Category: Retro Fix


Just as iZombie has aired its first episodes of its final season, showrunner Rob Thomas is readying Season 4 of the series that made him famous, Veronica Mars Eight new episodes of Veronica Mars are coming to streaming service Hulu this summer.  The new series finds the snarky private investigator five years after the events of the 2014 crowdfunded movie with more detective stories of So-Cal noir.  Original actors returning include Kristen Bell (Veronica), Enrico Colantoni (Keith), Jason Dohring (Logan), Percy Daggs III (Wallace), Francis Capra (Weevil), Max Greenfield (Leo), Ryan Hansen (Dick), Ken Marino (Vinnie), Daran Norris (Cliff), and Adam Rose (Max).

Rob Thomas is back as script writer, so expect the same quirky dialogue and pop culture references he’s written for iZombie and the first three seasons of Veronica Mars.  Don’t forget, Thomas’s two Veronica tie-in mystery novels are part of Veronica Mars canon.  If you missed them, catch our reviews of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line here, and Mr. Kiss and Tell here.  Based on Thomas’s use of actors from Veronica Mars in his five seasons of iZombie, we wouldn’t be surprised to see some cameos from a few members of his iZombie cast to make an appearance.

Sorry, Thomas has not yet announced a few key actors from Veronica’s past for the next eight episodes, including best pal Tina Majorino (Mac), or boyfriends Chris Lowell as Piz, or Teddy Dunn as Duncan, or a lost twin sister of murdered friend Lily (Amanda Seyfried).

Hulu has released a trailer for the series.  Check it out:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We scuffled.  He had a gun.  So did I.  I’m alive.  He’s dead.

Twenty years before Jessica Jones, there was Ms. Tree, writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty′s 1980s private eye with the clever homonym name.  Her husband a cop, killed by the head of a crime family, she sought her revenge and went to jail for it.  Now she’s back and the killer’s sister is looking to get her own revenge.  A private detective running her own agency, she finds her son has fallen in love with the niece of his father’s killer, the daughter of the woman who is now reaching out to her.  That’s where readers meet Ms. Tree in the first chapter of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, a new collection of classic stories that will bring readers unfamiliar with Ms. Tree’s exploits current as she’s embroiled in her never-ending conflict with the Muerta crime family.  The 268 pages play out like a crime TV series, like Magnum, p.i. or Simon & Simon, maybe with some Rockford Files thrown in thanks to Collins’ ever-present noir style.

Ms. Tree is her own character.  She doesn’t have the quirks and antics of progenitors like Erle Stanley Gardner’s Bertha Cool or the meticulous process of a Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher.  But she does have the edginess we’d later see with Veronica Mars and Jessica Jones.  She’s a bit older, and because of Terry Beatty’s classic artistic style (reminiscent of Crime Does Not Pay and Dick Tracy), you may just wonder if she’s going to duck behind the curtains and emerge with a Miss Fury catsuit at some point.  Drawn by Beatty like a V.I. Warshawski era Kathleen Turner, she’s also not Jackie Brown–this woman plays by the rules, but the aura of her agency has that feel of Max Cherry’s agency in Elmore Leonard’s story.

With a style (in both writing and artwork) like Mike Grell’s Green Arrow, Collins populates his story with a variety of supporting characters like you’d find in the world of his Quarry series.  Characters like her friend on the police force Rafe Valer, and her colleague Dan Green, who has a hook for a hand in a call-out to J.J. Armes, the famous real-life detective in the 1970s (who had two hooks for hands).  The first book in this series, Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, includes reprints of the stories Gift of Death, Drop Dead Handsome, The Family Way, Maternity Leave, and One Mean Mother, with an appendix featuring Collins discussing why Ms. Tree hasn’t made it to the small or big screen, and a related tie-in short story with a more modern take on the character (and without the pictures), Inconvenience Store.  Ms. Tree was featured in an earlier Hard Case Crime novel by Collins, Deadly Beloved.  In this volume Ms. Tree reads like it must have been the inspiration for Marge Gunderson’s storyline in Fargo, and the final seasons of In Plain Sight’s Mary Shannon.

Take a look at Beatty’s use of color, 1980s style, in these excerpts from the book:

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It was only last year that television viewers got a great look at the potential of theatrical quality, direct-to-Netflix films, via the superb, Academy Award-winning, black and white drama Roma (reviewed here).  Will the next black and white movie produced by the Netflix studios fare similarly?  Mank stars genre actor Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz (if you don’t know “Mank’s” large body of work, you at least likely know of him through his grandson Ben Mankiewicz, host of Turner Classic Movies).  Herman’s fame came from writing scripts for film classics, including The Pride of the Yankees (and he was a contributing writer to The Wizard of Oz), and the off again on again critic’s pick for the best film of all time, Citizen Kane.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

At last a new Nancy Drew television series has arrived, but except for the odd screencap (a quick shot of Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase, or Nancy Drew and The Secret in the Old Attic) it has little resemblance to the novels the series is based on.  Billed as a brilliant teen detective by the studio, CW’s Nancy Drew presents a heroine that is anything but, if the rest of the series is anything like the pilot episode.  If you like disinterested young adults begrudgingly solving crimes that would be solved quicker by reasonably motivated teenage kids with half a brain, then this is your show.  This is not the smart, driven hero detective beloved by generations of readers.

The pilot reveals yet another series-long mystery set-up, instead of a mystery-of-the-week a la The X-Files.  Coincidentally the pilot introduces the same kind of body-in-a-box mystery as the far more engrossing new series, Fox’s Prodigal Son (but compelling writing and acting is pulling me back for more of that series).  It even shares the same story of a split family and parents somehow conspiring (or not) over a corpse in a trunk, while tricking the younger version of the series lead that it was all a dream.  Nancy Drew unfortunately also shares a lead character much like the brooding under-achiever in this year’s new AMC mystery series NOS4A2, a series that handled strange mystery and a confused young woman protagonist more believably.

Nancy Drew is played by 23-year-old Kennedy McCann.  Sometimes a series will cast young adults for teenage roles and make it work, but McCann just doesn’t look like a high schooler (nor do her friends).  Nancy’s boyfriend is played by Tunji Fasim, and her key circle includes diner (think Twin Peaks, Riverdale, etc.) co-workers played by Maddison Jaizani, Leah Lewis, and Alex Saxon, with Nancy’s dad played by Scott Wolf, and his lover/city detective played by Alvina August.  The mystery begins with Nancy and her co-workers present as the last to see a local socialite alive–Nancy finds her dead in the diner parking lot, and everyone is hauled downtown to get interrogated.  The backdrop shuffled in is some local lore about a teenager who committed suicide by diving off a local cliff years ago, and Nancy coming to terms with her father after her mother recently died.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s one thing to make a film about a notably B-level filmmaker and arrive at a success like the 1994 acclaimed black and white biopic Ed Wood.  But when you try the same thing about one of the best films ever made, you’re practically set up for failure.  It would take some kind of miracle to take Jack Fincher’s clunky, meandering script for the new Netflix film Mank and make it work.  A hodgepodge of character study and Hollywood quotes, plucking half-truths and grand real-life names of Hollywood’s past, Mank misfires from poor directing decisions and camera work, a lack of understanding or attention to re-creating the magic of black and white film in the color era.  What could have been a love letter to one of America’s greatest celebrated films paints a picture of a screenwriter who, rightly or wrongly, comes off as an unlikeable drunk who couldn’t possibly deserve our attention.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

From 1977 to 1993, noted crime writer Max Allan Collins was writing stories “ripped from the headlines” in the Dick Tracy comic strip.  Some of Collins’ proposed stories were too racy for the average daily newspaper, so Collins took this as an opportunity to introduce the stories in the pages of Ms. Tree, a series published then by Eclipse.   A year ago, I reviewed a new collection of classic Ms. Tree stories from the 1980s, penned twenty years before Jessica Jones, written by Collins and illustrated by artist Terry BeattyMs. Tree: One Mean Mother.  Ms. Michael Tree is the 6-foot tall, 9 mm pistol-toting private eye with a clever homonym name, referred to as the “female Mike Hammer” in the stories written by the man who would take over the character from Mickey Spillane.  She borrows something real and gritty from Erle Stanley Gardner’s detective Bertha Cool and her brand of sleuthing, certainly unique for the 1980s.  The Hard Case Crime imprint of Titan Comics is publishing the second volume of Ms. Tree stories next month, five more stories from the dark corners of big city life, in Ms. Tree: Skeleton in the Closet.  Classic Collins crime tales in the comics are like his 21st century crime novels–they do not disappoint.

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pena-shepard Warner Bros. has finally released the first trailer to the comedy reboot of the classic 1977-1983 television series CHiPs.  The original drama series, starring the suave Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox as California Highway Patrol officers Ponch and Jon, didn’t have the comedy you’re going to see in this reboot.  No, this is an all-out, Rated R, Deadpool-level humor comedy.  Think the movie remake of 21 Jump Street and you’ll get the vibe.

And it’s so, so wrong.

But it also looks like it could be pretty funny, if you’re not bothered by wall-to-wall crotch jokes.  The big win is Ant-Man’s Michael Peña as an undercover FBI agent pretending to be Ponch.  Hollywood is finally recognizing Peña as a charismatic rising star.  Comedic actor Dax Shepard is Jon, and real-life wife Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) also plays his wife in CHiPs.  The couple is most recognizable these days from their long-running series of Samsung appliance commercials.  Shepard wrote and directed the movie.

chips-poster

The film is peppered with actors you might find in serious police procedurals, which should lend something weighty to the humor.  They include Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (Law & Order, The Wire), Vincent D’Onofrio (Emerald City, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Men in Black), Richard T. Jones (Judging Amy, Godzilla, Super 8, Hot Pursuit), Wilmer Valderrama (Awake, That ’70s Show), and Jane Kaczmarek (St. Elsewhere, Law & Order).

Check out this first trailer for Dax Shepard’s CHiPs:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Hayao Miyazaki’s Whisper of the Heart may be the anime master’s most heart-warming story.  Based on the 1989 manga by artist Aoi Hiiragi, Whisper of the Heart is a 1995 romance and drama about a teenage girl who wants to be a writer, and with the determination and self-discipline necessary, she is successful at completing her first novel.  The story within a story that she writes is about an ornamental cat in a store window that she names The Baron.  In a fun twist, Hiiragi wrote the girl’s story into another manga, titled The Cat’s Repayment, and that story was adapted into Studio Ghibli’s 2002 anime film The Cat Returns.  “The Cat” returned to theaters this week as part of the Fathom Events series and Studio Ghibli Fest 2018, and has its final screening at theaters nationwide Wednesday evening, April 25, 2018, at 7 p.m. local time.  Find theater information and order tickets here.

This month’s release of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs was inspired by the anime films of Studio Ghibli, and you can see the influences from The Cat Returns in particular.  The Cat Returns is a much lighter film with none of the violence of Isle of Dogs.  It has rightly been referred to as “delightful,” “sweet,” and “cute.”  Its appeal for cat fans is the sincerity and authenticity of director Hiroyuki Morita (Akira, Perfect Blue, My Neighbors the Yamadas), and his use of real cats for some of the cat dialogue.  The story centers on a high school student named Haru.  When Haru rescues a cat in the road from an oncoming truck, the cat stands upright and speaks to thank her, and she soon learns he is a cat prince whose father the Cat King grants her the blessing of total happiness.  She finds she could always hear and communicate with cats, but lost that sense years ago.  Cats from the kingdom pile on the gifts, not realizing people don’t like mice and catnip as much as cats, and when the gifts and rewards get too great and the Cat King goes overboard, she is helped by a well-dressed cat at the Cat Business Office–The Baron.

Haru meets a rather skeptical, rotund, white cat along the way named Muta, who is possibly the finest, most realistic cat ever translated to film.  Soon the Cat King determines Haru should marry his son, and Haru, The Baron, and Muta embark on an escape from the palace through a labyrinthine maze.  Studio Ghibli, with creators Miyazaki and Morita, have visually presented the most believable cats in their numerous productions over the decades.  In The Cat Returns the characters are not so much photo-real as in Miyazaki’s directorial efforts (here he serves as executive producer), yet the charming story is truly everything any cat lover will love.  It is also filled with good humor, an engaging fantasy story, and lots of silliness that both kids and adults will appreciate.

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Veronica Mars

Review by C.J. Bunce

For fans of Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham’s first tie-in novel Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, previously reviewed here at borg.com, the next novel in the paperback series will get readers even closer to the Veronica of the TV series.  Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell, is a darker mystery, a hard-boiled detective story, straight out of the hard case crime series of the past.  Mr. Kiss and Tell also continues to show the growth of Veronica, now a 29-year-old with responsibilities after she ditched her law career for a P.I. agency gig with her dad.

Nobody knows Veronica better than creator Rob Thomas.  The banter, the snarky quips, the Whedon-esque pop culture references all make for a story that is not only consistent with the TV series and 2014 crowdfunded movie, but it remains fresh, taking Veronica into new territory.  Thomas and Graham waste no time, providing a powerful beginning:  A junk dealer happens upon what could be a mannequin as he is roaming the city.  Only it’s a woman, barely alive, and we’ll learn she’s from a family that will be familiar to Veronica Mars fans.  Veronica is hired by a hotel to prove that a hotel employee was not the attacker and rapist that left the young woman for dead.  But if he didn’t do it, then who did?

Mars Mr Kiss and Tell logo

Veronica has a long history with solving rape cases, cases that became almost a hallmark of her series.  This case will take her into the seedy parts of society, with Veronica barreling into danger reminding us that, however well-intentioned, she often makes poor choices.  Here she ends up in a hotel with a prostitute and her pimp–a giant thug who makes Veronica an offer that could end her case quickly–but it’s also an offer she should refuse.  But will she?  Has she changed at all?

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Stallone and Jordan in Creed

Okay, it doesn’t really seem possible.  We know Sylvester Stallone more for his action movies than any acting prowess.  Yet he is Oscar material.  Rocky–the movie and role that made him a household name, earned him nominations for both acting and his screenplay.  The latest Rocky movie, titled Creed, is his seventh film as boxer–now retired boxer–Rocky Balboa.  And the latest trailer (see here at borg.com for the first Creed trailer) shows he still has the acting chops, and can give as emotional a performance as ever, and maybe one that could garner him another Oscar nod for the same role he played nearly 40 years ago in 1976.

Like the first Rocky film, Creed looks more like a drama than just another boxing movie.  This time Stallone handed the writing and directing honors to 28-year-old Ryan Coogler.  Will it take passing his most significant life’s work to someone else to get him a story that provides the recognition he deserves?

Creed Stallone Jordan

If you’re a Veronica Mars or Heroes fan, as you watch this new trailer for Creed keep an eye out for the girlfriend of Creed’s son (Michael B. Jordan playing the characters Adonis Johnson).  It’s Tessa Thompson who played Veronica Mars’ off and on friend Jackie Cook, and Becky Taylor on Heroes (Claire’s sorority sister and her power was invisibility).

Here’s trailer #2 for Creed:

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