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Review by C.J. Bunce

After its second week in theaters, Ready Player One is still chalking up sold-out screenings nationwide.  Whether or not you’re a video game fan, and whether or not you read Ernest Cline’s novel the film is based on, it’s a fun way to spend 2.5 hours.  Although his producer credits are hit-and-miss over the past few decades, director Steven Spielberg tends to take on films he cares about, and handles them with care.  Same goes for Ready Player One.  Along with his Oscar-nominated film The Post, Ready Player One proves there’s no slowing down for the director’s success in making good films.  Even if Ready Player One is not as great as the films from the 1980s that it honors (Spielberg’s choice to ignore references from his own films leaves a big, obvious gap throughout scene after scene), it’s a nice story, and a progression of the kind of coming-of-age story the director first created long ago with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Yet the backbone of the story doesn’t flow from the 1980s, but the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

In the year 2045, Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse), and a group of people he has only met as their avatars in a giant MMPORG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) called OASIS, embark on a quest to solve the late OASIS founder’s puzzle in three steps, which would reward the winner with control of the OASIS and the hundreds of millions of dollars the company behind it (called IOI) is worth.  The big win is the authenticity of relationships between Sheridan and his co-stars, including Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) as Art3mis (pronounced Artemis), Aech (sounds like the letter “H”) played by Lena Waithe (Master of None), Daito (Win Morisaki), and Sho (Philip Zhao) as they work together on their journey.  Cooke’s character really comes alive as the high point of the film.  The villains are more textbook bad guys, led by Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), with his bulky minion i-R0K (“I rock”) played by T.J. Miller (Deadpool), and a seriously underutilized Hannah John-Kamen as F’Nale.  i-R0K carries the bulk of the film’s best comedy lines.  Surprisingly the story misses the opportunity to give the viewer enough information to solve the three riddles of the film.  Instead we watch the characters move through a great big fictional world only they know about.  But the adventure is a good ride.  Look for Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) and Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Shaun of the Dead) as an interesting odd couple of Gates/Jobs-inspired visionaries.

Get ready for dizzying races and chases with the latest CGI and motion capture special effects–so much so that much of the movie feels like an animated movie.  We’ve come a long way from the 1980s version of the subject matter in Disney’s Tron–the first visit into a video game world.  But Ready Player One is similar in tone to Tron and another video game movie of the era, The Last Starfighter–all good family films with positive themes.  Here that’s the importance of community, leadership, and personal responsibility, and the negative side of new and emerging technologies like drones and having more than merely virtual social relationships.

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An all-star cast from the past and present heads up the new action-thriller Hotel Artemis.  The first trailer is out and it looks like a new take on John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, maybe colliding with Atomic Blonde.  It stars Academy Award winner Jodie Foster as The Nurse–the head of a members-only, exclusive, secret hospital for criminals, built on two concepts: Trust and Rules.  And it all goes spy vs. spy as the bad guys must face even badder bad guys.  Foster looks and sounds great as a tried and true, battle-worn healthcare worker who has clearly encountered any and all kinds of patients and circumstances over the years.  Hotel Artemis–oddly enough–seems to fit right into her catalog of films like Flightplan, Panic Room, Inside Man, and Elysium.

You couldn’t ask for a more exciting cast of Hollywood’s current big names.  Joining Foster, Black Panther and Marshall actor Sterling K. Brown stars as Waikiki, a thief whose team gets wounded in a robbery.  That team includes his brother Honolulu, played by Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse).  The real badass of the film is one of our favorites, Atomic Blonde co-star Sofia Boutella as a jet-fueled, Bruce Lee-skilled assassin.  Boutella has conquered the genre with roles in Kingsman: The Secret Service, Star Trek Beyond, and The Mummy.  Who else would you want in your corner but an orderly played by Dave Bautista Chuck, DC and Marvel, Blade Runner, and James Bond–Bautista has played some great parts in cool worlds.  And it doesn’t stop there.  These characters must confront another bad guy group, led by a cocky villain played by Jeff Goldblum.  Hotel Artemis also hosts Jenny Slate (Venom, Zootopia, Parks and Recreation, The LEGO Batman Movie), Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Heroes), and Charlie Day (Pacific Rim, Pacific Rim: Uprising, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). 

Hotel Artemis is coming from the mind of writer/director Drew Pearce, known for writing big films like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Iron Man 3, plus he’s also writing the next Ghostbusters and Sherlock Holmes movie.  Get ready for a trailer done just right:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Bradley W. Schenck’s sci-fi-meets-retro novel Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, was our favorite read of 2017.  Schenck created a unique story within a world we’ve never seen before, a world only hinted at in early 20th century pop culture, early pulp novels, and film.  For fans of classic sci-fi and all things retro, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom handled science fiction futurism like rarely seen before.  With the same imagination and fun, Schenck is back again in Retropolis with a new book of short stories, Patently Absurd: The Files of the Retropolis Registry of PatentsAll but one of the stories were originally published in 2016 and 2017 in Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, and the new story ties together the other stories in the volume, which all really read like a single narrative with clever titles to the chapters.  As with last year’s novel, it’s all great fun and smartly written.

Readers again revisit Retropolis’s day-to-day, the mundane, and the ordinary, in an uncertain world of tomorrow where nothing could possibly be mundane or ordinary, but this time Schenck hones in on one segment of the city, the Registry of Patents and new heroes of the office: Ben Bowman, investigator of patents, and secretary to the Registrar, Violet the humanoid robot.  Ben does not have aspirations of greatness, he’s content to do his job, but Violet is a robot who knows she was built to be an investigator.  The problem is that she’s gone through more than 14 bosses now–the Registrars–and still hasn’t been promoted.  Is it because they leave each other notes in the locked safe in the Registrar’s office about Violet?  And is it possible the office keeps losing Registrars because Violet is working her way through them?  Nah.

Big, bright, and detailed, like Tron, Logan’s Run, Walt Disney’s vision of Tomorrowland, a bit Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, a larger dose of Metropolis, and an equal dose of Office Space and The Office–readers won’t find anything like Scheck’s world elsewhere.  The final story in the volume, “The Enigma of the Unseen Doctor,” is as compelling, rich, and poignant as any other master of science fiction’s take on what it’s like to be a robot.  Scheck turns the tables as we meet a robot with compassion for what it’s like to be human.  Patently Absurd provides the next step in science fiction’s investigation of the soul.

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First premiering at a film festival in Toronto last September, a new costume drama biopic will be slipping into theaters in the U.S. next month and UK theaters in July.  Mary Shelley is a film from a story by Emma Jensen, looking at Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s romance with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, including the famous contest in which Shelley would write in the year 1816 what has been called the most influential science fiction and horror story of all time.  Saudi Arabia’s first woman filmmaker, Haifaa al-Mansour, is directing, with Elle Fanning in the lead role.

The first trailer for the film unveils a historical drama, presenting a young cast for a new generation of Regency romance moviegoers.  Portraying 16 to 18-year-old Shelley is 18-year-old Elle Fanning (as of filming), who has impressed audiences in her short career with star roles in films Super 8, Maleficent, and the remake of The Beguiled.  Co-star Maisie Williams will be familiar to Game of Thrones and Doctor Who fans.  Mary Shelley has the look of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but without the fantasy and horror elements.  That may be thanks in part to co-star Douglas Booth as Percy Shelley, who appeared in both films, as well as Jupiter Ascending and a few historical TV dramas.  Mary Shelley also features Tom Sturridge (Far from the Madding Crowd) as Lord Byron, and Ben Hardy (X-Men: Apocalypse).

Actor Amelia Warner (Aeon Flux, Mansfield Park) composed the film’s musical score.  Kevin Downey, who worked in the art department on The Terror, Ripper Street, Little Women, and Penny Dreadful, is the film’s set decorator.  Caroline Koener is costume designer.

Here is the first trailer for Mary Shelley:

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At this year’s D23 convention, director Brad Bird and Disney/Pixar creator John Lasseter revealed a first look at the coming sequel to 2004’s The Incredibles with the return of superhero costumer Edna “no capes” Mode, and we saw a full trailer back in February (check it out here).  Holly Hunter’s character Helen aka Elastigirl is in the drivers’ seat for the eagerly awaited sequel, and a new trailer for the movie shows us even more.

In the original film Jack-Jack revealed his powers to his babysitter.  This time father Bob Farr aka Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) takes on a Mr. Mom role, doing the same kind of botched parenting antics as Michael Keaton in the 1983 film.  Most of the original cast is back, including Nelson, Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson (Frozone), Sarah Vowell (Violet), with Huck Milner replacing Spencer Fox as the new voice of son Dash.  Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone looks to be as funny as ever.

That mid-century modern artistry defines this series, as well as Michael Giacchino’s 1960s-70s spy flick soundtrack, an update to his exciting original musical score.  It looks like the superheroics are coming from Elastigirl in this chapter, and the humor from Mr. Incredible.

Check out this new trailer for The Incredibles 2:

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Forty years ago this weekend, the soundtrack to the movie Grease was released in stores, two months in advance of the premiere of the movie.  Singles from the LP, “Grease,” and “You’re the One That I Want,” went to #1 in the United States, while “You’re the One That I Want,” and “Summer Nights” went to #1 in the UK, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Sandy” went to #2 in the UK, and “Grease” made it to #3 in the UK.  Back in 1978, even in advance of the movie, the radio was playing these songs and every teenager knew the words to this musical set in the 1950s with a disco beat.

The Bee Gees lead Barry Gibb wrote the song “Grease,” released on the album on the heels of The Bee Gees’ megahit album Saturday Night Fever from only a few months back in November 1977–still unsurpassed as the best selling soundtrack album of all time.  The song “Grease” also includes guitar work by Peter Frampton.  Five of the 24 tracks feature vocals by the film’s leads John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, with six performed by 1950s throwback group Sha Na Na.

Grease, the movie, expanded on the success of both Happy Days and American Graffiti, and the 1970s nostalgia for the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Fathom Events and TSM Big Screen Classics brought Grease back to theaters this week and you have one final opportunity to catch a screening this Saturday, April 14, 2018.  Check your local listings and the Fathom Events website here for details.  Released in June 1978, Grease became the highest grossing musical film ever, and forty years later it holds a spot in fourth place.

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Jason Statham has a way with selecting movies that get noticed and re-watched.  Or credit his agent.  Seventeen years in big movies and still fighting the good fight in roles once played by Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis, he’s back this summer in what’s bound to be a big summer movie, battling a larger than life shark in The Meg.  The latest trailer shows this new big monster mash was actually made on a real production budget, unlike dozens of forgettable attempts to both impress and scare moviegoers for more than forty years since Steven Spielberg’s original Jaws (remember Piranha, Crocodile, Barracuda, and Alligator?).  Forget about the obviously goofy Sharknado series and see if this might bridge the gap between drama, humor, and jump-out-of-your-seat summer fun.  Take a look below and see if you agree The Meg has a chance at surpassing some of the better B-movie efforts at a sea monster movie, like Anaconda and Lake Placid.  

We first noticed Statham’s cool and cocky bravado under the direction of one of the all-time genre greats, John Carpenter, in Ghosts of Mars, playing opposite Pam Grier and Joanna Cassidy.  He quickly led the first of his three Transporter movies beginning in 2002.  Then he co-starred in one of the best heist movies of all time with an all-star cast in 2003’s The Italian Job, followed five years later in one of the best heist movies of all time without an all-star cast in The Bank Job.  And he’s co-starred in both The Fast and the Furious franchise and The Expendables, played Donald E. Westlake’s well-known crime lead in Parker, and starred in a dozen other single-word action flicks, including Collateral, Cellular, Revolver, Crank, Safe, and Redemption.  

Now it’s time to see Statham take on a giant squid and a not-so extinct megalodon aka “The Meg.”  The film is expected to score in the China market, also featuring major star Bingbing Li (Transformers: Age of Extinction, Resident Evil: Retribution).  The Meg also features a handful of familiar television actors, including The Heroes star Masi Oka.

Check out this fun trailer for The Meg:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Comparable in every way to the team-up with Green Lantern and Black Canary in the famed Dennis O’Neill and Neal Adams run on Green Lantern in the early 1970s beginning with Issue #76, Mike Grell would take over the artwork on the O’Neill/Adams run sporadically for the next ten issues and create more than 80 issues about the bow-wielding superhero for the next two decades.  A four-issue series featuring Green Arrow would prove relatively unnoticed in 1983 (without Grell onboard), but in 1987 everything in comic books would change as Grell returned to Green Arrow with his three-issue series The Longbow Hunters Hot on the heels of the previous year’s groundbreaking, prestige format series The Dark Knight Returns, The Longbow Hunters was the perfect dark and gritty follow-up story only this time it presented the superhero lead inside the ongoing narrative of the DC series at the time.  It was Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance, relocating from Star City to Seattle, and the DC Universe became more grounded in reality.  The success of The Longbow Hunters gave Grell the opportunity to take Oliver Queen (referred to in-story as Green Arrow only once in his stories) to the next level in the late 1980s, cementing the superhero as a title character in his own right.  DC Comics has reprinted The Longbow Hunters, and in recent years it has been peppering the market with reprints of Grell’s fantastic storytelling and sometimes artwork for 80 issues from 1988 to 1993.  DC Comics has now released the last of Grell’s incredible run on the Green Arrow monthly in its ninth collection from the series, Green Arrow: Old Tricks.

Green Arrow: Old Tricks is an even greater DC release because it also bundles in Grell’s last work of the era on Green Arrow in the 1993 four-part mini-series Green Arrow: The Wonder Year.  Unlike the past few years of the monthly series, which was illustrated primarily by Rick Hoberg and inker John Nyberg, Grell both wrote and illustrated the official Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths origin story in this mini-series along with inker Gray Morrow.  Along with the origin story that would stand until writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock’s mini-series Green Arrow: Year One in 2007, we see a flashback of Oliver Queen in the heyday of his 1970s “man of the people” political activism.  As for the story at the end of Grell’s run on the monthly comic and the mini-series, Grell went out with a bang.  The stories both hone in on the women in Queen’s life, primarily Dinah, but also Shado and a fling with a local woman half his age, all while Queen is out battling bad guys inside and outside of the city.   Grell’s story is great and the artwork by Hoberg and Grell equally vivid and compelling.

In the section of Green Arrow: Old Tricks reprinting the monthly ongoing series are four stories: the two-part “Trigger,” the single-issue “Auld Acquaintance,” the three-part “Killing Camp,” and the two-part “New Dogs Old Tricks.”  The most memorable to readers of the series will be the New Year’s Eve story “Auld Acquaintance.”  After 80+ issues of Oliver Queen messing up his romance with Dinah Lance, she finally says “goodbye” for good in the series pretty 75th anniversary issue.  Oliver then gets away from it all thanks to a story that calls back to Grell’s own real-life intelligence work, as Queen teams up with Eddie Fyres in a good ol’ James Bond-inspired adventure.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

At first blush it’s hard to wrap your head around, after decades of seeing (and buying) variant comic book covers, learning that the first goes back only so far as 1986, with DC Comics releasing two covers for the first issue of The Man of Steel.  Variant covers–those alternate editions of a comic book where the only difference is one or more optional covers are made available for that issue, the economics behind them, and a high-quality look at many of the often rare artistic works that DC Comics has published since it created the idea, is the subject of a giant, over-sized, coffee table book coming your way this month.  DC Comics Variant Covers–The Complete Visual History offers up many full images of the artwork that became variant covers over the past 30 years, printed on the type of thick paper with vibrant ink reproductions that may prompt some to (carefully) pull out pages and frame them.  It’s like a book full of frame-worthy art prints.

Comic book and film writer Daniel Wallace has tackled the task of selecting highlights from DC Comics’ long run of variant covers–the “Complete” in the title is about the scope and range of variant projects that the publisher has taken on.  He opts to show large images, often full-sized and even double-page spreads of many pieces of cover art, instead of an edition with hundreds of thumbnails of every DC Comics variant that’s seen print.  Compiled in a single book, it will make many a variant collector shudder at the thought of just how many variants exist from all the comic book publishers.  But the images, many familiar, some rare and sought after in comic book form, and some not-so-rare, get their own showcase here, most reflecting the artwork without the title, logos, and other text and branding.  As readers will learn, variant cover collecting has become its own niche for collectors–some books have been bought and sold for thousands of dollars.  Readers will also learn the types of releases that determine rarity and why DC Comics has evolved its strategy for variant covers over time.

The best sections of DC Comics Variant Covers–The Complete Visual History spotlight the covers of Darwyn Cooke (it’s incredible to marvel at six of his images over-sized in the late artist’s bright color palette), Ant Lucia’s DC Bombshells, homage series featuring Mad Magazine, movie posters, Looney Tunes team-ups, convention and store exclusives, and many variant covers from Alex Ross, Frank Cho, and Frank Miller.  Some of the most eye-popping images reprinted include cover art for JSA Classified #1 featuring Power Girl, by Adam Hughes, Batman (Vol. 2) #51, and Superman, #33, by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson, Wonder Woman (Vol. 5) #1 by Frank Cho, and Batman ’66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peele #1, by Cat Staggs.

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A few hours ago Lucasfilm released a new, very long trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story.  If you’re not already all-in for this next Star Wars adventure, this may get you there.  Lucasfilm also released a new, retro style movie poster.  But be forewarned:  We’re getting to the point in the cycle of a coming summer blockbuster where Hollywood starts showing audiences too much of the film.  So if you have the patience, you may want to move along.  It’s doubtful any major spoilers are given away in this trailer, but it seems likely we’ve had a peek at at least 90% of the key environments in the film already.

What?  You’re still here?

If you’re like us, you can soak in all the Star Wars goodness as Disney & Co. is willing to serve it up, spoilers be damned.  The most exciting bit from this new look is Chewbacca.  We hoped and expected he would be key to this film, and so far it seems director Ron Howard is going to deliver on that expectation.  The other bit of note is Donald Glover’s assimilation of Billy Dee Williams’ performance from The Empire Strikes Back as Lando Calrissian, his summoning of all that cool from the actor now frequenting conventions across the country, his transmografication into the suave character we want to see.  Everyone else looks great, too, including new Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich.  If you don’t think he evokes Harrison Ford, so what?  Consider if you’d seen this Solo movie in chronological order, before 1977.  From the trailers Ehrenreich’s entry into the franchise seems more like Mark Hamill’s back in 1977.  We hadn’t heard of Hamill either, yet the unknown actor jumped in nicely to lead the way in the new galaxy, far, far away.

So get ready, if you dare, for the next dive into the past world of Star Wars in this new trailer from Solo: A Star Wars Story:

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