Archive for July, 2011

The 2011 San Diego Comic-Con is just ten days away.  Sold out months in advance as with past years, again more than 100,000 comics, sci-fi, fantasy, movie, TV and gaming fans will descend on the beautiful waterfront convention center for this year’s event.  Comic-Con organizers released the programming schedule for the four-day convention this weekend, and as usual there is something for everyone.

At the top of my list our own contributor, author Elizabeth C. Bunce, will be giving away advance copies of her new fantasy novel Liar’s Moon and will speak on a panel with other genre authors as part of the Saturday line-up.  She will also be available for signing copies of her new book, the sequel to StarCrossed in her Thief Errant series.  If don’t you don’t get a copy at Comic-Con you’ll have to wait until its official release in November from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic .

DC Comics has several presentations involving the September release/re-launch of 52 comic titles, including panels featuring Jim Lee and several writers and artists.  Digital artist  Freddie Williams II (Captain Atom, DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics) is scheduled to be in “artist’s alley” again this year and internationally known artist Alex Nino (God the Dyslexic Dog) will be featured in one panel.

Some great TV series cast presentations are scheduled to appear–the entire cast of Chuck, Psych, Warehouse 13, and Torchwood are at the top of the list along with a presentation by the one and only Bruce Campbell from Burn Notice.  The current Doctor Who himself, Matt Smith, is slated to be on a panel.

Another panel features Rick Baker, monster maker, talking about making creatures for the future release, Men in Black III.

The fan group will hosting a panel on the coming Hobbit movie and they hint at one or more surprise guestsand Mugglenet will be featured in a separate panel discussing the final Harry Potter installment.

Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four, Horatio Hornblower) will preview their new TV series thriller Ringer in one of the big convention ballrooms.

Other interesting scheduled presenters include Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead), William Shatner (Star Trek), Avery Brooks (Deep Space Nine), Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica), Elijah Wood (Wilfred, LOTR), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), Jeff Smith (Bone), and Terry Moore (Echo, Strangers in Paradise).

You can also depend on the major studios to preview coming theatrical releases both on and offsite at this year’s show.  Too much for any one person to see! 

C.J. Bunce



The character Locutus of Borg, who first appeared in the Star Trek:  The Next Generation classic episode “The Best of Both Worlds, Parts I and II” ended up back on the Enterprise-D thanks to the leadership of acting Captain Riker and Lieutenant Commander Data, working with Dr. Crusher and Counseler Troi, who figured out the code (sleep!) to rescue Captain Jean-Luc Picard and remove his cybernetic components.  Hands down, Locutus was our favorite of The Borg–that cybernetic race that was the nemesis of Starfleet and every culture they came in contact with and subsequently assimilated.

But what about the costume Patrick Stewart wore in “The Best of Both Worlds” episodes as Locutus?  In Trek canon, you could speculate that the components went off for testing at Starfleet Medical.  In the real world?  The fact is The Borg characters returned in subsequent episodes of the series, including the great character study episode “I, Borg” and the two part “Descent” episodes which featured more than a dozen of these cyborgs of the future.  The idea for the Star Trek borg characters were first thought up by Star Trek: The Next Generation writer Maurice Hurley and created by Robert Blackman and Michael Westmore.  Just as the Paramount production staff re-used other costumes over the seven-year series run, Stewart’s rubber and plastic components were reused as parts of other costumes and the original Next Generation Locutus costume does not exist complete and intact today.  Paramount did create and sell a replica of a limited edition life-size version that looks great as a display.  Here is how the replica appeared when they were selling these at the now-defunct Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas a few years back:

I am getting ready to put together a display of Locutus, featuring actual components labeled as Stewart’s that I was lucky enough to pick up over the past few years, that became a part of Adrian Tafoya’s costume seen in Descent as well as used in part in a Borg video game by John de Lancie (who also appeared in The Six Million Dollar Man and the original Battlestar Galactica) as “Q as Borg”  and other characters.  Tafoya is seen here on the left:

And I am starting with this replica resin cast I purchased to be used for the head of the mannequin:

First, to find time to paint and refine it!  I’ll post an update down the road when I get this painted and the cybernetic components displayed.  For now, here are some components of the actual Locutus worn by Patrick Stewart (repainted with a rust paint by production staff and with some parts added later for subsequent actors who played members of The Borg collective)…

C.J. Bunce

A lot of directors or producers have cameos in their films.  Some, like Clint Eastwood, direct and compose scores for their films.  John Carpenter has served as writer, director, actor, editor, and composer of the score in a number of films.  Maintaining control of a vision from beginning to end doesn’t work that well for many directors.  As a viewer you wish some of those powerhouse Hollywood directors would let someone else edit their works.  Not so for Carpenter.  You can come in on the middle of a Carpenter movie, past or current, and you know it was made by John Carpenter.  His signature style is truly his own.  And who else bills his movies under his own name–John Carpenter’s They Live, John Carpenter’s Vampires, etc.?

Carpenter is a genre bender–one film can be billed under several categories, from action-adventure, to sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and thriller.  Most of his films fall in all of these categories to some extent.  You’ll know his films through a dark thread of chills, a thumping baseline of a guitar or synthesizer, and a rebel or outcast lead character just trying to get by but being threatened by something, usually something otherworldly.

My first Carpenter movie was The Fog, back in 1980.  Because of the rating, my older brother and sister and their friends rolled me up in a sleeping bag and smuggled me in the back of our parents’ Ford pickup into a two-movie drive-in showing.  I remember The Fog was just plain spooky and as the sky got darker and the shocks came out of nowhere there was no chance I was going to get any sleep that night.  Years later I rented it and re-rented it and to this day love the ghost story that is the backbone of the picture.  And Carpenter’s now former wife and then-mega TV and pin-up star Adrienne Barbeau played sultry Stevie Wayne.  Working alone at a lighthouse radio station, she encounters a strange fog bank inching ever closer into Antonio Bay.  The Fog itself becomes a character, a breathing, classic villain in its own right.   The Fog was remade in 2005 with Tom Welling (Smallville), Maggie Grace (Lost), and this time Selma Blair (Hellboy) as Stevie Wayne.  It’s a great remake with its own twists and turns–both versions of The Fog are a lot of fun.

In 1981 we got to see our first taste of a “modern” dystopian vision of future in movies–a vision that to this day has been copied again and again– in Escape from New York.  Carpenter brought together a low-budget production but with a creative team whose work still stands the test of time, including Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau, Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, co-writer Nick Castle and Carpenter’s longtime collaborator, producer Debra Hill.  All of these individuals would work in more than one Carpenter picture.   Russell plays anti-hero Snake Plissken.  Plissken is why we like Russell to this day and think Russell is just plain cool.  Convicted bank robber Plissken takes on a suicide mission to rescue the downed-flight of the President of the United States in future Manhattan, which has become a free-for-all maximum security prison.  New York was a major hit and its low budget but high box office gross vastly surpassed a certain box office flop with a similar dark vision of the future: Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner.   Plissken would return in 1996’s Escape from L.A., which unfortunately doesn’t rise to the level of New York.  Russell would return in a similar role in 1986’s now-cult classic,  Big Trouble in Little China.  A bizarre story of a trucker in Chinatown–today what stands out is how much fun co-star Kim Cattrall is to watch early on in her career.

In the past ten years I caught up on Carpenter’s films and was amazed by his 1976 low-budget Assault on Precinct 13, a remake of sorts of the old John Wayne/Dean Martin classic western Rio Bravo.  Here you won’t recognize any big-named actors but the story and setting feels gritty and real.  A psychotic gang of killers tries to bust one of its own out of an understaffed local jail.  Precinct 13, too, would be remade, in 2005 with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne, and although not as good, again, even remade Carpenter stories stand the test of time.  Watch the original, and you’ll never again go back to the ice cream man when he gets your order wrong.

And who hasn’t seen 1978’s Halloween?  Carpenter created the definitive Halloween holiday thriller with Michael Myers and summer camp-defining gotchas.  And it set Jamie Lee Curtis on her long and successful career path.  Carpenter’s primarily horror-genre films are classics: in 1982, The Thing (itself a remake and I have to admit I like the original better because Stan Winston’s special effects here were just too over the top), an alien film set in the arctic; in 1983, Stephen King’s Christine, a fun romp about a guy and his car and their mutual (!) obsessive relationship with each other; and several other films including the popular John Carpenter’s Vampires, starring James Woods as a kick-butt vampire hunter out for revenge.

In 1992 Carpenter directed a more mainstream film, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, starring Chevy Chase and Darryl Hannah, Sam Neill and Michael McKean.  The film is classic science fiction from beginning to end, with Chase as a businessman in the wrong place at the wrong time who becomes invisible, and Hannah stars as his girlfriend.  Carpenter showcases Chase’s humor and a simple film concept resulted in a fun chase/thriller.  It was the first time i n over a decade that we got to see Chase as the classic leading man we saw him play in Foul Play and Seems Like Old Times (both co-starring Goldie Hawn, who is now married to Kurt Russell).  Until his role in Chuck last year, it was the last time we got to see Chase performing in a non-comedic role.

Two other Carpenter films rise about the rest in terms of textured storytelling, depth and intrigue in the sci-fi and fantasy realms.

First, in Prince of Darkness, Jameson Parker (Simon and Simon) and Donald Pleasance lead a great character ensemble of experts trying to stop the devil from breaking into our world via an old church and a creepy and scary hellmouth of green plasma.  Alice Cooper has a cameo as a zombie drawn to the churchsite.  Parker is superb and the jolts are perfectly timed.  A creepy, dark, fantasy-horror film.

Finally, probably tied with The Fog my favorite Carpenter film is They Live.  Professional wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, in an incredibly underplayed performance, stars as a loner trying to keep to himself.  He is thrown into the middle of a waking up-to-reality by a group of grassroots rebels who discover that the wealthier elements of society are actually hideous aliens in cloaked bodies, attempting to keep us asleep through subliminal messages in our advertising.  When our hero discovers special sunglasses and later contact lenses that show the true world, we soon learn the secret behind the plot and why this is a classic sci-fi film.  They Live also has the best of Carpenter’s soundtracks–including the repetitive theme of our hero, following him and leading us through Piper’s dark discoveries.  And just like Steve McQueen’s Bullitt is known for its famous San Francisco car chase, here They Live has a standout best fight scene, a hilariously choreographed, iconic, hand-to-hand fight scene between Piper and co-star Keith David that stretches in excess of 15 screen minutes.

Carpenter’s horror film The Ward premiered last year and he has several Halloween themed projects in the works.

C.J. Bunce

Reviewed by C.J. Bunce

If you saw Taking of Pelham 123 with Denzel Washington you may sense a bit of a deja vu.  That’s probably because both starred Washington and were directed by Tony Scott, who knows how to film an unrelenting train ride.  But Unstoppable doesn’t need the criminal elements to carry a nail-biting story simmering at first then racing non-stop through the final action sequence.

Two-time Oscar winner Washington shares equal screen time with co-stars Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in 2009’s Star Trek) and Rosario Dawson (Sin City), who particularly shines as a smart, lead dispatcher who uses her experience to try to convince railway executives of the unusual danger of this train full of chemical cars racing through rural Pennsylvania without an engineer onboard, pursuing a sharp turn in the more densely populated city of Stanton.

As the story begins, a befuddled engineer (Ethan Suplee, My Name is Earl) steps off the train to change tracks, when the engine slips into full gear and takes off down the track.  Dawson plays Connie, the lead dispatcher who realizes the danger as the train accelerates head-on through train stops, encountering a head-on train of school children, a car wreck on the tracks with frantic horses, and another train being driven by Frank (Washington), who has spent decades on the rails and who recently was given his retirement notice, and newbie conductor Will (Pine) on his first day working with Frank.  Kevin Dunn plays the railway representative who, despite warnings from Connie, continues to make the wrong decisions and fails to get the train to stop.  Lew Temple plays a train welder down the line who comes in and out of the story with a bit of humor, fed up with the failed attempts at stopping the train.  Kevin Corrigan plays a railway inspector adding his own theoretical and mathematical contributions to the core team’s strategy (think if train A leaves town at 5 p.m. and travels at 55 mph and train B advances in the oposite direction at 70 mph, at what time will the trains collide??).

The first third of the film is a pretty comfortable ride.  We get to know about Frank and his daughters, and Will and his problems with his wife, played by Jessy Schram (Life, and young Allison on Medium).  The camera angles and slow-build really sets up the action in a believable, non-Hollywood way, and the ride is steady and not overdone.

After the experience and decisions of Frank working via radio with Connie prove invaluable, the stakes are raised as Frank and Will attempt a reverse speeding pursuit of the train and we get to see incredibly-shot filming of some nice stunt work as Pine and Washington take turns physically trying to take control of the train.  Director Scott could have taken the story, based in part on an actual runaway train through Ohio in 2001, in typical directions, but he instead offers a more nuanced pursuit that is more subtle, while still maintaining humor and a number of great action scenes, including multiple attempts to jump on the train from a truck, harrowing train dangling by Pine, and Washington running atop and jumping between railroad cars.    For the film’s climax Scott gives us a chase scene that involves trains doing what we’ve only seen stunt cars do in the past.

In a summer of blockbusters and overly marketed video releases, this less advertised action movie should not be missed.  Rating: 4 of 5 stars. On DVD and Blu-Ray.

On the eve of the last scheduled, American manned space flight it’s a good time to look back… wait a second…can that be right?


Although the 135th and final space shuttle mission–before retiring the space shuttle program–is scheduled to depart Friday, July 8 at 11:26 a.m. Eastern time, like a lot of past missions weather will likely push launch out a few days or weeks.  But once this Atlantis space shuttle mission is over, there are no future American space flights currently in the works.  That said, we do plan to hitch a ride with various future Russian rocket flights to continue international space station projects.  Read that again–the United States will be hitching a ride along flights of the Russian space program going forward.

Does any of this make sense?

When Yuri Gagarin became the first Earthling to pierce the outer ether, it didn’t go over very well back in the States.  In fact it probably did more than anything to catapult the U.S. space program into the stratosphere, so to speak.  To infinity and beyond, or at least to somewhere as ambitious as our moon.  But the good part is we’re working together now with other countries–if not anywhere else–at least as far as space exploration is concerned.  I am still in awe that mankind actually made it to the moon and NASA, a group of America’s best and brightest over more than fifty years, got us there.  But now a great number of NASA employees, including engineers and other scientists, are all out of work, filtering into private industry, college teaching, etc.

Say it isn’t so!  We aren’t even to Mars yet!

I remember getting up early to watch the first space shuttle mission, the launch of Columbia, on April 12, 1981.  My friend had gone with his family for the maiden voyage and brought me back this print a few days later that was on my wall for years:

When you’re watching this next space shuttle flight, don’t just look back at the long and successful space shuttle program but the entire space program before John Glenn and the creation of the Mercury program to Glenn’s second flight as elder statesman to now the 135th and final shuttle voyage.  Last week NASA posted the following on their website, claiming the future of NASA is not as bleak as it seems.  I hope they are right:

“The end of the space shuttle program does not mean the end of NASA, or even of NASA sending humans into space. NASA has a robust program of exploration, technology development and scientific research that will last for years to come. Here is what’s next for NASA:

NASA is designing and building the capabilities to send humans to explore the solar system, working toward a goal of landing humans on Mars. We will build the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, based on the design for the Orion capsule, with a capacity to take four astronauts on 21-day missions.

We will soon announce the design for the heavy-lift Space Launch System that will carry us out of low Earth orbit. We are developing the technologies we will need for human exploration of the solar system, including solar electric propulsion, refueling depots in orbit, radiation protection and high-reliability life support systems.

International Space Station
The International Space Station is the centerpiece of our human spaceflight activities in low Earth orbit. The ISS is fully staffed with a crew of six, and American astronauts will continue to live and work there in space 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Part of the U.S. portion of the station has been designated as a national laboratory, and NASA is committed to using this unique resource for scientific research.

The ISS is a test bed for exploration technologies such as autonomous refueling of spacecraft, advanced life support systems and human/robotic interfaces. Commercial companies are well on their way to providing cargo and crew flights to the ISS, allowing NASA to focus its attention on the next steps into our solar system.

NASA is researching ways to design and build aircraft that are safer, more fuel-efficient, quieter, and environmentally responsible. We are also working to create traffic management systems that are safer, more efficient and more flexible. We are developing technologies that improve routing during flights and enable aircraft to climb to and descend from their cruising altitude without interruption.

We believe it is possible to build an aircraft that uses less fuel, gives off fewer emissions, and is quieter, and we are working on the technologies to create that aircraft. NASA is also part of the government team that is working to develop the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, to be in place by the year 2025. We will continue to validate new, complex aircraft and air traffic control systems to ensure that they meet extremely high safety levels.

NASA is conducting an unprecedented array of missions that will seek new knowledge and understanding of Earth, the solar system and the universe. On July 16, the Dawn spacecraft begins a year-long visit to the large asteroid Vesta to help us understand the earliest chapter of our solar system’s history. In August, the Juno spacecraft will launch to investigate Jupiter’s origins, structure, and atmosphere. The September launch of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project is a critical first step in building a next-generation Earth-monitoring satellite system.

NASA returns to the moon to study the moon’s gravity field and determine the structure of the lunar interior with the October launch of GRAIL. In November, we launch the Mars Science Laboratory named Curiosity on its journey to Mars to look for evidence of microbial life on the red planet. And in February 2012, we will launch the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array to search for black holes, map supernova explosions, and study the most extreme active galaxies.”

I feel fortunate to have seen a number of space shuttle documentaries on IMAX screens years ago before IMAX films were mainstream and included popular movies.  I saw these on visits to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) at their IMAX theater.  These are still available via DVD and/or Blu-Ray and are worth a second (or first) look to get a close-up of early shuttle missions, and they include voice-overs from the likes of Walter Cronkite to Leonard Nimoy.  Although you won’t get to feel the intensity of liftoff and the sheer scope of vast outer space in the comfort of your living room, maybe you have a big enough screen to get you a decent viewing experience.

Here are a few of the films also available in a boxed set–some on DVD and Blu-Ray:

Hail Columbia!   The exciting first STS mission.

The Dream is Alive  Covers three launches and is thought to be the best space IMAX of its time.

Blue Planet   A study of planet Earth from space.

Destiny in Space  Watch repairs on the Hubble telescope.

Mission to Mir   A tour of the Russian space station.

So don’t miss out on watching the last flight Friday, or or later if delayed.  At a minimum it will be the last manned American space flight we’ll see for a long time.

C.J. Bunce


If you didn’t already spend Fourth of July weekend watching the Twilight Zone marathon, then you may be psyched to learn you can now watch the complete Twilight Zone on streaming Netflix.  And for the first time you can also watch on demand all the episodes ofStar Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek Enterprise anytime you want, all streamed to your TV with a basic Netflix subscription.  

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will not be available for Netflix streaming until October and the Star Trek movies and Animated Series are not yet available for streaming video and have no projected streaming date.

Need some suggestions to get started on the Twilight Zone?  These are some favorites that you might have skipped over (I have skipped some of the obvious ones that get repeated play).

1. The Thirty-Fathom Grave – a sunk submarine

2. The Hunt – old man and his dog on their last hunt 

3. Little Girl Lost – striking parallels to last year’s Doctor Who plotline

4. Nothing in the Dark – Robert Redford lies wounded outside an old woman’s apartment

5.  Time Enough at Last – Burgess Meredith likes to read

6. I Shot an Arrow into the Air – stranded astronauts

7. Twenty-Two – a little Final Destination story

8. The Little People – astronaut goes a little crazy

9.  Third from the Sun – two families escape during a nuclear war

10. Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? – a truck stop, and an extra guest

… and here are my top five recommendations for Star Trek: The Original Series:

1.  Balance of Terror

2.  City at the Edge of Forever

3.  A Piece of the Action

4.  The Trouble with Tribbles

5.  Space Seed 

… and here are ten of my favorite (and some of the best) episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

1.  Yesterday’s Enterprise

2.  Darmok

3.  Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 and 2

4.  The Most Toys

5.  Who Watches the Watchers?

6.  First Contact

7.  The Perfect Mate

8.  Parallels

9.  Remember Me

10.  Future Imperfect

… and here are ten of my favorite (and some of the best) episodes of Star Trek: Voyager:

1.  Eye of the Needle 

2.  Heroes and Demons

3.  Year of Hell, Parts 1 and 2

4.  Macrocosm

5.  Gravity

6.  Shattered

7.  Blink of an Eye

8.  Timeless

9.  Tinker, Tailor, Doctor, Spy

10.  Relativity

… and here are ten of my favorite (and some of the best) episodes of Star Trek Enterprise:

1.  In a Mirror Darkly, Parts 1 and 2

2.  Acquisition

3.  Judgment

4.  Civilization

5.  Vox Sola

6.  Carpenter Street

7.  These are the Voyages…

8.  A Night in Sickbay

9.  Dead Stop

10.  Affliction


C.J. Bunce


Reviewed by C.J. Bunce

Any fan of DC Comics and hero Green Lantern can’t dismiss Green Lantern as just another superhero movie.  It sticks to established canon more than any other comic book-based movie yet made, either from DC or Marvel.  But in doing so I am not sure how the general audiences will react to both the ends the film goes to to explain the backstory, and the fact that the movie is entirely Hal Jordan’s origin story and nothing else.

With any effort to transform a long-standing character or franchise to the silver screen, the result can arrive at any place on the pendulum swing.  At one extreme the movie can adhere to established character canon and please loyal followers of the character.  At the opposite end of the spectrum we’ve seen countless movies that drop all canon and appeal to whatever Hollywood thinks is going to cause the masses to buy a second ticket.  As an example, I saw the 2009 Star Trek film as a 40/60 split on the canon vs mass appeal scale–the creators broke a bit with established canon yet followed it in some ways to create a parallel universe, but really focused more on special effects and action and less on story to appeal to the general audience.  With Green Lantern, the creators came up with a surprising film that is closer to a 80/20 canon-to-appeal ratio split.  As a DC Comics and Green Lantern fan, you have to love that approach.   But I think that may leave some mainstream moviegoers wondering what all the Green Lantern Corps thing was about.  That said, these are probably the same moviegoers that love Ryan Reynolds playing the superhero.  So the result is there is something for everyone here.

With all that I liked I will start with what didn’t appeal to me:  Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan.  If this were a story about Green Lantern Kyle Rayner I would have bought it totally.  But here’s the Hal Jordan I know:  He’s the stereotypical square-jawed, authoritarian hero, that is never impetuous, never a rebel, and always responsible.  That’s the Hal I know from the Justice League growing up.  Basically, his classic relationship with Green Arrow mimicked Superman’s with Batman.  In fact, in the JLA you could often substitute a conversation between Superman and Batman with that of Green Lantern and Green Arrow.  Brash and rogue-ish?  That’s Batman or Green Arrow, not Hal.  Hal’s a bit aloof.  Not a guy you’d cast Ryan Reynolds to play.  In my book, that guy is Kyle Rayner, a later Green Lantern.  But I realize Hal has changed over the years.  But I thought this Lantern too much Reynolds, not enough traditional Hal.  They almost had me thinking this would be another story like with Maverick (the movie), where Mel Gibson’s Maverick at the end of the movie was revealed to be the original James Garner’s Maverick’s son.  No such luck.  But if you look at the photos of Hal’s dad in this movie, played by The Closer‘s Jon Tenney, Tenney would have been a perfect Hal.  Here’s Tenney and the comic book Hal:


And here is Reynolds and comic book Lantern Kyle Rayner–a closer match:


What I liked above all else is the supporting character casting and acting.  What prompted me the most to see the movie in the theater vs. waiting for the video rental was the previews involving Mark Strong (from Sherlock Holmes) as the red-faced, pointy eared Lantern, Sinestro.  Strong is a solid villain in all his roles, although he’s not a villain here.  He truly made the comic book Sinestro come to life:


The costumes, all CGI, looked great although Reynolds almost seemed too tight fitting at times–how does that happen?

The Green Lantern Corps–those 3,600 protectors of the universe, couldn’t have been better, the first time in any movie I can recall a diverse alien league with only one human–showing a better scope of what such an expansive, inhabited galaxy could look like.  Geoffrey Rush’s (unbilled) voicing of Hal teacher Lantern Tomar-Re was a great touch as was Temuera Morrison (Star Wars prequel’s Jango Fett), who brought gravity to the role of Lantern Abin Sur.  And I didn’t mind Hal’s love interest/boss Blake Lively as Carol Ferris (although some of their scenes together were a bit unnecessarily long) as the story was right out of the comic book, but there was no explanation or need for her affected European accent (which seemed to come and go).  Tim Robbins was as good as ever as a corrupt senator.

And along with Sinestro and the Corps, the creators nailed the Guardians of the Universe, and not just with their appearance.  I always hated these guys, all their authoritative, know-everything-without-any-explanation really annoyed me in the comics and they succeeded here with that same annoying heir of superiority.  Again, they were lifted straight from the comic pages:


How often in comic book movies does a character really seem to pop out of the comic book drawings?  I can think of Johnny Storm’s Human Torch in the first Fantastic Four as one and Hellboy in the Hellboy films.

I also appreciated the doses of humor throughout the story.  And ignoring my desire for someone else to play the role, Reynolds was entertaining and believable, from his reaction to a key discovery early in the film to his growth into the Lantern role toward the end.  He couldn’t have delivered the Lantern oath better: “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight…”

As to story, the stakes were raised here compared to other films–the shear scope of the danger was bigger and so was the increased death toll for a comic-related film.  As to plot, the world building was  nicely done especially with the detailed story that needed told in a short period of time.  The story actually closely mirrored the plot of The Last Starfighter.  It worked here, although I found myself predicting what would happen at each step.  Since The Last Starfighter was a great film it didn’t take anything away from this effort telling a complete story.   I’ll give Green Lantern a solid 4 stars on a 5-star scale.

So what’s next?  A Justice League story would be nice to see, especially with Marvel working on their Avengers movie.  DC has spent too much screentime with Superman and Batman.  It’s time to open up the DC universe.

PS.  As seems to be a staple of recent comic book movies, stick around after the initial credits for a hint at a sequel.

Everyone must start somewhere.  For Philip K. Dick, it was working in a record shop.  He thought he would have worked in that shop his whole life, but for writing one story, and one sale that gave him a bigger vision of his own future.

We all know Philip K. Dick now from his most popular works–posthumously, his short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” became Ridley Scott’s cult sci fi favorite Blade Runner.  And after that his short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” became Total Recall.

Then his short story “Paycheck” was made into a move of the same name.  Then Minority Report.

Then his novel “A Scanner Darkly” became the film of the same name.  And now The Adjustment Bureau made it to theaters this year based on Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.”   Previously other Dick works made it to the big screen:  Screamers starring Robocop‘s Peter Weller was based on Dick’s short story “Second Variety;” Impostor, starring Gary Sinise, based on the short story of the same name; and Next, starring Nicholas Cage, based on Dick’s short story “The Golden Man.”  In his lifetime Dick achieved fame first in 1963 with The Man in the High Castle, which won the Hugo Award for best novel, and then Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1975 and was nominated for both the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award.

But back in 1951, Philip K. Dick worked in a record store.  Record stores and characters working in record stores would be revisited time and again in Dick’s works.  Dick wrote his first story, titled “Roog.”  Originally titled “Friday Morning,” Dick sold his first work of fiction for $75, to friend Anthony Boucher, editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine,  in October 1951.  It was first published in that magazine as the last entry in the February 1953 issue, with no mention of the unknown writer on the magazine’s cover.  Dick later described the impetus for his first story, his neighbor’s dog named Snooper.

“Snooper believed as much in his work as I did in my writing.  Apparently, his work was to see that no one stole the food from his owner’s garbage can.  Snooper was laboring under the delusion that his owners considered the garbage valuable.  Every day they’d carry out paper sacks of delicious food and carefully deposit them in a strong metal container, placing the lid down firmly.  At the end of the week the garbage can was full–whereupon the worst assortment of evil entities in the Sol System drove up in a huge truck and stole the food.  Snooper knew which day of the week this happened on; it was always on Friday. So about 5 am on Friday, Snooper would emit his first bark.  My wife and I figured that was about the time the garbagemen’s alarm clocks were going off. Snooper knew when they left their houses.  He could hear them.  He was the only one who knew; everybody else ignored what was afoot.  Snooper must have thought he inhabited a planet of lunatics… I was more fascinated by Snooper’s logic than I was annoyed by his frantic efforts to rouse us.  I asked myself, ‘What must the world look like to that dog?’  Obviously he doesn’t see as we see.  He has developed a complete system of beliefs, a world view totally different from ours, but logical given the evidence he is basing it on.”

“Roog” is a great, emotional story, among five volumes of short stories of ideas-ahead-of-their-time still in print today.  Dick called Roog “a serious story.”  “Roog” can be found in several out-of-print compilations like The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford and Other Classic Stories (The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Vol. 1) .

And without Snooper, and without writing his first work and selling it to Anthony Boucher, we would probably never heard of Philip K. Dick and his vast imagination, his speculative works, his great ideas.  Dick said in 1978, “Without [Boucher’s] help I’d still be in the record business. I mean that very seriously.”  Dick was pleased with his first publication, and it caused him to wonder if he could quit his job at a record store and work full-time as an author.

Lucky for us, Philip K. Dick made that first sale.

C.J. Bunce

If you’re holed up in small town America this long weekend with access only to a video rental store or you’ve already seen the summer blockbusters released so far and you’re looking for the perfect Fourth of July weekend movie, I’ve got a recommendation for you. 

Unlike all the TV stations this weekend, I’m not recommending you watch Independence Day.  Sure it’s a fun summer flick, but there’s no real tie to the actual Independence Day.  It’s not a classic like Groundhog Day was for Groundhog Day or John Carpenter’s Halloween was for Halloween.  In fact, I’d say the only non-Christmas holiday film that fits its holiday spirit and stands up to repeat watching each year is Groundhog Day or Halloween.  Well, except for my recommendation.  But if you haven’t seen Independence Day, go for it.  It’s a fun sci fi blockbuster.  But see my recommendation first.  It’s much better.

And I’m not recommending Born on the Fourth of July.  I actually have liked every Tom Cruise movie I have ever seen–and I have missed some, like Magnolia and Vanilla Sky, simply because I never like those kinds of movies.  But Born on the Foutrth of July is like a lot of other big films, like Saving Private Ryan, and Forrest Gump, and Titanic.  You pretty much can watch them once and they don’t stand up for repeat viewings.  So there’s a hint, my recommendation stands up to repeat viewings.

Now I could recommend Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney.  But it’s pretty old and your video store probably doesn’t have it.  That said, no other film says America in music and spirit like Yankee Doodle Dandy.  So track that one down later and make sure you see it.  I could also recommend Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  That’s a good, solid movie about America.  But it’s summertime and I’m thinking Mr. Smith is a better stuck-in-the-house-in-the-winter movie.

So what’s the recommendation?  The ultimate Fourth of July movie:  Jaws.  Huh?  Trust me.  You’ll thank me later.

On the weekend before the Fourth of July in the summer of 1975, Jaws was what everyone was talking about and what everyone was going to see for the weekend.  I remember my local movie theater had a giant cardboard standee of the now classic poster cover of the swimmer and the big old great white.  I could not even stand near it.  It was terrifying. 

Jaws was the first summer blockbuster.  And it all made sense.  We take Steven Spielberg for granted today, but he was early in his career and came from nowhere to nail the perfect movie, despite a Waterworld‘s worth of production problems, from disastrous filming schedules, delays, broken prop sharks and a cast full of great actors and equally great egos.  But like a lot of other big films, the preparation was well worth the result–the result is the perfect movie, from the opening shot to the rolling of credits at the end.  Jaws was based on the bestselling novel by Peter Benchley that was out just the prior year in 1974.  The public was clammoring for a movie version and Spielberg got the movie together fast.  Pressure must work for Mr. Spielberg.

I can’t even remember a world before the time of lines of people wrapped around a theater waiting for a premier showing.  This movie was the start of all that.  The posters and trailers and buzz had a lot to do with it.  Marketing movies was coming of age.

If you haven’t seen Jaws, I envy you, because you’re in for a great ride.  But why the Fourth of July?  Check out the image from the film in the billboard above.  In the quiet little beach front town of Amity, police chief Martin Brody, readies for a relaxing Fourth of July weekend.  But that just ain’t going to happen.  Some of the most classic scenes and some of the best lines in movie history came from this classic film about a not-so-ordinary Fourth of July weekend:  “Don’t go in the water.”  “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”  “That’s some bad hat, Harry.” The singing on the boat after a few too many drinks.  And that speech by Robert Shaw.  And just like Diehard 2: Die Harder is a Christmas favorite (yep, that one takes place in Washington, DC at the airport on Christmas Eve), Jaws is the ultimate Fourth of July thrill ride.  Think summer, hanging out on the beach,the hot beating sun, and that little hint of hesitation every time you step into the ocean.  There’s a reason you’re hesitating.  This movie is that reason.

And while you’re watching, keep an ear out for that soundtrack.  Oh, yeah, everyone hums the shark theme.  But the score was composed by John Williams, before all his other greats like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and every other big film through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and beyond.  You won’t find a creepy little soundtrack like standard horror film fodder.  It’s actually the soundtrack for a cheery, summer romp.  It’s that juxtaposition of mood that causes those little bumps to show up on yours arms and those hairs to stand up on the back of your neck.

So have fun this Fourth of July.  And it’s 36 years since Jaws entered the national psyche so it’s probably OK to go back into the water now. 

Or is it?

C.J. Bunce


When the year 2000 finally arrived, I was disappointed.  Science fiction got it all wrong.  Where were the hover cars?  Why didn’t we vacation in outer space?  We were all worried about a silly millenium bug that was to take us back to 1900 when the clock struck 12.  But I remember how uneventful it all seemed, despite some great fireworks shows.  When the actual millenium shifted a year later, still no flash to a visionary future.

Just look at Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the film version by Stanley Kubrick.  Nothing looked like that in actual 2001 or even today.

The Eugenics Wars in the original 1960s Star Trek series–the wars that created Ricardo Montalban’s Khan who takes on Captain Kirk and gets banished to Seti Alpha V–were to happen sometime between 1993 and 1996 according to the original series.

The incredible world of future replicants created by Philip K. Dick took place in 1992, according to the original printing of his short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” that became Ridley Scott’s dark vision of the future, Blade Runner.  We don’t have a robotic Sean Young around here today.

What went wrong?

To be fair, science fiction, more often than not, has laid the ground work for feats of reality unheard of and not dreamed of before science fiction writing put pen to paper (or finger to typewriter).  Think in terms of Star Trek designer Rick Sternbach’s personal access data devices or PADDs, such as those used by Geordi LaForge in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Used in the series in the 22nd century we now get to use these regularly in the 21st century in the form of tablet computers or android phones.


Or tricorders–regularly used today in different forms but visually more advanced and smaller than those used on the original Star Trek, yet nearly the same in size as those created for Next Generation by Mr. Sternbach, and with incredible functionality.  Just watch any doctor review surgery slides instantly sent from room to office and displayed so you can see immediately, and in real-time, recorded biological detail.  Check out the photo below of one of two prototype Next Generation tricorders Sternbach created and compare it to a Paramount studio-production-made, original series type tricorder.  Today, the latter tricorder looks more like an old fashioned brownie camera.  Compare them to your hand-held android device or Blackberry and score one for future meets reality, or better yet, score one for science fiction visionary creating the future.


A great example of reality actually beating science fiction’s predictions can be seen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Royale” that aired in 1988.  The eloquent 22nd century Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS-Enterprise-D remarked that people had been trying to find the proof for Fermat’s Last Theorem for 800 years, including himself.  Picard saw the riddle as a mental challenge, stating that “in our arrogance, we feel we are so advanced and yet we cannot unravel a simple knot tied by a part-time French mathematician working alone without a computer.”

“Fermat’s last theorem” was an algebraic statement proposed by Pierre de Fermat, a 17th century lawyer and amateur mathematician who was later praised by the likes of Newton and Pascal for his life’s work.  Following Fermat’s death in 1665, a mathematic formula was found scrawled in the margin of his notes: “xn + yn = zn, where n is greater than 2,” which Fermat said had no solution in whole numbers, but he also added the phrase “remarkable proof.”  The writers of Star Trek couldn’t predict that Andrew Wiles would create a proof for the theorem in 1993 (modified and generally accepted in 1995).  Although Wiles’ proof could not have been the same as Fermat’s “remarkable proof,” here he beat the science fiction writer’s prediction, something that doesn’t happen so often.  Public Television’s NOVA has a great interview with Wiles on its website.

Eclipsing the future (a figurative idea only, of course) was a result of a great deal of work by Wiles.  Two accounts of Wiles’ path are worth pursuing further.  The first is NOVA‘s documentary The Proof.  The small community of mathematicians and physicists who experiment with math riddles is taken apart and revealed to the viewer, and what we see is frought with jealousy, ego, and near-schoolyard cattiness.  But Wiles shines through, locking himself away, and seeming to be swallowed up by his passion for this riddle, he somehow emerges triumphant.  You’ll find yourself cheering him on as the documentary progresses.

The second account is Simon Singh’s eminently readable “Fermat’s Enigma:  The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem.”  Singh discusses the history of math in an interesting way and explains the complexity of Fermat’s Theorem, and Wiles’ proof, in a way anyone can understand.  You’ll find Andrew Wiles to be a champion in our time.

C.J. Bunce