Archive for December, 2017


This weekend the new adventure comedy Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle hits theaters, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan.   Before Jumanji, fans of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart will want to check out their earlier team-up in Central Intelligence, a hilarious action comedy that hit theaters last year.  It’s streaming and available now on home video.

Laugh out loud funny, Johnson plays Bob, a rogue CIA operative who was a bullied kid in school, assisted in an embarrassing moment back in school by the most popular, “most likely to succeed” kid, C.J., played by Kevin Hart.  Hart doesn’t end up governor as predicted by his schoolmates, but settles into a typical office job as an accountant.  As their 20th class reunion approaches, Bob, no longer the butt of jokes but a chiseled special ops machine, enlists C.J. for his accounting knowledge to help him flush out a traitor in the agency.

The CIA agent in charge, played by Amy Ryan, tries to convince C.J. that Bob isn’t who he claims to be–that he is in fact the traitor and his evaluations recently revealed a man on the edge, and he killed his partner.  The hijinks commence once C.J. must decide whether “he’s in” or not, as an awkward and over-the-top Bob is completely embracing a partnership with someone he has grown to believe is the ultimate cool guy.  Johnson and Hart are both at the top of their game here–Hart playing his rattled and jittery straight man routine and Johnson as the opposite of his image, uncomfortably sensitive, proud of his fanny pack, fanboying about unicorns and dropping Twilight references-and he’s a big hugger.

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When the Rat Pack (you know, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop) first made the heist comedy Ocean’s 11 about a group of WWII pals in Las Vegas, do you think they had any idea they were establishing a brand that would be continuing with a new film 58 years later?  In the latest entry, Ocean’s 8, Warner Bros. has Frank’s daughter Nancy serenade us in the first trailer, which features a nicely cast crowd of actors.  In case you haven’t been keeping count, this will be the fifth film featuring an Ocean family member leading a group on a major con.  Sinatra was the original Danny Ocean, and in the reboot Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, and Ocean’s Thirteen, George Clooney took over the role and led a cast including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Julia Roberts.

Next year we’ll see Sandra Bullock lead the way as Debbie Ocean, fresh out of jail and enlisting a group of varying skill sets to steel valuable jewels at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Her co-stars include Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard Armitage, Olivia Munn, Rihanna, Katie Holmes, Mindy Kaling, and Dakota Fanning.

Check out Warner Bros.’ first trailer for Ocean’s 8:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Superhero adaptations seemed to experience a coming of age this year.  After one appearance after another as a Wolverine fans all expected to see, Hugh Jackman finally gave us something entirely new.  Gritty and real, Jackman’s swan song as the ageless superhero in Logan took comic book movies into an incredible new place–a modern classic, a drama with depth and an unparalleled fierceness.  The DC Universe continues its consistently entertaining productions on the CW Network.  And although this year’s new FX series Legion succeeded in telling a different kind of superhero story, its convoluted and frenetic storytelling and visuals often felt like an indecipherable muddle, and the eagerly awaited Marvel team-up Defenders just didn’t gel.  Then comes Netflix’s unlikely comic book adaptation series The Punisher.

It may be less of a trick to take a lesser known character and make him or her approachable, and easier to foul up a well-known commodity, but The Punisher provides engaging drama and compelling storytelling for TV watchers whether or not you’re familiar with its source material.  And its one of the finest examples of the new wave of superhero TV–not that The Punisher aka Frank Castle portrayed by the craggy Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) has any superpowers.  He is somewhere near the Batman or Green Arrow superhero type, an on-again, off-again anti-hero with special forces–and MacGyver-esque–mad skills, he is a vigilante bent on avenging his wife and kids’ murders (refer to his origin in the Daredevil series) and eliminating those that ruined his life.  Or sometimes those that just get in his way.  Bernthal possessed the mystique of Roddy Piper’s put-upon everyman construction worker in They Live.  Bernthal’s Castle is brutal, angry, tormented, tortured, unrelenting.

He was counterbalanced in the series’ first season by soldier/opportunist-turned-CEO Billy Russo, played convincingly by Ben Barnes (Westworld, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian), who rises to the top of his list, a painful result for Castle since they were practically brothers in the squad where Castle’s life was turned upside down.  Castle is practically a walking dead man, he has nothing to live for, nothing good to look forward to, no purpose left that he can discern.  He’s believed to be dead, living a miserable life of PTSD flashbacks and recurring dreams of his lost family.  His methods of revenge break all societal mores, yet actor Jon Berthal’s phenomenal portrayal of grit and resolve make his character easy to root for.  Even despite the real-world violence he dishes up along the way.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The ideas and situations in Steven Savile’s new novel Glass Town could hardly be more enticing:  In 1922 Alfred Hitchcock began, but did not finish, a film called Number 13. One of the sought-after lost films of Hitchcock, little is known but some film stills and production information, leaving an opening to take the film as a linchpin for a noir mystery.  Savile takes that film and several fascinating ideas and blends them into what becomes a horror story that incorporates compelling visuals from many possible sources: Dead Again, Laura, Vertigo, Portrait of Jennie, Hugo, The Illusionist, The Prestige, and even an element of Tron.  The story doesn’t quite live up to all its antecedents, but it provides some interesting concepts for genre readers willing to dabble in a story full of sex, violence, and grotesque horror along the way.

The grand ideas ultimately are in need of a more refined and pared down plot and possibly a more compelling lead character–Josh is a descendant of a line of men who spent their lives infatuated with a lost actress who appeared in the Number 13.  On Josh’s grandfather’s death he is reeled into a world of his own family connections and a history that he learns about and shares with us along the way as he, too, becomes infatuated with the missing actress and the interworkings of his family, tied into a well-known crime lord.  But we never learn much about Josh and why we should care about him.  Early London cinema and 1990s London don’t quite come through visibly, and the lack of more detailed world building results in a story that could be about a Boston or Chicago or Irish mob family as opposed to the familiar Victorian London of so many classic Gothic novels.  We encounter many bleak and unsavory characters and over-the-top situations–the kind of grotesque fantasy of a Clive Barker movie instead of what could have been a more accessible mainstream mystery interweaving the aura of magicians, the historical authority you might find in a Connie Willis novel, or the command of the details of early film technologies you might find in a Kim Newman story.

The only known image from the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s lost film titled Number 13.

Yet many great ideas come into play.  Josh uncovers and meets a lost and long-dead magician who was able to pull off the ultimate spectacle–hiding an entire town in a glass lens.  An evil ancestor of Josh used the magician to trap the actress he was so fascinated with in this world, a world where a day in this Glass Town can equal a week in the real world.  The story’s bad guy can even manipulate characters within the films of the silent era to do his bad deeds in our world, and we first meet the famed actress as a ghost as she attempts to find a secret talisman of glass in Josh’s home.  Much of the imagery is excellent–a walking and moving actress straight from the beginnings of filmmaking appearing in your living room, incorporating the flickering image of old film as she moves about.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Jean-Claude Van Damme has always fallen somewhere in the shadows of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Both European actors that used their physical attributes to fight for their way to fame, somewhere the fates landed Arnold in the A-list and Jean-Claude in the B-list.  And fans of 1980s action movies should be grateful for it.  For every Arnold big-budget action blockbuster, Jean-Claude kept us happy shuffling in a few smaller films with something admittedly a bit less but always still fun.  And he kept action fans coming back to the movies, and eventually video stores, for more.  So why would we want an A-list series from Jean-Claude?  That just wouldn’t fit.

It’s not often you come across an idea that knows exactly what it’s supposed to be–not great but good, and providing exactly what it should, even if it leaves viewers hungry for more.  That’s where Jean-Claude Van Johnson comes into play, the new Amazon Prime streaming series that gives us a major dose of Jean-Claude meta-style as he portrays himself with the secret persona of being an undercover super-agent.  He’s the same Jean-Claude who hasn’t had a hit in years unless you can count his role as villain in the similar vibe of has-been tough guys in Expendables 2.  He can poke fun at himself and does so in every other scene of the new six-part half hour series showing exclusively on Amazon Prime.

But is it a limited television series or a full-on movie?  Binging the series brings in a show at around three hours, which provides one of the shortest new streaming series you can find.  Yet it feels like another Jean-Claude movie.  And that’s actually just fine for anyone who regularly turns to Bloodsport or TimeCop or Double Impact or Lionheart for fun.

The best episode ends up being the series pilot that aired last year.  Fans who assumed that the rest of the series would feature Jean-Claude playing a new role in a fake film from each episode as he outed the bad guys might be disappointed that the entire season lands Jean-Claude making the goofy action adaptation of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn as the movie-in-a-movie Huck.  But sticking with one case is what provides the feel for the series as a complete film, only divided into six episodes. But wouldn’t it be fun to see Jean-Claude in an episode of the week format in format like The Saint?

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Of this Fall’s onslaught of movie trailers accompanying holiday releases, one of the better previews is for a new action film starring Liam Neeson called The Commuter.  At first look it has multiple reasons you may want to check it out.  Foremost is Liam Neeson as the film’s star, if you haven’t already had your fill of his edgy character in the Taken hostage films.  Despite the perception Neeson’s performances aren’t always the same, yet he always brings authority to his characters.  The Commuter looks like it could be a sequel to Source Code, but it’s not.  It co-stars Source Code star Vera Farmiga, and the setting is also a train and a man being tasked with a life-or-death challenge during the train ride.  Source Code was a brilliant science fiction movie (which also starred Jake Gyllenhaal), but this one is straight-up action/mystery.

This type of popcorn movie distraction/escape is often all that you need–think in terms of films like Unstoppable and this year’s surprise hit The Foreigner.  The film comes from Orphan (which starred Farmiga) and Unknown (which starred Neeson) director Jaume Collet-Serra.

The Commuter also features a solid supporting cast, with Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, Phantom of the Opera), Elizabeth McGovern (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Kick-Ass), and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park).

Here is the first trailer for The Commuter:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As you will no doubt hear as moviegoers walk out of theaters this holiday season, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a very “different” Star Wars movie.  That said, despite writer/director Rian Johnson’s assertions to the contrary, it is very much an echo of the second film of the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, with several parallel elements you’ll encounter along the way.  Picking up where director J.J. Abrams left off two years ago in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Johnson seems to take the bits and pieces of questions raised in Abrams’ film, answers a few, dismisses a few, and ignores the rest, perhaps for Abrams to pick them up again as he re-takes the reins in two years for the final film in the Skywalker family saga.  So many questions seem to have been definitively tied up by the end of The Last Jedi, moviegoers are now left to ponder for the next two years, “What could Episode IX possibly be about?”

The Last Jedi is most intriguing when it emulates some of the surprises and emotional impact of last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story–a bold, unique film that falls outside the three trilogies of franchise films, but provided a fantastically gritty, nostalgic, and heart-pounding story that put the “war” back in Star Wars.  An opening scene in The Last Jedi featuring the heroic death of a new character made me sit up thinking another gritty war movie was coming (only swap a guerilla land war for World War II-inspired bombing runs).  Heroism is the theme of The Last Jedi, and every character gets a chance to be a hero, but the damage is not as gut-wrenching as Rogue One.  Yet, depending on who your favorite character was in The Force Awakens, every fan should find something in The Last Jedi to be happy about.  Even if it might not offer up the excitement of the original trilogy, the third of the new annual holiday Star Wars adventures will be a great excuse to get together with family and friends for the event itself–annual Star Wars movies are becoming what the annual Christmas Special has become for Doctor Who fans, an event that for many will be bigger than whatever you think of the film.

The actors are top-notch in The Last Jedi, including Carrie Fisher in her final performance as General Leia Organa, although Hamill’s work stands out and could easily merit an Oscar nomination.  Alec Guinness’s genius as the similar Jedi wizard Obi-Wan Kenobi of the original Star Wars was in his reserved performance and iconic utterances of wisdom.  Here Hamill shows that Hollywood has missed the boat for 40 years by not featuring him regularly in mainstream films, bringing a powerful and emotional performance from beginning to end.  And gone are the days of Star Wars’ clunky dialogue–Johnson’s success is pulling out the stilted exchanges Star Wars had began to become known for.

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The National Film Registry has grown to include 725 films this year with the addition this week of 25 films.  In accordance with the National Film Preservation Act, a film is eligible to be preserved under the registry if it is at least a decade old and recognized in the National Film Preservation Board’s view as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  The Librarian of Congress makes the final determination, considering public nominations in the analysis.

Consistent with last year’s list, which added The Princess Bride and The Birds, the new list includes some of the best genre films of all-time: one of cinema’s best fantasies and baseball films, Phil Alden Robinson’s magical Field of Dreams, Walt Disney’s timeless animated film Dumbo, the greatest superhero film of all-time–Superman, a 1980s classic–The Goonies, and your second favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard.  The only surprise with some inductees was simply that they hadn’t been added yet to the Registry, like Elia Kazan’s memorable look at prejudice, Gentleman’s Agreement, the original Hepburn/Tracy/Poitier drama Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, and the 11-Oscar triumph, James Cameron’s Titanic. 

Richard Donner, who directed two films on this year’s list, Superman and The Goonies, said, “They are both special films in my life, as was the cast and crew for both.  It’s wonderful to see them listed among so many great films.”  Kirk Douglas, who celebrated his 101st birthday this past week, starred in two films, Spartacus, and the 1951 film Ace in the Hole.

Below is the full list of films named to the registry for 2017:

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Wrapping up this spectacular and anniversary-filled year of the best of classic genre films will be a Fathom Events screening of Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s The Dark Crystal.  Another member of the class of 1982, this one slipped in during the holiday season, and it’s anniversary screening will be heading to a theater near you in February.  It’s been an unprecedented year that was almost a weekly opportunity to see the best nostalgic trips into the past, with 1982 films Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Blade Runner, and The Princess Bride celebrated its 30th anniversary, while Close Encounters of the Third Kind celebrating its 40th in theaters, and audiences in Europe attended screenings celebrating the whopping 90th anniversary of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  It seems Disney refrained from partaking in the big screen retrospectives: no Star Wars (40) or Tron (35) anniversary theatrical screenings were to be found, but maybe it’ll happen in five years for the next benchmark year.  But it ultimately didn’t matter–this year of classic movies couldn’t be beat.

We recently revisited Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal with a groundbreaking look at the film and co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, a new deep-dive into the film reviewed here at borg.com.  According to Henson’s daughter Cheryl Henson, The Dark Crystal was Jim Henson’s most personal work.  This is a great time to have The Dark Crystal fresh in our memory, as we expect to see a 10-episode Netflix series hopefully by the end of 2018.  The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance does not yet have a release date.

Yes, we’re just as excited as Fizzgig–The Dark Crystal was the reigning favorite fantasy film of all time for many before Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings came along.  The ambitious story of The Dark Crystal takes place in the world of Thra, which has been torn by a fracture in a great magic crystal, which caused two races to be created: the tranquil Mystics, or urRu, and the evil Skeksis, who all but destroyed Thra’s native species, the Gelflings.  The Mystics have summoned Jen, one of the last surviving Gelflings, to find the lost piece of the crystal.  The quest sends him on an unbelievable adventure that can restore harmony and peace to Thra.  The film features performances by Jim Henson as Jen (voiced by Stephen Garlick), Kathryn Mullen as the Gelfling Kira (voiced by Lisa Maxwell), Frank Oz as the astronomer Aughra (voiced by Billie Whitelaw), and Dave Goelz as Fizzgig (voice of Percy Edwards), with Henson, Oz, and Goelz also performing as the Skeksis.  Kiran Shah also performs the body of Jen, Kira, and Aughra.  With a screenplay by Dave Odell (The Muppet Show), The Dark Crystal also features a majestic score by Trevor Jones (Excalibur, Labyrinth).  Along with Yoda creator Frank Oz, the film was produced by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz.

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She’s beautiful.  She’s deadly.  She’s Vampironica.

Next year Archie Comics’ Archie Horror imprint is adding a new title to its dark universe of stories that began with Riverdale television series writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Afterlife with Archie, then continued in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and this year’s Jughead: The Hunger.  The new monthly series Vampironica will focus on Betty’s forever frenemie Veronica when she’s bitten by a vampire and becomes the latest to join the undead of Riverdale.  Her path will be inspired by classic horror films.

“I’d say that our biggest influences are American Werewolf in London and Fright Night.  Both films can be quite horrific but there’s also a lot of strong characterization and humor to them,” said artist and co-writer Greg Smallwood.  “I think horror works best with a small dose of comedy for levity so we’ve used the same formula on Vampironica.”

“Vampironica humanizes Veronica in a way that only horror can,” adds co-writer Megan Smallwood.  “Becoming a vampire is a humbling experience for her and she’s forced to open up and expose a little vulnerability.  “Veronica Lodge is not the kind of girl to join any ranks, let alone vampire ranks.  True to form, Veronica instead relies on her own gut-instincts.  They haven’t let her down in life and they won’t let her down as she navigates the surreal world of the undead.”

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