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Archive for August, 2018


Review by C.J. Bunce

Author Max Allan Collins has so far completed ten novels featuring detective Mike Hammer, novels that were started by Mickey Spillane but never finished.  That tenth novel is Killing Town, and not only is it one of many from the stack of unfinished Hammer novels Spillane left behind upon his death in 2006, Collins put it aside to release this year in celebration of the 100th centenary of Spillane’s birth.  For fans of Mike Hammer, it’s an even bigger celebration, as Killing Town is Spillane’s very first Mike Hammer story, set in the character’s first days of opening his own detective agency.  Most of the world knows I, the Jury as the first work to feature private investigator Mike Hammer and the debut novel of the celebrated crime fiction writer.  But in Spillane’s later years, according to Collins, on one of his many visits to Spillane’s house, Spillane handed him a copy of Killing Town and Collins read it while sitting across from him, having no idea one day it would be he who would complete it and release it to the world.  Collins asked, “Is this what I think it is?”  Spillane nodded and smiled.

Written around 1945 and now available for the first time ever as part of Titan Books’ series of noir novels, Killing Town is as defining of noir crime pulp novels as anything you’re likely to have ever read, by Spillane or anyone else.  It has the hardboiled, put-upon, would-be shlub detective trying to get himself out of big trouble with the mob, it has a mysterious femme fatale (more than one actually), it has the smoke-filled diner (with pie), the smoke-filled bar (lots of booze), the police station stacked with crooked cops, and it takes place in a crappy little town nobody could possibly want to visit, let alone read about.  It has loads of crime, a few fist fights, a con or two, some ugly people and some pretty people, some poor people and some rich people.  And it has a murder (or two or three).  That’s really all you need to know.

Author Max Allan Collins signing copies of Killing Town at the Titan Books booth at San Diego Comic-Con last month.

A little more?  Okay.  When we first meet Mike Hammer (and as Spillane first puts Hammer’s origin story into type) he’s sneaking into the little burgh called Killington hanging underneath a train with $30,000 in his pocket and a job to carry out.  From his first steps into the town he should have known nothing was going to drop in his favor.  You might not think his position could be any worse when only a few hours after his arrival the police arrest him and charge him with the rape and murder of a local secretary of the owner of the big local mill.  But it does get worse, as Spillane drives Hammer deeper and deeper into despair to the point that the reader is going to ask:  “How can you possibly get out of this one, Mike?”

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Filmed on location in Scotland, a 14th century biopic is coming to Netflix in November.  Chris Pine is turning from Jack Ryan and Captain Kirk to Robert the Bruce, the legendary King of Scots, a national hero of Scotland and one of the most famous characters of Scotland’s history, revered to this day for regaining Scotland’s independence from England in 1314.  Netflix released its first trailer for the film, Outlaw King, which will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month, and see a limited theatrical release before airing on the streaming service.

If you think it looks like Braveheart, that makes sense.  The films cover common territory and events–Angus Macfadyen played Robert the Bruce in Braveheart opposite Mel Gibson’s William Wallace.  Wallace will not be a key player in Outlaw King.  This film covers the low points in Robert’s battles during 1298 to 1306 and his initial victory against England.  Spoiler?  Nope, you can’t spoil an event in the history books that happened 700 years ago.

Director David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) returns to direct Pine in this story based on actual events, which also stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kick-Ass), Florence Pugh (The Commuter), Stephen Dillane (Darkest Hour, Game of Thrones), Tony Curran (Doctor Who, Thor: The Dark World), Alastair Mackenzie (Monarch of the Glen), James Cosmo (Shetland, The Chronicles of Narnia, Braveheart), Callan Mulvey (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Sam Spruell (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Snow White and the Huntsman), and a large Scottish supporting cast and production team.

Get your kilt.  Here’s the first trailer for Chris Pine in Outlaw King:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The trailers didn’t lie.  With only a month to go, The Meg might be the most fun movie you’ll see this summer.  The Meg has everything: a stellar international cast with plenty of chemistry, big action scenes, great sets, and even some drama.  For Jason Statham fans, look for another must-see Statham movie with his tough-as-nails deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor getting in and out of some big crises.  For fans of underwater adventure movies like The Abyss, Leviathan, and Sphere, a better movie has arrived.  A combined production from China and the U.S., it also pushes past last year’s much bigger budget action film The Great Wall–the combination of the two cultures from these films is setting up the future of action films.  If you liked the Pacific Rim franchise, recent Godzilla movies or Battleship, you’ll probably find The Meg a better all around production.  For an only PG-13 rating, it’s loaded with blood, chum, and other viscera (the newfound terror gobbles up plenty of characters both major and minor), but it balances that out with some good worldbuilding, likeable characters, and plenty of humor along the way.

The trailers also didn’t give anything important away.  Beginning with a John Hammond-esque deep-sea research base, we meet a perfect set-up of international personalities, led by Chinese superstar Bingbing Li (Resident Evil, Transformers series) as a scientist working with her father (1911 and Eat Drink Man Woman’s Winston Chao) on breaking through a new-found barrier to the deep sea.  The movie is really two films–the first a slowly-building drama detailing the background and players in the research facility, and the second a 1980s/1990s Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, or Steven Seagal action-rescue movie (think Cliffhanger, Under Siege, Striking Distance, Executive Decision), sensibly swapping out the much younger Statham (who played Stallone’s #1 guy in The Expendables series), the modern incarnation of this brand of action star.  For the action, we learn Statham’s Taylor quit diving for a rescue operation five years past that didn’t go as planned.  He returns thanks to an old friend working at the facility (played by Fear the Walking Dead’s Cliff Curtis) when Taylor’s ex-wife, played by Australian actor Jessica McNamee, is piloting an exploratory vessel, along with scientists played by Japanese-American actor Masi Oka (Heroes, Hawaii Five-O) and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, BFG), which runs aground with the help of a mysterious creature.  Rounding out the cast is The Office’s Rainn Wilson as the show’s Hammond, an Elon Musk-inspired exec who funded the facility, Rush Hour’s Page Kennedy as another scientist, and the new lead of the CW’s Batwoman, Ruby Rose, whose character designed the facility.  Rose proves in The Meg she’s got the right stuff to dawn that red cape.

Based on Steve Alten’s 1997 science-fiction/horror book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, this fish tale is somewhat Michael Crichton-lite.  It’s surprisingly better than all the Jurassic sequels, as well as Crichton’s lesser action film adaptations like Congo and Sphere.  But the marketing may have set expectations off-kilter in one regard:  The shark–the megalodon–of the title may have you thinking Jaws or Sharknado.  It’s neither.  Think Godzilla and King Kong and you’ll be much closer.  The chemistry among the cast is what makes The Meg really stand out.  Statham and Bingbing Li (only six years apart in real life) make a great pair I’d love to see again.  Statham and Curtis seem like they really have been pals for years.  Young actor Sophia Cai may be the next best child actor, holding her own with both Statham, Li, Kennedy, and the rest of the crew.  The camaraderie of everyone involved and top-level production values (thanks to King Kong and The Lord of the Rings’ Oscar-winning production designer Grant Major) beg for a sequel or series.

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Following up after the bittersweet end to Star Wars Rebels earlier this year, Disney and Lucasfilm Animation has revealed the first trailer for the next chapter in the Star Wars saga, Star Wars Resistance Star Wars Resistance will look backward in time once again, but instead of looking to the period before Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as with Star Wars Rebels, this time we’ll see an as-yet unseen period before the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Originally expected to have a new anime-inspired look, it’s subtle.  Resistance appears to be interchangeable with the style in Rebels.  (It worked for Rebels so we’re not complaining).  But it does have some common visual elements with classic Speed Racer with its racing suits–and lots of racing.

Lucasfilm Animation creator Dave Filoni leads the series, which features Kasuda Xiono, a new Resistance pilot who will be spying on the First Order with the help of BB-8 and Poe Dameron.  Christopher Sean (Hawaii Five-O) plays Xiono, with Oscar Isaac returning as the voice of Poe and Gwendoline Christie will again voice Captain Phasma.  Rachel Butera (Family Guy) takes on the role of General Leia Organa.  Other actors include Bobby Moynihan (Saturday Night Live)as Orka, Suzie McGrath (Law & Order: UK) as Tam Ryvora, Scott Lawrence as Jarek Yeager (Legion, Star Trek Into Darkness), Myrna Velasco (Elena of Avalor) as Torra Doza, Josh Brener (Star Wars Rebels) as Neeku Vozo, Donald Faison (Scrubs) as Hype Faizon, and Jim Rash (Community) as Flix.

“The idea for Star Wars Resistance came out of my interest in World War II aircraft and fighter pilots,” said Filoni in an earlier interview.  “My grandfather was a pilot and my uncle flew and restored planes, so that’s been a big influence on me.  There’s a long history of high-speed racing in Star Wars, and I think we’ve captured that sense of excitement in an anime-inspired style, which is something the entire team has been wanting to do for a long time.”

Here’s the first trailer and several new images for Star Wars Resistance:

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Creek Stewart balances the appeal, insight, intelligence, and demonstration skills of outdoorsmen like Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin in his Weather Channel series, SOS: How to Survive.  Much more than the typical reality show, Stewart takes viewers on a real outdoor how-to adventure in each hour of the series.  It’s like scouting for adults (and kids, too).  Eagle Scout, survival instructor, and author of more than six non-fiction survival guides, Stewart brings science into the survival discussion, often demonstrating in the simplest terms how anyone can get out of tough trials.  SOS: How to Survive is now in its second season on the Weather Channel with new episodes airing Sundays at 7 p.m. Central.

And it’s not just about life-saving measures.  Some of what you learn on the show may just help you get your car out of the mud in town, or get the fire going at your vacation spot when someone forgot to bring the matches.  For those fans of post-apocalypse science fiction, you’ll have more knowledge after watching a few episodes of the series to challenge the next plot of your favorite TV show.  Focusing on a real-life, true story tragedy including interviews with the survivors, Stewart demonstrates what was a success about the survival and what the victims could have done along the way that they didn’t think of to improve their circumstances.

Stewart has published more than a few survival guides, including pocket field guides to Survival Trees, Survival Knots, Survival Tarp Shelters, Mastering the Bow Drill, Wilderness Survival Drinks, Survival Food, and How to Survive Being Stranded in Your Vehicle Plus he’s created a book on Survival Hacks, 365 Essential Survival Skills, a how-to Survival Kit, and he even wrote The Unofficial Hunger Games Wilderness Survival Guide.

Here is a preview of his series:

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In three weeks we’ll see the return of Danny Rand to Netflix, continuing the ongoing Marvel television universe we last saw in this summer’s excellent sophomore season of Marvel’s Luke Cage.  Finn Jones’s martial arts master and corporate exec Danny Rand–the Immortal Iron Fist–returns in season two of Marvel’s Iron Fist and Netflix just released its first trailer for the season, providing a glimpse at what fans of the Marvel franchise can expect.  More action is takeaway No. 1.

The first season of Marvel’s Iron Fist was a bit rough after a dark season of Daredevil, a spectacular first season of Jessica Jones, and a knockout first season of Luke Cage.  Compared to the other series it approached its origin character with a slowly building story, with co-lead Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick, carrying most of the emotional and dramatic excitement through the season.  A heavily corporate boardroom plot with siblings Joy and Ward Meachum (played by Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey) didn’t help matters.  Not even the inclusion of genre-favorite David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) could lift the ho-hum plot.  And the parallels in Iron Fist and CW’s Arrow were plentiful starting with the similarity of the leads.  Marvel’s The Defenders then brought together Rand, Cage, Jones, and Daredevil’s Matt Murdock, but when the characters even acknowledged they didn’t want to be a team that projected to viewers a team-up that wasn’t quite ready.

So can Iron Fist re-engage this season?  Star Trek and Men in Black III’s Alice Eve appears briefly in the trailer as supervillain Typhoid Mary.  Mike Colter and Finn Jones’ brief team-up as the classic Power Man and Iron Fist hinted at something fans would love to see much more of.  Although we don’t see Colter in this first trailer we do see Simone Missick’s Misty Knight will at least return for an episode–something to look forward to.  Fans of G.I. Joe won’t be able to resist comparing the conflict between that series’ Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow to Danny Rand and this season’s rival Davos aka Steel Serpent, played by the returning Sacha Dhawan.

Take a look at this first look at Season 2 of Marvel’s Iron Fist:

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As part of the continuing celebration of 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that kickstarted filmdom’s modern superhero blockbuster chapter, AMC Theaters are getting the entire team back together for an eight-day movie marathon nationwide beginning Thursday, August 30.  Get ready for the Marvel Studios 10th Anniversary Film Festival.  Marvel has converted three early films in the series to IMAX for the first time: Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Incredible Hulk.  So the entire 20 film series will be screened in IMAX, plus many of the films will also be screened in 3D.

The announcement arrives with the home video release of Avengers: Infinity War, now available on Blu-ray and Digital HD, 4K, and DVD.  If you missed Infinity War, check out our review here (and catch all our Marvel Cinematic Universe reviews below).  This is your chance to catch up any or all of the films you might have missed in the theater, including the three 2018 releases Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and The Wasp.  And it will give many younger viewers the opportunity to see some great superhero movies from the early days of the MCU on the big screen for the first time.

The big day of the festival appears to be September 3, with a great single-day line-up: Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and The Wasp.  The series will run over Labor Day weekend, with four films per day from August 30 through September 5.  On September 6, AMC will screen two fan-favorite films, to be selected by a fan vote.  See the Marvel Studios 10th Anniversary Film Festival website for more details.  It also seems likely based on past screenings that AMC may offer some kind of bundled purchase price for multiple shows.  Check back to the website as the end of August nears for any additional promotions.

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If you’re curious why a recent news story surfaced about Marvel Comics seeking to get John Byrne to return for some new projects, you need only turn to a new retrospective book arriving at comic book shops today to see why Marvel wants him back.  It’s yet another in IDW Publishing’s award-winning series of “Artifact Editions”–giant-sized 12″x17″ books printed at the same dimensions as original comic book art pages, with quality scanned reprints that appear nearly identical to the originals.  Today’s release features the art of John Byrne, focusing on his classic X-Men pages.

John Byrne’s X-Men Artifact Edition includes reprints of 169 pages of Byrne art in all–a rare opportunity to view images where the original set of these pages would fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction.  Beginning with X-Men Issue #108 in December 1977, Byrne, along with long-time creative partner Chris Claremont, would gain popularity for their story arcs “Proteus,” “Dark Phoenix Saga,” and “Days of Future Past.”  According to Byrne, “Even after all these years, it’s the X-Men work I did with Chris and Terry (Austin) that still resonates the most with fans.  Hopefully when you all see the pages in this format you’ll still feel the same way!”  So what’s inside?  A few pages each from X-Men Issues #108-143 (except no pages were included for Issue #117).  No full issues, but you’ll find 11 Byrne covers (for Issues #114, 116, 127, 129, 133, 134, 136, 138, 139, 140, and an unpublished cover to #142), 148 interior pages, 23 splash pages (including Wolverine, Phoenix, Spider-Man, and full teams), 8 pages from the first appearance of Alpha Flight in Issues #120 and 121, 10 pages from Issue #137, “The Death of Jean Grey,” 15 pages from the Issue #141 and 142 story, “Days of Future Past.”  All-in that’s 35 original pages to marvel at from the “Dark Phoenix Saga” alone.  Plus 10 bonus art pages, including original Marvel corner box art.  The original covers to #114, 133, and 136 are pages you’re going to look at again and again.

Byrne stopped creating for Marvel in 2000 after a falling-out with editor Joe Quesada.  Byrne has continued with other publishers and personal projects since his Marvel days, going on to being named to the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2015.  Byrne co-created some major characters for Marvel, including the Scott Lang Ant-Man, Emma Frost, Kitty Pryde, Sabretooth, and Shadow King.

Take a look at this preview from today’s release, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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Peck?  As in Gregory Peck?  Turns out Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck has a grandson who took to the acting business–Ethan Peck–and he has been tapped to co-star in the next season of Star Trek Discovery.  This will be the 13th actor to portray the half-human, half-Vulcan Mr. Spock in the more than five decades of the franchise–a role performed by more actors in the franchise than any other character.  Peck appears in the photo below (center) with Leonard Nimoy’s family, released today (and if the woman at left looks familiar, that’s because it’s Terry Farrell, who played Dax on Deep Space Nine, Leonard’s daughter-in-law, married to Leonard’s son Adam earlier this year).

Although he wasn’t “that kid in Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Peck did play a boy in the Disney fantasy film (which also featured former Star Trek actor Alice Krige).  He has also appeared in The Drew Carey Show, That ’70s Show, and the TV series version of 10 Things I Hate About You, among other things.

Here is an excerpt from the announcement earlier today about Peck from Star Trek Discovery executive producer Alex Kurtzman:

“Through 52 years of television and film, a parallel universe and a mirror universe, Mr. Spock remains the only member of the original bridge crew to span every era of Star Trek.”

Oops.  Actually Spock did not appear in Star Trek Enterprise.  So Spock has been in almost all the eras of Star Trek to be put to TV or film.  Kurtzman continued:

“The great Leonard Nimoy, then the brilliant Zachary Quinto, brought incomparable humanity to a character forever torn between logic and emotion.  We searched for months for an actor who would, like them, bring his own interpretation to the role.”

Pretty much anyone–sci-fi fan or not–can tell you Leonard Nimoy portrayed Spock the longest, from the pilot to the original series through the second film in the J.J. Abrams movie series, Star Trek Into Darkness (and a photo of him appeared in the next film Star Trek Beyond).  The character is almost without question the most iconic sci-fi character of the post-television era.

Zachary Quinto has taken on Spock for the three Abrams movies–that is, the part of young Spock in the separate, Kelvin timeline.  So where did we come up with eleven other actors who performed the role of Spock well in advance of Peck being handed his first tricorder?

Audiences have seen Spock several times before.  Remember in Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock, moviegoers saw Spock grow up on the Genesis planet, where he was played at age nine by Carl Krakoff:

Then at age 13 he was portrayed by Vadia Potenza:

At age 17 he was played by Stephen Manley:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new PlayStation 4/Insomniac action-adventure game arrives September 7 and it’s anticipated to be one of the best superhero games yet (check out a preview for the game below).  Leading up to the launch of the game Marvel’s Spider-Man is a new prequel novel to be published in two weeks by Titan Books as part of its rollout of Marvel paperback novels (see our previous reviews in the series of Avengers: Civil War here and Deadpool: Paws here).  Author David Liss has put together a densely packed story finding Spider-Man confronting Wilson “Kingpin of Crime” Fisk seven years after he first tried to put the mobster in jail and eight years after Peter first donned his supersuit.  Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover pits Peter Parker and his alter ego Spider-Man up against more than Fisk–with criminals old and new taking a crack at Spidey in the hefty paperback’s 398 pages.

Liss focuses on Peter Parker adjusting to life after high school and college, after his Daily Bugle photographer days and years of taking on supervillains, in the workforce as a scientist–yet the angsty Parker is still the same everyguy struggling to balance listening to the needs of girlfriend Mary Jane, keeping his difficult supervisor at work happy, remembering his breakfast meet-ups with Aunt May (did someone say wheatcakes?), and saving the people of New York.  Yep, he still mostly falls short.  Although Fisk is the Big Bad in this tale, others are lurking, like Mayor Norman Osborn, Scorpion, Shocker, Tombstone, Electro, the most vile J. Jonah Jameson yet, and Martin Li (aka Mr. Negative).  But Spidey’s strangest riddle involves new threats, including a masked deaf woman who calls herself Echo, with mad martial arts skills and a hidden past, and a Spider-Man doppelganger called Blood-Spider, an imbalanced foe who thinks he’s the real Spider-Man (unfortunately for Spidey, he has the moves and webs to prove it).

Peter grows farther apart from Mary Jane when she lands a job at the Bugle, and he meets a new co-worker intern named Anika (who may be a bit of a stalker).  And he’s losing his other best friend and confidante as Harry Osborn takes off for a trip overseas.  A contact with the D.A.’s office and a driven Misty Knight-inspired member of the police force (Captain Yuri Watanabe) could be his way to more information.  But something is just not right everywhere Peter turns, and no facet of his life is getting better.  Liss weaves all these characters together for Peter to sleuth his way to the surface.  He will lose plenty.  What more is he willing to lose to finally put Fisk behind bars?

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