Category: Movies


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Review by C.J. Bunce

Three things should get you to take a second look at both the 2013 movie Snowpiercer and the new behind the scenes book Snowpiercer: The Art and Making of the Film, just released from Titan Books.  First, it’s been a really hot summer almost everywhere and the movie is all about freezing cold temps.  Second, everyone loves Chris Evans, and it’s time to revisit his work outside of the supersuit and shield.  Third, after winning three Oscars in 2020, for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture, everyone should also go back and revisit the works of Korean director Bong Joon-ho.  After the film suffered a long and clunky path to theaters thanks to the Weinstein scandal, the end result–even if it was far removed from its source material–was an interesting action movie, notable for actor Song Kang-ho, too.  It’s been seven years since Snowpiercer, the highly, almost ludicrously improbable story of a train carrying the last humans on Earth akin to Noah’s Ark, finally arrived in wide release (see my review here), but now it gets a thorough investigation in Snowpiercer: The Art and Making of the Film, which was also delayed, this time for the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the intervening years a prequel tie-in TV series took off.  For all the above reasons, it’s a good time to hunker down and take a look at this book and its one-of-a-kind vision.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

That’s showbiz.

It sums up every feature on the brilliant Amazon Studios series The Last Tycoon, a loose adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s incomplete final novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon With a nine-episode first season only touching on the threads of Fitzgerald’s original ideas, just as the characters begin to fall apart in the season’s cliffhanger finale, Amazon Studios does what studios do–tightens it belt and cancels the series.  It helps to know this before you watch this one-season-wonder (we’ll add it to the list), because you will get pulled into the world of 1936 Hollywood in a way you could only be reeled in by a genuine 1930s picture.  Even if it was all filmed in Canada in an unthinkably short 65 day production.

The Last Tycoon does it all differently and gets it all right–it’s the series we hoped the film Mank would be.  It’s not an exact adaptation of Fitzgerald’s work, but the bones are there, and creator/writer/executive producer/director Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Terminator: Dark Fate) creates something perfect, probably better than any Fitzgerald adaptation you’ve ever seen, with some of your favorite genre actors.

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In many ways the spy protagonist Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron in this year’s action blockbuster Atomic Blonde, will be barely recognizable to fans of writer Antony Johnston and artist Sam Hart’s Lorraine Broughton, the heroine of the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City The most obvious change is certainly that Broughton is not drawn blonde in the pages of the comic, but the modifications go much further.  Yet, if you can separate the source material from the film, both can be appreciated for the great stories and the visuals that both offer.

We reviewed the film Atomic Blonde here at borg.com back in August.  The original Oni Press graphic novel is now available in a movie tie-in edition.  Atomic Blonde is no doubt a catchy and excellent title, and matches the violent and dynamic tone of the film.  But The Coldest City is also a great title, carrying its own clever double meaning.  In the book’s pages Sam Hart draws a black and white spy story that echoes the bleakness of the Cold War territory Antony Johnston’s tale revisits.  Top spy Broughton is serious about her job, she’s street savvy, and has years of experience when she’s brought in for a debriefing at the beginning of the story.  Hart’s art style is striking, and like Jean-Marc Rochette’s artistry in his graphic novel Snowpiercer (reviewed here), the panels aren’t cluttered with detail, and he instead relies on simple, dark lines with shadows to emphasize the mood.  From every angle The Coldest City is an engaging “end of the Cold War” story.

As different as Atomic Blonde appears to be from the graphic novel, the film is substantially faithful to its source.  You might find the differences in the book and movie analogous to a comparison of the film version of Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig to Ian Fleming’s original novel (we reviewed that one here).  The imagery is different but the author’s intent comes through, albeit in an updated package.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In that niche area of dystopian dog movies (that’s the adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and his Dog and… ?), Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs not only soars to the top of the list, it’s a great film in all sorts of categories: it’s new, yet a classic children’s story, it’s a timely political allegory, and it’s a solid movie about dogs.  We knew Anderson had a grasp on animals in his surprisingly good Fantastic Mr. Fox, but audiences will soon learn he also understands dogs and dog behavior.  The trailers don’t really prepare moviegoers for what lies ahead.  Sure, it’s about an island of exiled dogs so of course audiences are in for a bleak ride, complete with at least one dead canine, lots of dogs in peril as well as many mutilated and diseased.  Yet Isle of Dogs is surprisingly grand in scope, thought-provoking, and even heartwarming.  And epic–don’t be surprised if you start thinking about the closest Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick movie while you’re glued to the screen.  Despite some witty dialogue in places from Anderson’s smart script, this is less comedy and more drama than his past efforts.

The dystopian world is better realized, bigger in scope, and yet more personal than typical futurist visions, beyond that dismal hopeless doom of Mad Max, The Postman, Escape From New York, Twelve Monkeys, Snowpiercer, Looper, Logan’s Run, and District 9.  Isle of Dogs is probably closer to WALL-E and Planet of the Apes in feel.  Isle of Dogs is gloomy and dark and bleak, but it offers a ray of hope for the future from a 12-year-old Japanese boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) and a freckle-faced, high school exchange student named Tracy from Ohio (Greta Gerwig), both out to defy an autocratic government’s ban on dogs.  That’s thanks in major part to the vivid, eye-popping world of future Japan filmed by celebrated Aardman Animations stop-motion cinematographer Tristan Oliver (A Close Shave, The Wrong Trousers, Chicken Run), and the encompassing sounds from this year’s Oscar-winning composer for The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter series, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, The Golden Compass).  As to the stop-motion, audiences can marvel at how far Hollywood has come since the Ray Harryhausen era.  The film follows Anderson’s design choices first seen in his Fantastic Mr. Fox and only continues to add to the unbelievable magical movements carried forward by Aardman’s achievements.  And instead of a typical Romantic, programmatic score, Desplat’s best choices can be found in his use of loud, almost frightening Japanese taiko drums, Fumio Hayasaka’s haunting theme from Seven Samurai, the more celebratory bits from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije, and a simple recurring dog whistle.

Anderson offers up admirable tributes to Japanese culture and film, everywhere from costume design to modern TV reporting stylings, to Hayao Miyazaki themes and Akira Kurosawa landscapes, to traditional imagery like beautiful ukiyo-e on walls and cherry blossoms floating by at the right time.  Isle of Dogs finds a firm footing on the children’s classics shelf of your film library, alongside Roald Dahl’s Mr. Fox but also his Willy Wonka.  It also has much in common in tone with Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal.  The political allegory is thick and layered, a mix of the nuanced and the obvious, a mirror reflection of society that you’d have found years ago in a Frank Capra movie.  Science is mocked, scorned, and worse.  Experts are traitorous and immigrants are exiled.  It’s also graphic in parts at a baser level, showing an animated meal from a dumpster with creepy crawlies that may make your stomach turn, plus an open chest surgery, bloody, torn body parts, and dogs with missing eyes and open wounds.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With the unique signature of the only director that could pull off a film like The Shape of Water, have no doubt it is worthy of a parade of Oscar recognition.  As for direction The Shape of Water is a triumph for Guillermo del Toro’s sheer bravery in choices.  As for acting it’s the perfect mix of the four top acting tiers: a superb performance in a challenging role by a lead actor and actress, and a superb performance in a challenging role by a supporting actor and actress.  del Toro’s story, too, is novel, soaring and magnificent, even if it may be derivative of many fairy tales, folklore, and past fantastical films.  In fact it’s del Toro’s intelligent reimagining of stories from Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast on a backbone of films like King Kong, Splash, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon that lends some familiarity and authenticity to its story and characters to touch audiences.  Ultimately the finely crafted assemblage is greater than the sum of its parts, forming the stuff of those classic best pictures of the year of decades past.

The idyllic early 1960s is stripped of its patina to a very real and difficult world beyond the happy families as seen in the slick marketing and television shows of the day, at least for the average person trying to find their way.  A mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) work in a quasi-government corporate facility as janitors.  When a Fed named Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings a gilled, man-like creature (Doug Jones) he captured in South America to the facility for study, Elisa covertly befriends it.  When Strickland and his military cronies decide it’s time to vivisect the creature, Elisa enlists a friend in her apartment complex (Richard Jenkins) to try to get the creature to safety, with even Zelda and a lab researcher (Michael Stuhlbarg) joining along in her plan.

The tragedy of Oscar season is the lack of nomination for Doug Jones, the modern Man of a Thousand Faces (and bodysuits), who has played every character in commercials from McDonald’s Mac Tonight to one of the terrifying Gentlemen of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Marvel’s Silver Surfer, to the star of del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and ghosts in his Crimson Peak and Abe Sapien in his Hellboy series, and he is currently headlining Star Trek Discovery, again in prosthetics.  It is a truth that no other actor has the experience and physical skill and talent required to perform in the roles he is sought out for, and his “Amphibian Man” in this film is a showcase of his singular grace, elegance, and style.  His understanding of animal movements and reactions is impeccable.  Sally Hawkins, seen in countless performances (a standout in Fingersmith, Layer Cake, Tipping the Velvet, Blue Jasmine, where she was also nominated for an Oscar, and Never Let Me Go, among other films, and even a bit part in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), perfectly captures a life in silence and a hopeless romantic.  Her piercing stares at Strickland nearly slice him in two.  Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures, Snowpiercer, Medium, The X-Files) plays Zelda for laughs for the most part, and her ramblings about her lazy husband and her support of Elisa are wonderful.  Richard Jenkins (Silverado, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Witches of Eastwick, Wolf, Absolute Power, Into Thin Air, Jack Reacher, Bone Tomahawk, LBJ) takes on a role as neighbor Giles, a part like nothing audiences have seen him play before, a down on his luck ad man, he is boxed in from gaining the love that he seeks.  del Toro makes it possible for each moviegoer to see himself/herself in each of these characters.

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Although DC Entertainment seemed to sweep the spotlight at this San Diego Comic-Con this year, Marvel Studios released one noteworthy trailer late today.  We’ve said it before: not since Robert Downey, Jr. was cast as Tony Stark has the studio really nailed its casting efforts as with Benedict Cumberbatch’s match to the classic comic book characterAnd he looks spot-on in this new trailer.

This latest Marvel Cinematic Universe entry is directed by Scott Derrickson, known for his horror work in films like Deliver us From Evil, the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Doctor Strange co-stars Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes, State of Play) as Christine Palmer, Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia, Snowpiercer) as The Ancient One, Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, The Martian) as Baron Mordo, Amy Landecker (Revenge, Early Edition), Scott Adkins (Expendables 2, The Bourne Ultimatum), and Michael Stuhlbarg (Hugo) as Nicodemus West.

Marvel also issued a new poster at Comic-Con today:

Strange poster

Check out the second trailer released for Doctor Strange:

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Doctor-Strange-Poster

Not since Robert Downey, Jr. was cast as Tony Stark has the studio really nailed its casting efforts as with Benedict Cumberbatch’s match to the classic comic book character and lead in Doctor Strange.  A new trailer is out, along with a new poster (above).

This latest Marvel Cinematic Universe entry is directed by Scott Derrickson, known for his horror work in films like Deliver us From Evil, the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, so expect a darker Marvel film coming your way.

Doctor Strange co-stars Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes, State of Play) as Christine Palmer, Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia, Snowpiercer) as The Ancient One, Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, The Martian) as Baron Mordo, Amy Landecker (Revenge, Early Edition), Scott Adkins (Expendables 2, The Bourne Ultimatum), and Michael Stuhlbarg (Hugo) as Nicodemus West.

Strange

Check out the first trailer for the film:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After a long and clunky path to theaters that we first discussed in our review of the graphic novel source material here at borg.com, Snowpiercer, the highly, almost ludicrously improbable story of a train carrying the last humans on Earth akin to Noah’s Ark is finally in wide release.  With below freezing temperatures and the wind howling across the country this week, it’s a good time to hunker down and take a look at this new home release.

The film sees a lower class of humans living at the back of a giant train that is strangely bigger on the inside as they send a small band to try to get to the front of the train controlled by the wealthy.  Numerous reviews call Snowpiercer an allegory, and that’s completely wrong.  Snowpiercer is literal.  It’s a post-apocalyptic science fiction survival story, not the deep symbolic stuff of Plato or even Orwell.  Snowpiercer–the film–is pretty much devoid of any subtle hidden meanings. It’s overt B-movie sci-fi.  In fact it’s closer to Escape from New York or Logan’s Run than a high-brow philosophical look at life, as it was categorized by many critics on its theatrical release.

Snowpiercer strange cargo

Likewise, don’t try to compare it to the much heralded source material, the black and white graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette reviewed here.  Other than the story being about someone trying to get from the back of a train to the front, it’s pretty much unrecognizable.

Yet if you can watch Snowpiercer for what it is, an action vehicle (no pun intended) for star Chris Evans between big picture roles, then you might agree it’s a winner.

Bouncing back and forth between taunts of a gotcha a la Soylent Green, The Road, or War Games, the movie answers every (simple) question it poses, which is surprisingly satisfying.  Korean director Bong Joon-ho peppers each new train car he breaks through in Panama Joe Atari video game style with enough new questions that you’ll find yourself paying attention for the entire ride, just to get to what ultimate wisdom may be found at story’s end.

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Although earlier images have surfaced of Marvel Studios’ coming big screen production of Doctor Strange, Friday night the studio released several images of star Benedict Cumberbatch and some very interesting pieces of concept art.  Not since Robert Downey, Jr. was cast as Tony Stark has the studio really nailed its casting efforts as with Cumberbatch’s match to this classic comic book character.

This latest Marvel Cinematic Universe entry is directed by Scott Derrickson, known for his horror work in films like Deliver us From Evil, the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, so expect a darker Marvel film coming your way.

Doctor Strange co-stars Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes, State of Play) as Christine Palmer, Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia, Snowpiercer) as The Ancient One, Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, The Martian) as Baron Mordo, Amy Landecker (Revenge, Early Edition), Scott Adkins (Expendables 2, The Bourne Ultimatum), and Michael Stuhlbarg (Hugo) as Nicodemus West.

Cumberbatch Doctor Strange F     Cumberbatch Doctor Strange G

Above and after the break, check out some great concept art from the production of Doctor Strange:

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Snowpiercer train

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain

I did not expect an eternal train ride, yet that’s exactly what Snowpiercer gave me.  Then it took a look at the plight of the less fortunate and the caste system that keeps those undesirables in the back of the train.  I didn’t expect action sequences that amazed me in their freshness and scope.  I saw a fantastic apocalyptic future look that had me guessing what would happen as it had me laughing and had me enthralled.

(If I wasn’t so spoiler adverse and had read CJ Bunce’s review of the graphic novel Snowpiercer then I might have expected the train ride to last forever.  However, reading his review now and checking out the graphic novel at Skylight Books after the movie tells me the two versions of the material explored separate stories.  Even with differences, I didn’t even check out the preview and looking back at the controversy on whether or not it would get a U.S. release, I have no clue how 20 minutes could have been removed from anywhere in the film.)

As good as the movie is, the setup keeps me thinking about the movie.  I love the beginning explanation for the apocalypse.  Global warming threatens to destroy the earth.  Scientists desperate for a solution try to cool down the planet.  They succeed too well.  The planet is now a land of ice and snow and the only people left alive are aboard the aforementioned train.

Snowpiercer class car

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