Archive for January, 2020


Review by C.J. Bunce

Merging art with science and technology the Victoria and Albert Museum in London put together an exhibition celebrating more than 100 years of the car.  That exhibition has been documented and is now available as a history of the car, combining historical objects from the museum with thirteen essays that show the impact of this cultural achievement (both the good and the bad) on people around the world.  Prepared by the museum’s researchers, the book Cars: Accelerating the Modern World is a history of the automobile and a nostalgic look at the marketing of cars through hundreds of reprinted advertisements and vintage photographs.

The book examines the need for speed looking at early and modern races, including early women in racing.  From the 1890s to the 2010s style has been supreme when it comes to the love of cars–it might seem obvious, but in one graphic readers can see a comparison of cars, planes, trains, phones, and even chairs, clocks, fashion, and swimsuits, all trending toward more streamlined forms across the decades.  Along with favorite cars is the quest for greater safety.  Manufacturing, assembly lines, industry, regulations, and the development of roads and highways, all led toward a key component that makes road travel possible: standardization.

As with everything else, the history of the car is interspersed with politics, profits, corporations, and The growth of an industry of cars for work tracked cars for personal use and even luxury purposes.  And along the journey was a new class of sales, marketing lifestyle and image to the consumer.  It’s also the movement from the stately black early cars to choice for the consumer via new, vibrant colors for interiors and exteriors.  One Saturday Evening Post excerpt champions new color combinations from DuPont in the 1920s.  Fashion plates compare what women should wear in their new cars in the early days of the automobile.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With all the Netflix series being rolled out this year, October Faction might get overlooked.  It’s the latest monster series based on a comic book and it arrived on Netflix this past weekend.  Based on Steve Niles and Damien Worm’s graphic novel/comics of the same name, both the TV series (created by Sleepy Hollow and Stargate’s Damian Kindler) and the comics are a darker spin on The Addams Family–the comics even darker than the TV series, which is closer in tone to Riverdale, Charmed, and Stranger Things than, say, Grimm or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  Unfortunately it’s not as well-constructed or visualized as any of those series, but it may be worth the time for fans of horror or stories of students with super powers.  It’s the super powers angle that demonstrates how closely linked superhero series are with supernatural and horror stories in the 21st century–Swap out a few words, monsters for malevolent aliens and witches and warlocks for superheroes and you’ll find October Faction has the same story beats as, say The Umbrella Academy or The Boys.  October Faction has an easier to digest, more accessible story than both of those series although the production values lack a certain tightness in editing and cinematography style.  It also could use a soundtrack that better matches the charging, creepy pitches found in Netflix’s three trailers for the series.

This is a story about a husband and wife and their twin 17-year-olds, and how the twins handle learning their parents belong to an age-old network of monster hunters.  Tamara Taylor (Bones, Altered Carbon, Lost, Serenity) is really in the driver’s seat as Deloris, the mom who always seems to have the right firearm close by, joined by husband Fred, played by J.C. MacKenzie, a character actor TV audiences have seen in dozens of police procedural series and movies, including The Irishman, The Departed, The Shield, and Hemlock Grove, as a father who is looking forward to a rest from the monster work.  If you agree MacKenzie is a ringer for a younger Matthew Modine, you might convince yourself October Faction is a prequel to Stranger Things (he also evokes Ed Begley, Jr.).  MacKenzie’s casting is an odd choice, like starring old school Fred MacMurray or Robert Young as a modern, mouthy murderer of monsters.  But he might grow on you.  The kids are more interesting: Newcomers Aurora Burghart plays Viv, an angsty teen who sketches morbid miscellany and can’t understand why she sees things before they happen, and Gabriel Darku is Geoff, her gay brother who is lost leaving behind his old friends for the family’s most recent relocation–and who also thinks he sees the deceased dead.

The level of horror and gore is about that of Shaun of the Dead, enough to establish genre while not becoming a full-on slasher show.  At first this appears to be another story of the Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers variety–black and white good and bad guys and monsters that are evil because ugly, unfamiliar, and different things are always evil.  Fortunately the story catches up in time and the theme becomes that of fellow monster series Grimm, that not all monsters are bad, and sometimes humans are the worst threat of all.

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Last night’s episode of CW′s Arrow brings eight seasons of one of DC Comics’ oldest superheroes to a close as the CW aired the show’s series finale.  Focused on Oliver Queen aka the Green Arrow–one of the costumed characters off to the sidelines over the years in the shadow of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman–the series would be a resounding success for the network and executive Greg Berlanti, sprouting several other DC Comics adaptations under the banner of the Arrowverse.  And what a long, strange trip it has been.  It’s been seven and a half years since I first watched the premiere of CW’s Arrow in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con 2012 at the panel featuring the creators and stars Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy (I reviewed the pilot first here at borg).  My initial reaction found the show a “refreshing, intriguing update to the superhero game,” and “even for a fan of the traditional character’s story, updates made for TV were well thought out and did little to detract from the core of what makes Green Arrow the unique character that has survived as a key comic book character for 70 years,” and that the pilot “deftly managed to alter far less of the source material than, for example, the Green Lantern movie released in 2011, and in doing so created a truer, more refreshing story with appropriate nods to the past, and one that promises to survive, should it find its fan base.”  Who knew that survival would mean greenlighting so many more superhero shows, including The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, Batwoman, and the forthcoming Superman & Lois?

The series accomplished a lot even if it didn’t get everything right.  Arrow suffered when it veered too far from the DC Comics stories, or when it pursued too deeply the more arcane corners of the DC universe, the biggest side trip being the dominance of fan-favorite minor character Felicity Smoak in the series, ultimately knocking Dinah (or Laurel in this version) Lance aside to be Oliver’s romantic partner, which again took center stage in the finale episode.

This winter’s ambitious Crisis on Infinite Earth’s crossover event killed off Oliver Queen in the grand tradition of killing any superhero character (aka until his inevitable return, which we’ve seen in Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks’ comics story arc).  Although the finale itself, “Fadeout,” was much like an old 1980s “filler” episode (with many scenes spliced from past episodes) and like the final Crisis episodes it was about mourning Oliver and preparing for his funeral.  But the penultimate episode, “Green Arrow and the Canaries” (which aired last week), would make for a good spin-off.  That episode took Katie Cassidy’s Laurel Lance (the only actor we ever expected to be Black Canary in 2012), and teamed her up with Katherine McNamara’s Mia (Oliver and Felicity’s daughter trained by Oliver last year), along with Juliana Harkavy’s Dinah Drake, all in a future world of Earth in 2040 (introduced earlier in the series).  How long will the CW Arrowverse continue without its flagship series?  Only time will tell, but viewership already switched over to make The Flash the CW’s #1 watched show.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Rod Serling, eat your heart out.  Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone writers could take some pointers from Eddie Robson′s new novel, Hearts of Oak It’s a far-out science fiction novel with all the right notes of a good supernatural fantasy.  And it has an easy pace and an impending, looming darkness waiting ahead that will keep you planted firmly in your seat until you get to the last page.  Borrowing its title from the popular, age-old song of the British Navy, here the cryptic “hearts of oak” says a lot about the rollercoaster ride for readers that lies ahead.

Taking a cue from the stark, detached, and quirky science fiction mysteries of Adam Christopher’s robot detective in books like Killing is My Business (reviewed previously here at borg), readers, and the protagonists, never quite know what is real and who is real.  What we do know is Iona Taylor has been an architect so long everyone knows her and respects her as the very best there is.  But she is having a particularly bad week as her colleague has died in the collapse of a building.  As she contemplates attending his funeral a new student inquires about private tutoring, and when the student leaves her hat behind the feeling of felt texture in the hat conjures something surreal for Iona–a strange feeling tugging at her, maybe even loosening some long forgotten memories.  After a strange event at the funeral and the destruction of yet another building, Iona is called by the authorities not for her advice, but for questioning, becoming a target of the investigation.  When the prospective student vanishes, Iona must play detective to clear herself, but she might not like what she finds.

Eddie Robson, a writer of Doctor Who and other radio plays and non-fiction works about movies, is a good storyteller.  His narrative reads like a fantasy fable of a king with a talking cat who advises him, in an enchanted city of expansive buildings and replenished resources centered around creating ever higher architecture so the king may relocate his rooms at the very top.  The book evokes parts of great science fiction stories and films of the past without pulling too much from any of them.  But fans of all these works will find some surprisingly good fun in Hearts of Oak: Planet of the Apes, Tron: Legacy, Humans, Alien, Snowpiercer, The Truman Show, Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint, a flip on Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and The Matrix, and a few episodes of your favorite sci-fi TV shows, especially The Twilight Zone.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In The Oliver Stone Experience, writer Matt Zoller Seitz provided fans of Oliver Stone with an incredibly immersive deep-dive into the thought process of the acclaimed and sometimes controversial director.  Spending five years with Stone debating and analyzing the auteur’s films and influences was the stuff for the ultimate fan of his films, bordering on containing too much information–mostly insightful, but sometimes trivial and the stuff of information overload.  But can you really have too much information when you’re talking about your favorite creator?  Probably not, and it’s with the same gusto that Seitz digs into Wes Anderson–the man, the mind, the films.  Seitz admittedly is a fan of Anderson and it shows as he chronicles the writer/director’s life and career in his massive work of essays and photographs, The Wes Anderson Collection, a coffee table hardcover and collectible for every Anderson fan.

In a series of interviews about his films Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom, with two supplemental books available covering The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs (more on those below), Anderson becomes more accessible, and his films more understandable–even for those who aren’t fans of his work.  With original illustrations and production images, Seitz also makes a statement with the design of the book, incorporating the film frames, the quirky nostalgia, and the memory box-like set-ups seen in Anderson films, to highlight and explore the journey the filmmaker has taken with each new film.  The distinct tracking shots and color palettes that define Anderson’s films are featured in shots from the films and in behind the camera images of props, sets, and actors that come together to form these distinct stories.

Readers will find some overload of data here, but it’s also fun to watch a fan who has done his research interviewing a filmmaker.  Equally fun are Anderson’s reactions to complex questions the writer-director never himself pondered about his own work.  Yes, expect plenty of “Hmmm” responses, but much more content of the thought-provoking variety.  Every fan should have a book like this to go to for his/her favorite creator–the closest I’ve seen like this is surprisingly James Cameron’s interviews of directors in his Story of Science Fiction (reviewed here), and the James Bond books Bond on Bond (reviewed here), and The Many Lives of Bond (reviewed here), and the above-mentioned book on Oliver Stone.

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Robert B. Parker′s crime-solving duo made famous by Robert Urich and Avery Brooks in Spenser for Hire is getting its first movie adaptation with the Netflix Studios release, Spenser Confidential.  The film is billed as an action-comedy, and is based on Parker’s star characters from his 40 novels.  Parker used other writers for some of the novels in the series, and this film is reportedly loosely based on the novel Wonderland, penned by Ace Atkins.

The wise-cracking Bostonian Spenser is not new territory for Mark Wahlberg, who will join director Peter Berg in their fifth film project together.  In this first trailer, Wahlberg, the 2017 highest paid actor in the world, makes it hard to differentiate this from the roles he’s played in The Italian Job, The Departed, The Other Guys, Ted, Pain & Gain, Shooter, 2 Guns, Transformers: The Last Knight, and All the Money in the World. But like Tom Cruise and Dwayne Johnson, fans go to Wahlberg movies to see Wahlberg be Wahlberg.

Hawk will be played by Black Panther co-star Winston DukeSpenser Confidential co-stars Alan Arkin (Catch-22, Argo, Gattaca, So I Married an Axe Murderer, The Muppets), Iliza Shlesinger (Instant Family, Elder Millenial), Bokeem Woodbine (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ghostbusters: Afterlife), and Post Malone (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse).

Check out the first trailer for Spenser Confidential:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you have been watching closely, you may notice that streaming platforms, pay channels, and cable networks rely on hit movies for the bulk of their replays.  Try to find some of your favorites outside the mainstream on Netflix, for example, and you’re likely to find mostly films made since streaming itself started to be a thing.  Starz has been one monthly pay channel option that is slowly bringing back more obscure films from the past 50 years, films like Outland and Wolfen.  Another you may have missed is Let Me In from a decade ago, another of those rare genre-bending films that–if you’re lucky enough to just stumble across it–is the kind of film to remind you why you love genre films.  It stars twelve-year-old actors Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee in powerful breakout performances, the same year Moretz would deliver one of the big screen’s best superheroine performances as the cute but foul-mouthed Hit Girl in the movie Kick-Ass with Nicolas Cage, and just after Smit-McPhee would co-star in the dystopian film The Road with Viggo Mortenson.

Is it horror, an early 1980s coming-of-age tale, a love story, crime-suspense, a story of an abusive father, or something more (as Starlord might say, “a bit of both”?).  If you enjoy not knowing what genre of film you’re jumping into, this is for you.  Like Midnight Special, Skeleton Key, 12 Monkeys, and The Others, much of the film will creep by before you even have any certainty as to what is “really” going on.  Writer-director Matt Reeves, who brought audiences the Cloverfield series and the latest Planet of the Apes movies and is working on The Batman for 2021, mixes some truly dramatic moments into Let Me In, while also adding the next must-watch for coming of age movies, suspense-thrillers, horror, and romance.  Just as James Mangold delivered a father-daughter love story in Logan, Reeves puts his own stamp on a compelling tale of a boy and the girl next door.

The clues Reeves delivers along the way will be more obvious to some than others.  Donnie Darko, Fargo, Logan, The Outsiders–Don’t be surprised if Reeves’ deftly drawn scenes evoke feelings from all sorts of big films.  Disturbing, poignant, triumphant, chilling.  You might even get twisted into feeling a certain sympathy for one of the film’s creepier characters.  A police detective played by Elias Koteas (Shooter, Zodiac, Gattaca) will have you think you’re following Mark Ruffalo’s character in another Zodiac movie.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Goldfinger.  It’s surprising that a novel, a word, a song, and a character James Bond is so well known for didn’t arrive until Ian Fleming’s seventh novel in the series.  Goldfinger is a novel to revisit, one of the better of Fleming’s efforts, defining so much about what we know as James Bond today.  That prolonged car chase.  The requisite run-through of the spy agency’s cutting-edge techno-gadgets.  The over-the-top situations.  Already locked in 60 years ago when Goldfinger arrived on paperback racks in 1959 were the franchise’s womanizing, the liquor and dinner delicacies, Fleming’s ability to offend select groups with each subsequent novel (this time his target is Koreans and lesbians), and that same, cold-hearted, hardened spy.  Its film adaptation five years later would become one of the most popular, the third film to feature the British spy, the one that would cement a theme for Bond thanks to a song by John Barry (with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, memorably performed by Shirley Bassey), and a story most faithfully adapted in the popular comic strip of the 1960s (see our review of that version of the story here).

Although all the Bond novels can be read in any order, Goldfinger is a direct sequel to his first, Casino Royale, spinning a character out of the key baccarat game and a chance encounter at an American airport.  The first half of this novel parallels Casino Royale so much readers may think Fleming literally superimposed sections of this over his first.  In Goldfinger we view Bond in a lengthy, and fascinatingly compelling golf game, matching the import and stakes of his famous baccarat game in Casino Royale.  Who knew the anger and strategy that could go through the mind of Bond over a game of golf? And both novels begin with a similar cold, detached kill by Bond.  Chance and coincidence are focal themes.  One of Fleming’s clever strengths here, being aware of including so many coincidences that the story hinges on, is highlighting that fact unapologetically, even acknowledging it through the dialogue of Bond and his foe.

 

For those who viewed the movie version first, they should be pleasantly surprised as the stories track better than most Bond titles.  We meet this incredible villain, Auric Goldfinger, fascinated with and addicted to gold, bent on being the richest man in the world, a master architect of destruction and planning, yet also dumb enough to leave a brand on his own gold bars, and idly wasting his time duping a hotel guest on a game of canasta, which proves to be his downfall.  We also meet his henchman, Oddjob, the short, rotund Korean man with a rather sharp-brimmed bowler hat.

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It’s easy to argue that the very best part of George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels was Darth Maul.  All of his scenes in The Phantom Menace and especially his “Duel of the Fates” with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi were spectacular, a cut above the rest of the three films, thanks in no small part to the physical prowess (and facial expressions) of actor Ray Park.  The lightsaber scene is still unsurpassed as the best Jedi-Sith duel of all eleven Star Wars films.  Yet, as we learned for the third time this past December, just because someone knocks you down a vast Imperial chasm, it doesn’t mean you’re actually dead (we should have learned this lesson from Luke in The Empire Strikes Back).  The animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars resurrected Maul, first as a rebuilt man with robotic legs in season four (an amnesiac found on a “junkyard” planet like where Rey is later seen), then upgraded with more human-like cyborg legs.  Maul will return in a new 12-episode seventh season, voiced again by Sam Witwer, where he will have a rematch with The Clone Wars heroine Ahsoka Tano, former Padawan of Anakin Skywalker.  Maul will again be portrayed by Ray Park, this time using motion capture for the animation.

Somebody at Disney must know we love Darth Maul (we’re thinking The Clone Wars original director Dave Filoni, back again for this final season) because of Maul’s return in Solo: A Star Wars Story, revealed in the film’s climax as the ultimate villain behind the curtain.  Was Emilia Clarke’s Qi-ra intended to be Maul’s Sith student?  Was she about to be?  Will we ever find out?  Oddly enough, we didn’t/couldn’t learn the answer because the film Solo was made toward the end of Star Wars Rebels, which ended its run years after the events in Solo, although it takes place before the events in Solo.  What we do know is Darth Maul is still around for Star Wars Rebels, where he tricks the young series lead Ezra into being his student, and ultimately Daul dies at the hands of… Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is hiding Luke on Tatooine, something that could also be addressed in the forthcoming, yet-to-be-titled Obi-Wan Kenobi live-action series.  Confused yet?  This ordering might help:

  • The Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
  • The Clone Wars
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars Rebels
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars/A New Hope
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Mandalorian
  • The Force Awakens
  • The Last Jedi
  • The Rise of Skywalker

Understanding The Clone Wars’ other fan-favorite character, Ahsoka Tano, voiced again by Ashley Eckstein, pretty much requires another viewing of both The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels to get fully caught up.  Originally she was destined to die at the hands of her Jedi Master, Anakin aka Vader, but then in Star Wars Rebels there was some time travel and parallel world business that prevented her death, plus the return of Emperor Palpatine… even before The Rise of Skywalker.  Tano is considered by many fans to be one of the strongest heroines of the Star Wars saga (along with Leia Organa, Jyn Erso and Rey), appearing in a number of novels and comics outside the TV series.  Her spirit voice can be heard in the battle between Rey and Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker, where fans learned she must have died off-screen sometime before the events in that film.

First disclosed at San Diego Comic-Con last summer, Disney/Lucasfilm is bringing 12 new episodes of The Clone Wars to pay streaming channel Disney+ beginning next month.  The series appears to follow the older, original series animation style versus the updated, more realistic characters and environments of Star Wars Rebels.  Here’s the first trailer for the series, followed by an earlier preview:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Philip K. Dick′s 1972 novel We Can Build You, his 22nd novel, has its strengths, the first half of the novel full of several thought-provoking ideas that each would have been better served pared down as one of Dick’s fantastic short stories.  From there it slides precipitously off the cliff into the incomprehensible–an attempt at showing a protagonist with an unstable mind inside what is by all other indications the set-up for a future America sci-fi story.  Originally written in 1962 and not published for a decade, and released first as A. Lincoln, Simulacrum, the story is centered on Louis Rosen, an entrepreneur in 1982 with questionable business acumen who co-owns a musical organ company.  We Can Build You begins to illustrate what it might be like to build a new race of artificial humans, previewing many specific elements that would become the framework of many later films, novels, and shows (like the Humans television series 45 years later).  The “simulacra” business branches off as a natural spin-off of a keyboard type organ that interacts with the mind in the future from the 1962 perspective–simulacra being a favorite early sci-fi construct in Dick’s works, also called a Replicant or android in his other works.

For a few dozen pages Dick examines what it is to be alive, for a human or a sentient robot, this time in a new way, showing two simulacra, one a nearly perfect construct of Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war during the Civil War, and later, a simulacra of President Lincoln himself.  Why?  Because of America’s fascination with the Civil War following the commemoration of its centennial in 1961 (when Dick was writing the novel).  How these highly functioning automatons react to these businessmen in the Pacific Northwest “in the future” and the ideas to use them concocted by the story’s wealthy progenitor to Elon Musk form the best sections of the book.  The biggest struggle is with the second half of the novel, when Louis, who serves as the novel’s narrator–with no prior warning–becomes fixated on his partner’s daughter, named Pris.  Louis slips rapidly into some form of schizophrenia, obsessed with the 18-year-old, and the reader becomes aware he also has the unfortunate malady of being a textbook unreliable narrator.

 

Was any part of this novel real?  Was the infatuation never mutual (like with Quentin Tarentino’s insane brother in From Dusk Till Dawn?).  Did his organ company really propose making simulacra as entertainment to re-enact the Civil War, or is the reader crazy for even believing that could have been a legitimate plot point?  Was Pris real or only a figment of his mind?  Did his brother really have an “upside down face” (Dick describes it as some kind of mutation of some future people) or Louis really believed this because of his mental disease and his false reality?  Was anyone real?  Every step of the way modern readers familiar with Dick’s more famous work Blade Runner (adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) will see the inspiration for the Replicant also named Pris in that later work, not published until a decade after We Can Build You, and will question whether this Pris is a simulacra, too, or something else.

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