarital straying and other bad behavior, but as drama it is a polished production that fleshes out a man known mainly for his iconic visage and E=mc2.

Next up for Genius, an anthology series, is Pablo Picasso sometime in early 2018.

Brawl in Cell Block 99. Zahler, interviewed in bare•bones last year about his directorial debut Bone Tomahawk, follows up that Western with a straight crime piece that is equal parts fight movie and character study. As an example of the latter, there is a sleeper scene between Vaughn and Clark Johnson (Homicide: Life on the Street) where a subtextual understanding passes between them that defines Vaughn’s character and the individual code he lives by in a subtle but memorable way.

The movie was released this past October and debuted on Blu-ray and DVD on December 26th. On the novel front, Zahler re-released A Congregation of Jackals in a “preferred text” edition, and January sees the release of his newest book, the Burton-esque fairy tale Hug Chickenpenny: The Panegyric of an Anomalous Child.

The Young Pope. In a not too distant future, Jude Law is Lenny Belardo, the first American pope, in this ten-episode miniseries from Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty). The premise is that the College of Cardinals elects a candidate who they thought would be a puppet pope, but to their chagrin turns out to be an autocratic reactionary who takes the name Pius XIII, buys back the papal tiara from the Smithsonian for his installation, says the old Mass in Latin, and takes strong stands on the social issues dividing society today.

Confounding the progressive curia, miracles seemingly erupt all about this Pius XIII. Despite his atrocious bedside manner, dictatorial style, and other deep personality flaws, it is implied that he may somehow be a living saint on Earth. (Pius XIII comes with an interesting back story that shapes his present-day reality – he was given up for adoption by irresponsible counter cultural parents and grows up into the embodiment of all the values they rejected.)

In one of the DVD’s featurettes, the agnostic Sorrentino says, “I prefer that the audience decides if Lenny’s a saint or not,” yet it becomes increasingly difficult to explain away the progression of inexplicable and timely occurrences away as anything but miracles. Though The Young Pope is by no means the work of any traditionalist, the conservative Claremont Institute and First Things did not take overall offense and found many things to like about the series.

Diane Keaton co-stars as the nun who raised Pius XIII like a mother, with James Cromwell (who coincidentally played a sympathetic Pope Pius XII in Under the Roman Sky) as his mentor turned rival.

The Young Pope, after airing on HBO, released this past June on Blu-ray and DVD.

Ripper Street. In the final season, Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) gets to be inspector again, cementing his fate as a lawman haunted by his past and Whitechapel’s. For five seasons, Ripper Street wisely avoided revisiting the infamous Whitechapel murders that give the series its title, all of H Division’s cases coming in the aftermath of those unsolved crimes. Occasional references occur throughout, but mainly to supply emotional resonance to the lives of the series’ characters who inhabit East London.

By the time of the finale, the Ripper case rears its head by coming into the fore in the form of flashbacks. We learn of Reid’s real role in those days, and Drake’s, in unexpected ways. (Ripperologists need not worry about any upset to the established case history as we know it.) The past four seasons have followed the ups and downs of the friendships among Macfadyen as Reid, Jerome Flynn as Detective Bennet Drake, and Adam Rothenberg as their American surgeon, Captain Homer Jackson, and the series concludes their relationships in a satisfyingly bittersweet way.

There is a third-season episode “The Peace of Edmund Reid,” and by the final episode of this season, we see that it is an elusive peace. The only consolation left Reid may be what he once told Drake, that coppering is “a fight without end, but a battle worth the blood.” It is a fitting farewell to a gritty literary-minded series.

Outsiders. For reasons unclear, WGN America cancelled their flagship series Outsiders after two seasons, despite strong ratings. While there were rumors that another network could pick it up, none did, which is a shame since there was nothing else quite like it, and its unique tribal Appalachian mountain world, on television at that moment. (It arrived on DVD this past May.)

The second season mostly focused on the transformation of David Morse’s power-hungry “Bren’in” (their age-old chieftain title) into a loyal, if still morally compromised, servant of G’Winveer (Gillian Alexy), reigning Bren’in of a hilltop tribe more separatist than the Amish (and exceedingly more violent). There were some deaths and near-deaths, and an entirely new matriarchal clan eager (perhaps too eager) to see a woman, G’Winveer, on the throne.

If it sounds something like an episode of Vikings or Game of Thrones, it was not – the series was set near modern-day Pittsburgh, and much of it centered on the clash between two cultures (the modern, as exemplified by the small town and some coal company interlopers, and the ancient, personified by the Farrell hill people).

Besides Morse, Thomas M. Wright was a standout as Deputy Sheriff Wade Houghton, alternating between moments of craven fragility and surprising grit and resolve. Naturally the series ended on an unresolved note, but that should not stop interested parties from exploring the most unusual and intriguing milieu of mountain men, moonshine, and encroaching modernism.

Taboo. The new FX series Taboo is actually a BBC import and stars Tom Hardy, Jonathan Pryce, and some other familiar faces and voices. Hardy is one of the co-creators, along with his father Chips Hardy, and Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight.

After the death of his father, James Keziah Delane (Hardy) returns from Africa to 19th-century England to reclaim his family estate and settle some old scores in the process. Hardy is an aptly mysterious presence, an antihero with a past that only gradually reveals itself.

Taboo is thick with Dickensian mystery, a tale as if collaboratively written by the authors of Heart of Darkness, Moby-Dick, and Tarzan of the Apes, without feeling overly derivative. Though the writing is literate in presentation, there are lapses. It can be disorienting to hear the dignified Pryce, villainous head of the East India Company, spew the f-word in a thoroughly anachronistic way on a network, FX, that ironically did not allow biker thugs to use it on their other series, Sons of Anarchy.

The finale sets up a change of locales for next season, moving the action to the Americas where Delane is set to stake his fortune in the New World by carving out a fur-trading empire (which in fact sounds a little like the premise of the Netflix series Frontier).

The second season is on the way in the near future.

Twin Peaks: The Return. In Blue Velvet, Sandy (Laura Dern) says she had a dream where “the world was dark because there weren’t any robins, and the robins represented love.” Tellingly, any sign of the bird from the original credits of the first seasons of Twin Peaks is absent from this third season. The same pastoral opening and familiar Angelo Badalamenti score are present, but they segue into the hell-red zigzag curtain of the Black Lodge, the music turning from tranquil to ominous. Thus the stage is set for a Twin Peaks closer to Fire Walk with Me (Lynch’s stated intention) than to the television series.

Missing is most of the whimsy of those past episodes, replaced by a mood and texture more Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, and one episode even feels like a close cousin to Eraserhead. (Lynch in particular plays up the doppelgänger theme of Lost Highway in this revival.) This will appeal to fans of Lynch the auteur, but not to all Twin Peaks fans. However Lynch has in the past said that Lost Highway is set in the same universe as Peaks, and Audrey Horne was originally supposed to be the aspiring Hollywood starlet that Naomi Watts became in Mulholland Drive, so perhaps all of Lynch’s work inhabits the same universe anyway.

The approach will inevitably alienate a segment of the Twin Peaks fan base, though how large is the question. There are plenty of reasons why the new Twin Peaks might polarize fans of the old show, all of them reasoned out by Jim Geraghty for those who want a good summary of arguments that carry substance (as opposed to nitpicky ones a certain brand of fan will often make). Detractors should note that Lynch and Mark Frost exercised complete creative control over the revival, directing and writing every one of the 18 episodes, which is more than can be said of the original series.

One objection will be that there is not enough payoff for some characters we have spent a good deal of time with throughout the season, and that goes for characters new and old. As it is, we just drop in on a segment (or segments) of the uninterrupted lives of the classic cast, never knowing what happened in the intervening years, and leaving before anything resembling a resolution. They are more snapshots of their lives than they are character arcs.

There are a few exceptions – Lynch putting a period on the relationship between Big Ed and Norma is one. The Log Lady (actress Catherine E. Coulson having died around the time of filming) gets a poignant send-off, and several episodes are dedicated to departed cast members (Frank Silva and Don S. Davis being examples). Unfortunately many of the strands do not go anywhere final, and that would be fine except that they are good threads worth following to a conclusion (even an illogical Lynchian one).

Lynch finds clever ways to include other old characters he would otherwise not have been able to. A few years before the new series materialized, Lynch told Ray Wise, who had expressed interest in returning as Leland Palmer, “Of course you’re already dead, … but we could maybe work around that.” And Lynch was not kidding. The actual deceased return for cameo parts, either their faces superimposed onto shapes or objects, or voiced as boiler-sized teapots, and the unavailable recast as talking trees from a Little Shop of Horrors florist shop, or replaced by brothers bearing the same job title and last name.

Perhaps in the final analysis the new Peaks is wise to introduce 200 more characters and expand the universe. Even though everybody who loved the old series loved the old cast, the show is after all named Twin Peaks, so it can theoretically encompass more. The revival takes the step of opening it up to New York, South Dakota and Vegas. From time to time, Lynch and Frost smartly look in on Andy and Lucy, on Deputy Hawk and Ben and Jerry Horne, etc. to anchor the die-hards while offering up something fresh for newcomers in the other parts.

Now that Lynch and Frost have widened their world, maybe this is a way to someday revive Twin Peaks all over again without having to bring back many of the first-generation characters should they prove unavailable. (Harry Dean Stanton passed away at the very end of this season’s airing.) As of this press date, Lynch says maybe in four-and-a-half years


Peter's picks -

American Gothic (2017)
English Gothic (2015)
Euro Gothic (2016)

I came late to the party when it comes to Jonathan Rigby's trilogy of horror film studies but I'm finding it harder and harder to put these things down (yes, I'm flitting from one volume to another, reading random chapters, so sue me). Rigby seems to be one of the rare "historians" of the horror film who finds the perfect balance between us (the guys who discuss monster flicks with terms like "cool" and "scary") and them (the guy who's so far up his own arse he uses words like "sumptuous" and who compares scenes from The Unearthly Stranger to Bertolucci and Bergman). If you like your studies of horror film to be far-ranging, these are the books for you.

Because I'm constantly reading funny books for our various blogs, I don't get much chance to read "other" material but, now and then, I hide out and catch up. I've read every one of the first 26 volumes of John Sandford's "Prey" novels but Extreme Prey (2016) is easily the weakest of the series, one devoid of the usual non-stop action and thrills. It's no exaggeration that when I pick up a Sandford novel, I find it hard to put down and usually can finish it in a few sittings. With most of the scenes in Extreme dedicated to characters driving to crime scenes, discussing strategy, and driving to more crime scenes, there's not much to get excited about. 

John's picks-

Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix - Readers and collectors of horror fiction will find plenty to love in this profusely illustrated tome. In addition to a fun walk down memory lane, be prepared to add a few things to your want list as you come across titles you may have missed, or got rid of over the years and want to replace. I recommend the book without hesitation, despite my minor disappointment that the author failed to acknowledge the use of information from my Jim Thiesen interview here on bare•bones. 

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost - Last year’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks disappointed readers expecting a straightforward novel bringing them up to date on what the shows’ characters have been up to over the past 25 years. Well, those readers should be much happier with The Final Dossier, a much shorter book, but one that fills us in on characters that appeared in The Return as well as several notable characters who did not. And it also clarifies what many mistakenly believed were continuity errors in The Secret History. It’s possible this will be the last official word when it comes to Twin Peaks, but Mark Frost does it in such a way that this could just be the bridge to the next phase—whenever and whatever that may be.

Jack's picks-

Death and the Joyful Woman by Ellis Peters (1961)-A classic, Edgar-winning mystery novel in which the teenage son of a police detective is determined to solve a murder to clear the name of an older woman on whom he has a crush. The TV adaptation is not strong; read the book instead!

Beast in View by Margaret Millar (1955)-Another Edgar winner, this masterful novel of suspense contains a true shock at the end. Like the Peters novel above, the TV version can't hold up to the book.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (2015)-The fourth and last of the Neapolitan novels brings the story to a satisfying conclusion and the group of books stands as a triumph of writing and character development.

Dynasty by Peter Golenbock (1975)-What could be more fun than reading the year-by-year story of the New York Yankees from 1949 to 1964, when they won nearly every year? This was one of those books I kept wanting to read just a little more.

The Novel of the Century by David Bellos (2017)-The story of my favorite novel, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, is fascinating, from the way it was conceived and written, to the way it was received, to the way it has been interpreted in the years since it was published. A very enjoyable examination of Hugo and his masterpiece.

Truman by David McCullough (1992)-I am committed to reading a biography of each American president, though I swear I won't read one of the current occupant of the White House for a very long time. This fat book about Truman is most enjoyable and made me pine for the days when the president seemed like a good man.

Joyland by Stephen King (2013)-It was published as a Hard Case Crime book but it barely counts as one, since it's not very hard boiled and there's scant crime. Instead, King's book is an enjoyable, breezy tale of growing up one summer in the 1970s working at an amusement park. This is the second terrific King novel I've read in recent years and, like 11/22/63, it shows that King is much more than just a horror writer.

Gilbert’s picks -

Flickering Shadows: How Pulpdom’s Master of Darkness Brightened the Silver Screen by Ed Hulse. There are many reasons to recommend this handy overview of the celluloid Shadow, not the least of which is that it is filled with stills ranging from movie photos to pressbook art. More than that, pulp historian Hulse of Murania Press chronicles the 15-year-saga to bring The Shadow to the big screen, a project conceived as a big-budget feature during the era of the Superman movies and Tim Burton’s Batman and ultimately culminating in the 1994 feature film The Shadow starring Alec Baldwin in the title role. The best part is that Hulse has read the drafts of the several unfilmed scripts, inaccessible to the general public, and summarized them for the benefit of his readers. This is material not likely to be found anyplace else, making it a definite worthwhile investment.

A Shattered Circle by Kevin Egan. Egan’s novel A Shattered Circle, released this March by Tor/Forge, began life as a short story, “A Small Circle,” in the pages of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (January 2009). Like Egan’s past two novels, and several of his stories, A Shattered Circle is a courthouse mystery-thriller – his third in what has slowly become a series – set at the iconic 60 Centre Street court building familiar to the public from the opening credits of television’s Law & Order.

In A Shattered Circle, the wife and secretary of an aging judge suffering cognitive decline tries to keep his secret and protect him from the Judicial Conduct Commission. At the same time, a court officer involves her in his own personal investigation of a decades-old murder that happened on the courthouse grounds, all while a drowned attorney turns up whose murder may tie into these crisscrossing threads…

Egan (interviewed by bare•bones) knows the nooks and crannies of the famous hexagonal New York County Courthouse – so very much a character in and of itself in his last novel, The Missing Piece – because he has worked there as a law clerk and a settlement coordinator. Therefore he knows the procedural ins and outs of the courthouse as well as the layout, just as he and his stories know the desperate corners of souls driven to desperate acts.


John's picks-

The Blue Rose - 25 years ago, a fanzine emerged on the scene called Wrapped in Plastic, edited by Craig Miller and John Thorne. The magazine ran for 13 years and 75 issues, and was the most insightful, comprehensive look into Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (as well as their other works) published to date. Miller passed away five years ago, and Thorne recently collected a number of his pieces from the magazine in The Essential Wrapped in Plastic. While the return of Twin Peaks didn’t bring with it a return of Wrapped in Plastic (as Thorne didn’t feel right carrying on the magazine without Miller), we got the next best thing: The Blue Rose, edited by Thorne and Scott Ryan. The first four quarterly issues were released this year, and cover many of the things you would expect them to in the intervening years since WiP ceased publication, including a great reference guide to the new series (issues #3-4). Lynch and Frost have given us plenty to explore with the new series, so I’m hoping The Blue Rose will be here for many years to come.

Peter's Picks- 

Upfront I'll warn that I occasionally write for The Digest Enthusiast, The Paperback Fanatic, and Men of Violence, but even if I didn't, I'd sing their praises. Richard Krauss (of TDE) and Justin Marriott (of TPF, MoV, and a third zine called Pulp Horror) publish the kind of articles I eat up and the type of material no one else (outside of crazed bloggers) would bother with. Killer crabs, flesh-ripping weasels, nympho Nazis, and masked butchers are only a smattering of genres Marriott showcases, while Krauss shines his spotlight exclusively on the divine art of digest collecting (here I thought I was the only dedicated dige-phile!). How cool is it to open an issue up and read a review of the May 1951 issue of Marvel Science Stories (thumbs-up says Krauss)? The added bonus these days is that the zines are now available on Amazon for easy purchase (no more dreaded foreign postage).

Jack's picks-

The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library-Thanks to Fantagraphics, I can finally collect and read every last Carl Barks Duck story. I bought the latest volumes this year and they did not disappoint.

The Complete Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection: On Free Comic Book Day, I felt guilty and wanted to buy something, so I bought this, which was a blast from my childhood when Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams created some of the best comics ever. Reading them again, I still loved them!


John's picks-

 E.T. & Close Encounters of the Third Kind Extended Soundtracks. Hard to believe we’ve had to wait 35 and 40 years respectively for these extended classic soundtracks, featuring some of John Williams’ finest work. Fans of his work won’t need any convincing to pick these up, but one particular highlight on the E.T. disc is the bit where Williams weaves in music from The Quiet Man (which E.T. is watching on TV) during the scene where Henry Thomas’ Elliot kisses a young Erika 
Eleniak after the great frog rescue scene.

Hellraiser 30th Anniversary Soundtrack - Hellraiser was a breath of fresh air when released 30 years ago—a welcome departure from the slasher films which had dominated the decade. Clive Barker’s directorial ushered in a new wave of horror, and Christopher Young’s score complimented the onscreen visuals perfectly. This newly remastered edition is the best it has ever sounded.
The Doors The Singles
- I’m going to skip right past talking about all the remastered singles and B-sides included in this collection. You’re either a fan of the Doors or you’re not, and if you are, the real treasure here is the Blu Ray included in the deluxe edition containing a discrete 4.0 mix of the Quadraphonic album The Best of The Doors. If you’ve got a surround sound system to support it, the disc sounds fantastic.

Jack's picks-

Shine a Light by Billy Bragg and Joe Henry-I was not familiar with Billy Bragg until I heard him interviewed on Fresh Air to promote this album. I downloaded it on Spotify and thoroughly enjoyed it. Bragg and Henry sing old folk songs, many having to do with trains.

Elvis Costello at the Tower Theater, Philadelphia-My wife and I took in our first rock concert in years and had a blast. We had not seen Elvis live since the '80s. I have resisted going to see aging rock stars in person in recent years but it was a great time. Of course, most of the people there were in their 50s and older, but we could all pretend we weren't.


Gilbert’s picks -

1984. The Broadway staging of 1984 (from the novel by George Orwell) comes with this warning, “This production contains flashing lights, strobe effects, loud noises, gunshots, smoking, and graphic depictions of violence and torture,” dashing hopes within theater club ranks for a “1984: The Musical!” Not quite yet, especially when The Hollywood Reporter is running headlines like “Why Broadway’s ‘1984’ Audiences Are Fainting, Vomiting and Getting Arrested” and elsewhere labeling it “political torture porn.” A better way to describe it would be to simply call it an intense experience.

Relevant to any era plagued by governmental overreach and intrusion, this production of the familiar story of two dissidents resisting Big Brother stars Olivia Wilde, Tom Sturridge and Reed Birney. An added framing sequence, set farther in the future where a book club gathers in a library to discuss the ongoing relevance of the novel, feels like an unnecessary luxury when the play is only about 1 ¾ hours. Why waste stage time at the expense of the actual novel? The library addition is not poorly done, but it does lightly editorialize, and editorializing does inevitably rob a theme of its timelessness.

The book club epilogue at least poses some provocative questions about the nature of reality that tie directly into the torture scenes. While literary analysis has mainly focused on the obvious theme of freedom versus oppression, 1984 ventures beyond political philosophy into near metaphysics – Big Brother does not believe in objective reality, entitling the state to define a belief system for its distracted citizens. The Thought Police agent, O’Brien, says to Winston during interrogation: “You believe that reality is something objective...[b]ut I tell you, Winston, that reality...exists in the human mind... Not in the individual mind...: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth.”
Considering Orwell’s reaction to communist “utopia,” one thing seems objectively true. Whatever the politics of those who mounted this Broadway adaptation, or of the critics and audiences reading their contemporary analogies into it, it would be hard for any honest intellect to interpret Big Brother as anything less than Big Government.

*Our favorites, in some cases, may not actually be from 2017, but we saw or read them in 2017.