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Archive for June, 2019


Review by C.J. Bunce

Baseball writer Eric Enders has updated a popular look at the changing times in this week’s re-release of Ballparks Then and Now.  It’s a visual tour from the first official baseball fields made of wood and prone to fire destruction to the current architectural marvels.  It’s also a quick history of how and why ballparks have changed, of maximizing locations and tickets sales and mass marketing giant corporations by throwing their brands at you while you watch the game.  Angels Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, the two Wrigley Fields, the old Fulton and Turner fields, Oriole Park, Memorial Stadium, South Side and Comiskey Park, Crosley Field, Municipal Stadium, Mile High Stadium, Mack Park and Tiger Stadium, the Astrodome, Kauffman, L.A. Coliseum, Miami Stadium, County Stadium and Miller Park, Metropolitan, Shea Stadium, Candlestick, Petco Park, Stars Park, the Kingdome–these and many more are described in detail, taking fans of baseball back to long-gone parks and forward to their team’s current home field.

The best feature is the collection of black and white photographs showing early ballparks from the middle of the 19th century into the 1960s.  From the spires of the 1888 Grand Pavilion, home to the Boston Beaneaters, to the beautiful corner entrance to Ebbets Field, some built on grassy fields, others built on former landfills, one actually built on a cornfield, old parks with poles that blocked views of seats in grandstands, one with a tree planted on the field, another with a petting zoo in right field, images of fans driving horse-drawn carriages to the ballpark and later Model T Fords, and now all made of steel and concrete–baseball fans will find plenty images of interest here.

Ballparks Then and Now also includes pictures of old baseball signage, posters, postcards, vintage tickets, and scorecards, filling out the text and park coverage with some good nostalgia for the game. Enders throws in some interesting lore about the fields along the way, like a ball causing an explosion when it wedged into a steam pipe at an adjacent bean factory in one stadium.  Another story in picture form shows fans feeling free to walk onto the field in droves to watch the players practice in advance of the very first World Series.  And then there are the two ballplayers that saved 1,600 fans from a fire in Chicago at the West Side Grounds by hacking a wall with their bats.

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It’s no surprise the movie studios are releasing trailers more frequently this time of year.  In the weeks leading up to San Diego Comic-Con, just as studios are holding back more genre and “pop culture” trailers to showcase in San Diego, they’re giving audiences a peek now at everything else.  We have five new trailers today, three for films we haven’t yet previewed, and two are new trailers for films you already know about.  What do they all have in common?  They all feature stars from the British realm.

So what’s new from Keira Knightley (why doesn’t she have an Oscar yet?), Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, and Katherine Kelly?  You’ll find them in the political thriller Official Secrets, based on the story of Katherine Gun, who leaked a secret memo exposing an illegal U.S. spying operation.  The Good Liar stars master thespians Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Ian McKellen in a swindler story about meeting online.  Luke Evans and Ed Skrein lead a new World War II historical drama in MidwayAnd from the two films you’ve probably heard of:  Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren, and Eddie Marsan all star in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, and Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate and Damian Lewis plays Steve McQueen in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  

  

Finally, don’t forget, another Brit, Tom Holland, stars in next week’s latest Marvel movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home.  Check out these trailers:

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Today we have three fall movies to preview, one from a film long-completed and scheduled to arrive in theaters way back in 2017, another a new look at an old property, and a third featuring a modern crime story about a tough cop.  First up is The Current War, a film we first previewed here at borg way back in January 13, 2018.  Movie studios have fallout, collateral damage–call it what you like– from industry shifts, whether cancelations following mergers or projects braking during sex scandals.  The latter was the reason for the initial delays for The Current War, a late production of The Weinstein Company.  The star factor is nothing to sneeze at, with a slate of stars now popular for their superhero roles leading the way:  Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) plays Thomas Alva Edison, Michael Shannon (Man of Steel) is George Westinghouse, Nicholas Hoult (X-Men franchise) is Nikola Tesla, and Tom Holland (Marvel Cinematic Universe) is Samuel Insull, an early General Electric co-founder.  Will this film electrify audiences or were the delays a sign it’s going to have a rough go of it?  The earliest we’ll know is October, when it finally arrives in theaters.

Raise your hand if you loved the first reboot movie adaptation of the 1970s-1980s TV classic series Charlie’s Angels?  No?  That one starred Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu.  Unfortunately it was more parody than homage, more wacky than the action drama that made the original such a success with audiences 40 years ago.  Another reboot is on its way, titled again Charlie’s Angels, and somehow this version with its next generation of film stars and removal of melodrama and humor at first blush seems to have more in common with the original.  It stars a very upbeat styled Kristen Stewart (Twilight series) plus newcomer Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott (Power Rangers, Aladdin).  The credits circulating so far list a slate of actors playing Bosley, including the film’s director Elizabeth Banks (Brightburn, Hunger Games series), Patrick Stewart (Star Trek Nemesis), and Djimon Hounsou (Captain Marvel).  Weren’t we just talking about this movie Wednesday?

And last for today is Black and Blue, another October 2019 release, starring James Bond’s Moneypenny, Naomie Harris, as a British rookie cop caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The trailer for this film looks like a lot of 1980s cop movies, which might be a good thing.  As with the other films previewed today, look for even more actors in tis film from the superhero spheres, including Luke Cage’s Mike Colter and Captain America: Winter Soldier’s Frank Grillo, plus Fast & Furious regular Tyrese Gibson.

So let’s check out these new trailers:

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If you want to see a good argument for enforcing antitrust policy against mega-sized media corporations, here’s one.  Along with so many other change-ups, delays and cancelations, add Fox’s big-(estimated $170 million) budget Mouse Guard movie to the list.  The writer, artist, and visionary creator of the Mouse Guard universe, David Petersen announced the news back in April, two weeks before the scheduled filming date.  Reportedly Disney directed new subsidiary Fox to cancel the film.  No reasons were announced, but it’s difficult to surmise any reason other than a coordinated effort to own the theater box office with its own projects.  Just how much work had already been done?  How big was this film going to be?  Director Wes Ball (The Maze Runner) and Petersen released two videos over social media this week (and more participants have since released even more great pre-production content) that paint a picture that will leave you feeling like audiences have been out-right robbed.

The first video includes a pan of the offices where the pre-production previz work was already completed, including miniatures, maquettes, dioramas, costumes, performance capture and CG-mock-ups, and thousands of pieces of compelling concept art lining the work area walls.  You really get a sense for what audiences will be missing with the second video, another development piece for sure, yet even as a demo or “sizzle reel,” anyone who is a fan of fantasy movies can see this was going to be something entirely new.  Matt Reeves (The Batman, Planet of the Apes reboots) was producing.  Artist Darek Zabrocki was one of many artists who created thousands of pieces of concept art (see above and below) to push the film forward (see Zabrocki’s Instagram account here for several images).  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story screenplay writer Gary Whitta′s script was in-hand (he’s now released it via his Twitter account for everyone to read here).  Composer John Paesano had his first theme in play with a warrior’s quest-evoking theme in a James Horner/Randy Edelman vibe (listen to it here).  It was all just ready for Weta to step in and take over with production, and wham, that House with the Mouse slammed the door.  But it looks like no other mice will suffice for Disney.  So Fox will either sit on the rights, sell them, or the rights will revert in a few years.  All these pre-production pieces will likely get warehoused until they get auctioned off for space reasons down the road as happens with studios (studio storage is expensive!), unless another studio or filmmaker steps in with some money (Peter Jackson?  Guillermo Del Toro?  The Jim Henson Company?).  But we seem to already be past the eleventh hour for that to have happened.  On the one hand, outsiders will never know why the decision was made, corporations make these calls for all sorts of business reasons.  But what is clear is that without the approval of that mega-merger of behemoth media empires, this expression, this idea, this story, this vision, would be coming to your local theaters soon.

Voice actors enlisted for the film included Idris Elba, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Jack Whitehall, Samson Kayo, and Andy Serkis.  In the meantime, Petersen keeps creating, new Mouse Guard and other worlds.  Petersen’s comics and compilation hardcover editions, along with his version of The Wind and the Willows, are the picture books I have purchased more than any other for gifts–ever.  His artwork is fantastic, fantastical, and magical, and it came as no surprise when he announced a film in the works back in 2016.  Petersen’s Dark Crystal and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic cover art also has him as a contender for the year’s best cover artist.  Mouse Guard is one of those rare worlds in my lifetime that evokes the wonder of Jim Henson, the creativity of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the gravity and import of Mr. Rogers.

Enjoy the little of the film we get to see, these great videos released by Ball and Petersen:
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Last year Dynamite brought Charlie’s Angels back from the 1980s for some new adventures, joining other classic TV series comic adaptations including Batman ’66, Wonder Woman ’77, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman Dynamite has combined a few classic TV shows already, including a story with Wonder Woman ’77 and The Bionic Woman taking down some fembots This year the publisher is putting together two more dream team-ups with The Bionic Woman joining Charlie’s Angels on a mission in Charlie’s Angels/The Bionic Woman.  When Bosley hands Kelly Garrett, Kris Munroe, and Julie Rogers their next assignment from Charlie, they encounter one of our favorite classic borg characters, the bionic-powered Jaime Sommers.  Following the events of the television series into the 1980s, we catch up with a privatized Office of Scientific Investigation, and it’s up to these four women to make sure the OSI technology doesn’t get into the wrong hands for military applications.

It’s a great move using the latter trio from Charlie’s Angels for the new series.  Artist Cat Skaggs′ rendering of Tanya Roberts as Julie on her cover variant to Issue #1 is perfect, and she also provides a great portrait of Lindsay Wagner as Jaime for the cover of Issue #2.  Other covers were drawn by Ron Lesser and Jim Mahfood, whose Issue #2 features a gorgeous, stylized, throwback design.

   

Cameron DeOrdio (Josie and the Pussycats) steps in to write this series, and in the first issue she lays the groundwork for a compelling spy thriller.  Artist Soo Lee (Strange Attractors) brings in her unique style to give the series an authentic early 1980s vibe.  Her artwork has elements of manga and anime blended with Matt Kindt, but best of all the book looks as if it could have been drawn in 1982.  Color work is by Addison Duke, with letters by Crank!

Here are some preview images and covers for the first two issues, courtesy of Dynamite:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not that often actors that make it to the level of movie stardom get to have that curtain call.  Robert Redford announced after the filming of The Old Man & the Gun that this would be his last film in front of the camera.  A tribute to Redford and a wind-up of a great and unusual career of smartly made choices by the actor, it’s an enjoyable film and final take on the persona Redford played so well in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and Sneakers.  Earlier this year Netflix released a new film called The Highwaymen, a story written by John Fusco about the Texas Rangers that finally took down Bonnie and Clyde.  Years ago Redford was taking the script to Paul Newman intending it to round out their two crime films together (Butch & Sundance and The Sting), but Newman passed away.  That story would have been a great final film for both, but somehow The Old Man & the Gun is truer to the legacy of Redford as that hard-to-resist bad guy.  Redford hangs up the acting part of his life just the way we like him, as the good bad guy.

Writer/director David Lowery could have made The Old Man & the Gun something over the top, something like Space Cowboys, but we know Redford wouldn’t have signed up for something like that.  This is more subtle, sweet, and sentimental, doing something similar for Redford to what Clint Eastwood has been doing with his elder years roles like Gran Torino and The Mule.  The Old Man & the Gun is in the same genre as the Eastwood and Kevin Costner film A Perfect World, another take on Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Catch Me if You Can, and without the intensity of Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine’s Hell or High Water, introducing us to another criminal and his pursuer, this one 82-year-old Redford playing the 62-year-old real-life, early 1980s bank robber Forrest Tucker.  Redford looks more 82 than 62, but it doesn’t matter, older is better here, and the casting director who teamed him with Sissy Spacek as love interest deserves some kudos.  Redford’s thief is a likable enough guy who leads a small-scale Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid gang consisting of a quirky Danny Glover and Tom Waits.  Ultimately the film is worthy of all these actors, enough reason alone to check it out.

Rounding out a quartet of Academy Award-winners with Redford and Spacek and a blink-and-you’ll miss him Keith Carradine, is Casey Affleck, playing the young, local police pursuer a bit differently than the typical cop trying to get his guy that we’ve seen in countless police stories.  Through interviews we watch him learn that every person who has been robbed by Tucker sees Tucker as a nice, sympathetic, grandfatherly old gentleman.  Taking cues from his kids and wife played by Tika Sumpter, Affleck’s cop takes a step back, and his performance is subtly played.  And quite good.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

What defines the Men in Black the best?  The neuralyzer?  The Noisy Cricket?  The suits?  Or maybe its the sunglasses.  1997, 2002, 2012, and 2019.  Plenty has changed in 22 years since the first Men in Black movie, but readers of a new book on all four films in the MiB franchise will learn a lot hasn’t changed.  As part of the release of the latest entry in the series, Men in Black International, Titan Books partnered with Columbia Pictures to put together Men in Black Films: The Official Visual Companion to the Films, an oversized, chrome, hardcover guide spanning the creation of the MiB universe and each film from the original comic books to the new movie.

Writers Lisa Fitzpatrick and Sharon Gosling interview the directors, writers, visual effects crew, and other artists and actors from each movie to find out why the series has resonated with sci-fi audiences.  Moving between images from the film, the characters, and plots, to what happened behind the scenes to develop the ideas from page to final film, readers will get two views of the films: one in-universe and one real-world.  It’s told chronologically, giving equal treatment to each film.  Along with stars Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, James Brolin, and now Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, you’ll see familiar characters from the past played by Tony Shalhoub (Galaxy Quest), Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water), Luke Cage stars Rosario Dawson and Mike Colter (Luke Cage), and Rip Torn (Defending Your Life), and you’ll meet new characters played by Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson.

The writers find lots of common threads with the first three films because of the overlap in creators, so look for some deep dives into the moviemaking process from director of the first three films, Barry Sonnenfeld, producers Laurie MacDonald and Walter F. Parkes (and how they coordinated ideas with executive producer Steven Spielberg), production designer Bo Welch, set decorator Cheryl Carasik, and, of course, Rick Baker, monster (and alien) maker, plus dozens more.  It’s all a nostalgic look back to some of the major creators that guided the look of Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s.  It includes commentary from comic book creator Lowell Cunningham and the several writers that had a hand in the screenplays.  From the great futuristic props to those sunglasses and black suit changes, every major talent behind the camera gets to share where the ideas came from, with full-color photographs documenting the production steps along the way.

Here is a look inside Men in Black Films: The Official Visual Companion to the Films, courtesy of Titan Books:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Is there a more likeable superhero in all of the DC Comics and Marvel Comics extended universe than Melissa Benoist’s Kara Danvers on CW’s Supergirl?   New this year from Abrams/Amulet Books is Jo Whittemore’s latest novel in her CW Arrowverse tie-in series, Supergirl: Master of Illusion.  Readers will catch up with Kara as she teams up with J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter, sister Alex, James Olsen, CatCo tech genius Winn Schott, and her boyfriend Mon-El against her next foe, vintage DC Comics supervillain Felix Faust, an illusionist, manipulator, and hypnotist.  He’s out to gather some ancient artifacts to unleash a trio of demons on the world, and he has plenty to distract the protectors of National City.  As Kara assembles her team to help, she meets up with another oldie-but-a-goodie, the multi-talented Princess Tlaca and Justice League Dark favorite Madame Xanadu.

Kara’s self-effacing inner monologue said out loud (“did she really just say that?”) makes her the most accessible protagonist of any of the recent slate of superhero novel adaptations of comics, TV series, and movies.  Nice, kind, and never snarky (and always seeming to be hunting down her next snack), she accomplishes all she needs without acting like an all-powerful, infallible god like Superman and Wonder Woman, or her all-powerful counterpart named Danvers from that other comic book universe, Marvel Comics’s Captain Marvel.  Supergirl doesn’t forget the “girl” in Supergirl–she’s cute but not cutesy, and she’s smart and has her own skills, but a key component of her character is her lack of confidence.  She’s learning, but she makes mistakes along the way, like every young woman (or man) or girl (or boy), and that’s a great way to get readers on her side.

Felix Faust seems like a good guy at first, helping Kara get her way out of a fix as she’s schmoozing the local city elite at a gala event.  But his real agenda soon becomes clear.  How does the mysterious princess from the ancient Aztec civilization fit in?  It’s up to Kara to maintain her alter ego as a journalist, get a story and keep her job, and save National City before it’s too late.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The next tropical paradise action series has two things going for it:  star Poppy Montgomery and a tropical island setting.  Unfortunately that’s probably not enough reason to come back for more.  The new series, Reef Break, will air Thursdays on ABC, with the first season of 13 episodes filmed.  The pilot aired last night, and unless the network made significant changes, viewers can expect a series you’ve seen before with rough writing and rudimentary stumbles.  The show follows Australian native actress Montgomery back on her home turf as Cat Chambers, a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners, confident ruffian with a history (aka baggage), who returns after several years away to the tropical island town of Reef Break.  Filmed and written attempting to conjure a “tropical noir” vibe, it’s crime drama in the vein of Castle–it looks like it wants to be the next Castle with a Hawaii Five-O backdrop, but it has a long way to go.

Audiences have hardly seen a TV season go by–going back to her debut in 1994 on Silk Stalkings–where Montgomery wasn’t either firmly planted atop an acclaimed series (seven seasons on Without a Trace as the high point) or featured as an eye-catching supporting character She’s more than up to the task for this role, which is a showcase of her acting showing both her smarts, saving lives, solving cases, and otherwise being the smartest person in the room, and her physicality, surfing the waves, pulling a gun on the bad guys, and getting punched in the face by the daughter of a man she killed in the show’s backstory.  Montgomery looks like she’s having fun, and for some of her diehard fans that might be enough.  But the material also seems to be light faire for someone of her caliber.  She has presence and even swagger, but the story and dialogue are sub-par, and she’s using a Southern drawl that doesn’t seem like it fits the role (she’s filming in Australia, let’s hear that accent!).  The worst feature is reliance for emotion on an over-stuffed pop song soundtrack.  The opening scene alone incorporates iffy covers of three different overplayed radio songs.

A lot, probably too much, is going on here for a pilot, so it’s a surprise a network picked it up.  Cat Chambers is an ex-thief and now a fixer with the skill set of a British spy or FBI agent, and she knows everyone, and everyone knows her, in this island community.  Already the governor is ready to offer this almost ex-con (arrested, never convicted) a job–for anyone familiar with storytelling he’s set-up as the series recurring bad guy.  The appeal is for fans of Magnum P.I., which had instant chemistry in its reboot with the benefit of nostalgia in addition to the tropical setting, or counterpart series Hawaii Five-OReef Break is also not as clever or quirky as Death in Paradise Part of the pilot fail is a clunky introduction of all the characters, and an ending that shows all the characters are all too coincidentally connected.  It’s goofy and escapist, but so far more goofy than escapist, and doesn’t compare to that instantly slick and sharp (and now canceled) CBS crime series Whiskey Cavalier.

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