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prideprejudiceszombies

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a classic story in possession of fans must be in want of retelling.  Likewise, that if that story is a novel, it should also thence be made into a film.  And if you can find a way to put zombies in, wins all around.

Thus, writer/director Burr Steers’ new Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, based on the eponymous 2005 novel “co-written” by Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) and Jane Austen.  Cleverly packaged to release in time for Valentine’s Day, the film is a sure winner for date night: costumes; romance; actors in various states of fetching undress; violence; girls with swords; shambling, oozing undead in fetching period costumes; and powerful women with estates and eyepatches.  And Matt Smith.  Need I say more, really?

As a version of Pride and Prejudice, PPZ is probably below average, and relies on the viewer’s familiarity with the story, since much of the film’s 108-minute runtime must be given over to worldbuilding and action sequences (although fans of the 1995 A&E adaptation will be rewarded with plenty of homages, especially with respect to Mr. Darcy).  Prideful Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James, Cinderella) and disdainful Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) have even less onscreen chemistry than Austen’s off-again, off-again lovers normally display–but they more than make up for it with their zombie-fighting prowess.  Lizzie’s intolerable-yet-lovable family is neither interesting enough nor loathsome enough to inspire much response from the viewer; thank goodness for the zombies to give us something to care about.

PPZ zombie

As a zombie film, it’s probably also less than what the average zombie flick fan is looking for.  There are the requisite scenes of shambling hordes, rotting flesh, and brain-eating, but it’s somewhat tame thanks to the PG-13 rating, and in comparison to so many other recent zombie properties.  In fact, it’s actually a credit to the filmmakers that they didn’t try to outdo the competition with their zombie horde, and instead showed a certain 19th century refinement and restraint in the presentation.

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Arnold Mobile Strike

Unless you’re watching the Super Bowl to actually see the game today, you can find all the commercials online today, freeing up your schedule to watch Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XII.  It’s hard to believe we’ve been watching this too-darned-cute puppy outing for twelve years now.  Catch it throughout the day today on Animal Planet.  Get more information, including how the event is helping animals, at the Animal Planet website here.

Many of the ads from today’s game have been released already, so take a peek at a handful of them below.

As with past years, commercials airing during the Super Bowl featuring dogs seem to be the winners, although Kevin Hart has a pretty funny entry in his Hyundai ad, and we could watch Arnold Schwarzenegger Mobile Strike ads all day long.  Snickers is doing their thing again, this time with Willem Dafoe, and look for Christopher Walken in a car ad.  Also come back later for expanded movie trailers from what is previewed below, including one from the fifth Jason Bourne movie.

Puppy Bowl XII

Enjoy your chicken wings, and don’t forget your Tums, Rolaids, Gaviscon, etc.

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Apollo 14

I have been lucky enough to meet three Apollo astronauts and one of those was Edgar Mitchell (pictured above, right), who passed away this week in Florida at age 85.  Forty-five years ago–February 5, 1971, he landed on the Moon.  I met him at Planet Comicon in 2004 and quickly learned he was not an ordinary convention guest by any definition.  Sure, all astronauts seem to walk and talk like daredevils, and he was only the sixth of twelve men to walk on the Moon’s surface.  But Dr. Mitchell also came away from his Moonwalk with a universal view of life different than any other astronaut before or since, and left NASA to spend the rest of his life exploring the strange and the paranormal.  For Mitchell, it was not a question of aliens having visited Earth, the question was “where did they come from?”

Ed Mitchell was born near Roswell, New Mexico.  A member of Boy Scouts and DeMolay, he completed flight training in Hutchinson, Kansas, and went on to fly Douglas A3 Skywarriors in Okinawa, serving aboard both the USS Bon Homme Richard and the USS Ticonderoga.  He earned a degree in industrial management before joining the U.S. Navy, and after taking his basic training in San Diego, he earned an aeronautical engineering degree and then a doctorate of science in aeronautics and astronautics.

Edgar Mitchell Apollo 14

He was selected to be an astronaut in 1966, and was the backup Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 10, and then the actual Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 14.  A month before I was born, in February 1971, he spent two days with Alan Shepard, the first American in space, sharing the longest time humans ever have walked on the surface of the moon.  It’s the journey well-known for Shepard hitting a golf ball across the lunar surface.  On his way back to Earth, Dr. Mitchell had an epiphany of sorts.  He sensed a greater, universal consciousness and a connection.  He retired the next year and spent his life exploring the consciousness and paranormal phenomena.  He frequently spoke of his beliefs in extra-sensory perception, of a government cover-up of alien life, that an alien craft did crash at Roswell, and that the Cold War was in part prevented by extra-terrestrials–our experiments in atomic weapons drew alien visitors to Earth.

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James-Bond-SPECTRE-The-Complete-Comic-Strip-Collection

Daniel Craig’s modern James Bond inspired by classic comic strip versions of Bond?

According to the foreword in James Bond: Spectre – The Complete Comic Strip Collection by John Logan, screenwriter for Gladiator, Star Trek Nemesis, The Last Samurai, The Aviator, Skyfall, and the latest James Bond film, SPECTRE, it’s the original Bond from Ian Fleming’s novels–the Bond before anyone viewed him as Sean Connery, and the same Bond revealed in the British comic book strips–that guided the writers to form Craig’s Bond in the last two movie installments.

After reading the comic strip adaptations of Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, You Only Live Twice, and The Spy Who Loved Me, it’s easy to see it.  This less superheroic and more human, worn down, aging Bond is the Bond of the modern films.  Titan Books’ James Bond: Spectre – The Complete Comic Strip Collection, is now available in a deluxe hardcover edition, pulling from the rich archive of Bond strips those stories that dig into the origins of SPECTRE, that evil organization that Blofeld manipulated so well, and that was the focus of last year’s blockbuster.

Bond comic

You’ll find digitally remastered, original black and white versions of the iconic 1960s cartoon strips in an edition similar to the Flash Gordon series reviewed here previously at borg.com–a size that is ideal for reading these old comic strips easily, cover to cover.  Each story is based on Fleming’s novels, selected from the 52 comic strips that appeared between 1958 and 1983 syndicated in British newspapers.  The illustrations of the strip were rendered by John McLusky who would illustrate thirteen James Bond comic strips along with writer Henry Gammidge until 1966.

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Vikings banner season 4

Ragnar.  Lagertha.  Floki.  Rollo.  Helga.  Bjorn.

If you’ve ever dreamed of what the Viking world had been like, if you could spend a week in the world of any of your favorite television shows, MGM and History Channel’s Vikings series should be at the top of your list.  Nobody knows what it was like to live in any period of the past.  We rely on histories passed orally and in writing.  But it’s hard to imagine anyone getting so much more right than what the writers and art directors on Vikings have done.  The fourth season opener, which premieres in two weeks, is a relentless volley of action, excitement, and gritty drama.  After building conflicts, and the bloodiest most realistic battles on TV, it all comes together this season.  We’ve previewed the first four episodes of the season and Vikings could be on its way to be the year’s best drama.

This season History Channel has also added four episodes to its initial 16 episode order.  Beginning February 18, a new episode will air every Thursday for ten weeks with the remaining episodes to air later in the year.  Season three culminated with the battle in Paris, where Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) was victorious but returned to Kattegat nearly dead, leaving the legendary scheming of those around him–his wife Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) and his oldest son, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig).  Meanwhile the driven Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) develops a new relationship with her former lieutenant Kalf (Ben Robson), Rollo (Clive Standen) betrays all by remaining in France and the incredible character Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) must answer for the death of the Christian priest Athelstan.  And King Ecbert (Linus Roache) strategizes to defend Wessex from Ragnar.

Lagertha

New to the cast this year is Peter Franzén (The Gunman) as King Harold Finehair, a man who seeks to be King of Norway and a potential threat to Ragnar, Jasper Pääkkönen (Jet Trash) as Halfdan The Black, King Harold’s younger brother; and Dianne Doan (Descendants) as Yidu, a true newcomer to the world of the Vikings who fascinates both Ragnar and Aslaug.

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Alice Through the Looking Glass clip

It’s not every day that Hollywood makes a sequel to one of your all-time favorite fantasy movies.  It’s Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, based on Lewis Carroll’s 1871 book Through the Looking-Glass, with Tim Burton producing this time around and James Bobin (The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted) in the director’s chair.  We previewed the first trailer for this fantasy film here at borg.com back in November.

Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, and Helena Bonham Carter return, with Rhys Ifans and Sacha Baron Cohen joining the cast.  Danny Elfman will again be producing the musical score.

Alice posters

Here’s the second, fantastic trailer for Alice Through the Looking Glass slated to air during this weekend’s Super Bowl coverage:

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Foster Star Wars The Force Awakens hardcover cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

In a parallel universe where Star Wars: A New Hope might have been snubbed by moviegoers and gone the way of obscurity like Logan’s Run and The Black Hole, another sequel to the original Star Wars was already penned.  Alan Dean Foster had access to George Lucas’s scripts and original story treatment from 1973, titled The Journal of the Whills.  Foster was commissioned to write the follow-on story, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, in case Star Wars did not make it as a hit at the box office.  But Star Wars would have a different fate: more money and a bigger budget was available for a scriptwriter for The Empire Strikes Back, and Splinter would never see the screen.

Along with so many good decisions for the Episode VII release based on nostalgia (like a poster commission from classic Star Wars poster artist Drew Struzan) sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster was tapped to return to Star Wars and has adapted the film into the Star Wars: The Force Awakens novelization.  Fans of Splinter will no doubt rush to read Foster taking on the galaxy of Star Wars again, and he has even brought the title of the original George Lucas 1973 story Journal of the Whills into the post-Disney Star Wars canon by referencing that work in his prologue, just as he referenced it in Splinter.  If you missed Splinter, you can still pick up a copy here, but it’s not for fans who would cringe at the thought of a Luke vs. Darth Vader confrontation before the critical confrontation in The Empire Strikes Back.  But the nostalgia factor will be high for fans of Splinter, which was published in 1978 as the first expanded universe Star Wars novel.

Splinter_of_the_Minds_Eye

In the days before DVDs a fan’s primary source to revisit favorite films was the novel or comic book adaptation.  Today fans are seeing The Force Awakens multiple times in the theater and the film has broken all the meaningful box office records.  But the DVDs and Blu-rays aren’t available yet, so this novelization is still another way to access the story in-depth.  Better yet, as with many adaptations, Foster expands upon concepts only touched upon in the movie, and lends some insight into backstory fans can otherwise only speculate about.

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Bone Tomahawk

Review by C.J. Bunce

Writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s 2015 film release Bone Tomahawk starts as a classic Western about life on the frontier–living at home, visiting the local saloon, working in the local Sheriff’s office.  It quickly becomes a genre-bending damsel in distress/ “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” picture and much more.  Several other genre elements are woven together to create a solid, serious drama that is equal parts suspense thriller and gritty, meaty Western that rises above most efforts to make a classic Western in the past 45 years, if you forgive it for one scene that dips into gruesome, in-your-face horror.  Put Bone Tomahawk up there with Silverado.  It’s a far better Western than even the much celebrated Unforgiven.

Bone Tomahawk follows four men as they pursue the mysterious captors of a local frontier doctor–a woman (played by Lili Simmons)–and the criminal she was operating on (played by David Arquette) and the on-hand sheriff’s deputy (played by Evan Jonigkeit).  It’s a simple story, yet it couldn’t be more unique in its execution.  In possibly Kurt Russell’s finest bit of reserved, serious acting ever on film, he plays Sheriff Hunt.  Made of the same mettle as Gary Cooper in High Noon and John Wayne in The Searchers, he is relentless in his pursuit.  Patrick Wilson is equally relentless as the husband of the missing doctor.  His leg has been wounded from a fall and so he must forge ahead limping along throughout the film as he sleuths out what is really going on.  Think of him as a mix of Gary Cooper in Sergeant York and Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window Lost’s Matthew Fox is the slick but honorable, impeccably dressed gentleman barfly, who once had a thing for the doctor, and volunteers to help find her.  The posse is rounded out by the now crotchety character actor from film and TV, Richard Jenkins.  He’s droll and provides a different flavor of humor along the way.

Bone Tomahawk movie poster

Zahler isn’t afraid to let the movie flow at its own pace, and allow the viewer to soak up the scenery, the Western tropes, the camaraderie of the team as they eat and sleep and take their horses forward through the long desert way.  It’s an 1890s Assault on Precinct 13, only like High Plains Drifter the nature of the mystery is hidden from us for so long that the anticipation warrants calling this out as a top-notch suspense thriller.  Who stole the townsfolk and are they still alive?  And what is that strange music we hear in the wind before bodies start falling?  Like The Ghost and the Darkness, you want to run away from what is out there waiting for you–this feels like a ghost story, maybe even every frontier family’s personal nightmare come to life.

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fantastic-beasts-cast-xlarge

This weekend Warner Bros. has released a behind the scenes look at J.K. Rowling’s return to the wizarding world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, derived from the Hogwarts textbook of the same name by magizzoologist Newt Scamander.  Fantastic Beasts is a prequel with a screenplay written by J.K. Rowling–her first–and it’s set in 1926 New York City.  It follows Eddie Redmayne as Scamander, a Charles Darwin of sorts cataloguing magical creatures.  It is a prequel, but don’t expect to see young Hogwarts professors or other familiar names.

Fantastic Beasts is directed by David Yates, who served as director of the final four Harry Potter films.  Harry Potter fans will learn some new lingo, like “No-Maj”–American for Muggle.  A No-Maj named Jacob, played by Dan Fogler, has a run-in with Scamander, Scamander loses his magical case, and some beasties escape, which may reveal the wizarding world to the rest of us.  Fantastic Beasts co-stars Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs) as Porpentina, Alison Sudol (Transparent) as Queenie, Ezra Miller (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) as Credence, Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Star Trek Nemesis) as Gnarlack, Samantha Morton (Minority Report, John Connor, Jane Eyre) as Mary Lou, Jon Voight (Mission Impossible, National Treasure) as Henry Shaw, Sr., Carmen Ejogo (Selma) as Seraphina, Jenn Murray (Brooklyn) as Chastity, and Colin Farrell (Total Recall, Phone Booth, Minority Report, Daredevil) as Percival Graves.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them poster

Take a look at this new behind-the-scenes feature for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (and raise your hand if you wish Colin Farrell were playing a young Professor Snape):

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Baskets

Review by C.J. Bunce

Hardly a beat is skipped before find you yourself wondering if television viewers who may be unfamiliar with Louie Anderson’s brilliant stand-up comedy realize that Zach Galifianakis’s mother on the new FX Networks series Baskets actually is being played by a man.  It’s the brilliance and sincerity of Anderson’s ability to play a mother character that tells you Baskets is one darkly hilarious new series.

Galifianakis–who co-created the show and is a series writer along with comedian Louis C.K. and executive producer Jonathan Krisel (Portlandia, Saturday Night Live)–plays a very serious, committed, “classically-trained” clown named Chip Baskets, stuck now in Bakersfield as an under-appreciated rodeo clown.  Galifianakis also plays the dual role of Chip’s more successful brother Dale.  In the inaugural episode we follow Chip’s traumatic efforts to attend “clown college” in Paris, where the key difficulty is the simple fact that Chip doesn’t speak French, so he can only limp along trying to understand the professor’s French humor lessons.  Ultimately Galifianakis plays the part for all it’s worth.  He’s truly destined to be Emmett Kelly’s perpetually sad Weary Willie.  Opposite Anderson as his doting mother, and Martha Kelly, who plays an infatuated Costco insurance agent who might have stepped out of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, Galifianakis is at times both funny and oddly depressing.  Baskets the Clown is real in as much as Elliot’s character is real on Mr. Robot–modern young guys stuck in a rut in every part of their lives.  Yet somehow the laughs sneak through.

Baskets Costco Anderson

Sometimes they don’t just sneak through, however.  Anderson explodes with humor in every scene and is a true scene stealer, whether he’s cozying up to Chip’s not-girlfriend Martha, amazed at all of the varieties of Costco’s soda water, or pondering the wonder of Arby’s curly fries.  Baskets’ somewhat mail order/now estranged French wife played by Sabina Sciubba, drops Baskets the Clown (he really wants to be called Renoir the Clown) into one too many unreal, and maybe surreal, melodramas that require you to laugh along at his both hopeful and hopeless predicaments.

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