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Review by C.J. Bunce

Maybe you don’t need the Old West to have a great Western after all.  Bringing back the feel of the first third of the original Star Wars: A New Hope with a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid level of fun and humor, Solo: A Star Wars Story is finally in theaters with something for every Star Wars fan.  The saloons may be different and so are the sidearms, but this is the story of a young gunfighter, complete with the related outlaws and mercenaries, partners and betrayals, card playing, and gunfights.  With the sweeping adventure of The Empire Strikes Back, the perfectly rebuilt and repackaged nostalgia of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and a jumping off point for a galaxy of possibilities for beloved characters we only thought we knew, director Ron Howard delivers.  Not weighted down by the gloom and doom of the Dark Side in Rogue One or the rest of the Star Wars films, this Star Wars story creates new and original locations and situations for a few familiar characters plus many new ones and still ties into the overall episodic stories, taking place after Revenge of the Sith, but before Star Wars Rebels and Rogue One.  Yet we meet many new characters and questions are raised in the film that beg for one or more sequels to this branch off the main Star Wars saga–we can now have many new tie-in novels, comics, TV series, and maybe even movies to keep it all going.  If you didn’t think The Last Jedi captured the nostalgia or fun of earlier Star Wars films, then Solo is for you–not since The Empire Strikes Back has an entry in the saga been such a rollercoaster ride.

Surprises?  In a film that could have just filled in the blanks, the surprises were dished out from beginning to end, including some big ones we won’t mention here.  The overall tone is something out of Amazing High Adventure, and it makes perfect sense: It’s Silverado in space.  Screenplay writer Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote the screenplay with son Jonathan Kasdan), known for writing Westerns Silverado and Wyatt Earp, prior Star Wars entries The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens, and that greatest of adventure movies Raiders of the Lost Ark, was the perfect match to veteran director and movie icon Ron Howard.  The Western inspiration is supported visually in the Frederic Remington-inspired colors and landscapes.  You can spot the World War II movie references along the way, too, that Kasdan and Howard no doubt enjoyed as moviegoers over the years, like Von Ryan’s Express.  The relationships between characters evoke gangster movies and even pirate tales like Treasure Island.  Science fiction fans will see parallels to Han’s band of mercenaries in both the crew of the Ghost in Star Wars Rebels and Joss Whedon’s Serenity crew in the Firefly television series.

The Kasdans smartly injected those scenes every fan has thought about, pulled from passing references throughout the original trilogy to become fully realized plot threads, and then they folded in so much more.  Without the religion and mysticism of the Force, Solo: A Star Wars Story breaks the precedents of the saga as space fantasy to become arguably the first end-to-end science fiction movie of the franchise.  And it’s not just a fun movie.  Viewers will get plenty to think about.  Characters here are sometimes swapped into positions taken by other characters (and beasts) in prior movies in a way that will make moviegoers want to take another look at the prior films again.

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The Western lives!  Recent films Bone Tomahawk, the remake of The Magnificent Seven, and The Hateful Eight will attest to that, and this summer a young generation of actors takes the lead roles in the genre’s next entry, the movie Damsel.  Brothers David Zellner and Nathan Zellner direct (and co-star with) Alice in Wonderland and Crimson Peak’s Mia Wasikowska and Twilight and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’s Robert Pattinson, portraying pioneers on the American frontier, a disparate band of characters encountering struggles that adversely affect their journey.

Unlike modern neo-Westerns like Wind River or Hell or High Water, the setting here is vintage Old West.  Despite its modern vision, the Magnolia Pictures release seems to have some of that Louis L’Amour charm.  The big draw for fans of Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Heroes, Twin Peaks) and his vast catalog of work will be watching him in his brief role as a preacher, the kind of part typically reserved for character actor and Western movie staple, Sam Elliott.

As with Quentin Tarentino’s The Hateful Eight, the trailer conveys a very modern, off-kilter brand of Western, typical of the kinds of films the directors are known for.  It’s a quirky comedy, but the film has been praised from its Sundance premiere as respecting the films that came before it, like the classics of John Ford.  Cinematographer Adam Stone (Midnight Special) shot the film in Ford’s trademark location, the celebrated Monument Valley.

Here is the trailer for the new Western movie, Damsel:

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Reboot.  Recharge.  Rebel.

Next week the Synths return in AMC’s Humans, the series we pegged as last year’s best look at life living with and as a borg.  Humans is back for its third season with its season premiere Tuesday.  When we last left Humans, Lucy Carless’s Mattie Hawkins had uploaded the software to free the Synths–those very human-looking and acting cyborg servants.  Season 3 begins a year later–a year after all the Synths became fully conscious.  Since then life in British society has become strained as the oppressed Synth population fights to survive in a world that hates and fears them.

Similar to iZombie’s shift last season from a normal world to a world living side-by-side with zombies both at peace and at war, the Synths of Season 3 have their own community of outsiders split in two: The original green-eyed Synths are the rogues, not content with their second-tier status, and the new Series 11 “Orange Eyes” are the new, safe, properly configured and upgraded Synths.

The Synth family of Mia (Gemma Chan), Niska (Emily Berrington) and Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) return, continuing to battle for their right to survival,  The rest of the Hawkins family is back, too, with Mattie’s parents Laura (Katherine Parkinson) and Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) separated because of their divergent views of the Synths, and Mattie’s siblings Toby (Theo Stevenson) and Sophie (Pixie Davies) dealing with the upheavals all around them.

Here is a preview for Season 3 of AMC’s Humans:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Originally self-published via Kickstarter as With Kind Regards from Kindergarten, a new steampunk children’s chapter book arrives at bookstores this month from Insight Kids, renamed The Clockwork War.  Bookended by a grandmother trying to persuade a hesitant granddaughter to give kindergarten a try, in the style of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Kline creates a fantasy tale about an orphanage, two friends, and a giant oak tree to nudge the granddaughter along.  Addressing those time-honored angsts of childhood: bullies, advertising, commercialism, roaches, the lack of monsters under one’s bed, plastics, progress for progress’ sake, soot and smog, and henchmen, author Adam Kline assembles a clockwork fantasyland in a fable style pointing young ones to the inevitable lesson that at some point everyone must “rise to the occasion.”

Karlheinz Intergarten and Leopold Croak begin their story under the tutelage of Miss Understood and her orphanage, both fast friends with active imaginations.  Miss Understood will be likeable for kids, full of mixed-up (but apt) sayings like “the early nerd gets the worm,” “all’s well that smells well,” and “money can fry happiness.”  While playing in the giant oak tree during a storm, Leopold is struck by a lightning bolt, and loses his imagination.  Lonely when Leopold no longer wants to play, Karlheinz (Karl) leaves town to become apprentice to a clockmaker, whose companion is a clockwork mouse named Pim.  Many years later Karl becomes a brilliant clockmaker in his own right, and when his mentor dies he returns with Pim to the town of his youth to find it dying and polluted, driven into the ground by the richest man in town: his old friend Leopold, who has lost sight of fun and friendship and focuses only on his corporation and his moneymaking, popular line of electronic toy girl dolls.  He has seemingly forgotten the needs of his real daughter, who is perched above town away from all others, allergic to everything but cucumber tea.

“Some rats are evil, Pim,” sighed Karl. “I won’t argue that.  But they’re almost never born that way.”  And this is true–of rats, of cats, of dogs, and everything else. It’s especially true of people.

A clockwork fly and mouse, a hungry dog, cats’ fear of any loud noise, a giant thug, a pirate ship, and a dragon all come together under Karl’s guidance to teach lessons to both Leopold and the granddaughter at home hearing the tale.  Kline pulls themes and styles from a variety of classic and modern sources, from Pinocchio to Edward Scissorhands, from Aesop’s Fables to the Grimm television series and Mouse Guard, and from The Invisible Man and Hugo to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

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The good news?  The networks all have released previews of their new Fall TV series.  The bad news?  Most of the trailers play-out pretty flat–look for more of the same bland, dry, typical attempts at the next best Emmy-winning drama and the same brand of network comedy.  We showed you previews for three new series from CBS last week (here) for shows we think might be worth giving a shot: the reboot of Magnum, p.i., the return of Murphy Brown, and the Dick Wolf series FBI with Law & Order’s Jeremy Sisto and the DCU’s Connie Nielsen.

We were looking forward to New Girl’s Hannah Simone starring in a reboot of The Greatest American Hero, but ABC rejected the series after the pilot was filmed.  Forever and Law & Order’s Alana de la Garza‘s series Chiefs, and Timothy Hutton in Main Justice are still expected from CBS.  What We Do in the Shadows is a werewolf-zombie comedy starring Doug Jones coming from FX.  HBO is expected to launch a series called Camping with David Tennant, Ione Skye, and Juliette Lewis.  And Showtime has City on a Hill with Kevin Bacon, Aldis Hodge, and Jill Hennessy, Ball Street with Don Cheadle, and Kidding with Jim Carrey, Catherine Keener, and Frank Langella.  But we’ve seen no trailers for these series yet.

Putting aside the ongoing series being continued between now and year end, several new series with trailers now released may be of interest based on actors who have previously acted in genre series, so we’re going to run down those that may be worth at least a viewing of the first episode.

Here are the other new series, the genre actors you might want to know about, followed by the trailers for Fall 2018:

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For the fourth consecutive year, Wizard World will be invading the Iowa Events Center this June, bringing comic book writers and artists and celebrity guests to meet thousands of attendees for Iowa’s largest comic and pop culture convention.  Wizard World Comic Con Des Moines will again feature non-stop live entertainment, gaming, panels with celebrities, and cosplayers.  Celebrity guests scheduled to attend the show include Winston Duke (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War), James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek), Charisma Carpenter (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Matt Ryan (Legends of Tomorrow, Constantine), Jim Beaver (Supernatural, Deadwood), Lisa Berry (Supernatural), Gregg Sulkin (Runaways, Faking It), hosted by Kato Kaelin.

Comic book creator guests include Phil Hester (Green Arrow, The Bionic Man, Shipwreck, The Irredeemable Ant-Man), Ande Parks (Green Arrow, Capote in Kansas, The Lone Ranger), Chad Hardin (Harley Quinn, Justice League), Tom Cook (Masters of the Universe, Smurfs), and dozens of other writers in artists in the event’s Artist Alley.  Purchase books, sketches, and other original art, and get autographs from dozens of creators and entertainers.

Even more celebrity guests and creators are expected to be announced in advance of the event.

   

Wizard World Comic Con events bring together thousands of fans of all ages to celebrate the best in pop culture movies, television, gaming, live entertainment, comics, sci-fi, graphic novels, toys, original art, and collectibles.

Show hours are Friday, June 1, 2018, 4-9 p.m.; Saturday, June 2, 2018, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday, June 3, 2018, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.  Kids 10 and under are admitted free with paid adult admission.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

James Cameron has plenty to say about science fiction and he pulls in some sci-fi directors and dozens of sci-fi actors and creators to lay it all out in his new AMC series James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction.  Many series have wrestled with the subject of defining science fiction, most recently Ridley Scott’s Prophets of Science Fiction, where the Alien and Blade Runner director honored George Lucas, Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley. Not known for his interviewing, Cameron opted to record more informal chats with a small circle of his contemporaries, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (plus an interview by friend/science fiction writer Randall Frakes of Cameron himself), attempting to guide them down his framework of analysis, sometimes gaining agreement and other times sparking interesting tangent questions.  The interviews are divided up and sprinkled across six episodes of the AMC television series, and the blanks are filled in with sound bites from creators, professors, writers, and popular names from modern science fiction.  But the companion book, also titled James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, is far more insightful, showing the broader unedited interview text for each of Cameron’s six key contributors, plus great color artwork to illustrate his history of the genre.  Ultimately the book is a more useful, informative, and interesting overview of science fiction than what the series provides, and recommended for fans wanting to dig deeper into the history of the genre.

For those that haven’t encountered a review of the genre, Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, available now from Insight Editions, will provide the appropriate highlights.  The combined narrative is at its best when attempting to find the reasons for the importance of science fiction as literature and art, as influence to society, and as a reflection on mankind’s discovery of self, but it’s also fun for any diehard genre fan to follow along, agree or disagree, and ponder the myriad alternatives to the examples given to illustrate the topics covered.  The book is better than the TV series at analyzing and presenting the coverage, tying each key contributor to a sub-genre or major sci-fi concept: alien life, outer space, time travel, monsters, dark futures, and intelligent machines.  Cameron has done his homework and claims to have read nearly anything and everything since he was a kid on the subject.  His own significant science fiction contributions, namely Terminator, Terminator 2, and Aliens, and developing the two biggest women film roles of the genre–Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 and Ellen Ripley in Aliens–are only slightly overshadowed by more than required attention to his film Avatar  as frequent centerpiece topic. He also spends more time on modern science fiction films, sometimes leaving behind classic films that had done it all before.  So surprisingly great influences like Star Trek, Rod Serling, and John Carpenter get far less attention proportionately than you’d find in another science fiction overview, and the vast body of science fiction television series is barely tapped at all.

The most insight comes from George Lucas and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Lucas provides rare reactions to fan criticism of Jar Jar Binks, his Star Wars prequels generally, and his concept of midichlorians manipulating the Force, which he states would have been key to the third trilogy had he kept control of the franchise.  Immersed in an interview about science fiction his responses seem to reflect regret in selling Star Wars to Disney, as if he had far more Star Wars stories to tell.  The rest of the book’s seriousness is counterbalanced nicely by Schwarzenegger, who Cameron repeatedly attempts to get introspective about playing science fiction’s greatest villain and hero cyborg as the Terminator.  Not a method actor, Schwarzenegger reveals himself as fanboy and entertainer when it comes to science fiction, drawn more to the spectacle and excitement of science fiction roles and how the characters appear on the screen more than any life-changing meaning from the stories that Cameron is searching for.

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1988.  That was the last year you could turn on your television and watch three things: Magnum, p.i., Murphy Brown, and a crime drama written by Dick Wolf.  1988 becomes 2018 this Fall as thirty years later CBS launches three new shows, a reboot of Magnum, p.i. (with a title changed a little to Magnum P.I.), a continuation 20 years later of the original Murphy Brown, and FBI, the latest gritty drama from Law & Order creator Dick Wolf.  See trailers for all these new series below.

Director Justin Lin created a TV movie for the pilot of his Magnum P.I.  Lin, famous for his Fast & Furious movies, but also his direction of one of the best Star Trek films, Star Trek Beyond, plus acclaimed television series True Detective and Community, provides a preview about as big and expensive as you’re ever going to see, proving Lin is probably the right guy for the job.  Fast cars and action reflect the feel of the original series, with an obvious update to a modern production concept, but the show also includes the key characters: Suicide Squad and Bright’s Jay Hernandez is Thomas Magnum, ex-Navy SEAL, working for Robin Masters, wearing his Detroit Tigers hat, same ring, same watch, same Old Dusseldorf beer, and driving Robin’s Ferraris.  This time Magnum is the inspiration for Masters’ novels.  Jonathan Higgins is now Juliet (ex-MI6) Higgins (or is she really Robin Masters?), played by Perdita Weeks (Ready Player One, Penny Dreadful) tending to the lads and annoyed by Thomas.  And Thomas’s war buddies are back, with T.C. played by Stephen Hill (Luke Cage), and Rick played by Zachary Knighton (LA to Vegas).  And Oahu doesn’t look like it has changed in 30 years, with the borrowed universe of the Hawaii Five-O series thanks in part to production designer Keith Neely (and that’s Five-O actor Sung Kang in the preview).  Oddly enough the original Magnum, p.i. was relocated from California to Hawaii because CBS did not want to close down its Hawaii offices after the wind-down of the original Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980), and here again is Magnum riding on the coattails of Steve McGarrett.  The fan base is already going to be divided up for this one: reject it because the original is a classic, or put aside the past, embrace the new, and see what Lin can do.

The preview for Season 11 of Murphy Brown feels more like an improv character study performed by each actor from the original show, sharing what the character has been up to for the past 20 years since the series went off the air.  Candice Bergen is back as Brown, Faith Ford is Corky Sherwood, Joe Regalbuto is Frank Fontana, Grant Shaud is Miles, Tyne Daly takes over Phil’s Bar and Grill (original Phil actor Pat Corley died in 2006), and Lady Bird’s Jake McDorman debuts as Murphy’s son Avery.  81-year-old actor Charles Kimbrough, the first actor to say “that sucks!” on television and Murphy Brown’s Jim Dial, might have a guest role in the show’s planned 13 episodes.  Unfortunately one of the series’ best loved characters, Eldin Bernecky, won’t be back, as actor Robert Pastorelli died in 2004.

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One hundred comic book artists have come together over the past year to create the next great joint art project, this time featuring the fan favorite characters of the Adventure Time animated and comic book series.  Last year Wonder Woman was featured for her 75th anniversary.  This year a new group of some of the best-known names in the world of comics volunteered an original work of art featuring Adventure Time, penciled, inked, painted, or otherwise colored on a BOOM! Studios Kaboom imprint Adventure Time blank comic book cover.  It’s all for a good cause that gives back to, and in effect pays forward comic book creators that came before them.

It’s called the The Adventure Time Get-a-Sketch 100 Project.  All proceeds of the auction of the original artwork will go to the Hero Initiative, an organization that helps out the comic book industry by contributing funds to individuals and their families in the event of medical and financial crises.  Most of the comic creators the fund helps were piecemeal workers in their careers over the past decades or those without any kind of retirement program.

And for those who can’t afford the original artwork, the Hero Initiative is creating a hardcover and softcover edition compiling all the covers that will be for sale beginning May 30, 2018, with proceeds of those books also going to the Hero Initiative.

You’ll find some of the very best Adventure Time-inspired sketch images you’ve ever seen in this group.  Many are from well-known artists, but some of the finest works are showcased by more recent artists entering the industry.

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In February’s Super Bowl barrage of commercials viewers saw their first look at Tom Cruise’s next outing in the American version of the James Bond movies.  The sixth Mission: Impossible film, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, showed Cruise returning as Ethan Hunt, along with returning cast Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan, Sean Harris, and Alec Baldwin, plus some surprises.

Three months later Paramount released the next trailer for the film early this morning, showing more action and more disasters for Ethan Hunt.  And that includes more Cruise doing many of his own stunts.

Superman Henry Cavill is the latest leading man to share significant screen-time in an M:I mission with Cruise.  Plus Black Panther’s Angela Bassett looks to be a key force in the film.  Vanessa Kirby and Rebecca Ferguson also co-star.  In advance of the new trailer, Cavill announced a new poster for the movie (above).

Here is the new trailer for Mission: Impossible – Fallout:

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