Archive for July, 2021


THE ICE ROAD

Review by C.J. Bunce

Sometimes you need a good Liam Neeson movie, even if it’s a B-movie, or a direct-to-Netflix movie, because sometimes those movie have just enough–just enough Liam Neeson, or just enough action.  Unfortunately The Ice Road is not a good Liam Neeson movie, nor is it even salvageable as an action movie.  I wrote a mixed review for Liam Neeson’s Cold Pursuit (reviewed here), which looks very much like The Ice Road if you believe the promotional materials, but somehow it’s more like the painfully bad, also wintry Polar or Daughter of the Wolf in its writing and execution.  It’s two years since Neeson stated he was done with making movies, and audiences will keep watching until he gets another right, and since then we’ve seen him in Men in Black: International, a great use of Neeson, plus he’s made four more movies with six more in production.  His fans have a lot to look forward to.  but if this is what Ice Road Truckers is about, I’m glad I’ve never seen it.  So why doesn’t The Ice Road work?

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Bullet Train cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill is an example of a spectacular Japanese novel that translated perfectly to the English language and Western audiences in the movie adaptation, Edge of Tomorrow, later renamed Live. Die. Repeat.  Kotaro Isaka’s Bullet Train, initially re-titled from its original name Maria Beetle, is the next Japanese novel on its way to the big screen, not starring Tom Cruise but Brad Pitt, expected to arrive in theaters next year.  It’s not what you’d expect, which is good or bad, depending on your tastes.  Despite that evocative title, it’s surprisingly not an action thriller.  It’s billed as social satire, like the French graphic novel turned Chris Evans movie and TV series, Snowpiercer, and that’s pretty much what readers should expect from Bullet Train, the novel, arriving in its first English edition in U.S. book stores next week.  If Snowpiercer was your thing, you may want to pre-order Bullet Train now here at Amazon.

The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Unstoppable, Murder on the Orient Express, Strangers on a Train, The Lady Vanishes, Von Ryan’s Express, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Silver Streak, Source Code, and yes, Snowpiercer, are the top 10 movies you probably think of featuring train action (oh, and don’t forget the original action movie, 1903’s The Great Train Robbery, discussed here and remade several times, plus props are due for train flicks The Commuter and Trading Places).  In each of these, a train goes out of control, or it gets highjacked, or hit by an avalanche, someone is kidnapped or killed, or the train is the target of a terrorist attack–all the kinds of dangers that couple well with a fictional speeding train.

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Mouse Guard is the bestselling series of graphic novels in a classic square children’s storybook format by author-illustrator David Petersen.  Petersen has stacked up awards for his series like no other comics creator, including for Mouse Guard: Black Axe, the Harvey Award in 2014, for Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard Volume 1, the Eisner Award in 2011, for Mouse Guard: Fall: 1152, two Eisner Awards in 2008, for Mouse Guard: Winter: 1152, the Eisner Award in 2008, and for Mouse Guard: The Role Playing Game, the Origins Award in 2009, among others.  A movie with Fox was in pre-production before the Disney-Fox merger cancelled it.  Now fans of the internationally popular series can get their hands on a new book of stories in its original single issue format.  Mouse Guard: The Owlhen Caregiver & Other Tales is Petersen at his best, and the three new stories are timeless–the stuff of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales and Aesop’s fables.

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The kids aren’t all right because they released something vile from this old well…

The most exciting trailer this year comes from a film Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray have been interviewed about since Ghostbusters II.  Taking a cue from Halloween, Predator, and Terminator, the franchise did some skipping of reboots and made Ghostbusters: Afterlife a direct sequel to Ghostbusters II.  The lead role is for Mckenna Grace, who has appeared in lots of genre films and shows (Ready Player One, Independence Day: Resurgence, Captain Marvel, and horror franchises: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Annabelle, Amityville, and Hill House).  In a nice nod to the late, great comedy writer and Ghostbusters co-star and writer Harold Ramis, Grace and Stranger Things co-star Finn Wolfhard (who wore his own Ghostbusters suit in his series) will play the grandkids of Ramis’s Dr. Egon Spengler.  Shifting to a prairie setting from the city, the tone feels more like the creepy and cool Stranger ThingsAnnie Potts’s return is refreshing in this trailer, along with (at least) the voice of Dan Aykroyd.

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Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) plays the grade school teacher, and the kids’ mom is played by Carrie Coon, who played the creepy antagonist in the second season of Sinner as well as in Thanos’ army in Avengers: Infinity War.  Plus Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Gozer-everyone but Rick Moranis–have been confirmed for at least a cameo.  And there’s an El Camino and the return of the Ecto-1 with some extra features, and no doubt some animated series tie-ins and Easter eggs.  What more could you want?

Check out the new trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife:

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Little Mermaid cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

One hundred and eighty-five years after Hans Christian Andersen first penned his fairy tale The Little Mermaid, the most famous fish out of water story continues to charm readers of all ages.  Countless editions of Andersen’s famous story, along with his other famous works, have been printed and reprinted, and adapted for the small screen and big screen with the latest–a live-action version–coming from Disney by the end of the year, incorporating songs from the studio’s 1989 version.  But if you haven’t read the original fairy tale lately–or at all–you may be surprised to learn how much closer the 1984 live-action movie Splash was to the original.  With the new film on its way, what better time to revisit the original, and we’ve found an incredible new, lavishly illustrated edition from designers MinaLima that makes a great storybook to read to kids, full of interactive elements.  Check out a preview of The Little Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales for borg readers below, along with some details of what you’ll find inside, including some important fairy tales everyone, of every age, should know.

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Castle in the Air Westlake

Review by C.J. Bunce

The New York Times once called Donald E. Westlake the Neil Simon of the crime novel, and that’s a pretty accurate comparison.  But his work is so much more than that.  In the world of Hard Case Crime reprints from writers of the past, Erle Stanley Gardner was the master of hard-boiled detective tropes, full of real characters and master of the human condition, Mickey Spillane wrote about those dark shadows in the corners of cities large and small, grabbing readers and sucking them into the worldbuilding of his stories, and Max Allan Collins is the craftsman keeping all the best of the genre alive with new stories today.  Donald E. Westlake was the entire package–his work cinematic in its descriptions, laser-sharp in its details, wondrous in its scope, full of intrigue, action, adventure, and yes, brilliantly funny humor.  Each one of his adventures is a sprawling production like the best James Bond movie you ever watched (in part why his Forever and a Death made our Best of the Decade list this year).

Our look at the works of master crime writer Donald E. Westlake continues with his 26th novel published under his own name and 73rd novel in all, Castle in the Air, reprinted by Hard Case Crime for the first time in 40 years.  It’s The Bank Job meets It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and it’s flat out the best retro read we’ve reviewed this year.

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One of the greatest–and most widely popular–chapters of the 55 years of Star Trek is coming back to the theaters this summer.  The 35th anniversary of the film that expanded Star Trek beyond sci-fi fandom, 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home hits theaters again across the country in a limited release as Paramount Pictures partners with Fathom Events.  It was all about having fun while fighting for Earth’s very survival with the beloved crew of the starship Enterprise, the film that wrapped up a trilogy of sorts after the death and rebirth of Spock.  It’s one of the best-received time travel movies of all time, and it sparked a generation of environmentalists who would actually take heed of the film’s cautionary story to go on to save endangered whales in real life.

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Some of the best dystopian futurism in years came to a conclusion this year in the pages of Titan Comics’ Blade Runner 2019, the official comic book sequel to the cult classic 1982 science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott.  Co-written by Michael Green, the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of Logan, Blade Runner 2049, and Murder on the Orient Express, and prolific comics writer Mike Johnson (Batman, Star Trek, Transformers) with artwork from Andres Guinaldo (Nightwing, Justice League Dark), this year’s Blade Runner 2019 story arc found an ex-Blade Runner named Ash returning from the Off-World colonies to the rain-soaked future Los Angeles.  A new Replicant will lead an animated series from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim this fall, taking Philip K. Dick’s Replicants into the untapped territory of the year 2032 in Blade Runner: Black Lotus.  Check out the very Alita: Battle Angel-evoking series coming this fall in this first trailer, released at San Diego Comic-Con 2021 aka Comic-Con @Home this weekend:

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Momoa Dune

I don’t like sand.  It’s all coarse and rough and irritating.  And it gets everywhere.

We have yet to see anyone get a live-action Dune to be exciting yet, and a new San Diego Comic-Con 2021 trailer for the new Denis Villeneuve movie doesn’t give us much hope it will happen anytime soon.  One of the reasons Star Wars was so successful was that George Lucas cast relative unknowns in his leading roles, and the new trailer for Dune reveals why that was a good thing.  It’s not Frank Herbert’s characters jumping off the screen but familiar faces that stand out, like Aquaman Jason Momoa and his trademark comedy one-liners, Galaxy Guardian Dave Bautista, Star Warrior Apocalyptic Oscar Isaac, Spider-friend Zendaya, and Thanos himself Josh Brolin.  (Were there only superhero movies to cast from?)  The images in this week’s trailer for Dune, the latest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sand… er… spice planet world, could easily be spliced from the wide-angle, sparse landscapes of Villeneuve’s recent Blade Runner 2049.  He also is conjuring bits of cinema’s sandy sci-fi heritage, like George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, and you may even recognize shots straight out of the Star Wars J.J. Abrams movies (and the prequels), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, The Chronicles of Riddick, and John Carter of Mars.  You’ll see a lot going on in this trailer, which inexplicably adapts only the first part of Herbert’s novel.  But is there anything new to get audiences back in the theater?

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   sdcc 2021 attendee

In-person cancellations have not kept every event this summer from canceling entirely.  One of those is typically one of the summer’s biggest events, San Diego Comic-Con.  As with last year’s Comic-Con At Home, events for SDCC 2021 are proceeding this week, once again providing a rare opportunity for fans of all things pop culture a chance to sit through the kinds of panels you might see were you to attend in person in any regular year–without standing overnight in lines.  You can even grab a lanyard off the rack, print your own badge (for you and your pets), cosplay with your family, and load the panels up on as big of a screen as you have.  Check out some suggestions for building your own fun convention week experience with SDCC 2021 below.

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