Advertisements

Archive for May, 2018


Review by C.J. Bunce

Notorious isn’t just the name of an Alfred Hitchcock film, it describes the reputation of the acclaimed director over the course of his 55-year career.  Over the course of his films he would become famous for not only the blonde actresses in his films, but his misogynistic, voyeuristic, fetishism themes and content.  A precursor in many ways to Quentin Tarentino, Hitchcock nearly 40 years after his death is as popular as ever, with his film Vertigo still on many critics’ lists as the best American film of all time.  Those who view his films are left to wonder how much of the content of his films were the man, and how often was he simply selling what moviegoers were looking for–something new, something surprising, something stylish, and something shocking.  The flip side of Hitchcock viewed as provocateur is the fact that his films always featured a strong lead woman–sometimes from the opening scene and other times by film’s end–and the actress was often the only name marketed above the title, including some of the most fierce and compelling women characters ever filmed.

Scotland author Caroline Young takes a compelling look at the director and his relationship with the leading women in his films in her new book Hitchcock’s Heroines, a photograph-filled hardcover from Insight Editions.  Young, author of Roman Holiday: The Secret Life of Hollywood in Rome, Tartan & Tweed, and Style Tribes, sources interviews with the actors as well as interviews with Hitchcock to gain a better understanding of what motivated his work.  He spent the first half of his career–represented by the first half of the book–developing the style he would come to be known for by the time of his 1954 success Rear Window, culminating in his ideal production team: costume designer Edith Head, production designer Robert Burks, assistant director Herbert Coleman, and editor George Tomasini.  Hitchcock knew that most of his audience were women and believed that in the 1940s-1960s women usually determined what movie a couple was going to attend.  So the appearance of his leading women was as important, if not more important, than any other part of the film.  He also had an eye for using color and wardrobe as part of his storytelling tools, perhaps changing a character’s muted-toned costumes to striking and contrasting by film’s end to represent a character’s change in mood, strength, or growth.

Hitchcock’s Heroines is a superb source of costume sketches, costume designs, and production stills spanning Hitchcock’s directorial career.  Young includes with her discussions of each actress and corresponding character the costumes and costumers, which amounts to a history of Hollywood costume design artists, including Jean Peron, Dolly Tree, Joe Strassner, Marianne, Irene, Edward Stevenson, Vera West, Gilbert Adrian, René Hubert, Howard Greer, Edith Head, Christian Dior, Milo Anderson, Moss Mabry, Helen Rose, Harry Kress, Rita Riggs, Helen Colvig, and Julie Harris, although it was also not beyond Hitchcock to source his own vision from off-the-rack wardrobe from Western Costume Company or Bergdorf Goodman. Hair style and hair color is also a recurring theme Young pursues in the book.

Young references an interview from 1931 where Hitchcock discussed selecting actresses for roles: “The chief point I keep in mind when selecting my heroine is that she must be fashioned to please women rather than men, for the reason that women form three-quarters of the average cinema audience.  Therefore, no actress can be a good commercial proposition as a film heroine unless she pleases her own sex.”  It is noteworthy that Hitchcock was not always responsible for who starred in his films–Young cites instances where studio head David O. Selznick directly cast Hitchcock’s leading actors.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Wizard World has added some major celebrities from genredom’s biggest franchises to this weekend’s event in Des Moines, previewed here at borg.com earlier this month.  David Tennant, one of Scotland’s greatest acting talents, has joined the slate of guests at the show.  Tennant is probably the most famous of the 21st century era stars of BBC’s Doctor Who, plus he has appeared in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Blackpool, as the villain in Season One of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, and he’s currently starring in Dean Devlin’s film Bad Samaritan, now in theaters.

He played the only Hobbit who could be trusted with the One Ring: Cedar Rapids, Iowa native, actor Elijah Wood is heading to Wizard World.  Wood starred as Frodo Baggins in both The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy, he appeared in Tron: Uprising, Sin City, Treasure Island with Eddie Izzard, and most recently he starred in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.  Also from The Lord of the Rings, Billy Boyd is scheduled to attend this weekend’s show.  Boyd played Frodo’s Hobbit friend Pippin and he appeared with Russell Crowe in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, among other movies and TV shows.

Along with previously announced creators including Phil Hester, Ande Parks, and Chad Hardin, Wizard World has added guests Ant Lucia, DC Bombshells creator and artist, New Challengers and Bionic Man writer Aaron Gillespie, and writer Jai Nitz, El Diablo co-creator (with show guest Phil Hester) and writer of Dream Thief, Toshiro, and other comic books.

Wizard World Comic Con events bring together thousands of fans of all ages to celebrate the best in pop culture, movies, television, gaming, live entertainment, comics, sci-fi, graphic novels, toys, original art, and collectibles.  This is the fourth year for Wizard World Comic Con Des Moines at the Iowa Events Center in downtown Des Moines.

Show hours are Friday, June 1, 2018, 4-9 p.m.; Saturday, June 2, 2018, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday, June 3, 2018, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.  Kids 10 and under are admitted free with paid adult admission.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Many books have called themselves the definitive guide to Doctor Who, but only one really can back it up.  Five years ago the BBC tapped comic book writer Cavan Scott and Mark Wright to create the ultimate data source for the series’ 50th anniversary and the result was Doctor Who Who-ology: The Official Miscellany.  It’s hard to believe five years have breezed by so quickly, but Scott and Wright are back again with an update in Doctor Who Who-ology: The Official Miscellany Regenerated Edition Scott, writer of comic books and audio novels and one of the few people to have penned stories for Doctor Who and Star Wars and Star Trek, and Mark Wright, Doctor Who tie-in writer and audio actor, have filled in all the blanks leading up to the 11th Season (11th “Series” for British fans), coming this Fall.

So fans will find 55 years of encyclopedic information about everything Doctor Who in this 355-page hardcover brick of a book, nicely designed to represent the appearance of the TARDIS.  For only a five-year span the updates to the 2013 edition are many, with updates representing David Bradley’s new stint as the 1st Doctor, the end of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor, John Hurt’s appearance as the War Doctor, the entire run of Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor, and the beginning this past Christmas of Jodie Whittaker’s new 13th Doctor.  Except for the 13th Doctor’s premiere appearance in this month’s Free Comic Book Day edition of the Doctor Who comic book, Who-ology looks to be the first book to feature Whittaker’s Doctor in an official Doctor Who publication.

Subject to the updates, the same design and organization that made Who-ology a British bestseller five years ago are back.  A trivia guide representing both in-world information and real-world information, cross-references to actors, creators, and episodes of the series, plus references to the radio dramas, audio books, comic books and other tie-in stories will allow anyone to access answers to Whovian questions quickly.  The scope and breadth of reference material demonstrates the reason why the series has so many fans.  Do you want to see a complete list of all the famous celebrities and historical figures the Doctor has encountered?  It’s broken down between people he only name-drops and personalities he encountered in his time travels throughout the series (from Alexander the Great to Shirley Bassey, and Nefertiti to Louis Pasteur).  How about the Doctor’s explanations for all of Earth’s mysteries of the unknown, like the end of the dinosaurs, the fate of Atlantis, the abominable snowman, and the Loch Ness monster?  And Who-ology isn’t just a big cold book of lists–Scott and Wright dig into the details of what makes all the incarnations of the Doctor and all their companions tick.  It’s interesting stuff, tying in the four corners of pop culture fandom, including actors that appeared in both Doctor Who and the James Bond movies, Star Wars, Star Trek, and the Harry Potter movies.

Continue reading

You can expect to hear a familiar tune at every other instrumental band concert and from keyboard artists and other musical groups this year beginning this Memorial Day weekend.  For the annual anniversary of the release of Star Wars on May 25, 2018, and the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the first time most of us first heard of George Lucas’s sound company, THX Ltd. publicly released its sheet music for its theater ad promo with the theatrical release of Solo: A Star Wars Story.  It’s hard to believe that sound, which appears to most like a twisting, slowly deafening noise, has been around so long.  If you were around in 1983 you probably first heard it along with the movie trailers before screenings of Return of the Jedi starting May 25, 1983.

The music, a “synthesized crescendo that glissandos from a low rumble to a high pitch,” is called Deep Note.  First recorded by Lucasfilm employee Dr. James A. Moorer in 1982, it’s a trademark of the THX brand.  Categorized as a federal sensory trademark first filed in 1992, the original U.S Patent and Trademark Office registration defines Deep Note in more technical terms: “The THX logo theme consists of 30 voices over seven measures, starting in a narrow range, 200 to 400 Hz, and slowly diverting to preselected pitches encompassing three octaves.  The 30 voices begin at pitches between 200 Hz and 400 Hz and arrive at pre-selected pitches spanning three octaves by the fourth measure.  The highest pitch is slightly detuned while there are double the number of voices of the lowest two pitches.”  The sound aired before all movies from June 1, 1983, until August 31, 1996.  Here is the post from THX on social media:

Back in the early 1980s George Lucas created THX (named for sound engineer Tomlinson Holman and an homage to Lucas’s film THX-1138, which was said to have been derived from a Lucas phone number: 849-1138) when attempting to perfect the movie-going experience along with his Skywalker Sound company.  So what’s the difference between THX and Skywalker Sound?  THX is a standards company first created to ensure the vision (err… the ear) of a filmmaker made it to the audience’s final in-theater experience (more recently branching out to car stereos, video games, and home theaters).  Skywalker Sound is a Lucasfilm/Disney company that specializes in the sound effects, sound editing, sound design, sound mixing and music recording for various award-winning projects.  THX was spun-off before Disney acquired Lucasfilm.

Here is a brief YouTube history of the THX Deep Note recording and trailer:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

A new edition of novels based on Marvel Comics characters is being published beginning this month from Titan Books, including reprints of past novels as well as entirely new works.  First in the series is Stuart Moore’s 2013 prose novel Civil War, based on the giant, 98-issue, comic book event from 2006 and 2007 (not a novelization of the Marvel Studios movie).  The release of the novels is well-timed to capture new readers drawn in by Avengers: Infinity War, and Moore’s Civil War is the perfect follow-up for fans of the movie looking for more stories featuring the majority of the publisher’s roster of superheroes.  Just like the movie Captain America: Civil War only loosely tapped into concepts from its source material in the comic books, this novel may be a little jarring to those who only follow the movies.  But Moore’s book is a great way to see even more characters than made it into Captain America: Civil War or Avengers: Infinity War working together and against each other.  In short:  It’s a blast to read.

As in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Civil War the novel features a split between Earth’s superheroes, pitting Steve Rogers’ Captain America against Tony Stark’s Iron Man.  But the similarities end there.  A devastating explosion that kills hundreds of people resulting from a failed attempt by the New Warriors (a young superhero team filming a reality show) prompts American citizens to fear the superhero community and push for an invasive regulation of superheroes.  Stark initially opposes the Act, but ultimately favors it as the lesser of two evils and the best way for superheroes to continue to serve and protect.  Captain America and those loyal to him see the new Superhero Registration Act as a fascist restraint on their freedom and refuse to comply.  In the conflict that ensues Moore streamlines the original story from the comic books into an exciting and engaging read, drawing together most of the Marvel universe’s major characters and many minor characters.

Thor, Nick Fury, and Scott Lang are dead, Hulk has been exiled off-planet, and Wolverine and the X-Men refuse to take sides, not participating in the story, except for Storm.  The Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm and Doctor Strange remain neutral, but the rest choose sides, with Sue Richards, Hawkeye, and Spider-man switching sides throughout the story.  Falcon, Cloak & Dagger, Johnny Storm, Tigra, Prince Namor, Dr. Hank Pym, Black Panther & Storm, Daredevil, Ms. Marvel, Cassie Lang, Luke Cage, The Punisher, and newly appointed S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill all have key roles, with She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Valkyrie, and Black Widow actively involved as well.  But the bulk of the character development follows Peter Parker, revealing for the first time to the world he is Spider-man, by far the most engaging and endearing hero of this tale.  The leadership challenges of Captain America and Iron Man as they oppose each other and keep Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D. at bay is the girth of the story with a great thread involving Sue Richards as she struggles to deal with her husband Reed who she feels is on the wrong side of the issue Act implementation.

Continue reading

The fate of mankind is in Jackie Chan’s hands.  Sci-fi style.

Jackie Chan has done it all, with his martial arts prowess and renowned stunt team he’s raced cars (Thunder Bolt, The Cannonball Run), survived fantasy and supernatural perils (The Medallion, Chinese Zodiac), been a gunfighter in the Old West (Shanghai Noon), played twins (Twin Dragons), survived partnering with Chris Tucker three times (Rush Hour 1-3, with another sequel in the works), and he’s portrayed revered mentors of the past (The Karate Kid) and modern cops (The Protector, Police Story, Super Cop).  He’s fought in the streets (Rumble in the Bronx), played a spy (The Tuxedo, The Accidental Spy), and even defeated James Bond (or close enough, in last year’s The Foreigner).  But Jackie Chan as hero in outer space?

Sixty-three-year-old international action star Chan is taking on new territory as a special agent in a futuristic vision with space ships and Frankensteinian sci-fi villains in the summer action flick, Bleeding Steel.  Clearly nothing can stop the actor, considering the harrowing stunts in the new movie trailer.  He’s holding his own (and maybe even better) compared to his action star contemporaries Bruce Willis (also 63), Arnold Schwarzenegger (71), and Sylvester Stallone (72).  The trailer for the movie looks to be equal parts Judge Dredd and revenge tale, with Chan back in the protector role again.  The costumes and mash-up of the current world and future Earth of Bleeding Steel has a 1970s B-movie sci-fi look complete with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who-inspired costumes and cyborgs.

Bleeding Steel is notable as the biggest budget Chinese movie release ever filmed in Australia, premiering in China late last year. The success of this film in China plus three other films since 2016 starring Chan resulted in more than $500 million U.S. dollars for that nation’s box office.

Check out this trailer for Jackie Chan’s first sci-fi movie, Bleeding Steel:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Maybe you don’t need the Old West to have a great Western after all.  Bringing back the feel of the first third of the original Star Wars: A New Hope with a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid level of fun and humor, Solo: A Star Wars Story is finally in theaters with something for every Star Wars fan.  The saloons may be different and so are the sidearms, but this is the story of a young gunfighter, complete with the related outlaws and mercenaries, partners and betrayals, card playing, and gunfights.  With the sweeping adventure of The Empire Strikes Back, the perfectly rebuilt and repackaged nostalgia of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and a jumping off point for a galaxy of possibilities for beloved characters we only thought we knew, director Ron Howard delivers.  Not weighted down by the gloom and doom of the Dark Side in Rogue One or the rest of the Star Wars films, this Star Wars story creates new and original locations and situations for a few familiar characters plus many new ones and still ties into the overall episodic stories, taking place after Revenge of the Sith, but before Star Wars Rebels and Rogue One.  Yet we meet many new characters and questions are raised in the film that beg for one or more sequels to this branch off the main Star Wars saga–we can now have many new tie-in novels, comics, TV series, and maybe even movies to keep it all going.  If you didn’t think The Last Jedi captured the nostalgia or fun of earlier Star Wars films, then Solo is for you–not since The Empire Strikes Back has an entry in the saga been such a rollercoaster ride.

Surprises?  In a film that could have just filled in the blanks, the surprises were dished out from beginning to end, including some big ones we won’t mention here.  The overall tone is something out of Amazing High Adventure, and it makes perfect sense: It’s Silverado in space.  Screenplay writer Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote the screenplay with son Jonathan Kasdan), known for writing Westerns Silverado and Wyatt Earp, prior Star Wars entries The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens, and that greatest of adventure movies Raiders of the Lost Ark, was the perfect match to veteran director and movie icon Ron Howard.  The Western inspiration is supported visually in the Frederic Remington-inspired colors and landscapes.  You can spot the World War II movie references along the way, too, that Kasdan and Howard no doubt enjoyed as moviegoers over the years, like Von Ryan’s Express.  The relationships between characters evoke gangster movies and even pirate tales like Treasure Island.  Science fiction fans will see parallels to Han’s band of mercenaries in both the crew of the Ghost in Star Wars Rebels and Joss Whedon’s Serenity crew in the Firefly television series.

The Kasdans smartly injected those scenes every fan has thought about, pulled from passing references throughout the original trilogy to become fully realized plot threads, and then they folded in so much more.  Without the religion and mysticism of the Force, Solo: A Star Wars Story breaks the precedents of the saga as space fantasy to become arguably the first end-to-end science fiction movie of the franchise.  And it’s not just a fun movie.  Viewers will get plenty to think about.  Characters here are sometimes swapped into positions taken by other characters (and beasts) in prior movies in a way that will make moviegoers want to take another look at the prior films again.

Continue reading

The Western lives!  Recent films Bone Tomahawk, the remake of The Magnificent Seven, and The Hateful Eight will attest to that, and this summer a young generation of actors takes the lead roles in the genre’s next entry, the movie Damsel.  Brothers David Zellner and Nathan Zellner direct (and co-star with) Alice in Wonderland and Crimson Peak’s Mia Wasikowska and Twilight and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’s Robert Pattinson, portraying pioneers on the American frontier, a disparate band of characters encountering struggles that adversely affect their journey.

Unlike modern neo-Westerns like Wind River or Hell or High Water, the setting here is vintage Old West.  Despite its modern vision, the Magnolia Pictures release seems to have some of that Louis L’Amour charm.  The big draw for fans of Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Heroes, Twin Peaks) and his vast catalog of work will be watching him in his brief role as a preacher, the kind of part typically reserved for character actor and Western movie staple, Sam Elliott.

As with Quentin Tarentino’s The Hateful Eight, the trailer conveys a very modern, off-kilter brand of Western, typical of the kinds of films the directors are known for.  It’s a quirky comedy, but the film has been praised from its Sundance premiere as respecting the films that came before it, like the classics of John Ford.  Cinematographer Adam Stone (Midnight Special) shot the film in Ford’s trademark location, the celebrated Monument Valley.

Here is the trailer for the new Western movie, Damsel:

Continue reading

Reboot.  Recharge.  Rebel.

Next week the Synths return in AMC’s Humans, the series we pegged as last year’s best look at life living with and as a borg.  Humans is back for its third season with its season premiere Tuesday.  When we last left Humans, Lucy Carless’s Mattie Hawkins had uploaded the software to free the Synths–those very human-looking and acting cyborg servants.  Season 3 begins a year later–a year after all the Synths became fully conscious.  Since then life in British society has become strained as the oppressed Synth population fights to survive in a world that hates and fears them.

Similar to iZombie’s shift last season from a normal world to a world living side-by-side with zombies both at peace and at war, the Synths of Season 3 have their own community of outsiders split in two: The original green-eyed Synths are the rogues, not content with their second-tier status, and the new Series 11 “Orange Eyes” are the new, safe, properly configured and upgraded Synths.

The Synth family of Mia (Gemma Chan), Niska (Emily Berrington) and Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) return, continuing to battle for their right to survival,  The rest of the Hawkins family is back, too, with Mattie’s parents Laura (Katherine Parkinson) and Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) separated because of their divergent views of the Synths, and Mattie’s siblings Toby (Theo Stevenson) and Sophie (Pixie Davies) dealing with the upheavals all around them.

Here is a preview for Season 3 of AMC’s Humans:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Originally self-published via Kickstarter as With Kind Regards from Kindergarten, a new steampunk children’s chapter book arrives at bookstores this month from Insight Kids, renamed The Clockwork War.  Bookended by a grandmother trying to persuade a hesitant granddaughter to give kindergarten a try, in the style of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Kline creates a fantasy tale about an orphanage, two friends, and a giant oak tree to nudge the granddaughter along.  Addressing those time-honored angsts of childhood: bullies, advertising, commercialism, roaches, the lack of monsters under one’s bed, plastics, progress for progress’ sake, soot and smog, and henchmen, author Adam Kline assembles a clockwork fantasyland in a fable style pointing young ones to the inevitable lesson that at some point everyone must “rise to the occasion.”

Karlheinz Intergarten and Leopold Croak begin their story under the tutelage of Miss Understood and her orphanage, both fast friends with active imaginations.  Miss Understood will be likeable for kids, full of mixed-up (but apt) sayings like “the early nerd gets the worm,” “all’s well that smells well,” and “money can fry happiness.”  While playing in the giant oak tree during a storm, Leopold is struck by a lightning bolt, and loses his imagination.  Lonely when Leopold no longer wants to play, Karlheinz (Karl) leaves town to become apprentice to a clockmaker, whose companion is a clockwork mouse named Pim.  Many years later Karl becomes a brilliant clockmaker in his own right, and when his mentor dies he returns with Pim to the town of his youth to find it dying and polluted, driven into the ground by the richest man in town: his old friend Leopold, who has lost sight of fun and friendship and focuses only on his corporation and his moneymaking, popular line of electronic toy girl dolls.  He has seemingly forgotten the needs of his real daughter, who is perched above town away from all others, allergic to everything but cucumber tea.

“Some rats are evil, Pim,” sighed Karl. “I won’t argue that.  But they’re almost never born that way.”  And this is true–of rats, of cats, of dogs, and everything else. It’s especially true of people.

A clockwork fly and mouse, a hungry dog, cats’ fear of any loud noise, a giant thug, a pirate ship, and a dragon all come together under Karl’s guidance to teach lessons to both Leopold and the granddaughter at home hearing the tale.  Kline pulls themes and styles from a variety of classic and modern sources, from Pinocchio to Edward Scissorhands, from Aesop’s Fables to the Grimm television series and Mouse Guard, and from The Invisible Man and Hugo to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: