Archive for November, 2011

Aardman Studios is a British animation company known for its stop-motion  clay animation films, in particular, the Academy Award winning Wallace & Gromit, and the groundbreaking series Creature Comforts.  Its full length feature Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit also won an Academy Award for best animated feature.  The studio also produced the popular Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep.  The studio’s first computer animated film, Arthur Christmas, is in theaters now.  Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli animator Hayao Miyazaki, widely considered one of the best animators of all time, counts himself as a fan of the Aardman movies.

If you haven’t seen Aardman movies before, start with the three Wallace & Gromit shorts A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, and A Close Shave featuring a cheese loving British inventive chap named Wallace and his smart, loyal, and cynical dog Gromit.  The animation, and the quick speeds of certain segments, will have you wishing they’d throw CGI out the window.  Then try Creature Comforts, a half-hour television series that aired in both the UK and USA, where folks were interviewed off the street, then their voices were dubbed into farm and zoo animals.  The result was laugh-out-loud funny stuff.

Just released is the preview to the newest stop-motion, full-length film, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and it looks to be as incredibly put together as the rest.  Just check out details like the use of stop-motion liquid in this trailer.  The boat whipping across water, actually made from Plasticine, looks both realistic and unreal.

And this film features a top-notch set of character actors that should be familiar to everyone.  The Pirates! Band of Misfits, stars Hugh Grant (Remains of the Day, Bridget Jones’ Diary) as Pirate Captain, Brendan Gleeson (28 Days Later, Beowulf, Harry Potter series) as Pirate with Gout, Jeremy Piven (PCU, Entourage, Cupid, Judgment Night) as Black Bellamy, Brian Blessed (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Flash Gordon, Henry V, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) as Pirate King, Salma Hayek (Puss in Boots, Wild, Wild West, From Dusk Till Dawn) as Cutlass Liz, Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) as Pirate with Scarf, David Tennant (Doctor Who, Viva Blackpool, Harry Potter series) as Charles Darwin, and Imelda Staunton (Shakespeare in Love, Chicken Run, Peter’s Friends, Much Ado About Nothing, Harry Potter series) as Queen Victoria.

The film is based on the first two books of Gideon Defoe’s Pirates! series.  Pirates! has a March 28, 2012, release date.


Science fiction on the big screen may be like no other genre.  The seemingly impossible comes to life as filmmakers predict the future–sometimes positive and exciting, sometimes bleak and full of unspeakable horrors.  Whether these movies show us how humans may live in the future, or who else may be sharing our galaxy with us, or what galaxies we may never confront, science fiction takes storytelling and gives us a vision of the future.

So if you had to select one scene, or even better, one image, that best defines the science fiction genre in movies, what image would you choose?  Select your choice from these iconic images in the below poll and see if others agree.  If you think we’re missing an iconic image, let us know by posting a comment.

Dave confronts Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Our first look at where the creature has been hiding in Alien

Ripley confronts the queen alien in Aliens

Marty McFly sees the time machine work in Back to the Future

Deckard is taken to the police station in Blade Runner

The mother ship arrives at Devil's Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Daniel Craig gets to use an arm gun in Cowboys & Aliens

Gort arrives on Earth in The Day the Earth Stood Still

The slave ship hovers above South Africa in District 9

Snake Plissken shoots up the place in Escape from New York

Eliot and E.T. take a ride across the moon in E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial

Leeloo arrives in Corbin Dallas's cab in The Fifth Element

We get our first look at Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet

The aliens zap the White House in Independence Day

Donald Sutherland is finally taken in Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Tony Stark test drives the Iron Man armor in Iron Man

Alex Rogan gets to be a Starfighter in The Last Starfighter

J makes these look good in Men in Black

The robot is revealed in Metropolis

John Anderton shows us some cool new technology in Minority Report

Charlton Heston in the big reveal from Planet of the Apes

Johnny Rico takes down a bug by himself in Starship Troopers

Our first look at the Enterprise refit in Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Admiral Kirk screams at Khhhaaaan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

The death of Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Kirk and Spock return to 1980s San Francisco in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Worf's promotion ceremony is interrupted in Star Trek: Generations

The Star Destroyer appears overhead in Star Wars

Our first look at Darth Vader in Star Wars

Luke dreams of space on Tatooine in Star Wars

We get to marvel at Yoda--a muppet that looks real--in The Empire Strikes Back

Luke, I am your father -- from The Empire Strikes Back

Sarah Connor beats the Terminator in The Terminator

We meet the new liquid terminator in Terminator 2

Arnold takes another guy's leathers in Terminator 2

The creature appears in The Thing from Another World

Arnold reveals his disguise in Total Recall

The rocket arrives at the moon in A Trip to the Moon

Flynn is zapped into the Grid in Tron

Quorra hangs out at Flynn's place Tron: Legacy

C.J. Bunce

First look–Pixar’s Brave

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

I have to admit something unpopular, here. I don’t always flock to the latest Pixar releases. I guess I enjoy their films, but as a whole, their trailers don’t do anything for me. There’s a 2012 release, though, that’s a big, notable exception.

And that would be Brave.  I’ve been keeping an eye on this one, since spotting it in an industry magazine about six months ago, and was immediately hooked.

According to IMDB: Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.

Ok, it didn’t take that much:
Scottish princess with curly red hair?  I’m in.
Scottish princess with curly red hair who loves archery, and does it wearing a dress and NOT pretending to be a boy? Huzzah!
Scottish princess with curly red hair, archery skills, and totally awesome green dress voiced by real-life Scot Kelly MacDonald? Be still my heart.

This weekend, I finally saw a snippet of it on the big screen, and it looks awesome!

The first thing I noticed was the marvelous gravelly burr of Billy Connolly (Mrs. Brown, Muppet Treasure Island), and then Merida’s spectacular red curls. The look of this film is gorgeous, from the brilliant, intense colors to the misty, haunting landscapes; and the cast is a virtual who’s-who of British actors we love to listen to. (I personally find MacDonald’s voice–and accent–completely enchanting, and could happily listen to her all week!)  In addition to the aforementioned MacDonald (State of Play, Gosford Park, Boardwalk Empire) and Connolly, watch–er, listen–for Harry Potter alumni Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, and Julie Walters.

Great Scot Kelly MacDonald in Gosford Park

Great Scot Kelly MacDonald in Gosford Park

The trailer makes some obvious allusions to Braveheart, but I don’t expect to see MacDonald’s Merida riding before her troops, claymore aloft, crying, “They’ll never take our frrrrreedom!”

IMDB actually has five trailers, for your viewing pleasure.  Brave hits theaters next June. I can’t wait!

Review by C.J. Bunce

With all the holiday movies hitting the theaters this season, there’s one that is sure to satisfy kids of all ages.  The Muppets premiered last week and that makes this the seventh film in the Muppet franchise, based on characters first created in the 1950s by the late Jim Henson.  Henson would no doubt be happy with the latest effort, a light-hearted and cheery, nostalgic mix of sillyness and a hard but subtle look at entertainment and society today.  It’s cute film, not as good as the original Muppet Movie oreven the novel adaptations A Muppet Christmas Carol or Muppet Treasure Island, but it’s worth seeing to find out what the Muppet crew has been up to and catch the cameos from a motley group of comedic actors.

You probably can’t find a sweeter couple than Gary and Mary played by Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother) and Academy Award winning actress Amy Adams in the lead human roles of the movie.   Segel also serves as co-writer of the film.  You can tell Segel put a lot of love into this film, it is the ultimate film of shiny happy people niceness (think Brendan Fraser’s family in Blast from the Past).  Gary is brother to Walter, played by a new Muppet creation and addition to the Muppet universe.  Walter has been a fan of the Muppets his entire life, and his brother invites him along on his and Mary’s anniversary vacation to Los Angeles.  There they find the Muppet studio has become abandoned.  Walter overhears evil businessman Tex Richman, played by Academy Award winning actor Chris Cooper, plotting to destroy the studio to drill for oil.  Because of fine print in the “rich and famous” contract Kermit the Frog signed at the end of the original Muppet Movie, the contract is expiring in a few days and the Muppets will lose all the Muppet properties, including even their names, if they don’t raise $10 million to buy-out the contract.

Part of the movie becomes a play on The Blues Brothers, where the trio of Gary, Mary and Walter “put the band back together” to save an orphanage, a throwback to the plot of the original Muppet Movie.  You wish this part of the movie was longer and that they had spent more time fleshing out what the characters have been doing for the past several years since Muppets in Space, but the movie rushes through this bit.  They even joke about the quick montage, with a funny bit about Rowlf the dog.  The self references in the film actually become the funniest moments, and these bits of not taking itself too seriously nicely cut the overflow of frothy sappiness and nostalgia.

A key storyline is the triangle between Gary and Mary and Walter–Gary isn’t spending enough time with Mary–he can’t let go of his brother’s reliance on him as his brother becomes a full-fledged part of the Muppet family–and Mary has become a third wheel.  Finding out whether Gary is a Muppet or a man, and whether his brother Walter is a Muppet or a man, is the point of the whole film and the center of a good musical number.  Look for even more musical numbers here than any past Muppet film.

Each Muppet gets his own share of screen-time, too.  From a great throwback scene of giant Muppet Sweetums chasing after the Muppet entourage, to Fozzie having joined a Reno cover band of the Muppets called The Moopets, to successful Ms. Piggy leading up a magazine in Paris, to Gonzo the Great, now a plumbing company magnate who sounds and looks a bit like Al Pacino, to the best E Hollywood True Story type Where are they Now, that of Animal the drummer, who has been part of an anger management self-help group with sponsor Jack Black, who plays himself.  Jack Black’s unabashed throwing himself into this movie is one of its highlights, and he plays every scene for all its worth.

After literally playing sweetheart roles in Enchanted, Julie and Julia, Doubt, and now The Muppets, it will be nearly impossible to see Amy Adams as Lois Lane in the next Superman movie.  But acting is what actors do, so it will be fun to see her play tough and determined for once.  Segel couldn’t be better for his role as supportive brother and caring boyfriend, and if anything makes this movie work it is the believability and sincerity Segel radiates, like Will Farrell in Elf.

Although it will be lost to the kids in the audience, the adult themes of a world gone cynical, to predominantly reality TV shows and shock entertainment and a world in need of something to change it for the better is a powerful theme.  Chris Cooper’s villain being simply the embodiment of corporate greed as espoused via the current Occupy Wall Street movement makes the themes here particularly timely.  Although it’s way over the top, Cooper’s portrayal of the villain is as evil and sinister as past Disney hives of scum and villainy.

If there is one place the show is lacking it is big name cameos, considering that the original Muppet Movie had the icons of film, like Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Orson Welles, and James Coburn, and then new comic names like Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Elliott Gould, Carol Kane and Madeline Kahn.  The latter category is covered with a handful of contemporary standup comics, yet the extra layer of big names is non-existent, except for two actors from classic Hollywood film.  When it used to be an indication of whether or not you were a big name or not based on whether you hosted the Muppet Show, you’d think you could get any number of volunteers for this kind of movie.  Consider the Muppet Show featured everyone from Julie Andrews, George Burns, Vincent Price, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Sylvester Stallone, Roy Rogers, Christopher Reeve, the cast of Star Wars, to Roger Moore–The Muppet Show was the ultimate bridging of all genres.  It begs the question:  Why not make a new Muppet Show work today?  They tried and had a short-lived series back in 1996-1998 with Muppets Tonight.  The difference today is that Disney now owns most of the Muppet properties, and with their various networks and influence and the marketing revenues from the characters that could come with this kind of show, this one is a no-brainer.

The cameos they did find are funny additions to the story.  Don’t go to this one looking for more than chuckles, although I heard kids and adults laughing out loud throughout the show in my theater.  This one was a nice break from the typical “family” film.

Yeah, Black Friday and Star Trek set decoration don’t really seem to go together, do they?  I’ll explain.

If you happened to be out and about on the retailers’ big day this week, and you happened to walk by the Target Portrait Studios inside your local Target Store, you might have seen this:

So what’s the big deal?  If you’re a Star Trek fan you might notice that Target is using some Italian-made “Calligaris Jam” counter stools for their photo salon guests.  Still no idea what I’m talking about?  These are the same style of chair that Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk is sitting in when he first meets Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, also sitting in this style of chair, in a Riverside, Iowa, bar, in the 2009 Star Trek movie.  This was the first ever meeting of these two characters in the Star Trek universe. The stools are visible at either side of the frame in this scene from the movie:

This isn’t an every-day chair, and set designer Karen Manthey selected these fairly high end stools along with chairs for the Riverside, Iowa, location filmed in L.A. from the Italian design company’s selection of futuristic colors.  Below is a screen-used version from the set of the film, in the transparent orange variety, which CBS Paramount sold at auction a few years ago with a handful of other props from this scene.  Target has the transparent red-colored version of the chair.  At $300-400 per chair, Target Stores must be doing fine in this troubled economy!


If you’re wanting to bring some of the Star Trek futuristic look to your own home, you can buy these online in the bar stool version or a chair version, which also was used in the Riverside bar scene in the film–for the Star Trek fan who has everything, as they say.

Or if you decide to use the Target Portrait Studio this season and you want to get a little sci-fi slant to your photo, ask to use this chair, and send the photo along and we might post it here.  Very unusual to see these obscure chairs as we roamed on Black Friday.

While we’re discussing the Riverside bar scene, below are photos of detail of a screen-used cadet sweater worn by background female cadets in the 2009 Star Trek film.  This is the same uniquely knitted costume sweater as worn by Zoe Saldana playing Uhura as she sat on the bar stools in the above scene in the film.


Although Anovos is scheduled to produce a Starfleet female cadet uniform for cosplayers, they haven’t yet announced whether they will produce a sweater for the set as used in the film.  Here is their prototype replica from their booth at Comic-Con this year:

Check out the Anovos website for other custom gift ideas for your favorite Trekker or Trekkie.

C.J. Bunce



Review by C.J. Bunce


Steve Austin is dead.  At least that is how the secret military organization called O.S.I. has classified him at the beginning of Issue #3 of Kevin Smith and Phil Hester’s Bionic Man series.  In actuality his right arm and both legs are gone, lost because of the crash of his test jet the Daedalus in Issues #1 and #2.

Austin feels like anyone immediately after a crash this bad, he screams at friend Oscar Goldman and his personal physician Doctor Wells, “Why didn’t you let me die?”

Despite working on the secret military project involving advanced bionics that resulted in the creation of a Frankensteinesque cyborg from a man named Hull, it doesn’t occur to Goldman that the government may have a spare $6 million per day to try to build another cybernetic human.  His director at O.S.I. tells him it’s a done deal, Goldman just need to get Austin on-board.  He’s classified as dead right now, but “we can rebuild him.”

Meanwhile Hull is rampaging across Korea, hell bent to destroy anything in his path, on his way to take out O.S.I. for creating him, or at least failing to re-create him right.  For now, despite the coaxing, Austin isn’t playing along.  But the ramifications are distilled into the one key reason to hold on for Steve, the thought of being with his fiancee Jaime Sommers again.

Smith and Hester continue to pepper the Bionic Man’s creation story with nostalgia and clever updates, such as the obvious problem with a 1975 bionic man that made sense at six million dollars, but with inflation today he’s costing the military $6 million per day.  Alex Ross’s cover work continues to be impressive for Issue #3 and Jonathan Lau’s depiction of the battle scarred, destroyed test pilot is realistic and gritty.

But the real payoff comes with Issue #4, the part of the story everyone has been waiting for, the climax of the TV pilot for the original series, and what would become one of the best classic introductions for a TV series of all time.

To begin with, Alex Ross’s cover is one of his best-ever covers, and Lau’s tryptich incentive cover is also top-notch.

And Issue #4 begins with one of the coolest ideas so far, a bionic German Shepherd–rebuilt from a heroic police dog nearly killed in the line of duty.  And he’s as normal as any dog, lifting his leg on Steve’s bed.  The dog is meant to help convince Austin to go through with the surgery to add bionic devices to his own, to create another cyborg.

The remainder of the issue is a scene by scene account of why we loved the Bionic Man in the 1970s and why we love him today.  What must have been a dream job for any artist is undertaken nicely by Jonathan Lau.  There’s not a lot for Smith and Hester by way of writing duties, however, in this issue as the classic story takes over.  Lau doesn’t miss the opportunity to keep Austin’s first test run in his trademark red track suit, instead of trying something new.

And Austin gets to learn the “why” of all this attention and investment of millions of dollars.  The tradeoff is he must come to work for O.S.I., to go after bad guys.  And with a virtually unnoticeable new body in place, Austin happily agrees.

What more could anyone want?

By Elizabeth C. Bunce, Jason McClain and C.J. Bunce

Last week the sixth episode of New Girl aired, and instead of waiting to establish itself the show went head-on into its Thanksgiving day episode.  And it could not have been funnier had it been from season 6 and we had spent years getting to know these characters.  In fact, unlike any other show this year New Girl hasn’t missed a beat, with every episode just as funny as the last.

A NEW HOLIDAY TRADITION:  New Girl, “Thanksgiving.”  Air date: November 15, 2011.

THE SETUP: Jess (Zooey Deschanel) asks co-worker Paul (Justin Long, Live Free or Die Hard, MacIntosh ads, Battle for Terra) to Thanksgiving at the loft.  The guys are apprehensive about Paul, until they find that he is just like Jess, including the spontaneous singing at any time.  Clearly Jess and Paul are made for each other.  Jess hasn’t made Thanksgiving dinner before, but Schmidt has, and Schmidt decides to make dinner for everyone so long as they get out of his way and do as he says, and so long as Jess’s girlfriend Cece (the model) is coming along.  Nick won’t give Paul a chance, and quickly decides he doesn’t like the guy.  Jess finds out and confronts him in the hall and pummels him with a rant about all the things she wants to do with Paul…umm… of the intimate variety, but all this is said in the silly way only Jess could come up with.  Until Winston opens the door and announces that everyone inside, including Paul, can hear.  Meanwhile, Schmidt has taken command of the kitchen and begins to criticize Cece for double dipping as he is making stuffing.  His mean comments to Cece actually make Schmidt attractive to her.  He has unlocked the secret to Cece… and Schmidt blows it.  Schmidt seems to get this, but she continues to taunt him, and ultimately germ-free cooking wins out over infatuation with his dream girl.  A burnt turkey and a dead body later, and it is hard to believe this was only a half hour show.

But that’s new TV.

So we thought about our favorite Thanksgiving TV episodes and want to share them with you to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving.

“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

C.J.’s PICK: WKRP in Cincinnati, “Turkeys Away.”  Air date: October 30, 1978.

First off, if you haven’t seen it, take a half hour to watch here:

(YouTube versions change a lot, so feel free to look around for a better version, unless it’s already carried by one of your streaming providers)

THE SETUP:  The lovable but slightly dim radio station manager, Mr. Carlson (Gordon Jump), is feeling unwanted.  He’s trying to get involved with the radio station, work with the employees, participate somehow.  Receptionist Jennifer (Loni Anderson) runs the front office and won’t let Mr. Carlson touch or do anything.  News announcer Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) is paranoid when Mr. Carlson asks him what he’s been up to.  Sales manager Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) is full of his one-liner schtick.  DJ Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) fakes being asleep.  Carlson encounters DJ Venus (Tim Reid) and marketing manager Bailey (Jan Smithers), and he offers to help them, making the decision to give out free Boston T-shirts over Foreigner T-shirts, because he’s worried about the quality of foreign products (if you don’t get that joke, go review your 1970s rock bands).

Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) tries to console Mr. Carlson and it backfires.  Mr. Carlson is going to micro-manage the station, and develops a plan for the greatest promotion ever, where everyone has a part:  “I just made a deal that is going to make radio history,” he says.  They just need to get 20 live turkeys.

By the end of the half hour, we hear Les Nessman reporting from the street, “the big WKRP Thanksgiving turkey giveaway,” “the greatest turkey event in thanksgiving history,” “I think I hear something now,” “it’s a helicopter coming this way,” “something just came out of the back of the helicopter,” “no parachutes yet,” “I can’t tell what they are… Oh, my God, they’re turkeys!” “they’re hitting the ground like bags of wet cement,” “oh, my God, oh, the humanity!” “I can’t watch this anymore!”  Les’s reporting sounds just like the footage of the Hindenburg exploding.  The line goes dead.  Johnny fever announces: “The Pinedale Mall has just been bombed by Thanksgiving turkeys.”

The staff discusses what happened as Jennifer tries to explain what happened to the local humane society, and Mr. Carlson stumbles in with the classic line: “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”  And you almost see the other actors start to laugh.

Surprisingly, other than Herb and Les’s clothes, the show isn’t that dated, and the office relationships are as real as in any office environment today.

“You made a bear!  Undo it!  Undo it!”

ELIZABETH’s PICK: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Pangs.”  Air date: November 23, 1999.

The Thanksgiving TV episode is almost as much of a contemporary American tradition as the holiday gathering itself (or if not that, then certainly equal to Black Friday commercial madness), and over the years we’ve seen some classics.  From the alltime fan favorite WKRP episode profiled by our esteemed editor, to the free-range turkey fiasco of Murphy Brown, to the more recent tartar-sauce-in-the-green-bean-casserole incident from Chuck, to the absurdist efforts of Dharma & Greg to combine vegan and traditional dishes—and relatives—into one meal, the Thanksgiving episode always provides an over-the-top look at holiday excess, in this case, the strained efforts of American families everywhere to create the Perfect Family Holiday.  In those outrageous examples, we see our own holidays reflected, and for 30-60 minutes, at least, feel relieved that at least we’re not that bad.

My personal favorite Thanksgiving show has to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Season 4 episode “Pangs.”

THE SETUP:  Like classic episodes before and since, this one revolves around Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ringer) attempt to recreate the Norman Rockwell holiday of her childhood.  But she’s hampered by absent family, a lack of cooking skills and equipment, ambivalent best friend Willow… and the angry ghost of a wronged Native American warrior seeking vengeance for the destruction of his tribe by white settlers.  This conflict reflects a very current, late 1990s concern about how Americans viewed our colonial past, and is particularly well-represented by Willow (Alyson Hannigan, Veronica Mars, How I Met Your Mother), who wants nothing to do with either the holiday meal or the vanquishing of the warrior spirit.

“Pangs” is, first and foremost, hilarious—as every great Thanksgiving episode must be.  In a way, it’s almost “Thanksgiving Deconstructed;” we get every piece of the traditional framework—but everything gets a Buffyesque twist. Strange relatives? Check—nobody’s stranger than mystically-syphilis-stricken Xander (Nicholas Brendon, Criminal Minds) and his tactless, ex-demon girlfriend Anya… except possibly down-on-his-luck vampire Spike (who’s already been kicked out by his own ‘family,’ of sorts).  Cooking drama?  How about confusing the stuffing recipe with a spell for combating the ghost?  And in the middle of it all is poor Buffy, as the classic harried hostess trying futilely to please everyone, when everything is falling apart around her.

Funny moments abound, but it’s the social commentary that makes this episode so memorable.  Archetypal Others Anya and Spike have never been more on-point in their blunt attacks on cultural sacred cows.  “I love a ritual sacrifice,” Anya declares about the traditional Turkey Day meal, and Spike deftly tramps all over the storyline’s key ethical dilemma in a clear but uncomfortable summation: “You won.  All right?  You came in and you killed them and you took their land.  That’s what conquering nations do. End of story.”  It’s a shocking, if alarmingly accurate, analysis—and only a show like Buffy could get away with saying it straight out like that.

“Pangs” definitely takes the catastrophic holiday theme to new lows, but it’s a perfect example of how genre fiction, by stretching concepts to their most outrageous limits, so often highlights the essential truths about issues we’re all grappling with—collective guilt, the inability to live up to imagined standards, and, of course, pie.  Happy ritual sacrifice, everyone!

“Look Ma, I’m on TV!”

JASON’s PICK: Mike and Molly, “Mike Cheats.”  Air date: November 21, 2011.

THE SETUP:  Surprisingly, well maybe not because Elizabeth and C.J. took “Buffy” and “WKRP” as those are two of my favorite shows ever and you probably don’t ever have to wonder why we all blog together, my favorite Thanksgiving episode ever just debuted on Monday November 21, 2011.  It is Mike and Molly and the episode “Mike Cheats.”  How can an episode less than a week old already reach the stratospheric heights that the other entries have?

Simple, I’m in it.  Since I’ve never been in a Thanksgiving TV episode, this is a whole new ball game.  I mean it has to be a favorite, right?

Early on in the episode, just after the credits, Samuel (Nyambi Nyambi) serves breakfast to Officer Mike Biggs (Billy Gardell) and Officer Carl McMillan (Reno Wilson).  Over Officer McMillan’s shoulder is a guy already eating his breakfast and talking to a bearded companion.  I’m that guy enjoying eggs and potatoes.

It’s wild being a part of a multi-camera sitcom.  You do film in front of a live studio audience.  The previous day, you rehearse and get to hear and see the rest of the scenes that take place on the other sets all in a line on the same stage.  You get to see how the button on Officer Biggs shirt pops off due to an air compressor.  You get to see the actors try different lines as they get new pages of scripts.  It’s a cool learning experience about how a show comes together.

It makes it even better when you can see me in the episode.  I have no lines, I’m in the background as a good background actor should be and I’m always in profile, but I’m still there.  I can point at that episode and say, “Look ma, I’m on TV.”  It may not have the same weight as the line, “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly,” but I’ll take it.

A few years ago, I doubt I would have ever thought that I would be able to experience that.  Now, I do occasional background work, I’m hoping to get a novel published and I enjoy contributing to various sites on the web with my writing.  I’m thankful for the opportunities that allowed me to live in Los Angeles and achieve some creative goals and have a fun time seeing and doing new things.  I’m thankful for my friends and family with whom I share my love of writing and entertainment and for all their support.  It’s Thanksgiving and this is the perfect Thanksgiving episode to represent those feelings.

From everyone here at borg, Happy Thanksgiving! 

Debbie Reynolds, film star and mother to Princess Leia’s Carrie Fisher, spent the past 50 years acquiring what Hollywood was throwing out.  On June 18, 2008, she sold off the crown jewels of her collection, and the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in Seven Year Itch broke an entertainment memorabilia auction record, selling for a whopping $5,658,000.  Movie memorabilia auction house Profiles in History will be auctioning off more costumes, props, filmmaker tools and other items from Reynolds collection on December 3, 2011, at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.

Reynolds had been collecting costumes and props since 1970 when Warner Brothers started selling off key pieces of Hollywood history.  Reynolds financed her purchases over the years with the plan of building a museum for the public.  But last year her business filed for bankruptcy protection and her holdings, including probably the best Hollywood costume collection of all time, had to be sold off to pay off creditors.

Next week’s auction has a broad array of items.  Again, mostly costumes from A-list and B-list actors and actresses, but this time mainly from less recognizable films of Hollywood’s golden age.  No doubt for sci-fi fans the key lot being sold is George Lucas’s Panavision PSR 35 mm motion picture camera used to film Star Wars.  It has an auction estimate of $100,000 to $200,000.

Also for sale is a Panavision Mitchell 65mm AC Rack-Over camera used to film Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey estimated to sell for $30,000 to $50,000, an RKO camera crane used by Orson Welles to film Citizen Kane expected to fetch between $30,000 to $50,000, and a Bell & Howell Model 2709 hand-cranked 35mm camera , once owned by Charlie Chaplin and used to film The Kid and Gold Rush, expected to sell for $200,000 to $300,000.

No doubt the highlights of the auction in the costume department will be more Marilyn Monroe screen-used costumes, including outfits worn in Bust Stop, Let’s Make Love, Niagara, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Other actress costumes featured were worn by Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Betty Grable, Deborah Kerr, Mitzi Gaynor, Susan Hayward, Teresa Wright, Ginger Rogers, Virginia Mayo, Kim Novak, Katherine Hepburn, Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert, and Ava Gardner.  There is also a variety of classic Mary Pickford and Leslie Howard costumes, all available for previewing between now and December 3, 2011 at the Paley Center.

Key classic Hollywood films represented in the auction include She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Show Boat, an Al Jolson costume from Swanee River, a costume from The Little Princess worn by Arthur Treacher, Yankee Doodle Dandee, Without Reservations, The Three Musketeers, Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Greatest Show on Earth, and Stars and Stripes Forever.

A full suit of armor worn by Jean Seberg as Joan of Arc in Otto Preminger’s film Saint Joan is estimated to sell between $15,000 to $20,000.

For more articles on the first Debbie Reynolds auction click here.  For more articles on Profiles in History click here.

More information is available at Happy bidding, movie fans!

C.J. Bunce



Review by C.J. Bunce

If one word sums up Barbara Gordon and her new Batgirl persona, it is feisty.  She gets knocked down.  She gets right back up.  She makes mistakes.  She tries to recover from her mistakes—both the long-term lesson learning variety and the instant kind–a bad kick or punch here or there.  And she will keep after the bad guy, here a grim reaper type baddie called the Mirror, who carries a list of the soon-to-be-dead around as a checklist.  With a quick moving story line her decisions are split-second choices.  She has no choice, she must be focused.  Having the use of her legs return only in the past several months, all indications are that this heroine is engaging in the secret crime fighting gig too soon.  And that is the current theme of her character’s growth.

Issue #2 of the DC Comics New 52 Batgirl is peppered with seemingly irrelevant details that actually help build our understanding of Batgirl’s Gotham City, like the fact there is only one cemetery left in town that hasn’t been demolished and replaced with parking lots and malls.  We see real-life reflected here, or at least the over-development, economic strife and questionable priorities that make Gotham the worst of what is real in any society.  We also see a microcosm of the individual, living the single life, trying to get through the mundane tasks of daily life.  Barbara Gordon is a poster girl for the individual in the big world.  Like all of us, she is forging ahead.

Writer Gail Simone continues to deliver the satisfying and snappy, Buffy-esque dialogue, that reminds us we’re talking about Bat-girl here, like the serious but silly “But I am done being afraid.  And I can’t die tonight.  I’ve got a lunch date!”

What I can’t get over, and Batgirl is today’s pick for best written series, is the first person narrative we get here, in the same style as Batman from Jeph Loeb in Batman: Hush.  In this way, we’re in her head as she smartly comes off as the almost-Batman, which is sort of what a junior Bat-hero should be striving for, right?

Batgirl’s positive outlook is counter-balanced with a well-constructed bad guy.  Unlike some other villains in the New 52, the character called the Mirror is smartly crafted with an engaging back story.  Family lost in a car wreck, he snaps and becomes this Final Destination inspired, twisted rationalizer of who lives and who dies.

Batgirl Issue #2 delivered on its potential.

But that’s not quite so with Issue #3, which had a lot to live up to considering the work on Issues #1 and #2.  For part one, Barbara Gordon becomes Sandra Bullock in Speed, in a psycho-orchestrated opportunity to save a train from a bomb.  Good stuff?  Check. For part two, she has some awkward catching up to do with dad, Commissioner Gordon.  Good stuff?  Check.  For part three, she goes to pick up her Batcycle, which had been impounded in Issue #1.  There she runs into Dick Grayson-formerly-known-as-Robin-who-then-became-Nightwing-then-Batman-and-now-he’s-Nightwing-again.  And an old, teen romance is rekindled, veiled as an effort by the Bat-team to get Barbara to dial back on the dangerous derring-do.  Gordon gives in a bit, but ultimately recoils into that comic book cliché of the superhero—“I just want to be alone.”

It’s not a bad follow-up to Issues #1 and 2, but the obligatory romance issue just seems a bit too soon for this new series.  Maybe it is intended to reflect the chaos of real life, where the individual is burdened with too much to do in too little time.  In that vein, Batgirl is very modern.  The writers must have intended this guest appearance of Nightwing to conjure up the most successful of the original Birds of Prey series issue, when Grayson returned to take Barbara on a date.  Definitely a bit nostalgic so no harm there.  But we’re eager to get back to the smart character building we saw in Issues #1 and #2, next month.

Another thing worthy of mention is Ardian Syaf’s illustrations in Issues #2 and #3.  Batgirl is both agile and tough balanced with naivete and some real street smarts, and we know this from how she is drawn on every panel.  I am also becoming a believer in the Adam Hughes school of cover art.  Issue 3 is one of the best of all the New 52 covers so far.

I have always been fascinated with the use of the corridor or futuristic hallway in science fiction TV and movies.  It’s a tool that has been used over and over again to show a utilitarian function that we use today as we might see it in the future.  By showing a simple hallway with different colored walls, attachments or adornments, greater or lesser lengths, cinematographers give you feelings from claustrophobia to cold chills to the repulsion of the dripping, dank space freighter, or the immaculately clean hospital-like environment.   And creators get to show us the future as they envision it, in part by contrasting something we see every day today with something far more elaborate, or far less elaborate, years from now.

The corridor is also a great storytelling device.  Take the obvious:  the dramatic play.  You can’t easily show a hallway conversation when you have three major sets for your playhouse production.  It’s been done, but with TV and film it’s a lot easier to use to carry a story along.  Especially in movies, the typical story consists of one staged set after another, a destination, as opposed to the pathway between.  Practically the director cannot spend time in a hallway as she can on television.  Corridor conversation is obviously not just a science fiction tool.  Hospital themed TV series use hallway space conversations as much as any other location for a scene.  Yet there is something unique with the sci-fi corridor that has been fleshed out in science fiction design to create a different feeling of the future.

Take for instance the barren corridors in George Lucas’s THX 1138:

Or this cold hallway where we find the main character played by Robert Duvall:

Compare the above desolate images with this seemingly highly technical, computer-dominated labyrinth from the same film:

It’s these images, both stark and complicated, that likely helped build Lucas’s style for Star Wars.  My favorite of his uses, and the most overt, was this entry way for the slow path Luke Skywalker had to take to confront Darth Vader for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back:

But that wasn’t Lucas’s most dramatic use.  That has to go to our introduction to Darth Vader for the first time as he bursts into the hall of the Tantive IV freighter from his giant Star Destroyer in the original Star Wars:

What is the most noticeable from  comparing the use of corridors in sci-fi is the scale the corridor typically creates for the viewer.  From the prior scene we know this is a ship smaller than the attacking ship, yet look how big this ship must be from its long hallways.  Yet nothing prepares us for a mechanized facility the size of a planet, and with the Death Star, we have something so unimaginably large, it is one corridor after another, from the escape in the prison block:

…to the corridor where Obi-Wan Kenobi confronts Darth Vader after turning off the gravity beam:

What are those vertical lighted things on the walls?  What do they do?  It doesn’t matter.  It never matters.  They are all just technobabblish frescoes that only need to look like they do something.

But looking only at Lucas’s films is just skimming the surface.  Check out Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, where darkness, power conduits, and leaky valves translate to fear aboard the space vessel Nostromo:

And Scott contrasts this with the more antiseptic feeling corridor for other locations:

More than any other idea illustrated by corridors in science fiction is the design concept of form following function.  The long tubes interconnecting parts of the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey follow this theory as we see the interiors reflect the ship’s tubal exterior:

In an ongoing television series, writers and designers are always looking to improve their storytelling.  More than in a two-hour movie, you have plenty of time over one or more seasons to spend time “in between”–moving from place to place, where you don’t have the luxury of so much time in a movie.  The Star Trek franchise allowed conversations to carry on as the crew strode from the bridge to sickbay to engineering, to continue the plot unimpeded, despite the technical capability of just beaming from place to place.  It also served to break up dialogue and setting.  This occurred throughout the various series, from the original Star Trek:

…to the corridors of the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: The Next Generation:

…to Deep Space Nine, which had a space station like that of 2001: A Space Odyssey, again, full of hallways:

And although we’re speaking of the future’s future, somehow this more modern starship from Voyager looks and feels even more futuristic:

This continued with the prequel series Enterprise, which reflects some early inspiration for the future of corridors, that of military vessels:

This brings us to the likely source for all these corridors, the military naval vessel, going back to the submarines from decades ago.  As can be seen in the nuclear submarine in Hunt for Red October, passageways are quick visual for scale:

And why do these endless corridors make us feel the way we do?  Usually… creepy.  A screenshot from the earliest of science fiction movies, Metropolis, may give us a hint:

Definitely something Orwellian about this image.  Was it filmed at a prison?  A subway station?  Wherever it is, it’s not pretty.  It makes us uncomfortable.

The sci-fi corridor continues to be a tool used in modern science fiction.  Here are futuristic cyclindrical walkways from Gattaca:

Dark angular passages from Doctor Who:

A bright and vivid corridor Rise of the Planet of the Apes:

In 2009’s Star Trek:

And even the illustrators of animated futuristic films can’t escape their own corridors, as in The Incredibles:

Mutants know how to make slick causeways in X-Men:

And our own Earth could hardly look more bleak than in Terminator 4:

Yet the movie Moon’s imagery appears more like the future as seen in 1970s films:

The visual imagery and feeling conveyed by the corridor is a staple in science fiction.  No doubt production designers must include some budget for these locations as a minimum ingredient in every new futuristic tale.

C.J. Bunce

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