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Archive for March, 2012


By Elizabeth C. Bunce

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.”  Thus the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) explains temporal theory to a “clever and listening” Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan, Never Let Me Go, The Great Gatsby) in the best-ever episode of Doctor Who, “Blink” (2007).

It’s a tough call.  “Blink” came in the middle of a great season, sandwiched between the brilliant “The Family of Blood” and “Utopia,”–a period when Stephen Moffat and Russell T. Davies were clearly at the top of their form.  But there’s something about “Blink” that lifts it out of the realm of episodes that are simply great, and makes it an enduring, must-watch classic, and earns borg.com’s nomination for Best Doctor Who.  (To be fair, there was a dissenting vote.  Jason McClain is partial to “The Girl in the Fireplace.”  But we think he’s wrong and just needs to watch “Blink” again.)

First, there’s the time travel. Ok, sure–it’s Doctor Who.  It’s all time travel.  But this episode does more than drop our heroes into another time to explore–it’s a twisty, precisely calibrated interplay of past, present, and future, with the Doctor stuck on the sidelines and the fate of the universe in the hands of a not-so-ordinary Londoner.  “Blink” is masterfully orchestrated and perfectly paced from the first moment, a complex puzzle of self-fulfilling, paradoxical prophecies that never misses a step or leaves the viewer remotely confused (even when we don’t know what’s going on).

Second, the story–all scant 45 minutes of it–feels not only complete and satisfying, but epic.  Villainy on a grand scale.  A tantalizing mystery.  Romances that span generations, though their starcrossed lovers only know one another for moments.  Between “Sally Shipton” and “It’s the same rain,” we live the entire lifelong love-that-might-have-been between Det. Insp. Billy Shipton and Sally.  We are treated to the sweet love story of Kathy Nightingale and her young man from Hull, which comes full circle when her grandson brings her letter and photos to Sally–before the story even begins.  It’s all one beautiful complex loop of time, love, and missed and grabbed chances.

Third, Carey Mulligan.  Usually, TV episodes missing all of their familiar characters don’t work, but “Blink” pulls it off.  Not only do we not really miss the Doctor, I think we’d all take even more of Sally, Larry, Kate, and Billy–but Carey Mulligan is the key to everything.  From the instant Sally hops the wrought iron fence at Wester Drumlins and strips off the peeling wallpaper, we’re rooting for her.  Mulligan feels like an actor you know you’ve seen before, and her poise and talent pull the whole episode up to her level.  It’s no surprise to see her cast now in impressive roles like The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan.

Fourth, the Weeping Angels.  Best. Villains. Ever.  “Whatever you do, don’t blink.”  “Blink” turns an archetype of holiness into a gothic nightmare, and the sweet innocence of Sally and Larry only makes them all the more startling.  They’re a fascinating alien species as only Doctor Who can conceive (“quantum-locked” creatures who cease to exist when looked at), but they’re also as scary as any classic horror movie monster.  And yet, for all the terror they inspire, they still “kill you nicely,” as the Doctor says.  (They’re not always so nice, however, as Doctor Number Eleven and Amy Pond later learn.)

Fifth, the dialogue.  C’mon–“Blink” is full of great lines, from the now quotable “Timey-Wimey Stuff,” to my personal favorites, “It goes ding when there’s stuff” and “There’s a thing.  Well, four things and a lizard.”  We also love Larry’s surprised, “You live in Scooby Doo’s house,” when he finds Sally at Wester Drumlins, and the adorable carpark exchange between the flirtatious Billy and bashful Sally.  Also, Sally’s parting admonition, “Don’t look at me, don’t look at me,” chillingly echoes the “Don’t blink” refrain of the episode.

If that’s not enough to plead our case, perhaps the best evidence in “Blink’s” favor is Point Number Six: the fact that “Blink” functions as a complete standalone episode–it’s Doctor Who, but it’s also very much its own entire story, both fascinating and approachable enough to entertain Whovians and non-fans alike.

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By Art Schmidt

Season 2 of AMC’s series The Walking Dead aired its Season 2 finale on Sunday night, and as the final seconds of the show slipped away all too quickly, I heard a distinct shout of fanboy jubilation erupt across the world.

“Michonne!!!”

I know I said it aloud, and from the way my wife eyed me, I likely said it a bit too loudly.  Almost as loud as I shouted ‘Ding-dong, Shane is dead!’ last week.

(I’ll save the spoilers until the end)

To start, let’s go back one week before the finale.  The climax from last week’s episode was Shane’s double-death.  His half-baked plan to get rid of Rick unraveled and although he had the chance to off his former friend, Rick got the upper-hand and knifed him in the gut.  Then Shane re-animated (!) and Rick’s son Carl overcame his man crush on the bastard (seeing a shambling zombie coming to eat your intestines will do that to a kid) and Carl put Shane down for good, his first kill of any kind in the show.

Afterward, for every online post echoing my sentiments (Ding-dong, Shane is dead!), there was one decrying the drastic mistake the show’s producers had made in killing off what they claim was the show’s greatest source of struggle and drama.  That is the struggle for the soul of the group between Rick, the thoughtful moralist, and Shane, the ruthless survivalist.  I never liked Shane, even the few times he was able to justify his self-centered motivations.  Killing innocent people to stay alive is no way to live, regardless of the circumstances.  And his obsession with Lori and Carl was unhealthy for everyone.  Admittedly, it did make for some good drama, and perhaps the writers will need to work a bit harder to continue the great story-telling they’ve accomplished over two short seasons.

But that was never the deal-breaker between me and Shane.  Not really.  And although I’ve read the comics and was happy with his very early demise in them, it wasn’t really that, either.  He died in the comics, he lived in the TV series, no biggie.  I’m glad the two are different; otherwise I probably wouldn’t enjoy the show very much.  No, Shane bothered me for a different reason, and shortly before he was killed last week, I finally put my finger on it.

They couldn’t leave.  Herschel’s farm was a great place to find and explore, but they’ve been there waaay too long.  The group needed to move on, even if not in the way they did in the comics (and boy, was the finale different, huzzah!)  No, somehow the turmoil between Rick and Shane had to be resolved before they could leave the farm.  It just had to.  No way could they leave, when the split leadership wanted to go in different directions, take on different goals, and treat its members differently.  Shane’s survival was blocking the storyline from progressing forward.

Maybe that was just how it felt, but to me that’s how it was.  Shane was a story bottleneck, and he had to be ‘resolved’.  And bless his black little heart, he wasn’t going to turn over a new leaf (as much as he claimed to be able to do so), he was never, ever going to accept Rick as the leader, and he wasn’t going to budge from that farm, no sir.  In a way, his self-centered ‘survival of the fittest’ mantra was as short-sighted as Herschel’s ‘keep on keepin’ on’ belief.  Both thought they could command the farm and its environs to keep them safe from the outside world, and both were wrong.  Dead wrong.

So I’m glad that Shane is gone, aside even from my dislike of the character.  Now the group can leave the farm and move on to bigger and better things.

Side Note:  Shane actor John Bernthal is starring in The Walking Dead developer Frank Darabont’s new television series L.A. Noir, and I wish him all the best!  It’s his great acting that made Shane credible and gave the character such a deep impact.  In a lesser actor’s hands, Shane Walsh would have been a stereotypical loud-mouthed jerk and dragged the show down.  Good luck in L.A. John!  L.A. Noir is being developed for TNT based on the novel by John Buntin.

So with Shane dead and a herd of walkers shambling toward the farm, the penultimate episode left us hanging from the proverbial cliff, dangling by one hand and hoping that the season finale would come along like a knight in shining armor and rescue us from both our breathless expectations and our fear of disappointment.

And boy, did it.

The finale was everything a fan of any television series could ask for.  Well, it could have been two hours long, but that’s really just picking nits.

It was exciting and revelatory and hopeful and well-written and gruesome in all the right ways.  Producer Robert Kirkman had promised character deaths in the season finale, and while none were as surprising as the previous episodes’ offing of both Shane and Dale (Oh, Dale!  Oh, why Dale?!?), the episode certainly did not disappoint.

Ok, I’m done with the non-spoiler portion of this article; here come the GOODS!!!

I’m glad in particular about the exit of Herschel’s son-in-law (?) Jimmy, who never said two words in two episodes and was always in the background waiting to be told what to do in any given situation.  The character was a can of walker spam all season long.

And I’m glad T-Dog survived as well.  It’s bothered me all season that he hasn’t had more to do or say, and hopefully he’ll have more of an active role in the group in Season 3.  His scene with Lori in the truck, while short, was great and shows the ongoing turmoil with the daily choices all of the characters in this upside-down world are forced to make again and again.  Long live the T!

Same for Daryl, though of course there was no real chance of him being killed off.  For one thing, I’m convinced that Daryl could kill ten walkers with his bare hands, using only one finger for each.  I hope that with the exits of Shane and Dale, both of these characters have more up-front time in episodes to come.

And speaking of episodes to come, how about the fade-out shot of the area surrounding the group, with the large ‘facility’ in the background?  Fans of the comics will know what it is, but I won’t spoil it for non-readers here.  Suffice to say, that’s where the group is headed, and there is all sorts of interesting stuff awaiting them when they get there.

And then there’s Michonne.  She’s the bad-ass character every fan of the comic series has been waiting for, the figure in the hooded robe.  Michonne finally slipped in like a ghost and announced herself with a near-silent swish of her samurai blade, saving Andrea in the process.

But of all the big ‘reveals’ (as they are called) in this episode, the departure from the farm, the appearance of Michonne, the glimpse of the large ‘facility’ where Season 3 will take them, I think the most important and interesting piece from the finale is Rick’s speech at the end, in the little encampment “Beside the Dying Fire” (the title of the episode).

Full of regret at being betrayed by and then having to kill his best friend Shane, wracked by the frustration of losing people to walkers even in the relative safety of Herschel’s farm, frightened of the desperate situation the group suddenly finds itself in, and bitter about the apparent rebuke of his own wife, Rick blows up.  He never asked to be the leader of the group, a point he’s made more than once in the past, but people keep looking to him for leadership.  But when things go poorly, he gets the disappointed looks and feels the whispered judgments of everyone around him, his wife and son included.

As next season unfolds, it is likely that Rick’s speech will prove not only to be a critical turning point for the show, with his declaration that “if you choose to stay, this isn’t a democracy anymore!”  It will also be the highlight of the first two seasons, a definitive climax for the first chapter in this awesome, complicated, engrossing story.  Rick tried to keep the peace, tried to give everyone a voice, and tried to mend every broken fence he came across.  And from almost everyone, the only thing he’s gotten in return is grief for the less-than-perfect outcomes and second-guesses at most of his decisions.  Rick Grimes tried to live in the past, as did everyone else.  Much as Herschel tried to mold the environment of the farm into an echo of the former world, so too did Rick try to mold the group into a democracy despite the fall of any discernible civilization around them.

Finally, fed up with trying to do things the old world way, Rick is adapting to the new world around him at last.  In a way, some of Shane’s constant rambling about the necessities of this walker world have rubbed off on him, though not in the way Shane had always hoped.  Rick still values the lives of the group members, and he still wants to keep them all safe, unlike Shane.  However, similar to Shane, Rick no longer values the group’s individual opinions on the best way to get that done.

“Maybe you people can do better without me,” Rick snarls while gesturing with a loaded pistol.  “Go ahead.  There’s the door.  Send me a postcard.”

LOVE IT!!!

I think the most support for Rick’s new attitude came from the most unlikely but perhaps most appropriate member of the group.  When Carol asks Daryl “Does this sound right to you?” Daryl’s mumbled response sums everything up entirely.

“Rick’s always done right by me.”

The rest of the group should sit up and pay attention.  Daryl, the most level-headed and best suited of everyone to survive in this new walker world, Shane and Rick included, is right on the money.

And so was the Season 2 finale.  Bravo!

Of all the genre types there is one that doesn’t quite fit into any other bucket of movies.  These movies themselves are complex and rarely made, but when they are done right they tend to bridge popular audiences and critical acclaim.  They are about people who also don’t quite fit.  They are often referred to as “coming of age” movies, and with such a lame title it’s no wonder there is not a giant video header at the rental stores for “Coming of Age” movies.

Some of these are really just “teen angst” movies.  Some of the best of these for mid-teens, documenting the high school experience, are Clueless with Alicia Silverstone, 10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles with Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald, Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden with James Dean, West Side Story, Tex with Matt Dillon, Crossroads and The Karate Kid, both starring Ralph Macchio, and even The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland, where Dorothy establishes a defining piece of the genre–dreaming of “getting out of Dodge” (OK, Wichita, so close enough).

A younger teen focus subset of these films, where kids are either turning into teens or otherwise encountering adult situations at a young age, include Bless the Beasts and Children, Lucas, Stand by Me, Angus, The Sandlot, A Christmas Story, Explorers, the Harry Potter films, Super 8, and a superb superhero genre crossover called Sky High, that is one of those movies that pulls itself apart from the typical kid-centric flick by brilliantly delving into kids’ relationships with each other.

One film proves we probably shouldn’t stop with three subsets of the coming of age film, and reflects the universal nature of life in change.  A film that covers the same themes yet for the transition from college to the “rest of life” is Buck Henry and Michael Nichols’ The Graduate.  The Graduate launched the careers of Dustin Hoffman (All the Presidents’ Men, Kramer vs. Kramer, Midnight Cowboy, Rainman, Tootsie) and Katherine Ross (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, Donnie Darko).  The subject is simple, yet believable and accessible, stuck in a rut, not ready to move onward, a recent college graduate needs some impetus to get moving forward.  In the 1960s of this movie, Hoffman and Ross’s characters step forward at the end, but you get the feeling the “coming of age” for them is still far outside their reach.  Similar elements of angst, alienation, and change are reflected in films of the older set, like St. Elmo’s Fire, Do the Right Thing, Lords of Dogtown, Wayne’s World, Shaun of the Dead, and even the 1976 movie Car Wash.

The subset of the genre targeted at older teens, those teens at the end of high school transitioning to “the rest of their lives” (or at least trying to) stand separately as their own class of film.  The greatest of these reach cult status, and often include all-star casts before they were to become stars.  Very likely it is these films that propelled the young actors into bigger roles as a next step in their careers because we, the audience, love these characters, and when we like characters we latch onto the actors that portrayed them.  Sometimes these themes cross into other genres that take over the film, such as the sci-fi film The Last Starfighter–where a teen must decide not whether to stay in town and work or go to college, but be a starfighter and save the universe.  Let’s look at a few of these classics that should be on your must-see list:

AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973).  Even if George Lucas never came up with Star Wars he would have been remembered for creating this masterpiece of cinema.  All the key criteria of the genre are covered here: (1) fascination with cars, including races and chases; (2) incredible music, both as soundtrack as well as being listened to by the characters throughout the film; (3) teen rebellion, like pulling the rear axle off a police car (!), drinking, smoking, etc.; (4) alienation–one or more nerds, here exemplified by Charles Martin Smith’s Terry, who does the impossible, getting not only a girl, but THE girl, here Debbie (played by Candy Clark), and contrasted with the “cool kids,” (5) fitting in and not fitting in; (6) angst–Richard Dreyfuss’s Curt is the archetype for angst-ridden teen, not knowing his own abilities, uncertain and nervous about the next step in life: college; (7) life choices:  Go to college?  Go to which college?  Join the military?  Work in the garage at home?, (8) teens dealing with sex, and (9) an all-star or before-they-were all-star cast, launching careers:  Here that includes Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, and Harrison Ford.  Why do audiences of all ages relate to these themes?  Is it because we all continue to go through choices, decisions, and angst every day moving forward?

GREASE (1978).  The PG-13 rating really reflects components of all the films on this genre list: “sexual content including references, teen smoking and drinking, and language.”  Showing that you can successfully deal with the transitional phases of life in musical version like West Side Story (who doesn’t like music at any level in these movies?) here the 1970s portrays the 1950s again (this time 1959) as did American Graffiti.  Social strata, growing up rich or poor, from the south or west or north or east side–it all has meaning in the genre.  Like Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story this is focused on high school teens–yet Sandy is thinking about college and Danny and Sandy each need to figure out who they want to be when school is out.

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982).  With American Graffiti documenting the American teen experience of the 1950s in the 1970s, Fast Times reflected the day.  Who is more of a classic rebel than Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli?  Full of both nerds and chock full of household name actors to-be, like Penn, Phoebe Cates, Eric Stoltz, Nicholas Cage, Forest Whitaker, Anthony Edwards, Judge Reinhold and Jennifer Jason Leigh.  Fast Times included another piece of the genre, generational slang.

THE OUTSIDERS (1983).  Probably the biggest film to launch careers of teen actors is The Outsiders. Francis Ford Coppola was harassed by a high school class to make this film and finally agreed to do it.  Socs vs. Greasers.  Literally kids from opposite sides of the tracks.  Matt Dillon plays Dallas, the ultimate teen anti-hero.  C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio again, the poster actor of the genre, play the alienated unlikely rebels with heroes within screaming to get out.  This one launched the careers of Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, and Diane Lane.  For teens who think they are alone, that the crap piled on them only happens to them, like the other films on this list, The Outsiders illustrates that everyone is an outsider sometime.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986).  Although it is Matthew Broderick’s character Ferris Bueller’s sister Jeannie, played by Jennifer Grey, that really shows the teen experience in the high school of 1986, it is Bueller and his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), that are soon moving away to separate colleges.  Bueller rebels differently than most characters in this genre, yet is he really any different from Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times or Curt in American Graffiti?

SAY ANYTHING (1989).  You don’t have to have an ensemble cast to make your point and here a small cast illustrates dealing with adult issues early, struggling with who you want to be and what you want to do.  If you don’t want to make something bought or sold, sell anything made or bought or buy anything made or sold, John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler feels your pain.  Cusack, Ione Skye and Lili Taylor form a great team to reflect angst and confusion.  Dobler standing at the Gas and Sip with a bunch of “losers”–and Dobler leaving them behind, is what the genre is all about.  And blaring your stereo from the street so the girl of your dreams hears you to apologize outside her window–again, music is key to a classic like this one and made that single image iconic.

DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993).  Here the 1990s plays the 1970s, almost cementing the cyclical nature of these themes as a part of the genre.  The highs and lows of partying, friendship, and rebellion.  Every bit as much a classic film as American Graffiti, with authentic (not so cool) clothing and very cool cars, this movie probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves from a huge cast of good young actors.  Like some of the other films above, this one was an early film for later big names, like Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, and Parker Posey.

ORANGE COUNTY (2002).  Orange County is one of those films you can watch over and over, with Colin Hanks’s Shaun Brumder a wanna-be writer whose high school guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin) sends the wrong stats to his college of choice.  His girlfriend wants him to stay home.  His brother (played by Jack Black) chose to stay home and shows Shaun what he doesn’t want.  A mentor emerges in the form of a professor played by Kevin Kline at just the right time.  Like Ron Howard in American Graffiti, Shaun makes a different choice from his friends, a different path than he’d originally planned.

SUPERBAD (2007).  Christopher Mintz-Plasse takes Charles Martin Smith’s alienated nerd full circle in Superbad as the self-named “McLovin.”  Despite being the third wheel in the film, he manages to conquer all the roles of the myriad of characters throughout all the above films.  Speeding along with Van Halen’s “Panama” blaring as he buddies up with two local police officers, McLovin practically gets arrested trying to buy beer, and ends up setting fire to a police car in a near parody of the genre.  And he gets the girl.  Future Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill and pal Michael Cera show what good friends will and won’t do for each other as Hill’s character learns Cera’s character will be rooming with McLovin at college.  Yet it all works out somehow, after the “quest for beer” and obligatory party, and Hill’s character giving his girlfriend an inadvertent black eye.  Superbad proves the genre stays strong, and that the themes of life in transition remain universal and accessible to movie audiences.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

By C.J. Bunce

As recently as August 2011, 40 years after a man hijacked a flight from Portland to Seattle, the legendary D.B. Cooper was the subject of a new lead in the FBI’s investigation of America’s only unsolved hijacking.  An Oklahoma woman came forward suggesting that when she was eight years old her uncle revealed amassing the stolen fortune in the days after Cooper took $200,000 and a parachute and vanished over the Pacific Northwest on the November 24, 1971.  In 1980 $6,000 of the bills washed ashore, found by a kid playing at a beach.

So did D.B. Cooper survive?

Writer/artist Brian Churilla suggests in his new mini-series from Oni Press that maybe there was something more sinister going on in the fall of 1971, and that D.B. Cooper was a trained assassin turned rogue agent of the CIA.  Why the skyjacking?  Cooper went on the run and the publicity was an effort to enlist the public to flush out and track down Cooper.

Far-fetched?

You bet!  But that’s the stuff of good comic book action.  In issue #1 of The Secret History of D.B. Cooper, Churilla goes off in even more bizarre directions, showing that Cooper also was a bit of a dream traveler like Dennis Quaid’s character in the 1984 cult sci-fi classic Dreamscape.  And just like in Dreamscape, the government enlisted Cooper to murder targets in their sleep, stumbling through a frenzied dream world in the process.

Unlike Dreamscape, Churilla takes off in a surreal direction like something you might find in the pages of Animal Man, where reality is blurred with otherworldly elements, with Cooper using the resources of a one-armed teddy bear sidekick.  Yes, that’s right, a one-eared teddy bear.  With a sword even.

The above description might have the more mainstream audiences running for cover, but for those that like a good alternate history mixed with X-Files overtones, this series may be up your alley.  A good introductory story, issue #1 suggests this independent publisher mini-series could get a foothold with readers of the big comic publishing houses.  And it’s plain fun.

First, Animal Man is big right now, and the over the top, supernatural imagery of The Secret History should attract readers of that popular DC Comics series.

Second, Churilla picked a great hook using D.B. Cooper as his hero.  In more than 40 years he is still thought of not like every other airplane hijacker of all time, but is constantly referred to as “an American folk hero,” achieving something of a mythic status like Jesse James and Bonnie and Clyde.  The FBI has investigated over 1,000 suspects over the years, documented several deathbed confessions, a movie, The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper starring Treat Williams, and several non-fiction books.  Yet, Cooper has hardly been used as the subject of a good, creative retelling.

Third, a buddy cop story where one buddy is a teddy bear.  ‘Nuff said.

Fourth, like the popular NBC TV series Grimm, The Secret History takes place in the great Pacific Northwest, home of the X-Files and Twin Peaks, prime real estate for a creepy and cool supernatural detective story.

Finally, Churilla’s art and colors has a very Mike Mignola quality and the writing also reads like a Hellboy story from Mignola.

One alternate cover version is available, drawn by Batwoman writer/artist J.H. Williams III.

This one you’ll either love or you’ll hate.

Actually you might just love this trailer for several reasons unless you are a loyal fan of the original 594 episodes of the Dark Shadows TV series from 1966-1971 starring Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins.  This appears to have little of the vibe of that dark series, yet it takes place in 1972, after the series ended, with a “fish out of water” story.

If you secretly wish Raul Julia was still around for another Addams Family movie, this may be your next movie to see.

Here is the trailer for the new Johnny Depp/Tim Burton film, Dark Shadows:

Starring Johnny Depp, the best actor of his generation, and directed by Tim Burton, Dark Shadows appears to go all out on the camp-retro view of TV of the 1960s and 1970s, like Nicole Kidman’s Bewitched.

Dark Shadows opens in theaters May 11, yet there has been very little released about the film until now.  It features an all-star cast, including Eva Green (Casino Royale, Golden Compass), Michelle Pfeiffer (Batman Returns, Wolf), Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein, Harry Potter films), Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen), with Christopher Lee (Star Wars prequels, Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Alice Cooper.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Both Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters premiered the same day.  Chasing Ghosts premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2007.  The King of Kong premiered at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival, taking place as well in Park City, Utah, but reserved for films with budgets under $1 million and only for first time directors.  Other movies at Sundance included Black Snake Moan, King of California, The Savages, Snow Angels, Eagle vs. Shark, Reprise, Waitress, Once and Rocket Science. The King of Kong, by my personal calculation*, is easily the biggest movie out of Slamdance that year.

Don’t mistake that I’m saying popularity equals quality or the film festival where your movie premieres means a difference in quality.  Still, Sundance, like Toronto and Cannes just seems to mean a higher pedigree, the difference between a regional dog show and the Westminster Kennel Club.

So, why is The King of Kong more popular than Chasing Ghosts?**  I think it is that same reason that made the video gamers of both stories so special: specialization.

I just finished Chasing Ghosts and it is fascinating.  Just like Confessions of a Superhero or Murderball or Grizzly Man or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or Capturing the Friedmans, there’s something about true stories and the voyages in life that people take to get to today that make my eyes and heart open wide.***  Following the story behind the boys and older boys**** in a picture from a Life magazine photo shoot in 1982 on the main drag of Ottumwa, Iowa made me smile many times.

The classic Life Magazine photo from November 1982, taken in downtown Ottumwa, Iowa with the gamers and some Ottumwa High School cheerleaders. Billy Mitchell, featured in King of Kong, is third from right at front with the moustache and his hand on the Centipede game.

But, it’s no King of Kong Chasing Ghosts gave us glimpses of many different video game champions.  Boys that spent up to 60 some hours straight playing video games.*****  We learned about strategies (and saw some cool, modern 3-D images) for Pac Man, Berzerk, Centipede, Frogger and Missile Command.******  Each person had strategies and abilities that made these games easy for them.  Each person had a compelling life story.  The only names I remember though are Steve Sanders and Billy Mitchell and that’s because they were also in The King of Kong.*******

The King of Kong just looked at one game.  The King of Kong just looked at the rivalry for this one high score.  It followed Steve Wiebe as he tried to unseat Mitchell’s high score and what how much that meant for him at that time in his life.  It had a compelling narrative because it focused on one thing, kind of like these video game specialists.

Why do we love specialists?  Why do we put the most elite athletes, the most elite soldiers like Navy Seals, the most elite actors/directors/producers that win Oscars on pedestals, sometimes literally in the case of the Olympics or sports draft coverage?

I’d like to think this is some grand philosophical question, but it’s not.  We all want to be the best at something, so we celebrate those that become the best.  The richest man in the world.  The most beautiful woman in the universe.  The fastest.  The strongest.  The biggest weekend at the box office.  The smartest.  In recent years of baseball analysis and the Baseball Hall of Fame, most researchers (and conversely voters) show that emphasis every year.  The guys like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell who were pretty good at everything–and therefore each a great player–aren’t nearly as appreciated as those that did one thing well, like hit for average, play defense, steal bases or hit a bucket load of home runs (though because of steroids, that isn’t as smiled upon as before).  Being the best wins, second place will always be a set of steak knives and third prize is you’re fired.

Capitalism expects us to specialize.  We do one thing well, and we trade the money we make from that to other people that do their one thing well.  So, did I like The King of Kong because I’ve been trained to like the specialized over the general?  I’d like to think that isn’t the case.  There’s room in the world for both movies, and I’m glad I saw both.  If you ask me which one I liked better in this case, it’s Kong.

—————————————————-

*Check out the list here. I’ll admit, films with James Cromwell, Tony Hale^, Ali Larter and Gary Busey feel like they should be bigger, emphasis on “feel” and nothing more.

**I’m basing this on the fact that I saw The King of Kong in a movie theater and watched it on TV over Thanksgiving this year.  I finally found Chasing Ghosts on Netflix Instant when a friend recently recommended it to me and it appeared in one of the lists that Netflix tailors to my watching patterns.  Netflix is like my best friend who always can tell what I’m in the mood to watch.  Except that Netflix is a cyborg, bent on taking over the world.

*** A note – in some cases the emotion from my “heart” is sympathy.  Sometimes it is appreciation.  Sometimes it is horror.  Films that generate feelings always rank high in my book, but the documentaries that evoke horror I’m much more likely to never, ever, ever watch again.  Like Capturing the Friedmans.

**** After watching the documentary, it feels weird to use “men” as their noun, even to this day.  Yes, they have kids, wives, girlfriends and jobs, but you look into those eyes as they talk about video games or other aspects of their lives, and the boy inside still takes center stage.

***** I loved the still picture of one video gamer being fed French fries as he played.  If this happened today in New York, he would have been video gaming’s Alex Rodriguez.

****** I have to admit to being a little more curious about the Missile Command guy.  It looks like he made video game themed pornos.  I can see that having major appeal.  I mean, how many guys would love the fantasy of sitting at home, playing video games, when all of the sudden, a knock comes at the door and there are three buxom women who want to pleasure you.  I’ve probably said too much.  Still in the argument of specialization, I want to see a movie about him.

******* Ok, maybe a slight lie.  I think I remember the name Ben Gold.  I also don’t remember the Twin Galaxies owner/ref names that appeared in both films.  It probably helps that I’ve seen The King of Kong twice.  Then again, it’s been almost four months since I watched it compared to about four hours for Chasing Ghosts.

^That’s the Arrested Development and Community  Season 1, episode 19 fan talking.  I’m going to go ahead and assume you know Ali Larter and not give her a footnote.  Why? She’s the most beautiful woman in the world.^^

Ali Larter in Heroes

^^World is defined as a section of my mind circa the first season of Heroes.

Imagine all the songs that spin around your head all day.  Do you sing as you drive to work?  Go for a walk?  Think of the catchiest lyrics that have stuck with you since you were a kid.  Do you remember these clever phrases?

It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears, it’s a world of hopes and a world of fears. There’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware it’s a small world after all.

Anyone who has waited for an hour at Disney World to ride the “It’s a Small World” ride has those lyrics forever etched in their brain.  What about this:

The wonderful thing about Tiggers is Tiggers are wonderful things.  Their tops are made out of rubber.  Their bottoms are made out of springs. They’re bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN!  But the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is I’m the only one.

These lyrics are perfect for getting something done quickly, by trying to sing these lyrics as fast as you can, like Tigger did (you know, the tiger-y fellow from Winnie the Pooh).

And sometimes these songs stumbling through your day give you good advice.  Such as:

A spoonful of sugar goes a long, long way.  ‘ave yourself a ‘ealthy ‘elpin’ ev’ry day.

Any idea where I am going with this?  Some more lyrics may help.  Here are some words to get you moving in your day:

A robin feathering his nest has very little time to rest while gathering his bits of twine and twig. Though quite intent in his pursuit, he has a merry tune to toot.  He knows a song will move the job along.

Hey, that’s from a movie, right?  Can’t. Quite. Place. It.  Some more lyrics from that movie:

Up where the smoke is all billered and curled ‘tween pavement and stars is the chimney sweep world.  When the’s ‘ardly no day nor ‘ardly no night, there’s things ‘alf in shadow and ‘alf way in light.  On the roof tops of London… Coo, what a sight!

and

Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey, chim chim cher-ee!  A sweep is as lucky, as lucky can be.  Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey chim chim cher-oo!  Good luck will rub off when I shakes ‘ands with you.  

And then it all comes together with a word that’s not really a word and yet we all know it really should be a word:

Because I was afraid to speak when I was just a lad, my father gave me nose a tweak and told me I was bad.  But then one day I learned a word that saved me aching nose, the biggest word I ever heard and this is how it goes…

C’mon, you know it, right?  It’s Mary Poppins, of course.  And the word:

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

But these aren’t the only songs repeating through your head as you vacuum and mow the lawn.  How about:

Hup 2, 3, 4, keep it up 2, 3, 4. Company sound off! Oh, the aim of our patrol is a question rather droll.  For to march and drill over field and hill is a military goal! [insert elephant trumpeting here]

Maybe you need the music for that one. Think of elephants marching through the forest, a bear named Baloo and a kid named Mowgli and monkeys.  Including:

You hoo hoo. I wanna be like you hoo hoo.  I wanna walk like you.  Talk like you.  Too hoo hoo.

Sure, some songs require context, like maybe:

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, we love you. And, in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang what we’ll do. Near, far, in our motor car, oh, what a happy time we’ll spend. Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our fine four fendered friend. 

The original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from the movie of the same name based on James Bond creator Ian Fleming's book, was at auction last year at Profiles in History.

Imagine these songs rummaging around in your gray matter and then you find out all of those songs have something in common–they all came from the same place.  The songs were all written by Robert and Richard Sherman.  One-half of the songwriting team, Robert, passed away last week at the age of 86.

All in, the duo wrote songs for all these movies: Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Absent-Minded Professor, Parent Trap, In Search of the Castaways, The Sword in the Stone, That Darn Cat!, Winnie the Pooh, The AristoCats, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Snoopy Come Home, Charlotte’s Web, Tom Sawyer, American Graffiti (“You’re Sixteen”), Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and The Magic of Lassie, and more songs for other venues like TV shows and amusement parks.

The sheer volume of their musical catalog and the fact that most of it is catchy and easy to hum…  Seems like a pretty impressive life’s work!  I grew up with a compilation LP of their songs as well as the soundtrack to The Jungle Book.  All of their music is readily available on CD, download, etc.  Nearly all of their famous songs are available on one disc, The Sherman Brothers Songbook and snippets of each song can be heard and full versions downloaded at Amazon.com here.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

It is likely that no filmmaker today shares more with his fans than Peter Jackson.  And there may be no fan base more loyal and appreciative than fans of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and its coming two-part production of The Hobbit.  Instead of waiting for the DVD release Jackson has been releasing early looks at the filmmaking process at thehobbitblog.com.  Now halfway through production of the two films–The Hobbit–An Unexpected Journey, due at year-end, and The Hobbit–There and Back Again, due out in 2013–Jackson & Co. have crisscrossed New Zealand with two film crews, re-creating locations from the LOTR trilogy and filming in newly selected places, too.

Jackson has released six production videos, but the last two, including production video #6, released last week, immerse the viewer into the unreal, impossibly beautiful landscapes of mountains and snow-cover, rain, and the brightest greens found anywhere on the real Earth.  But beware, before watching the two on-location documentaries, you may decide to sell everything for plane tickets and a permanent move to New Zealand.

Beyond the first four documentaries, the two on-location productions are 12 minutes in length each, and despite Jackson stating  that he can’t show us much, we get to see Martin Freeman in costume as Bilbo Baggins discussing film locations, Ian McKellen (Gandalf) chatting up New Zealand, as well as a whole swarm of new actors of Middle Earth playing dwarves.  The vistas and villages almost make this documentary stand by itself as a mini-vacation.

The highlight of production video #5–the first on-location documentary–is Elijah Wood returning as Frodo Baggins at age 30 to Hobbiton–11 years after he first played Frodo at age 19.  The village of Matamata has been rebuilt since the LOTR films as a permanent encampment by the production for tourists to visit for years to come.

The new production video #6 shows ad hoc interviews with the new dwarf crew, as well as the second unit director, Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the LOTR films.  The production zigzags from town to town, with plenty of aerial shots showing the real locations and where they will end up in Middle Earth.

The 24 minutes of footage, along with soundtrack, has the feel of a travelogue of a national park like Yellowstone.  The humor of the crew and Raiders of the Lost Ark “travel by map” shots across the north and south islands of New Zealand also play better than the average DVD extra footage–something like Bruce Brown’s Australian film Endless Summer a free-wheeling surfing documentary classic from 1966.  Just like Endless Summer showed surfers traveling the world, the incredible opposites of grand landscapes of New Zealand reveal a world’s worth of differing ecology, geography, and seasons, that make New Zealand truly seem like a different world.  And the new actors give us a peek at how funny the new characters will be.

Here is the first on location documentary (production video #5):

And here is the new on location film (production video #6):

The earlier released production videos are available at thehobbitblog.com.

These video releases are fun and sure to whet the appetites of Tolkien fans until the December release, with more videos expected before then.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

I had mentioned early in the New 52 reviews that All Star Western #1 was the coolest, most unexpected surprise of DC Comics’ first round of 52 issues.  But to the extent All Star Western #1 was a standout series opener, writer Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Moritat along with colorist Gabriel Bautista set the bar even higher with issues #2 and #3.  After six months of story development and world building, All Star Western remains both the most creative and my favorite of all the New 52 series.

Much like modern police departments attempt to keep quiet about tapping the resources of psychics in working kidnapping cases, the police of old Gotham City are adamant to not reveal they are using the resources of one Doctor Amadeus Arkham, a criminal psychologist before the term was coined and the field was in its infancy in the 18th century.  Gray and Palmiotti create a world in transition from the Old West to the Industrial Revolution.  The gun-toting days of cowboys and outlaws in frontier towns would seem to visibly contrast with the early days of street gangs and mob bosses, but Moritat and Bautista combine imagery of Gothic Noir and post-Civil War era culture, creeds, and weaponry to spin readers into an eminently believable and interesting time and place.

You can’t understate how unique Moritat’s panels and pages are compared to anyone else drawing comics  today.  For one thing Moritat does not use standard comic sized paper to render his pages.  He uses 8.5 X 11 inch art paper.  So his images are drawn much smaller compared to other artists’ panels.  This means what he draws need to be crisp and clean and get the point across.  And the result is beautiful imagery of dark and dusty places.  From page one of issue one his fabulously detailed cityscapes look like they must have taken weeks to draw.  His buildings are regal and elegant.  His characters range from creepy lecherous street drifters pawing at bar room dancers to the timid Dr. Arkham himself, who manages to stand out as an oddity in room equally with the shredded face of Jonah Hex.

Moritat also uses panels to their maximum effect as quantity is concerned.  Instead of spending an entire issue on a fight scene, much like you’ll find has occurred with other New 52 superhero titles, Moritat (and presumably an equal hand at from tight scripting by Gray and Palmiotti), gives you all out action–as much as you’d expect and as much as the story requires–but it will be packed into 24 panels in two pages.  When drawn on two 8.5X11 pages this just seems to require incredible precision and pacing.

I appreciate the fact that Moritat drew the first three covers and the interiors to all six issues so far.  It’s pretty rare today for any comic book publisher to have the interior artist draw his/her own covers.  The result is a cohesive whole from cover to cover in each issue.  Moritat’s covers are single works of art themselves.

Gray and Palmiotti’s dialogue is the best around.  By the end of issue one we had a full grasp of Dr. Arkham’s persnickety nature, and Jonah Hex’s dialogue is written like Mark Twain wrote the dialogue for Huck and Tom–“Ah” is how Jonah’s says “I,” for example.  Where Arkham is long-winded, Hex’s words are few and far between and he speaks his own language, literally.

Spoilers follow…

Recapping the first six months of All Star Western, issue one introduced how Arkham got hooked up with the violent Jonah Hex as they teamed up against skull-ringed members of Gotham’s society and a mission to find the one killer known as the Gotham Butcher.

In issue two Hex and Arkham hole up at Arkham’s house to defend themselves from an attack by those protecting this early brotherhood–a criminal religion of sorts.  We get to see why a son of the confederacy as scarred and damaged as Hex is was able to survive for so long, as he uses his rifle to level pretty much everyone in his path.  This leads Arkham and Hex to follow the carriage of the culprit who has kidnapped and tortured a local magistrate.  The murderous thugs are too much for Hex as Hex tells Arkham to run.  DC Comics couples the same writing team with artist Jordi Bernet on a two-part quick and dirty story featuring the masked hero El Diablo, concluding in issue three.

The reason Hex stumbled into Gotham City, the hunt to collect the bounty on three members of the Trapp gang, cause Hex to head out of town in issue three.  A successful conclusion to their first mission, and Arkham coming out of his shell a bit, results in Hex being asked to join the police force (he refuses).  Arkham is allowed to build a hospital to study the mind.  But that all comes apart before it begins.  Hex survives another attack, rescues, Arkham, and returns to his original pursuit.

Despite the unlikely team of Hex and Arkham splitting up in issue three, they are found back together again after Hex is offered $50,000 to locate a missing boy by the boys’ father.  Money talks, and that is all that is needed to get Jonah Hex’s attention.  After four issues the character of Hex is well established as a Han Solo, Dirty Harry of the Old West.  He’s smarter than we read of a lot of real Old West legendary characters, like Jesse James, and smarter than later outlaw types like John Dillinger.  He seems to follow the cowboy code to some extent, despite his chief tool of resolution being a quick draw.  Despite Hex chalking up a body count, we like this anti-hero, and apparently his tough ways are par for the course in old Gotham.  Following the main storyline, Phil Winslade joins the writing team for the beginning of a new monthly serial, this time a new three-part, mini-series called “The Barbury Ghost.”

In issue five the quest for the missing boy takes Arkham and Hex into the dark underbelly of Gotham, literally below Gotham in its caves that would one day house Bruce Wayne’s batcave.  Saving the children is not as easy as they had figured and they get stranded in an underground river where they must fend off the Miagani, a Native American village living in the caves.  And Hex continues ups his body count and must rescue Arkham yet again.

In the final chapter of the first major story arc, Hex and Arkham unravel who is behind the plot to use child labor to build the city’s sewer system, enlisting the help of the Wayne family, who live atop the batcaves.

All Star Western Vol. 1: Guns and Gotham is scheduled for release as a compilation in trade paperback in November, but individual issues are available in first and later printings.  All Star Western is exciting, smart, and visually and interesting read.  If you’re like this reader and have not thought to check out Western comics before now, this is a great place to begin and you won’t regret adding this series to your reading pile.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

This week, Jerry Bruckheimer tweeted a picture of Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer starring as The Lone Ranger and Tonto.  Glancing at Wikipedia, The Lone Ranger started as a radio program, then becoming movies, a TV show, comic books, Saturday morning cartoons and eventually back to a TV show, comic book and a movie.  CJ Bunce reviewed the new comic back in February and it sounds pretty good.  From our discussion of Alan Moore there is a lot of stuff by good writers that are re-imagining of heroes, new takes or just new stories.  It feels weird to think and then write that maybe the remakes aren’t bad.  (Credit to CJ for making me lean in that direction from our discussion.)

I have to assume that The Lone Ranger is an iconic American hero because I didn’t really grow up watching the show in syndication like CJ.  Still, when you think of The Lone Ranger, you think of the TV show, as the serials have disappeared and no one really listens to old radio shows.  If you haven’t seen the TV show or read the comic books, you might not have a warm, fuzzy feeling about the characters.  But, if you have, then there will be a strong feeling of nostalgia gripping you as you hear stories about this movie’s approach to the multiplex.  If there’s one thing that I think I know, it’s that nostalgia sells.

So, I started to think about the cartoons, movies and TV programs of my youth (thanks to Ruby and Spears and the anticipation of that WonderCon panel sending me down memory lane) and how many have been made into movies or remade or re-imagined.  The list is quite extensive.  Here are a few along with the length of time to the remake.  I want to see if I can find an average of the length of time for the formula: profit = nostalgia times age.

Scooby Doo – started in 1969.  Film in 2002.  33 years.


The Brady Bunch – 1969.  Film in 1995.  26 years.


The Dukes of Hazzard – 1979.  Film in 2005.  26 years.


The Smurfs (American cartoon) – 1981.  Film in 2011.  30 years.


Psycho – 1960.  Remake – 1998.  38 years.


Footloose – 1984.  Remake – 2011.  27 years.


The Karate Kid – 1984.  Remake – 2010.  26 years.

I’m going to go ahead and call solution – 26 years is the age for the formula.  Let’s just say that given production times, the time to write a script and to get a cast, you need a couple of years of lead-time.  I’m going to say I need to start looking at movies and TV shows from 23 years ago.  So, if I was to predict the TV shows, cartoons and movies that will be remade, have a sequel made or made into movies in the next couple of years, here is your top ten of TV shows and movies that premiered in 1989:

10.  Major Dad (It’s a drama – will he or won’t he go to Iran?  It’s a comedy – will he or won’t he offend any natives?!  Oops, it’s really both (and probably a bit offensive)!)

9.  The Legend of Zelda (If they can make movies from Twilight shouldn’t this be a breeze?  Zelda plays a lot harder to get than Bella.)

8.  Doogie Howser M.D. (Starring Justin Bieber!  Neil Patrick Harris can do a funny cameo!)

7.  Coach (Make him the coach at Ohio State or… yeah, don’t go to the other big scandal school.  Penn State won’t be funny for a long, long, long, long time.  Kind of like Eddie Murphy.)

6.  The California Raisin Show (Don’t make an Elton John joke.  Don’t make an Elton John joke.  Don’t make an Elton John joke.)

5.  Saved By The Bell (If I had a dollar for every Saved By The Bell reference I’ve heard, well, I probably would have enough money to get me and several of my friends very hopped up on speed for a night.)

4.  Road House (Remember when bouncers used to be cool?  Now, it’s all “you can’t wear that to this club” or “you can’t come into this club” or “hahahahaha.”  Dalton would never laugh at me (I say as I sob into my iced tea.))

3.  Ghostbusters II/Lethal Weapon II (Dan Aykroyd and Mel Gibson will probably pull a Stallone and go back to the only well they have that’s still popular.  Aykroyd is almost there already.  Yes, I realize using sequels is cheating according to the Pismo Beach/Albuquerque Convention of 2007 governing Internet lists and right turns.)

2.  Murder, She Wrote (Yes, I know I am cheating again since this premiered in 1986.  Still, it was very popular in 1989.  Plus, can you think of a better ironic look at the 80s as a Betty White vehicle than this?  You can?  A Maggie Smith vehicle?  Ok, that works too.  Heck, Angela Lansbury is still available.  Too bad it wasn’t Murder, They Wrote.)

1.  Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  Hooray, they’ve already got the script.  I love this movie.  I can’t wait to see this.

You see I’ve already fallen for the nostalgia.  If any of these interest you, or you’ve thought of a few of your own, then you probably have as well.