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Review by C.J. Bunce

Jean-Claude Van Damme has always fallen somewhere in the shadows of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Both European actors that used their physical attributes to fight for their way to fame, somewhere the fates landed Arnold in the A-list and Jean-Claude in the B-list.  And fans of 1980s action movies should be grateful for it.  For every Arnold big-budget action blockbuster, Jean-Claude kept us happy shuffling in a few smaller films with something admittedly a bit less but always still fun.  And he kept action fans coming back to the movies, and eventually video stores, for more.  So why would we want an A-list series from Jean-Claude?  That just wouldn’t fit.

It’s not often you come across an idea that knows exactly what it’s supposed to be–not great but good, and providing exactly what it should, even if it leaves viewers hungry for more.  That’s where Jean-Claude Van Johnson comes into play, the new Amazon Prime streaming series that gives us a major dose of Jean-Claude meta-style as he portrays himself with the secret persona of being an undercover super-agent.  He’s the same Jean-Claude who hasn’t had a hit in years unless you can count his role as villain in the similar vibe of has-been tough guys in Expendables 2.  He can poke fun at himself and does so in every other scene of the new six-part half hour series showing exclusively on Amazon Prime.

But is it a limited television series or a full-on movie?  Binging the series brings in a show at around three hours, which provides one of the shortest new streaming series you can find.  Yet it feels like another Jean-Claude movie.  And that’s actually just fine for anyone who regularly turns to Bloodsport or TimeCop or Double Impact or Lionheart for fun.

The best episode ends up being the series pilot that aired last year.  Fans who assumed that the rest of the series would feature Jean-Claude playing a new role in a fake film from each episode as he outed the bad guys might be disappointed that the entire season lands Jean-Claude making the goofy action adaptation of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn as the movie-in-a-movie Huck.  But sticking with one case is what provides the feel for the series as a complete film, only divided into six episodes. But wouldn’t it be fun to see Jean-Claude in an episode of the week format in format like The Saint?

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Of this Fall’s onslaught of movie trailers accompanying holiday releases, one of the better previews is for a new action film starring Liam Neeson called The Commuter.  At first look it has multiple reasons you may want to check it out.  Foremost is Liam Neeson as the film’s star, if you haven’t already had your fill of his edgy character in the Taken hostage films.  Despite the perception Neeson’s performances aren’t always the same, yet he always brings authority to his characters.  The Commuter looks like it could be a sequel to Source Code, but it’s not.  It co-stars Source Code star Vera Farmiga, and the setting is also a train and a man being tasked with a life-or-death challenge during the train ride.  Source Code was a brilliant science fiction movie (which also starred Jake Gyllenhaal), but this one is straight-up action/mystery.

This type of popcorn movie distraction/escape is often all that you need–think in terms of films like Unstoppable and this year’s surprise hit The Foreigner.  The film comes from Orphan (which starred Farmiga) and Unknown (which starred Neeson) director Jaume Collet-Serra.

The Commuter also features a solid supporting cast, with Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, Phantom of the Opera), Elizabeth McGovern (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Kick-Ass), and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park).

Here is the first trailer for The Commuter:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As you will no doubt hear as moviegoers walk out of theaters this holiday season, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a very “different” Star Wars movie.  That said, despite writer/director Rian Johnson’s assertions to the contrary, it is very much an echo of the second film of the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, with several parallel elements you’ll encounter along the way.  Picking up where director J.J. Abrams left off two years ago in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Johnson seems to take the bits and pieces of questions raised in Abrams’ film, answers a few, dismisses a few, and ignores the rest, perhaps for Abrams to pick them up again as he re-takes the reins in two years for the final film in the Skywalker family saga.  So many questions seem to have been definitively tied up by the end of The Last Jedi, moviegoers are now left to ponder for the next two years, “What could Episode IX possibly be about?”

The Last Jedi is most intriguing when it emulates some of the surprises and emotional impact of last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story–a bold, unique film that falls outside the three trilogies of franchise films, but provided a fantastically gritty, nostalgic, and heart-pounding story that put the “war” back in Star Wars.  An opening scene in The Last Jedi featuring the heroic death of a new character made me sit up thinking another gritty war movie was coming (only swap a guerilla land war for World War II-inspired bombing runs).  Heroism is the theme of The Last Jedi, and every character gets a chance to be a hero, but the damage is not as gut-wrenching as Rogue One.  Yet, depending on who your favorite character was in The Force Awakens, every fan should find something in The Last Jedi to be happy about.  Even if it might not offer up the excitement of the original trilogy, the third of the new annual holiday Star Wars adventures will be a great excuse to get together with family and friends for the event itself–annual Star Wars movies are becoming what the annual Christmas Special has become for Doctor Who fans, an event that for many will be bigger than whatever you think of the film.

The actors are top-notch in The Last Jedi, including Carrie Fisher in her final performance as General Leia Organa, although Hamill’s work stands out and could easily merit an Oscar nomination.  Alec Guinness’s genius as the similar Jedi wizard Obi-Wan Kenobi of the original Star Wars was in his reserved performance and iconic utterances of wisdom.  Here Hamill shows that Hollywood has missed the boat for 40 years by not featuring him regularly in mainstream films, bringing a powerful and emotional performance from beginning to end.  And gone are the days of Star Wars’ clunky dialogue–Johnson’s success is pulling out the stilted exchanges Star Wars had began to become known for.

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The National Film Registry has grown to include 725 films this year with the addition this week of 25 films.  In accordance with the National Film Preservation Act, a film is eligible to be preserved under the registry if it is at least a decade old and recognized in the National Film Preservation Board’s view as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  The Librarian of Congress makes the final determination, considering public nominations in the analysis.

Consistent with last year’s list, which added The Princess Bride and The Birds, the new list includes some of the best genre films of all-time: one of cinema’s best fantasies and baseball films, Phil Alden Robinson’s magical Field of Dreams, Walt Disney’s timeless animated film Dumbo, the greatest superhero film of all-time–Superman, a 1980s classic–The Goonies, and your second favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard.  The only surprise with some inductees was simply that they hadn’t been added yet to the Registry, like Elia Kazan’s memorable look at prejudice, Gentleman’s Agreement, the original Hepburn/Tracy/Poitier drama Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, and the 11-Oscar triumph, James Cameron’s Titanic. 

Richard Donner, who directed two films on this year’s list, Superman and The Goonies, said, “They are both special films in my life, as was the cast and crew for both.  It’s wonderful to see them listed among so many great films.”  Kirk Douglas, who celebrated his 101st birthday this past week, starred in two films, Spartacus, and the 1951 film Ace in the Hole.

Below is the full list of films named to the registry for 2017:

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Wrapping up this spectacular and anniversary-filled year of the best of classic genre films will be a Fathom Events screening of Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s The Dark Crystal.  Another member of the class of 1982, this one slipped in during the holiday season, and it’s anniversary screening will be heading to a theater near you in February.  It’s been an unprecedented year that was almost a weekly opportunity to see the best nostalgic trips into the past, with 1982 films Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Blade Runner, and The Princess Bride celebrated its 30th anniversary, while Close Encounters of the Third Kind celebrating its 40th in theaters, and audiences in Europe attended screenings celebrating the whopping 90th anniversary of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  It seems Disney refrained from partaking in the big screen retrospectives: no Star Wars (40) or Tron (35) anniversary theatrical screenings were to be found, but maybe it’ll happen in five years for the next benchmark year.  But it ultimately didn’t matter–this year of classic movies couldn’t be beat.

We recently revisited Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal with a groundbreaking look at the film and co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, a new deep-dive into the film reviewed here at borg.com.  According to Henson’s daughter Cheryl Henson, The Dark Crystal was Jim Henson’s most personal work.  This is a great time to have The Dark Crystal fresh in our memory, as we expect to see a 10-episode Netflix series hopefully by the end of 2018.  The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance does not yet have a release date.

Yes, we’re just as excited as Fizzgig–The Dark Crystal was the reigning favorite fantasy film of all time for many before Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings came along.  The ambitious story of The Dark Crystal takes place in the world of Thra, which has been torn by a fracture in a great magic crystal, which caused two races to be created: the tranquil Mystics, or urRu, and the evil Skeksis, who all but destroyed Thra’s native species, the Gelflings.  The Mystics have summoned Jen, one of the last surviving Gelflings, to find the lost piece of the crystal.  The quest sends him on an unbelievable adventure that can restore harmony and peace to Thra.  The film features performances by Jim Henson as Jen (voiced by Stephen Garlick), Kathryn Mullen as the Gelfling Kira (voiced by Lisa Maxwell), Frank Oz as the astronomer Aughra (voiced by Billie Whitelaw), and Dave Goelz as Fizzgig (voice of Percy Edwards), with Henson, Oz, and Goelz also performing as the Skeksis.  Kiran Shah also performs the body of Jen, Kira, and Aughra.  With a screenplay by Dave Odell (The Muppet Show), The Dark Crystal also features a majestic score by Trevor Jones (Excalibur, Labyrinth).  Along with Yoda creator Frank Oz, the film was produced by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz.

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She’s beautiful.  She’s deadly.  She’s Vampironica.

Next year Archie Comics’ Archie Horror imprint is adding a new title to its dark universe of stories that began with Riverdale television series writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Afterlife with Archie, then continued in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and this year’s Jughead: The Hunger.  The new monthly series Vampironica will focus on Betty’s forever frenemie Veronica when she’s bitten by a vampire and becomes the latest to join the undead of Riverdale.  Her path will be inspired by classic horror films.

“I’d say that our biggest influences are American Werewolf in London and Fright Night.  Both films can be quite horrific but there’s also a lot of strong characterization and humor to them,” said artist and co-writer Greg Smallwood.  “I think horror works best with a small dose of comedy for levity so we’ve used the same formula on Vampironica.”

“Vampironica humanizes Veronica in a way that only horror can,” adds co-writer Megan Smallwood.  “Becoming a vampire is a humbling experience for her and she’s forced to open up and expose a little vulnerability.  “Veronica Lodge is not the kind of girl to join any ranks, let alone vampire ranks.  True to form, Veronica instead relies on her own gut-instincts.  They haven’t let her down in life and they won’t let her down as she navigates the surreal world of the undead.”

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Warner Bros. kicked off San Diego Comic-Con’s Saturday events this year with Ready Player One director Steven Spielberg, cast members, and the author showing the first teaser trailer for the movie (if you missed it, we previewed it here).  The audiobook, read by Wil Wheaton and currently available free here at Amazon with an Audible sign-up, has been a huge hit with fans, almost taking on a life of its own.  This weekend the studio released a new trailer for the 2018 release, a future sci-fi vision of the 1980s via virtual reality and a young man’s quest for the ultimate Easter egg.

As readers of the novel would expect, you’ll be looking for “millions” of Easter eggs tucked away in the film.  Iron Giant, Freddy Krueger, the Back to the Future DeLorean were the focus of the teaser this summer.  See what you can find in this first full-length trailer.  Is that King Kong or Donkey Kong?  We’re excited to see in this new trailer Killjoys’ and Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Hannah John-Kamen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s Ben Mendelsohn, and Bates Motel’s Olivia Cooke joining star X-Men: Apocalypse’s Tye Sheridan, but no sightings yet of Star Trek and Star Wars’ star Simon Pegg yet.

Here is the second trailer for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A fantastic animated movie is heading to theaters this week that your family is not going to want to miss, and (assuming you’re already planning to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi) if you see only two movies over the holidays you’ll want to make sure this is one of them.  Once referred to as the greatest children’s book since Winnie the Pooh, the 1936 internationally successful The Story of Ferdinand has finally been adapted into a full-length animated film.  It is the real deal–a classic animated movie in the tradition of Pinocchio, Bambi, Snow White, The Jungle Book, Tarzan, and Beauty and the Beast, possibly the best film in decades to merit inclusion among these cinema greats, with a level of animation that may have you thinking of the Aardman stop-action films because of its quality 3D animation.  The 32-page original story written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson has been expanded into a larger story with new characters like many popular children’s books–think Dumbo the Flying Elephant, The Polar Express, and The Night at the Museum–remaining completely loyal to the original story.

Ferdinand tells the story of a rural Spanish bull (voiced by actor/WWE wrestler John Cena) who is not interested in growing up like other bulls to fight a matador in the giant arena in Madrid.  He leaves his farm and is adopted by a man and his daughter, where he spends his days smelling (and caring for) flowers on the hillside.  He eventually grows to be a giant bull, larger than any bull around, and a mishap bee sting lands Ferdinand back at the farm with the bulls he grew up with.  They, too, have grown up: Valiente, a stubborn, angry bull (voiced by Ant-Man’s Bobby Cannavale), a small bull named Bones (voiced by Law and Order’s Anthony Anderson), Guapo, a show-off bull (voiced by NFL football player Peyton Manning), an engineered super bull named Machina, and a Scottish Highlander named Angus (voiced by Doctor Who’s David Tennant).  Law and Order’s Jeremy Sisto provides the voice of Ferdinand’s father and Jerrod Carmichael (Transformer: The Last Knight) is the voice of the dog, Paco.  Soon an ambitious goat (voiced by Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon) befriends Ferdinand as Ferdinand learns what it means to be seen by everyone as a “monstrous” bull again.

Ferdinand has it all, at its core a story about an individual who stays true to himself, beautiful scenery, some fun and familiar voice actors, a complex villain, an outstanding musical score with great songs, and powerful themes.  Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha, who directed the Ice Age films and Rio, demonstrates his mastery of cutting edge animation, with a screenplay that creates several subplots that all get nicely tied up by film’s end.  The soundtrack includes songs from Smash Mouth, Green Day, Shakira, Ed Sheeran, and many more.  Prolific composer John Powell (The Italian Job, Shrek, The Bourne Identity, Paycheck, X-Men: The Last Stand, and next year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story) offers up a musical score that includes all you’d hope for in a Spanish story, incorporating a variety of styles and instrumentation.

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We’ve reviewed dozens of books from the Alien franchise over the past six years at borg.com.  The latest book blends the look and style of the Batman v. Superman Tech Manual (reviewed here at borg.com) and the virtual world potential of Pokémon Go.  The Book of Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual, by Owen Williams, allows diehard fans of the franchise a new way to immerse themselves in the world of the U.S. Colonial Marines.  With a nod to real world guides like the U.S. Army Survival Manual this future version is interactive, merging a free Alien Augmented Reality app that readers can download to their smartphones with the preparatory lessons and guidance in the book.  The Alien Survival Manual is entirely in-universe, featuring explanatory material for the reader newly stepping into the boots of a new Marine.

The book features historical data on six past missions.  You’ll revisit or learn for the first time what went wrong on key case study missions involving the xenomorph aliens: USCSS Prometheus–the first recorded encounter with the aliens, USCSS Covenant–a colonization ship is annihilated by xenomorphs, USCSS Nostromo–an ovomorph and xenomorph encounter, USCSS Sulaco–less information is on file from this mission, and lastly, the Fiorina 161 mission–two facehugger aliens board the ship, and USM Auriga–the perils of attempting to clone this unpredictable alien species.

Once trainees are up to speed on their history, it’s time to engage via your smartphone or Surface/iPad with six real-world training missions.  An embedded separate workbook inside the Alien Survival Manual incorporates some basic augmented reality features, placing the familiar aliens in the virtual space of your own room when used with the Alien AR app.  The goal of each mission?  Survival.

Mission #1 is engaging a xenomorph egg simulation.  Mission #2 is a drop-ship simulator, where Marines must maneuver a ship onto a designated landing surface.  Mission #3 is an alien autopsy simulation.  Mission #4 is a chestburster simulation.  Mission #5 is an alien queen encounter (hint: just drop your phone and run).  And Mission #6 is weapons training.  Grab that M41A pulse rifle!

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It was only back in 2015 that the fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World, premiered its first trailer, and a rather bad one at that.  Now as 2018 approaches we have a trailer for the fifth film in the series, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  And the latest trailer reveals yet another rehash of the original, brilliant, Steven Spielberg adaptation of Michael Crichton’ fantastic novel.  As with Jurassic World, the effort is not entirely futile, Jurassic World was simple entertainment on a big scale–a feast for the eyes.  But for some of us, for all its incredible special effects and fantastic futuristic technology, Jurassic World proved the maxim George Lucas laid out in reference to the success behind the original Star Wars–“Special effects are a tool, a means of telling a story… A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”  And that summed up Jurassic World–the umpmillionth variation on the Frankenstein how-not-to-build-a-monster story, and the latest twist on Crichton’s original look at a theme park gone haywire in his movie Westworld.

Yet if every other blockbuster that takes the leap into Sequel World is able to continue forward with more and more and more and pulls audiences into theaters, why not Jurassic Park?  For those that want to reclaim even a spark of the original in the theater again, maybe it’s enough.  So what does the trailer tell us that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has going for it?

First off, Chris Pratt is back.  Audiences like Pratt movies in part because they simply like Pratt’s charm.  He has the same brand of star power as John Wayne, who always appeared to be playing John Wayne in all his movies.  Like Schwarzenegger, Willis, Van Damme, etc.  It must be an action star thing.  So if you’ve watched Pratt (like we have) in everything from Everwood to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, we’re wagering you’re going to like Pratt returning as dinosaur wrangler Owen Grady.  Bryce Dallas Howard is an equally good if not better actor, with less of a fan following, and here she and Pratt are back again being snarky with each other (snore) in a Jurassic World preview.  If they didn’t have chemistry in the first film, why would we expect it to surface in a sequel?  Maybe what we need is the return of Jeff Goldblum in his best-loved role as Dr. Ian Malcolm?  His performance in 1993 was so well-received that Crichton, who killed off Malcolm in the original novel, resurrected the character for the sequel.  Did Goldblum’s return help The Lost World: Jurassic Park?  Not really.  But it’s been twenty years since we last saw Dr. Nature… Finds… a Way, so maybe enough time has passed so we can love him all over again.

And there are dinosaurs.  We’ll never get tired of more dinosaurs.  I want to see a triceratops racing a stegosaurus on the big screen.  How about you?

Check out this new trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom:

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