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Review by C.J. Bunce

As with fans of the other big genre franchises, fans of the Harry Potter universe are always looking for what is coming next for their fandom.  While waiting for the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the next best thing is a visual journey into the artwork of the film series via Harper Design’s new 364-page, giant hardcover book, The Art of Harry Potter.  A gallery of more than 600 images, The Art of Harry Potter covers the eight movies, all created under the watchful eye of Academy Award-winning production designer Stuart Craig.

This collection is entirely different from any behind the scenes art book we’ve seen, breaking down the films by environments, characters, beasts, artifacts, and the most eye-opening: the graphic art that grounded the films in the real world.  The graphic art includes photographs of book covers, key documents seen onscreen, potion bottles, magazines and newspapers, blueprints, maps, heraldry, Quidditch signage, food and beverage containers, posters, and tapestries.  Trying to mock up a Harry Potter room in your house?  This is your sourcebook.  With only eight pages of descriptive text, no in-depth interviews with creators, or the like, and only photo captions to guide you on your journey, consider this volume the ultimate album of the concept artwork that inspired the films.

The most unique section of the book looks into all the artwork that adorned the Hogwarts school and other environments.  These were images that may not have been seen on the screen at all, or images seen only in the corner of a frame flashing by quickly, but all worthy of gallery display.  Don’t expect to find photographs of actors or as-photographed screen images–these images represent the ideas that were developed over the decade between 2001 and 2011 that were then crafted into the final screen costumes, props, stages, and Harry Potter magic.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Nearly one hundred years after Bushnell’s Turtle (the submersible, not the sandwich shop), Jules Verne introduced the world to his futuristic advanced submarine the Nautilus.  In the pages of his novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, an expedition is investigating a giant sea monster that ends up being Captain Nemo’s famous submarine.   A predecessor to modern steampunk stories, 20,000 Leagues gets a sequel 145 years later in C. Courtney Joyner’s new steampunk novel Nemo Rising

Pushing aside Verne’s own sequel The Mysterious Island, Nemo Rising finds Captain Nemo a prisoner of the United States, jailed in a vault in Virginia in a form of solitary confinement and set to be hanged for destroying the USS Abraham Lincoln.  Partially destroyed but slightly rebuilt and sitting in drydock, the Nautilus would seem to be calling for its captain as a bevy of sea monsters begins to destroy European vessels in the Atlantic.  U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant is eager to hang Nemo, but realizes he needs to negotiate a deal for Nemo’s cooperation to prove that these sea monsters are causing the destruction to get the international community off his back.  As the President dodges assassination attempts riding his trusty horse Cincinnati, he finally resorts to using a new invention, an airship, to redouble the efforts to see that Nemo completes his mission and learns the truth behind these attacks.  Accompanied against his wishes by the airship inventor’s intrepid daughter, Nemo seeks his own form of payback as he takes the choice of the mission over the gallows.  The result is a classic seafaring adventure any fan of classic science fiction or pirate tales will love.

First edition of the original Jules Verne Captain Nemo novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas.

With the pacing and action level of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, Nemo Rising reveals a brother-in-arms of Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab on the footing of a modern vengeance story as found in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Netflix’s The Punisher.  This Captain Nemo story is a fun read that will be gobbled up by fans of Verne (especially his novel Master of the World) and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  It also reflects the realism of living and working at sea, but without all the precise detail like you’d find in C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, the Patrick O’Brian Jack Aubrey books, or the famous mutiny stories–it’s more like watching their television adaptations.

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It’s been a long time since most audiences last saw Emilio Estevez.  For most fans the last film was 1993’s Judgment Night, where Estevez led a great cast that included Denis Leary in his big breakout year, Cuba Gooding, Jr. just after his stint in A Few Good Men, and Jeremy Piven first showing audiences that smarm charm we’d later see a whole lot more of in Entourage (if you haven’t seen Judgment Night, it’s a thriller worth seeing).  Usually a good guy and straight arrow, we’d also see him as suave and cocky as he became a household name and stayed that way for an entire decade, from 1982 to 1993.

Estevez starred in a memorable movies like Tex, The Outsiders, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, Maximum Overdrive, Stakeout, Young Guns, Freejack, and The Mighty DucksHe then took the reins as writer, director, and actor twelve years ago in a lesser known film, a biopic of the Bobby Kennedy assassination called Bobby, and he’s finally back–performing the filmdom triple threat again in the independent drama The PublicThe first trailer for the film is out and it looks great.  A film chock full of genre greats, The Public will see Estevez exploring issues such as homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction as a group of homeless people in downtown Cincinnati take shelter after hours in the public library when extreme winter conditions strike.  Who hasn’t asked the question, why some government program couldn’t be arranged to use a few public buildings after hours to help the homeless?

Estevez plays Stuart Goodson, the head librarian, Alec Baldwin (Mission: Impossible series, The Departed, Malice, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Hunt for Red October, Beetlejuice, Knots Landing) plays a crisis negotiator for the Cincinnati police department, Jena Malone (The Hunger Games series, Sucker Punch, Into the Wild, Pride & Prejudice, Donnie Darko, Ellen Foster) plays the assistant librarian, Jeffrey Wright (James Bond series, Westworld, The Good Dinosaur, Lady in the Water, Syriana, The Manchurian Candidate, Shaft, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Homicide) plays Mr. Anderson, Richard T. Jones (Event Horizon, Collateral, Phone Booth, Godzilla, Super 8, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Judging Amy) is Chief Edwards, Gabrielle Union (Deep Space Nine, Life, Night Stalker) plays a local reporter, Michael Kenneth Williams (Assassin’s Creed, Ghostbusters, Boardwalk Empire, RoboCop, Community, Law & Order, The Wire) plays a homeless man who leads the sit-in, Taylor Schilling (Argo, Orange is the New Black, Dark Matter) plays Angela, Christian Slater (Mr. ROBOT, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Young Guns II)  plays the assistant district attorney, and Jacob Vargas (Luke Cage, Medium, Psych, Burn Notice, Death Race, Flight of the Phoenix, Crimson Tide) is the head of security at the library.

Check out this trailer for Emilio Estevez’s The Public:

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It was the 19th century struggle for the supremacy of electricity, pitting Thomas Alva Edison against George Westinghouse.  Now it’s a new movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit), Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Man of Steel), and Nicholas Hoult (X-Men series, Mad Max: Fury Road).  Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and written by Michael Mitnick, The Current War looks like the kind of historical piece that should drive fans of Cumberbatch’s BBC work right into theaters.

Cumberbatch will play Edison, Shannon will play Westinghouse, and Hoult will play Nikola Tesla.  Spider-man: Homecoming’s Tom Holland is Samuel Insull, one of the co-founders of Edison General Electric, and Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Alien: Covenant) is Westinghouse’s wife, Marguerite Erskine.

The film was originally scheduled for release on December 12, 2017, but then it was changed to November 24, and it’s been put on indefinite delay.  The hesitation purportedly wasn’t for reasons of the film’s content, the frequent cause of many delayed films being re-edited or re-tooled at the last minute.  This film hails from The Weinstein Company, and like many projects from that studio, distribution was disrupted because of owner Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment scandal.

Check out this trailer for The Current War:

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For “truth is stranger than fiction” it’s difficult not to stumble over the story of Sarah Winchester.  Mysteries of the Museum, America’s Castles, and every series that has ever taken viewers on an excursion to America’s supposedly haunted houses has covered the story.  Heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, Sarah Winchester became one of the world’s wealthiest women of the 19th century.  Her husband died in 1881 and she then proceeded to spend her fortune on a sprawling mansion over the next 38 years, a mansion that was never finished.  And why?  Because Sarah Winchester thought the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles were haunting her.  She built extra room after room on her mansion to trick them into not finding her.  And she had new rooms added to the mansion until she died.  And this story is all true.

Next month the great Helen Mirren (RED, Hitchcock, The Queen) steps into the shoes of Sarah Winchester in the new drama horror film, Winchester.  One of genredom’s pervasive actors, Jason Clarke (Terminator: Genesys, Farscape, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Everest) plays a doctor looking into Winchester’s outlandish claims for the Winchester business.

The mansion still exists and is now a tourist attraction called the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.  Check out the website here.  For fans of Supernatural–show creator Eric Kripke gave Sam and Dean their last name because of Kripke’s interest in the Mystery House.

The film adaptation appears to take the ghost story into the realm of Guillermo del Toro’s ghost story Crimson Peak.  Check out previews for the new movie, Winchester, after the cut:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Octopussy and The Living Daylights was the 14th and final book of Ian Fleming’s James Bond works.  Published posthumously in 1966, the stories would take on new lives in movies, the first starring Roger Moore, the second starring Timothy Dalton.  Before both of those films, Bond fans in England would see both stories played out in newspaper comic strips.  Titan Books has re-issued the comic strips in giant collected editions reprinting the strips at their original scale, first with its Dr. No (1958-60) collection, then in its Spectre edition (reviewed here), and next in its Goldfinger (1960-66) edition (reviewed here).  The Living Daylights story was captured in the Goldfinger collection, and Titan has just released its next edition in the series, Octopussy–The Complete Ian Fleming’s James Bond–The Classic Comic Strip Collection 1966-69.

This fourth book in the series leads off with Fleming favorites Octopussy and The Hildebrand Rarity, and it also includes two new stories featuring Bond from the newspaper strip series writer Jim Lawrence: The Harpies and River of Death.  Artist Yaroslav Horak’s work reflects the style of the era, and his characters have the look of Neal Adams’ comic book art from the 1960s.  And how many stories in comics from the 1960s and 1970s had to include the obligatory harpy story?

A common theme through these four stories is the use of animals in Bond tales.  Octopussy is obvious, with its titular character: Major Smythe’s pet octopus that he subjects to experiments.  In The Hildebrand Rarity, antagonist Milton Krest collects endangered sea life.  Jezebel the pet stoat is a feature of The Harpies, and a monkey, bats, a jaguar and Dr. Cat all factor in to the plot of River of Death.  As M mentions to Bond in River of Death, “Very interesting indeed, James… it’s the third odd case in five months involving an animal.”  That sort of sounds like a comment someone would have made in the office reading all these stories in a row back in the 1960s.

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Most fans of the sixty-year Marvel Comics multi-title property X-Men have been reading X-Men books for years.  Hundreds of characters have been woven into more than 8,000 pages and dozens of monthly titles, and very few can really count themselves experts on the entirety of the history of the mutant heroes.  To catch up, new readers can pick up omnibus editions from any of the past six decades going back to 1963.  But a new mini-series beginning with only two hefty 40-page, no advertisement issues aims to get you caught up on the series first 30 years in the time it takes Quicksilver to zip around the world and back.

X-Men: Grand Design is exactly that, an epic story pulling together every major story and many minor ones in what is in essence new, classic style comic strips assembled into a comic book anthology.  Cartoonist Ed Piskor, known for his Eisner winning series Hip Hop Family Tree, came up with the idea, pitched it to Marvel, and took off on his own as the sole creator, writer, artist, letterer, and colorist.  Both the first and second issues, the “First Genesis,” are available at comic book stores now, and like a musician’s “fake book,” anyone can read these two issues with no prior knowledge of the X-Men, jump into the movies or grab a recent spin-off series, and walk away with a firm grasp on the characters.

 

You’ll meet The Watcher as he hones in on Earth primarily to witness the impact of the Phoenix Force on Jean Grey–the best character that surfaces in the first issue.  Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner decimates New York, followed by the birth of Charles Xavier, then we witness Magneto’s backstory, Xavier’s relationships with step-brother Cain Marko aka the Juggernaut, Moira MacTaggert, and Gabrielle Haller, and Xavier’s collection of mutants Jean Grey, Scott Summers, Angel, Hank, Red Raven, Iceman, Pyro, Rogue, and Marvel Girl.  Magneto recruits Wanda and Pietro Maximoff.  And villains abound, including the Mutant Master, Shi-ar, Mister Sinister, Bolivar Trask, The Conquistador, Morlocks, the Blob, Unus the Untouchable, Mesmero, Mastermind, Count Nefaria, the Mimic, Banshee, and Sauron.  We even learn of Xavier’s son David (the focus of the current FXX series Legion) and Magneto’s daughter Lorna (but we see no apparent connection yet between Magneto and Quicksilver).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The life of master magician Harry Houdini intersected with many other celebrities of the day, and a few of them come into play in a new four-issue comic book series by writer and artist Cynthia von Buhler.  A new addition to Titan Comics’ Hard Case Crime works, Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini tracks the magician in the 20 days leading up to his death on October 31, 1926.  Incredibly enough only the strangest elements of von Buhler’s series are real.  Minky Woodcock is the writer’s creation–the daughter of a private investigator who is hired first by Arthur Conan Doyle to help him discredit Houdini, she is then hired by Houdini’s wife as a magician’s assistant to keep tabs on him.  The blend of the true and the fabricated is smoothly drawn together into an impressive tale of 1920s debauchery, fraud, celebrity, and spectacle.

Yes, Houdini and Doyle were once friends, and their relationship fell apart over their views on spiritualism.  Doyle employed a bizarre spiritualist for Houdini (appearing in the comic) who conducted séances in the nude (who knew the 1920s had such characters?).  When Houdini’s mother was summoned, communicating through the medium in the form of a letter, Houdini was quickly able to see the fraud as an image of a cross appeared and the language was written in English.  Houdini’s mother was Jewish and spoke no English.

 

Von Buhler writes and illustrates both her heroine Minky Woodcock and Houdini’s wife Bess as fascinating women of the 1920s.  Von Buhler’s artistic style is perfectly suited for the story–her women look like they emerged from 16mm film from the Golden Age of cinema–she uses pen and ink with a watercolor method that makes the issues of the series look like they’re printed on classic pulp paper.  And her renderings of Harry and Bess Houdini look like their photographs.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Something about a film created contemporary to the World War II years automatically lends itself to a greater level of authenticity than the modern attempt at an epic war film.  Dunkirk is one of those modern large-scale productions, falling in line behind the likes of 1998’s Saving Private Ryan and 2001’s Pearl Harbor.  Dunkirk is better than both, and although it doesn’t have the gravitas of 1993’s Schindler’s List and is not as nail-biting as something like 1981’s Das Boot, Dunkirk still provides some good nuggets of emotion as we hone in on a dozen soldiers, sailors, and civilians attempting to get to the end of a week during the Battle of France–May 26 to June 4, 1940.  Dunkirk doesn’t tell a story full of intrigue like 2008’s Valkyrie, but its reflection of the war seems all the more reality-based despite not using film methods like that of Steven Spielberg, who tends to film historical settings with filters that make audiences feel more like “we were there.”  The most important lessons of history can be found in the study of World War II so any World War II film is a success if it can tell a story of brave leadership, brave soldiering, and accountability of the citizenry as Dunkirk does.

Dunkirk comes closest to Saving Private Ryan, presenting a believable wide-scope, giant battlefield, then bringing viewers into the brief encounters and interactions of a few.  Compelling roles are shared evenly in the three stories by actors young and old–most importantly is newcomer Fionn Whitehead playing a soldier who barely makes it to the battlefield and then seems to have nothing but bad luck as he must make life-and-death choices at every step to try to get closer to home.  From the older set, Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall, The BFG, Ready Player One) is a stoic Brit civilian who has his own reasons to try to bring some soldiers home.  And Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight Rises) plays the key fighter pilot, whose fuel gauge is broken and his assistance from other squadrons is nil.  The aerial dogfights aren’t the exciting stuff of war movies of the past, but the story doesn’t really call for that.  The theme is in the numbers:  Can any individual beat the odds with the German fighter aircraft returning for further attacks on the beach, on the escort and attack vessels, and against the three British airplanes?  Who will make it home, and who will not?

Director Christopher Nolan engages a unique story device, telling three stories simultaneously.  The first begins a week before the finale that follows the fate of 400,000 British ground forces (with a few French soldiers) waiting to be picked up on the beach in Dunkirk for transport back to England after the failure to secure France (or picked off by enemy strafing).  The second story begins one day before the finale, as a man, his son, and a friend answer the call in England for civilian boats to head across the channel to Dunkirk to transport troops home.  The third story begins one hour prior to the end, and follows three British pilots trying to stave off a German aerial assault on the beachhead.  Despite the spliced intersections of three clocks, Nolan makes it work.  Astonishingly the audience is reeled into the story even if we learn almost nothing about the backstory of any character in the film.  The best takeaway?  The relative value in war of one man in a single fighter plane vs. 400,000 ground troops.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You might think that a movie from 22 years ago isn’t prime material for a reboot, especially when that movie is Joe Johnston’s barely memorable Jumanji.  It starred Robin Williams, a bunch of kids and a nice pantheon of supporting actresses (including Patricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner series, The Station Agent), Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers, Malice, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Bonnie Hunt (Zootopia, Monsters, Inc.)).   Ten years later Jon Favreau would take the same formula ahead with Zathura.  Both movies featured kids getting pulled into a board game where they must fight to survive.  Blending these shows with the pulled-in concept first taken on by Tron in 1982, the new fantasy adventure Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle takes the idea from board game to video game, and does it much better by taking the child actors and having them turn into adult fantasy world avatars, all played by some of Hollywood’s best-loved actors.

The result is great fantasy fun–escapist, easy, laugh-out-loud humor that showcases the talents, charisma, and humor, of the four stars.  Leading the way is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who according to Meet the Press is considering a 2020 presidential bid).  No current personality is better at poking fun at himself, with charisma, good looks, and the smarts to pull off the persona of a teenager afraid of everything who becomes the chiseled Dr. Smolder Bravestone, and yes, smoldering is one of his video character powers.  My screening was preceded by a trailer for Rampage, another big action film game tie-in along the lines of San AndreasJumanji: Welcome to the Jungle co-stars Johnson’s Central Intelligence co-star Kevin Hart, who brings his stand-up comic, self-effacing persona to the big screen again as the tough kid turned short-statured sidekick to Bravestone, Franklin Finbar.  Finbar’s video game powers are hysterical–one of his powers is carrying Bravestone’s tools, and his weaknesses include cake and strength itself.

Another nice choice is comedic actor Jack Black, who plays self-absorbed teenager Bethany’s avatar, Professor Shelly (as in Sheldon, not Michelle) Oberon.  Black plays the role for great laughs, and he pulls off playing a teenage girl like only he could.  Karen Gillan stars as studious teen Martha’s avatar Ruby Roundhouse, a seriously badass superheroine of the Tomb Raider Lara Croft school.  Gillan, known best for her role as Amelia Pond in Doctor Who and as Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, proves again she was born to play big action roles.  She and Bravestone are exactly what you’d expect from online role player fantasy personas, not in actual Activision game but maneuvering pitfalls just the same.  When they’re saving the day the audience is cheering them on every step of the way.  In between those scenes audiences will be laughing as the coming-of-age story of the kids breaks through.  By the end of the film, a cameo actor performance–a brilliant casting move–will take audiences full circle with the mystique of another coming of age fantasy with life-changing implications from the 30 years ago (hint: the cameo actor previously co-starred with one of this film’s actors in one of our favorite coming of age classics).

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