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Review by C.J. Bunce

Do you want to see the best series opener you’ll probably see this year?  If you’re a J.K. Simmons fan–and even if you’re not–set your DVR for tonight’s premiere of Counterpart on Starz.  It’s Dirty Harry meets The Adjustment Bureau as J.K. Simmons plays mild-mannered Howard Silk, a thirty-year veteran of a low-level interface job in a Berlin carryover Cold War installation.  But his world is turned upside down when he learns an experiment back in the 1980s split time apart and created a duplicate world, and he meets his counterpart–the Howard Silk from the other side, a brusque, 007 spy, who has little patience for his genetically-identical, under-achiever self.

Could Counterpart be J.K. Simmons chance at a coveted television role like Tatiany Maslany’s multiple roles in Orphan Black?  We can only hope.  His role is similar to Jason Isaacs’s dual role in the 2012 series Awake.  But will there only be two Howard Silks, or more?  With so many characters in series these days not making it through a single character arc all season, Simmons’ Silk gets plenty of development in his first hour.  It’s clear we’re going to get a season of Simmons vs. Simmons, and the series opener allows for audiences to witness plenty of nicely filmed interactions between the two.

It’s exciting, smart, dramatic, and even poignant.  Silk’s wife, played by Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense, The Postman, Rushmore) on this side of the timeline is in a coma, and Silk visits her to read to her each night.  He is confronted by her brother, an unlikeable sort played by Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica, Horatio Hornblower).  Sara Serraiocco plays a badass counterspy.

Check out this trailer for the series:

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Not likely to be the last we see of Star Wars animated television series from Disney, the successful four season run of Star Wars Rebels will wrap with its final episode March 5, 2018.  As each season has peppered fans with the official return of actors from the original George Lucas trilogy and prequels, as well as 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, at least one more major character will return in the series’ final seven episodes beginning next month.

Emperor Palpatine himself, Ian McDiarmid, joins original film cast members James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Forest Whitaker, Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz, Warwick Davis, and Genevieve O’ Reilly, and an ultimate mash-up of actors from literally every major genre franchise, including Sarah Michelle Gellar, Gina Torres, Tom Baker, Brent Spiner, Jason Isaacs, Katee Sackhoff, Clancy Brown, Peter MacNicol, Sam Witwer, and Freddie Prinze, Jr.  McDiarmid reprises his role as the franchise’s top bad guy seen in the re-edit of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith.  Although other original characters were voiced by new actors for characters like Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Bail Organa, Darth Maul, Wedge Antilles, and General Dodonna, this is a rare treat in any franchise to see the return of an actor to an iconic role so many years later (that is, except the Doctor Who franchise, which has seen 7 of the original 13 actors who played Doctors return along with nearly every companion in the series’ 50 year history as part of Big Finish Productions’ 17 years of audioplays).

Sam Witwer provided the voice of Palpatine earlier in the series, but Lucasfilm pulled in McDiarmid for one last curtain call.  What will be the ultimate fate of Lothal, another loss like Scarif and Alderaan?  Will Ahsoka return?  Why didn’t we see Grand Admiral Thrawn in Rogue One?  Does Captain Rex live to fight at Endor in Return of the Jedi?  Fans of the series are waiting to see what happens to the key characters, the crew of The Ghost.  We know from Rogue One that Hera and Chopper survive.  Will Kanan, Ezra, Zeb, or Sabine make it out of Star Wars Rebels, too?

The end, and the answers to these questions are almost here.  Check out this new trailer for the final episodes of Star Wars Rebels:

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Black Lightning is the latest character from Greg Berlanti’s DC Comics “Arrowverse” taking your TV by storm.  Cress Williams plays the new CW series lead character, school principal Jefferson Pierce by day, masked superhero with actual energy-harnessing powers when called upon.  Raising two daughters, divorced from their mother, and trying to lead the kids in his community in a world full of hate and prejudice, this superhero is very different from what we’ve seen from DC on TV.  On paper Black Lightning sounds a bit like The Incredibles, with a retired hero returning to the superhero business.  But this isn’t all fun and games superhero antics like the other CW shows.

The superhero debuted in the comic book Black Lightning, Issue #1, forty years ago.  Writers Tony Isabella and Dennis O’Neil wrote the original stories, with artwork by legendary artist Trevor Von Eeden.  Black Lightning is the first DCU major African-American superhero, and rounds out the key classic African-American superheroes of decades past to make modern on-screen appearances, along with Anthony Mackey’s Falcon, Mike Colter’s Luke Cage, and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, all from the Marvel universe. 

Episode one of Black Lightning makes for a solid pilot, and is re-airing on the CW network tonight.  The stakes in the series are real, it’s more grounded in reality than the other DC Comics shows, more like the Netflix Marvel Universe television series.  The pace, choice of music, and tone are similar to Marvel’s Luke Cage, the other superhero based on a 1970s black lead comic book title in a current TV series.  Principal Pierce stopped being a superhero for nine years–he had originally become Black Lightning to fight a villain named Tobias Whale and a string of mobsters, to give people hope, but he made a commitment to his wife to stop the violent lifestyle.  But crime is worse now and when his youngest daughter is in the wrong place at the wrong time, he has no choice but to make his return.  He says he saved more lives as a principal than he could have as a superhero and he doesn’t want to go back.

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Norwegian film director Roar Uthaug (Escape, The Wave) and writer Geneva Robertson-Dworet (ROM, M.A.S.K., Sherlock Holmes 3, Captain Marvel, Dungeons & Dragons, Gotham City Sirens) are returning to the core of the character designed and created by Toby Gard to become one of the world’s best-selling franchises in the new trailer released today for the reboot of the Lara Croft franchise.  Even more than the last trailer for the film, clips from today’s preview mirror some of the same kind of cliffhanger scenes found in each of the original trilogy of Indiana Jones movies–the same kind of adventure that made the original video game a success.

If you have any doubts that Vikander looks the part, just check out the comparison video discussed here earlier, which shows just how closely Vikander matches the Lara in the video game Rise of the Tomb Raider.  Lara Croft has been around since 1996, in various versions of game play, based on at least eight different real-life models, and even voiced by the likes of Ashes to Ashes star Keeley Hawes and Good Will Hunting and The Riches star Minnie Driver.

Check out today’s new trailer for Tomb Raider:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Crime stories are full of dark places and dark characters, characters like Waldo Lydecker in Vera Caspary’s Laura, Rebecca DeWinter in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Jim Williams in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Barbara Sabich in Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, Catherine Trammell in Joe Eszterhas’s Basic Instinct, Noah Cross in Robert Towne’s Chinatown.  But what if you were to populate an entire story with only the most vile of these characters, everyone despicable, reprehensible, soulless.  Then you would have Richard Vine’s crime novel Soho Sins.

The New York City in Vine’s novel can’t really exist, and if it does it explains a lot about its perceived debauchery-filled subculture of million dollar art deals and even bigger real estate deals.  Most noir novels take you into places that dip into the dark, but along the way you meet a few “cool” characters, characters that have a trait or two you’d want to emulate, even if they are bad at their very core in a nice, pulp novel way.  That’s not the case in the Soho of Vine’s New York of two decades past (for those not familiar with New York, Soho is the lower Manhattan neighborhood known for its artist lofts and art galleries).  Nobody is personable, likeable, enviable, charming, or authentic.  And this ugliness means that as you forge ahead in a densely crafted 384 pages, the way Vine tells his story and the way he incorporates the shock and awe of the depravity, self-hatred, and apathy, is necessary to keep you engaged.  To Vine’s credit, it all works, complete with a couple of eleventh hour whoppers at the end of the tale.  Not bad at all for a first time novelist.

Vine takes you on a journey through New York City that illustrates in fine detail everything that is bad about the city, primarily in its wealthiest, seediest corners.  Vine brings his years of experience in the contemporary art world to provide a peep show peek into a world where artists and dealers live for no purpose other than to impress and outdo each other.  Our tour guide is a member of this vapid class, art dealer and real estate owner Jackson Wyeth, whose lack of true compassion and concern for anyone including himself at first make it difficult to tag along.  Vine partners him with an old friend, an ex-cop private eye named Hogan, who is a welcome relief from all the banality of the modern art trade and its actors, but ultimately, he and Wyeth are just two sides of a tarnished coin.  Hogan is after the murderer who shot Wyeth’s best friend Philip Oliver’s wife Angela, and Hogan uses Wyeth to introduce him to the art scene, a close-knit club, to prove whether or not Philip committed the murder.  And, by the way, Philip has already confessed to the crime.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When the worst of us does its best to silence the rest of us, you get a story like 1971’s Pentagon Papers bombshell.  When a voluminous, decades-in-the-making, confidential government report that demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents from Truman through Johnson is leaked to the press, The New York Times first reported on it, and the Nixon administration sought and was granted an injunction preventing the Times from publishing further articles on the subject.  Director Steven Spielberg focuses his new expertly crafted biopic The Post on The Washington Post as it decided whether to publish excerpts of the Pentagon Papers in the face of the Times injunction, primarily through the eyes of newspaper owner Katherine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, and managing editor Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks. For the average moviegoer, Spielberg takes a rather mundane footnote in American history and makes it completely engaging and entertaining.  Carefully re-creating the early 1970s more than 45 years later with everything from the annoying mishandling of coins as you tried to make a payphone call, to the rotary phones we all used, to the weekly ritual of the family newspaper strewn across the living room, to costume designer Ann Roth’s hand-sewn vintage wardrobe re-creations, eyeglasses, jewelry, and hairdos of the era, to old technology and random items on shelves (that might prompt you to think it’s time to get a new iced tea pitcher), to the thankfully bygone days of women sitting in one room at a party and the men in another, to board rooms completely devoid of women (although today there is still rarely more than one or two), Spielberg makes the best use of the film medium, sharing a timely and important story for a new generation of moviegoers.

Filmed in the same 1970s noir style as Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (and using a newsroom set that is almost as accurate as that film’s 1975 California movie set version of the real thing), The Post might as well be a prequel.  It’s almost as good, lacking some of the more heart-pounding, real-life thrills of Watergate, like the mysterious informant Deep Throat, the uncertainty of whether someone in the government was going to think The Washington Post’s press coverage was worth killing over, and the perceived nature of the stakes (the executive branch vs. the Fourth Estate).  To his credit Spielberg had the more difficult task of re-creating an era and a newsroom in 2017, when Redford was filming his movie only three years after the events took place (and Spielberg is also certain to illustrate the stakes to both the players and the nation of this earlier event).  From the opening scene Spielberg traverses familiar territory, opening with an embedded government wonk in a warzone in Vietnam, as believable as his earliest team-up with Hanks, in Saving Private Ryan.  Seamlessly composer John Williams rejoins his long partnership with Spielberg in this scene, offering one of his best scores in years, alternating within the film an intensity that rivals his Raider of the Lost Ark compositions with the contemplative import of the moment realized in his Schindler’s List soundtrack.

Yesterday is today, as scene after scene attests to the same corporate deal making, the same roadshow investors, the same IPO efforts, the same boardroom antics, the same misogyny, the same shuffling of blame, and the same indifference to the public good permeates the nation and the news.   Convincingly selling us on the gravity of the story is the best ensemble cast put together in the past year.  Streep plays a surprisingly layered Katherine Graham, a socialite who would become the first woman Fortune 500 CEO and first woman to helm a major newspaper, best known for her role in the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.  Streep never ceases to amaze as she creates yet another character as believable and authentic as any of her past award-winning performances.  The Tom Hanks that won best actor Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump is also back, playing the strident editor Bradlee for all it’s worth, complete with the editor’s accent, brusque language and bravado, equal to Jason Robards’ Oscar-winning take on the same man in All the President’s Men.  The rest of the cast is a virtual Who’s Who of the current top genre actor scene.

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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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