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Archive for April, 2017


Review by C.J. Bunce

Readers will expect plenty from the author of such notable noir novels as Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Mildred Pierce.  James M. Cain wrote several works after these classics, both in and outside the genre.  But his last novel, The Cocktail Waitress, was never published–Cain instead found himself re-writing it and never giving the final handoff to the agent and publisher in a form he was happy with.  That is, until Hard Case Crime tracked it down, and writer/editor Charles Ardai took all the sometimes competing bits and pieces and edited into a final novel, first published in 2012.

The fun of The Cocktail Waitress is Cain’s writing choices, and the unknown quantity is wondering how much was truly Cain’s preferred words and sections, and how close Ardai’s edit is to Cain’s original vision.  Cain, who many consider one of the greats of the crime genre along with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (who co-scripted the screenplay to the film adaptation of Cain’s Double Indemnity), presents a slow-simmering story of a femme fatale told from the first-person perspective of that femme fatale.  Unfortunately the story never quite catches fire until the final four chapters, and really sets ablaze in a bombshell in the final paragraph of the final page.  The cocktail waitress of the title is Joan Medford, a 21-year-old housewife we meet upon learning of her husband’s death.  Her husband was an alcoholic and abusive to her and her son, and he died in a car wreck after storming out of the house drunk.  Or was he?  Police repeatedly return to question her.  Cain’s struggling heroine is easy to empathize with, but the circumstances in which she finds herself prompt the reader to question whether she is lying to us, lying to herself, or maybe she is just one of Cain’s hapless victims of the multiple blows that life deals out.

     

Joan leaves her son with a relative and lands a job as a cocktail waitress.  Her goal is to be able to afford to take care of her son again.  She befriends two men who are customers at work, a wealthy older man named Mr. White, and a young, attractive bad boy named Tom who is reckless and doesn’t understand his own stupidity.  As she describes herself and her actions, Joan does not seem the architect of her own trajectory, but she also is conscious of not letting any man determine her fate.  The men seem to pursue paths with her that she seemingly is also considering, and she goes along, sometimes with disastrous consequences.  Her character lacks some consistency, which may be a fault more of the nature of a final, pieced together novel.  She seems sensible and wise, as most people tell themselves about their own actions.  Yet she physically attacks a man at work for acting inappropriately, with little preparation for the reader.  She makes a business deal that risks her nest egg.  She takes actions that risk her job.  So there is an impulsive side to her, but is she the kind of person that would murder someone, and not just one husband, but other men, too?  What will she do, and how far will she go, for her son?  Can we trust her?  Can we trust Cain?

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TEKKEN is a fighting video arcade game franchise from Bandai Namco that premiered in 1994–one of the first fighting games to use 3D animation.  The game has gone through seven main games over the years, the second being one of the best selling fighting games of all time.  TEKKEN has seen several spinoff games, as well as movie adaptations, both in animated and live action, and comic book adaptations.

TEKKEN is returning in an all-new comic book series next week, featuring a story by Cavan Scott (Doctor Who, Vikings), and a interior artwork by Andie Tong.

   

Fans of the arcade game (also available in various PlayStation formats) will recognize characters from the game including Jin, Heihachi Mishima, Yoshimitsu, Nina Williams and Paul Phoenix.  Issue #1 is a great series opener.  The artwork is vibrant and the story full of good humor and fun action.

Check out this preview and variant covers for TEKKEN, Issue #1, courtesy of Titan Comics:
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If you walk through a list of the most distinctive and memorable voices of working actors in Hollywood, you’re likely to come up with James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman.  One actor that belongs on the list is someone you may not think of.  Then you hear that gravelly baritone and know the voice immediately:  Sam Elliot.  As leading men go, he has a mesmerizing voice in the same class as the resonating tonal quality found in actresses Katherine Turner, Adrienne Barbeau, and the late Suzanne Pleshette.  He’s even been the voice of Smokey the Bear for the past decade.  But it’s not just the voice.  It’s that mustache and that look in his eyes like he can see straight through you.  Would you watch a movie simply for ninety minutes of Sam Elliott?  We would.

The Hero premiered at the Sundance Festival to mixed reviews.  Echoing the themes of David Lynch’s The Straight Story mixed with the ambitious effort of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, The Hero is finally making its way to theaters across the country this summer.  In the latest movie about Hollywood looking at itself, The Hero finds Elliott as Lee Hayden, a has-been actor whose career peaked in the 1970s.  Hearing news of his terminal illness he revisits his career, his relationship with his estranged daughter, played by Jessica Jones’ Krysten Ritter, and befriends a much younger flirt played by That ’70s Show’s Laura Prepon.  Even better, Elliott’s real-life wife, Katherine Ross, who dazzled moviegoers sporadically across the decades in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, The Graduate, and Donnie Darko, plays Hayden’s ex-wife in the film, a rare look at an equally underrated and brilliant performer we only wish we could see more of.

Sam Elliott has a history of being the best part of every movie he stars in: as Cher’s boyfriend in Mask (1985), as the Mark Twain-inspired narrating Stranger in The Big Lebowski (1988), as Virgil Earp in Tombstone (1993), as General Ross in Hulk (2003), as the perfect fantasy world Texas aeronaut Lee Scoresby in The Golden Compass (2007), and as the Caretaker in Ghost Rider (2007), and countless other movies and TV shows.

Here is Elliott in his latest work, The Hero:

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The Fox Network confirmed that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson will begin working again with creator Chris Carter this year on the next season of The X-Files, following on the heels of the eagerly awaited 2016 Fox event series.  Fox seems to have found a way to make the minimum returns its needs, having resurrected other shows like 24 and Prison Break, as ten episodes have been ordered for this next mini-series.  The show is expected to air beginning in late 2017.

While you’re waiting for the next television adventures of Mulder and Scully, IDW Publishing has the further print adventures of the infamous FBI detectives in the pages of its own ongoing series.  Today IDW releases The X-Files, Volume 2: Came Back Haunted, a trade edition compiling Issues #6-9 of the monthly book.

Written by Joe Harris with artwork by Matthew Dow Smith and colors by Jordie Bellaire, we catch up with Mulder and Scully investigating the cause of a series of violent outbreaks involving a community of refugees and a mall shooting.  Another government conspiracy?  How does it all connect to secrets thought to be buried forever?

Check out this preview for The X-Files, Volume 2: Came Back Haunted:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This week the world celebrates the inimitable penguin, now known to number at 12 million across Antarctica.  Yesterday was World Penguin Day, and this week is the premier of The Penguin Counters, a wonderful new documentary from First Run Features with initial screenings at Cinema Village in New York City this week.  Lawyer-turned-penguin researcher Ron Naveen has spent two decades studying and counting penguin populations, releasing the first “State of Antarctic Penguins” report this week.

The Penguin Counters, directed by Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon, follows Naveen as he leads an excursion of researchers to the Antarctic with the task of counting all the penguins on the continent one by one, over the course of a week.  By doing so Naveen demonstrates what most of the scientific community knows–that populations of certain species of penguins (Adélies and chinstraps) have dwindled over the past 20 years–but Naveen now can back that up with actual data.  He and his team also learned that other populations, such as the gentoo, have learned to adapt and increase their numbers.  One of the key causes of the declining populations is that a primary food source, krill, are dying from warming temperatures.  In the film Naveen points to one mass of the tiny crustaceans beached from the record warming ocean temperatures as evidence.

Despite the seriousness of the topic, Getzels and Gordon take viewers along on an amazing trip where few have gone before, to a treacherous and strikingly beautiful place that one of the researchers says he sought out for having the qualities of a completely different planet with similarly unique landscapes and animal life.  Unlike the typical wildlife documentary showing the “circle of life,” this film shows the positive world of the penguins as Naveen & Co. encounter them, with their tens of thousands of nests across the frozen lands.  The filmmakers take two tangent trips along the way, one to visit the final burial ceremony in the Falkland Islands in 2011 of Frank Wild, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s “right-hand man” on his famous Antarctic voyage of exploration (his remains were only recently discovered).  The other follows Naveen as he explores the site of a former processing plant for giant whales, now abandoned and taken over by its own local animal inhabitants.

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Writer Brian Wood, who dazzled us with several series including Dark Horse Comics’ final successful Star Wars title before the brand returned to Marvel, will bring a classic animated series into the 21st century this summer.  Robotech, the show that introduced many American viewers to the world of anime for the first time, will be getting its own monthly from Titan Comics, as announced this weekend at C2E2 2017.

The series is expected to touch on elements from every past iteration of Robotech, including Harmony Gold producer Carl Macek’s original vision that was famously modified by Cannon Films.  Originally a Revell model kit line, Robotech is best known for its 85-episode sci-fi anime cartoon series that began airing in the States in 1985.  Expect to revisit Macross Island with familiar characters Rick Hunter, Lisa Hayes, Lynn Minmei, Roy Fokker, Claudia Grant, and Henry Gloval.

   

Artist Marco Turini and colorist Marco Lesko have created some beautiful interior imagery for the series.  Check out a preview of Issue #1 below.  Issue #1 will feature alternate covers from Stanley Lau, Karl Kerschl, Michael Dialynas, Blair Shedd, and The Waltrip Bros.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A diehard science fiction moviegoer will probably find nothing new in last year’s nominee for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Arrival.  Nearly every minute of the film can be seen in countless episodes of science fiction television.  But it is the next drama cloaked in science fiction dress, trying to one-up Interstellar, Gravity, and Contact.  Following the Michael Crichton stylebook, Arrival gives us a problem (terrifying, giant squid-like, alien monsters referred to as heptapods we cannot yet understand) and brings in a team of experts to work to solve that problem.  The experts are linguist Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, and physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner.  And that’s all–no other brilliant scientists play any role.  From a storytelling angle this allows more of a focus on the two characters, primarily Banks, but it also defies belief that one of twelve Earth-visiting space monolith ships is in the U.S. and only a M*A*S*H unit full of people are there to find the solution.  Those that are present are canned, stupid government wonks, including an intermediary military officer played by Forest Whitaker and others who shout a lot and want to bomb the aliens.  It all makes you want to cheer for the aliens.

To its credit Arrival deals head on with what is surprisingly one of the least pursued tropes in science fiction: communication with the aliens.

Every major sci-fi franchise tells us these aliens will be humanoid, but what if they aren’t?  Actually communicating with other beings once we have that first alien encounter has been seen from time to time, the best in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Darmok.  And who can forget those musical notes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind?  Most of Star Trek, and other sci-fi, circumvents the communication issue with the story device of a universal translator or the equivalent, so the conflict of Arrival is refreshing.  Unfortunately the pursuit of the problem in Arrival could have been more interesting and compelling.  Instead the filmmakers made the choice to break away frequently, delving back and forth into an emotional character study.

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Never been to a comic book or pop culture convention before?  Always wanted to go to San Diego Comic-Con but you don’t have the vacation time available or the funds?  Planet Comicon is next weekend in Kansas City and although it isn’t as big as SDCC, it is a great way to get a complete three-day convention experience centrally located in the Midwest, ideal for a last-minute road trip for the family or a car full of friends.  It’s less than 8 hours by car from Dallas, less than 7 hours from Minneapolis, a little more than 7 hours from Indianapolis, and a little more than 8 hours from Denver.  And you don’t need to buy advance tickets–you can purchase them at the door.

So why make the trip?  How about meeting Jason Isaacs, the latest captain of a Star Trek television series and star of the Harry Potter movies (and great TV roles)?  Want to compare notes on Doctor Who companions with Catherine Tate (in her first U.S. convention appearance) and Billie Piper?   Want to talk Arrow and Torchwood with John Barrowman, or have another chance to meet Arrow star Stephen Amell?  Are you a Hellboy and Star Trek fan and haven’t yet met Ron Perlman?  It’s the Star Wars 40th anniversary–how about meeting the newest actor to portray Darth Vader, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story actor Spencer Wilding?

Are you a Browncoat? Firefly’s Summer Glau is scheduled to attend, and Supernatural’s Jim Beaver.  Do you want to talk 20 years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Emma Caulfield?  Are you a fan of Lost Girl and need to get your fae fix with Anna Silk, Rachel Skarsten, Zoie Palmer, and Emmanuelle Vaugier?

Want to buy comics, books, or sketches from some of the best creators from across the country, like one of the all-time greats, Howard Chaykin, or Timothy Zahn, creator of the new novel Thrawn?  Click here to see everyone you can meet at Artist Alley.  Do you collect busts of superheroes and are missing some key characters?  Check out thousands of square feet of dealers selling everything from action figures to T-shirts to limited edition prints and toy lightsabers.  Whatever you collect, crazy or not, if it’s related to TV, movies or comics you’ll likely find something there.  And that’s just part of your day.  There will also be panels, and cosplay is always a highlight of the show.

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The one-two punch of the third season of the 12th Doctor on BBC’s Doctor Who plus the new spin-off Class is the two-hour TV block sci-fi fans won’t want to miss this season.  Last week witnessed the first episode of Peter Capaldi’s final season on Doctor Who, with Pearl Mackie as the new companion, a vibrant and refreshing character named Bill Potts.  It also saw the premiere of Class, full of intrigue, exceptional actors, and great characterization for an introductory episode.  Aliens and time travel fans should take note, as a fun ride is ahead this season.

It’s the 36th season for Doctor Who and tenth season since the 2005 reboot.  Whovians who have fallen in love with Karen Gillan and Jenna Coleman and their predecessors will find how easily Mackie slips into her role.  After the sweetness and syrupy music over the past few seasons that supported Clara Oswald, the series was due for some fun and a break from the weight of emotion that Oswald’s plight brought to the Doctor.  And Mackie’s Bill looks great, with a cool jean jacket full of flair and a wild shirts that fit in with the past styles of Doctor Who garb.  And that hair!  Bill provides a full character study in her first episode, “Pilot,” where an alien race of space oil beings seek out a star pilot in a woman who is the eye of Bill’s affection.  The result is another creepy and brilliant Doctor Who villain that will hopefully surface again.  Matt Lucas–who is hard to forget as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland–returns as Nardole, a part that is also quickly folding nicely into the show.

class-show

In the United States we had been offered up only the briefest teaser preview for the new Doctor Who spinoff TV series Class. With two stars of the Jeremy Piven star vehicle Mr. Selfridge in lead roles–the brilliant actress Katherine Kelly and the up-and-coming actor Greg Austin–the series was primed to be good, and episode one, “For Tonight We Might Die,” did not disappoint.  As we had speculated earlier this year, the series seemed to be revealing what Doctor Who would look like with a woman playing the lead role.  Katherine Kelly went head-to-head with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and proved she has the right stuff for the part.  She’s perfect as a headstrong leader, and the younger leader played by Austin fills the niche that the companion would serve in the Who-niverse.

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A cyborg bowler or The Cyborg Who Loves Me?

The 2014 surprise hit Kingsman: The Secret Service showed the world what it would be like for Colin Firth–the not so secret man all women want to be with since his role in the 1995 costume drama mini-series Pride & Prejudice–to play James Bond (or someone pretty close).  The secret British spy organization is coming back to theaters this year.

The sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, titled Kingsman: The Golden Circle, stars a top-notch cast including Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Taron Egerton, Channing Tatum, and Julianne Moore.

Check out this teaser for The Kingsman: The Golden Circle:

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