Category: Backstage Pass


It was only a few months ago I reviewed Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks here at borg, a film chronicling the challenges and rise of Chinese action movies, including a segment on the legendary martial artist and actor, Bruce Lee.  At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, one of the Grand Jury Prize nominees was a documentary exclusively devoted to Lee, a film called Be Water, titled from the personal philosophy he shared with the world, “be formless, shapeless, like water… be water, my friend.”  A documentary that has received much advance praise and film festival kudos, director Bao Nguyen’s film will premiere to general audiences this Sunday as part of EPSN’s 30 for 30 series.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

In the realm of cool it’s really hard not to begin with something like Bruce Brown’s 1966 surfing documentary The Endless Summer.  Whether or not you’ve ever tried to surf or even been to the beach, the carefree attitude of these 1960s surfers is infectious.  Brown’s follow-up in 1994, The Endless Summer II, showed us what changed–and what hadn’t changed–in the intervening 30 years.  A documentary airing the rest of this year on Starz provides another perspective on catching waves.  It’s Shorebreak: The Clark Little Story, a highly-praised, multiple film festival pick in 2016 and 2017.

Clark “Turbo” Little is “the award-winning photographer with the largest social media following in the world,” who carved his own niche in the coastal photography market.  While other photographers were clogging beaches trying to get the best shot of the most dangerous waves and those attempting to surf them, Little started taking photographs of a world nobody else was paying any attention to: the shorebreak–that zone where the waves hammer the beach, and the photographer takes repeated poundings to get his perfect image.  In the documentary we watch director Peter King film Little as he films the unique natural formations that occur inside the waves as they slam him into the surf.  The result is a wealth of breathtaking photos that have been featured at international museums including the Smithsonian Institution, in advertisements, in outdoor magazines, and even in a memorable National Geographic Magazine spread.  Now a full-time career for Little, his clients include Apple, Nike, Nikon, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, Toyota, Anheuser Busch, Starbucks, Whole Foods, and more.  Little has filmed both stills and video on the North Shore of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Big Island, California, Japan, and French Polynesia, and published two books, The Shorebreak Art of Clark Little and Shorebreak

Shorebreak: The Clark Little Story, reveals Little’s pathway to creating his photography subject of choice.  It’s a similar kind of mellow ride as found in Bruce Brown’s surfing documentaries–the kind of movie to meditate to or focus in closely with the benefit of quality HD and Little’s beautiful imagery.  Little’s work can cause some sore muscles or even a broken neck if not done properly, but his work doesn’t have that tense risk factor of the big surf crowd.  Yet he seems to be embraced by the community, walking the walk and talking that very cool vocabulary familiar to the beach community.  Little shoots much of his work from nearby his home in Haleiwa, Hawaii.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

From Hong Kong to the U.S. and Australia to Uganda, Australian director Serge Ou and writer Grady Hendrix track the scope of the Hong Kong kung fu movie industry and its pop culture influence on the world in the documentary Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks, now streaming this month on Netflix.  Splicing interviews with kung fu legends of the past with new discussions with martial artists and actors influenced by them, Ou offers up a surprisingly rich look at how and why kung fu movies gained an international following that continues to this day via Jackie Chan comedies, the Matrix movies (with a sequel due in theaters next year), and new television series like Wu Assassins and Iron Fist. 

Beneath what is in essence an overview of the genre is a smart mixture of social and cultural commentary on a global phenomenon centered on an artform mixing athleticism, dance, and grace.  Kung fu made its way to American audiences with Tom Laughlin in Billy Jack, and into millions of homes via the Kung Fu series.  This was paralleled by Bruce Lee movies and lesser films (they call them Bruce-sploitation) from China and U.S. studios, direct-to-video crotch-kicking and “squirrel-grabbing” action on VHS tapes in video stores, heroines leading the way as a sub-genre, eventually moving to black and inner city audiences embracing the culture, starting with martial artist and actor Jim Kelly (who co-starred with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon), re-emerging later as an influence on hip hop music.  The genre got even bigger boosts with Jackie Chan heavy-stunt comedies, followed by The Matrix and the Academy Awards arrival of the genre with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Chinese co-productions with other nations, and actors of Chinese background in the mainstream outside of Asia would eventually come along.

Viewers meet (or revisit) early kung fu icons Cheng Pei-Pei and Sammo Hung in new interviews, along with Billy Banks, who would turn the genre into his own fortune via the creation of the Tae Bo workout, early American female kung fu star Cynthia Rothrock, martial artist Richard Norton, plus from the 21st century shows, Iron Fist actor Jessica Henwick, Wu Assassins actor JuJu Chan, Doctor Strange actor Scott Adkins, and Marvel stuntwoman and choreographer Amy Johnston, among others.  It’s all interspersed with great action sequences and other clips from more than 100 films.  A theme underscoring much of kung fu movie history is a distinct lack of safety standards, with more than one participant in the documentary stressing that Hong Kong kung fu movies couldn’t be made anywhere else for that reason.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Like most things about baseball, The Battered Bastards of Baseball reflects as much about an era of American culture, economics, and politics as it tells a wonderfully engrossing story about a brief history of the sport.   Independent baseball–privately-owned teams unaffiliated with the Major League Baseball conglomerate–was a thing of the past when Portland, Oregon’s minor league baseball team the Portland Beavers left town.  It was the early 1970s and Portlanders weren’t spending their time or money on minor league games.  Then enters the well-known TV actor Bing Russell, stepping off his last of 14 seasons on Bonanza where he played a deputy sheriff.  Russell appeared in everything back then, from Westerns from Wagon Train to Rawhide, and modern fare like The Munsters, The Rockford Files, and The Twilight Zone.  There begins an underdog story, a mix of The Bad News Bears, Necessary Roughness, and Moneyball.

If you’re lucky enough to trip into the Netflix documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball, you’ll wonder where this story is headed.  It’s a brief history of 1970s Portland and national baseball, and then actor/movie star Kurt Russell and his mother Louise Russell begin discussing his father in a typical documentary format.  It turns out father Bing had a life-long affinity for the game, even being part of a significant piece of baseball history as mascot for the New York Yankees, befriending Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, and Lou Gehrig, who gave Bing the bat he used in his last game before retiring.  That love for the game apparently never left Bing, who concocted an idea to bring baseball right back to Portland by taking the entrepreneurial route–forming a pure upstart baseball team to play minor league ball.  Resurrecting the independent team model he would hold an open tryout for the new Portland Mavericks–if you build it they will come.  And they did.  Players rejected from the big leagues, some retired, many with paunches, and pre-movie star Kurt on the team, too, some players older than most teams would favor, and a bunch of hairy-faced guys decades before it became the “in” thing–all would come together to form a motley band of brothers that would earn a crack at the pennant.  With a 30-man roster, and Bing’s personal brand of fun, fans packed the stadium again, the team setting a record for the highest attendance in minor league history, blazing the trail in other ways, naming the first woman general manager in baseball, Lanny Moss.  But like all good things it seems, a villain would enter the picture to wreck it all.

The real deal: Kurt Russell playing in the Minor Leagues with the Portland Mavericks.

With that nostalgic, cheery vibe of Ivan Reitman’s 1970s movie Meatballs or a dialed-back Slap Shot, Bing’s grandsons Chapman Way and Maclain Way splice together both baseball, Hollywood, and Portland nostalgia to assemble a completely engaging, crowd-pleasing story of underdogs and misfits and the pied piper who led them.  If you remember that every baseball stadium in 1970s America–and every grade school–had kids chomping on Big League Chew–you’ll learn that connection to the Mavericks, too.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Following up on The Toys That Made Us (previously reviewed here at borg), Netflix’s surprise hit documentary series leaning on viewers’ nostalgia with a look behind select high-profile toy lines of the past, last December the streaming provider added a new series based on the same formula, The Movies That Made Us.  The series looked at four movies in four hour-long episodes, including the modern Christmas staples, Home Alone and Die Hard.  This December, Netflix is adding two new surveys of holiday movies to the mix: Jon Favreau’s Elf (2003) and Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).  Check out a preview below.

Continue reading

We watched them get the band back together the first time with Muppet Guys Talking, a fun documentary we discussed two years ago here at borg.  Now not even sheltering at home will hold back the fun-loving Muppet Guys, who are returning once again to share some more about Muppet creator Jim Henson, and the incredible creative process and their experience as Muppet performers, all while earning some money for front-line COVID-19 workers.  Part in honor of Jim Henson, who passed away 30 years ago, and part reason to get some of our favorite people back together virtually, it’s all happening this Saturday, and everyone is invited.

Continue reading

One of the best subjects I have discussed with a celebrity was asking Peter Mayhew–the actor known for playing Chewbacca from Star Wars–to talk about working with the Muppets when he guest-starred on The Muppet Show with Mark Hamill as Luke and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO in January 1980.  Mayhew beamed as the memories flooded back and he described two incredible worlds he was immersed in–interacting with these great furry characters from television just as if they were real people, and looking down below them to see an entire separate world of creators sprawled across each other with their hands working in every direction like a giant work of magic.  Frank Oz, the actor and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, and the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and many more, has created a new documentary with five of the original Muppet performers to recount the creation of their timeless fantasy world.

Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, will be available for fans everywhere for the first time in March.  Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz, who also was co-director of The Dark Crystal and director of movies from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to HouseSitter, brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Gobo Fraggle, and the original Saturday Night Live character Scred; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Waldorf/Robert Marley, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh (and recurring Law and Order actress); and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.

Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, the late Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the late Richard Hunt, with Gonzo, Floyd, Kermit, Fozzie, and Scooter.

The performers of so many beloved characters discuss their individual approaches to creating memorable characters and the impact Jim Henson had on their lives and work.  This is all a great tie-in to the 35th anniversary return of The Dark Crystal to theaters next month (check out our preview here and the Fathom Events website here for more information on that event).  For a taste of some of the fun to be had in Muppet Guys Talking, check out the website for the show, MuppetGuysTalking.com, and these quick previews:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Over the past decade I have reviewed most of the books from publisher Running Press chronicling Turner Classic Movies’ in-depth research into the best of classic and genre films.  Yesterday I looked at the 2016 book TCM’s The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter, by film historian Jeremy Arnold.  Today I’m reviewing and previewing a new volume in what has become a film library for the film historian.  It’s the second volume pulled from the 2001-2020 TCM series The Essentials, TCM’s The Essentials: 52 More Must-See Movies and Why They Matter, a very different look at film than the first volume, with some interesting features–and great movies.  We have a peek inside the book for borg readers below.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Twenty years ago the last episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered, and for its anniversary a crowdfunding project funded a feature-length retrospective on the series.  Deep Space Nine: What We Left Behind will be familiar to any fan of Deep Space Nine who has delved into the special features found in the DVD sets or online via YouTube.  It’s full of those reminiscences, albeit updated, diehard fans have viewed countless times in interviews with cast and crew and via panels at the annual Star Trek convention in Las Vegas.  But the unique feature for this new documentary is a reunion of writers from the series who sit down and block out what a possible next episode of the series might include.

Deep Space Nine showrunner and executive producer Ira Steven Behr leads the documentary, hitting the high points of his seven years creating Deep Space Nine, intercutting new and old interviews with key and supporting cast members, a few members of the production staff, co-creator Rick Berman and the man representing the business side of production, Kerry McCluggage, former chairman of Paramount Television Group.  Deep Space Nine: What We Left Behind does not look closely at the production from a design, costumes, props, music, or technical standpoint, but is almost exclusively focused on the writers and actors, and why the crew thinks its show was different from competing programs in the 1990s (although some art production familiar faces including Herman Zimmerman, Michael and Denise Okuda, and Doug Drexler make brief appearances).

The writers room reunion of Behr, Ronald D. Moore, René Echevarria, Hans Beimler, and Robert Hewitt Wolfe talking through a spec script idea for a new 20th anniversary reunion episode is a great guide for anyone wanting a glimpse at the process of developing a television show.  Backed by a cartoon art/Ken Burns-esque multimedia mock-up of characters and sets by artists Magdalena Marinova, Kai De Mello-Folsom, and Luke Snailham, it’s a better presentation format than watching more talking heads.  The result feels quite like a Brannon Braga or Ronald D. Moore series finale episode (see Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “All Good Things…” and Star Trek Voyager’s “Endgame”), complete with a time jump and appearances by grown-up regular players, in this case Jake Sisko and Molly O’Brien.  Vedek Kira?  Captain Nog?  With some make-up and new costumes, the writers’ episode creation would have actually made a fine final episode to the series, providing some resolution to the fate of Avery Brooks′ Captain Sisko.

Continue reading

tcm summer movie cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re just a little over the midway point of Summer 2021, so there’s plenty of time to squeeze the pulp out of the sun and fun.  Summer means movies, often big movies, and Turner Classic Movies’ latest in-depth research into the best of classic and genre films continues in the new book, TCM’s Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drenched Classics available now here at Amazon.  Think about it–What would you recommend for the 30 best summer movies of all time?  Writer John Malahy makes his selections, and pulls in an additional 30 movies as suggested “double features,” meaning you have 60 key suggestions that will either re-affirm your own picks, or more likely, provide at least a few new films you may want to try out.  Over the past decade I have reviewed most of the books from publisher Running Press’s chronicle from the TCM library, and this latest is on the heels of TCM’s The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter and its sequel (reviewed here and here least year).  Today I’m reviewing and previewing the new volume in what has become a major film library for the film historian.  You may quibble with some of the picks, but I bet you’ll find at least 20 movies that make your own list of movies or at least help get you in the spirit of summer.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: