Category: Movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the failings of many creators for kids is talking down to them.  If you treat children from the very beginning like adults, they will step up to the task and embrace acting like adults.  Kids know when adults are speaking down to them.  They also will be excited when you give them the straight dope.  So if you’re creating anything for an audience that includes kids, whether they are seven to seventeen, don’t hold too much back.  And that applies double for relationships–kids are smarter than you think and they listen to everything and absorb everything.  One of the best parts of Troop Zero is that you can’t tell if its a coming of age movie for adults or kids.  And that’s a great thing.

Troop Zero is a new Amazon Studios direct-to-streaming release, and a great movie to watch while sitting at home with your family this weekend.  We love coming of age movies (scroll through several we’ve discussed over the decade here at borg), and Troop Zero easily makes our top 20.  This is the more nostalgic, sweet, genuine brand of coming of age film (the best kind), part The Bad News Bears, part Paper Moon, and it’s obviously a little bit Moonrise Kingdom and maybe even enters Shirley Temple territory like in The Little Princess.  It also ties into one of our favorite NASA accomplishments, the Voyager space probes and golden records prepared by Carl Sagan with voices and music from Earth (also add the PBS documentary The Farthest–Voyager in Space to your must-watch list, reviewed here).

The movie stars the then-12-year-old actress McKenna Grace, who performs like someone with 20 years of experience.  This girl has done everything, from playing young Sabrina in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, to young Captain Marvel in last year’s hit film, young Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, and she’s the star of the coming summer release (we hope), Ghostbusters: Afterlife.  Plus Independence Day: Resurgence, Ready Player One, and a regular on The Haunting of Hill House (the list goes on!).  In Troop Zero she plays Christmas Flint, a girl with that same awkward but adorable appeal as Tatum O’Neal in her Oscar-winning performance in Paper Moon.  Christmas has the reputation at school for still wetting the bed, she wears red galoshes so no one notices one leg is longer than the other, and no matter how much bad is thrown at her she responds with this incredible positivity.  She also loves space, and thinks her dead mother is looking back at her from the stars.  When she learns a member of NASA is in town to select a girl to voice the greeting on the Voyager space record, she assembles a ragtag team of girls (and one boy) to join the local scouts, and earn the minimum merit badge each to qualify to go to Jamboree where the troop with the best performance routine will have their voices recorded.

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Fans of the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine have a new chronicle of the show to look forward to, a guide book in the style of the Rick Sternbach’s classic technical manual book and the layouts in decades of Star Trek fan magazines.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Illustrated Handbook is an in-universe guide detailing the inside and outside of the former Cardassian space station led by Captain Benjamin Sisko, as well as the USS Defiant and the runabouts.  The book is available this month here at Amazon.  Take a look at the preview below.  

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As much as you may hear general moviegoers asking if we may be near the end of the Alien franchise–and earlier this month Alien director Ridley Scott said as much, that the franchise has basically “run out”–you probably won’t hear that from fans of Alien who keep coming back for more.  But no worry: two future movies are expected from the franchise.  Along the way tie-in authors continue to expand the universe before and after the first film that premiered way back in 1979.  The best of these so far is arguably Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows (reviewed here at borg.com along with an interview with the author here).  In that novel Lebbon cleverly intercut between films a new tale of Ellen Ripley encountering xenomorphs again.  Earlier this year we reviewed an anthology, Alien: Bug Hunt here, and a new interactive in-world book in the Alien universe will be reviewed here soon.  Ridley Scott returned to direct another film in the series this year with Alien: Covenant, and a new tie-in novel bridges the gap between 2012’s Prometheus and Covenant.  Titled Alien: Covenant–Origins, it features the return of one of fandom’s favorite writers, Alan Dean Foster, and readers will find the story completely unexpected.

Since the 1970s Foster has written famous science fiction expansion stories that brought classic films home to audiences before the days of home video, including the novelization of the original Star Wars and the first Star Trek tie-ins.  His success with those would lead him to write the novelizations of the first three Alien films and Alien: Covenant, Terminator: Salvation, The Chronicles of Riddick, the first two Transformers movies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness, adding to a catalog of books that include The Thing, The Black Hole, Outland, The Last Starfighter, Starman, and AlienNation.  So Foster knows the Alien world well and with Alien: Covenant–Origins, Foster looks beyond the monstrous xenomorphs of the franchise to the political and corporate machinations behind the first effort to colonize outer space by Earthlings.  Springboarding off what we can imagine to be a Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun-inspired corporate takeover of CEO Peter Weyland’s tech company by competitor Hideo Yutani after the events of Prometheus find Weyland lost in space, we encounter the new Weyland-Yutani Corp. as it prepares to send a ship full of colonists to habitable planet Origae-6.  But on Earth the company first encounters espionage, intrigue, and sabotage, earthbound topics wrestled with similarly in Carl Sagan’s classic novel Contact. 

More action-thriller than sci-fi, Foster plants us into a mad dash to get the Covenant into space, with Yutani’s daughter kidnapped, assassination attempts, and a strange faction bombarding the company at every step to stop all efforts to go into space to avoid what one human is foreseeing as an invasion of horrible alien demons in Earth’s future if Weyland-Yutani proceeds with its flight.  It’s the same warning Sagan and NASA encountered from members of the public when the United States sent two Voyager space probes to the edge of the galaxy and beyond in the 1970s–what if aliens find us and they’re not so friendly?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We previewed Dan Curry’s new look back at his work on Star Trek in September.  The nicely designed full color hardcover, Star Trek: The Artistry of Dan Curry is designed and reads like a true sequel to Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens landmark 1995 book The Art of Star Trek, once the only definitive look at the artwork behind the franchise (we’ve covered nearly all the Star Trek art books since then here at borg).  Like any professional in the art and design fields for a television or feature film crew, Dan Curry had a variety of projects he handled.  This book digs into Curry’s work from 1987 to 2005, basically Star Trek: The Next Generation through Enterprise, where he served as visual effects supervisor/producer, second-unit director, title designer, and concept designer, winning seven Emmys for his effort.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The right mix of writing, acting, art direction, and music come together in Orbiter 9, a direct-to-Netflix Spanish film that really has it all.  Like the critically-acclaimed Midnight Special, saying too much about the plot will give away too much of what is compelling about this film.  But you can be sure to find a tense piece of science fiction derived from those classic tales of great writers of the past like Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Philip K. Dick.  It’s a tale of future Earth where Earthlings have ravaged the planet, so, like recent sci-fi entries Passengers and the Lost in Space reboot, the only chance for humans is to embark on long voyages to distant worlds.

Clara Lago (The Commuter, The Librarians, LEX) masterfully plays Helena, a young woman left on board a spaceship heading from Earth to a distant colony who encounters an engineer named Álex, coming to repair the ship’s oxygen system, played by actor Álex González (X-Men: First Class).  We learn from a video image Helena is re-watching that her parents left her alone three years ago when the oxygen system broke down–their math showed that with Helena flying alone the oxygen could still get her to Celeste safely.  Raised on the ship since birth, she has never met another human.  She is diligent in her daily rituals, including exercise, with a determination to complete her mission prompted by her parents’ sacrifice.  But after Álex’s arrival, everything changes.

More believable than prior visions of the future in this sub-genre (Passengers, Moon, the Cloverfield series), Orbiter 9 may pull its tale in part from classic Greek sacrifice mythology or closed-room mysteries like Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, and wrestles with the limits of sacrifice, for family or others–again, a concept addressed in many past sci-fi stories, Star Trek in particular (think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Suddenly Human” in Star Trek: The Next Generation and “Child’s Play” from Star Trek Voyager).  Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?  Orbiter 9 attacks this question in many surprising ways.  And unlike many a recent sci-fi film, it’s story belongs in a full feature format like this–it’s not just another short story dragged out to fit a movie-length format.

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Since launching it’s studio of direct-to-streaming films, Netflix has not been lacking for sci-fi.  The latest in its line of space disasters is Stowaway, coming to your TV sets next month.  It’s a suspense thriller about a long-term voyage to Mars that–no surprise–has a stowaway, and other problems that require some life-and-death decisions of the Kobayashi Maru variety.  Because of the stranded lifepod nature of the story, look for a small cast.  It stars Anna Kendrick (Twilight, End of Watch), with Daniel Dae Kim (Star Trek Enterprise, Star Trek Voyager), Shamier Anderson (Wynonna Earp, Lost Girl) and Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, Shaft).

Check out the trailer for Netflix’s Stowaway.

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Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2020.  Are you going to see them all?  Heck no.  These are the genre films we think borg readers will want to know about to make their own checklists for the coming year–and they are only the films we know about so far.  We pulled 85 of the hundreds of films that have been finalized or are in varying stages of final production, slated for next year’s movie calendar.

What looks to top the list for most fanboys and fangirls?  Ghostbusters: Afterlife Scarlett Johannson solo in Black WidowA new James Bond movie, No Time to DieVin Diesel in Bloodshot and a new Fast & FuriousThe original Tom Clancy novel series is finally continuing with an adaptation of Without Remorse Comic book adaptations are in less supply in 2020, but look for Venom 2, Wonder Woman 1984, Eternals, The New Mutants, Morbius, Birds of Prey, The Old Guard, and did we mention Black WidowCompare the below list to our 2019 list and even the 2018 list, 2017 list, 2016 list, 2015 list, or 2014 list, and your takeaway may be seeing the studios moving genre content from the big screen to the small screen via streaming services.

Do you like sequels?  There are far less coming to theaters in 2020 than in 2019, but many more remakes of movies, books, and TV shows are on the way.  In fact, with all the blockbusters in 2019, 2020 looks pretty tame as the cinema marquee is concerned.  Some films don’t have locked in release dates yet: Amazon Studios and Netflix haven’t revealed dates for the following 2020 releases (those we know you’ll find on the calendar below):

  • 7500, a film about a highjacked airplane, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Amazon Studios)
  • The Dig, a film about a woman finding archaeological treasures on her land, starring Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, and Carey Mulligan (Netflix)
  • Horse Girl, Alison Brie stars and directs this story about an awkward girl who fuses her dreams with reality (Netflix)
  • Jingle Jangle, an animated Christmas story with the voices of Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, and Hugh Bonneville (Netflix)
  • Louis Wain, biopic of the 19th century artist starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, and Andrea Riseborough (Amazon Studios)
  • The Old Guard, adaptation of comic book story, starring Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Netflix)
  • Radioactive, a film about Marie Curie, starring Rosamund Pike and Anya Taylor-Joy (Amazon)
  • Rebecca, adaptation and remake of the Daphne Du Maurier classic novel, starring Lily James, Keely Hawes, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Armie Hammer (Netflix)
  • Welcome to Sudden Death, sequel to Jean-Claude van Damme 1995 movie starring Michael Jai White (Netflix)
  • The Willoughbys, animated adaptation of the Lois Lowry book, with voices of Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, and Jane Krakowski (Netflix)
  • Wonderland, murder conspiracy mystery starring Mark Wahlberg, Allan Arkin, and Colleen Camp (Netflix)

Some of these films will have revised release dates, or get pushed to 2021.

So grab your calendar and start making your plans–here are the movies you’ll want to see in 2020 (and some you might not!):

January

The Informer – Thriller, starring Joel Kinnaman, Rosamund Pike, Ana de Armas, Common, and Clive Owen – January 10.

Underwater – Thriller, stars Kristin Stewart in underwater horror story – January 10.

Dolittle – Family/Comedy, stars Robert Downey, Jr. in remake of the classic, with voices of Tom Holland, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Emma Thompson, Antonio Banderas, Ralph Fiennes, and Michael Sheen – January 17.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Many products oversell themselves with some flavor of marketing puffery, they claim to be better than they ultimately are, or give consumers only the best content in the previews.  That’s not the case with Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross’s second chapter in their two-volume chronicle The Fifty-Year Mission, The Next 25 Years: From The Next Generation to J.J. Abrams, The Complete Uncensored Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek (I’ll shorten that hefty title to The Next 25 Years for this review).  With the first volume–The First 25 Years–coming in at 577 pages, it probably evens out that this second volume is a lengthy 864 pages considering all it needed to cover (everything from Next Generation onward).  Key words to note in that long title are unauthorized, meaning CBS and Paramount didn’t publish this (like the These Are the Voyages trilogy of books from Marc Cushman), complete meaning once you’re finished there is no possible way there is anything left to say about the production of the Star Trek TV shows and films, uncensored meaning Hollywood creators you may have idolized when beginning the book show a side of their personalities that remove the magic, awe, and spark you felt about them.  And oral as in stories passed down via the oral tradition, because The Next 25 Years features stories being told by hundreds of players (and a few non-players) via a loose outline broken down within topics Star Trek: The Next Generation, followed by the TNG movies, followed by Deep Space Nine, then Voyager, then Enterprise, stop-start show ideas, and then a too-brief section on the J.J. Abrams’ produced movies.

As for the “oral,” The Next 25 Years feels only a bit like what a historian may document as an oral history in that it consists nearly entirely of quotes from those who made these productions with only the barest of context added to try to keep the reader (and contributors) on-topic.  The Next 25 Years was published in 2016, so it includes contributions from those alive at the time the book was written, but also shuffles in comments of those creators who died long before, as if they were speaking along with the living contributors.  Neither is this a work of journalism or scholarly creation, because absent citation references–as Cushman used quite well as an integral part of his trilogy–it’s difficult for anyone to use the book as a reliable reference.  “When did Gene Roddenberry say this?”  “When did David Gerrold say that?”  Even more confusing, it’s obvious that the compilers of these quoted statements showed certain statements to others and allowed them to comment and respond.  When was this allowed, and when wasn’t it allowed?  Readers just don’t know, because the compilers of these statements don’t provide context.  Was Rick Berman given an opportunity to rebut this disparaging comment?  Did Michael Piller, who passed away in 2005, get the opportunity to ever respond to such statements?  Did he even know these people thought these things about him?  Timing matters so much in communication and memory, yet it’s missing here.  Around 2006 I read Piller’s unpublished (later on-demand released) manuscript about the making of Star Trek: Insurrection–it doesn’t make those associated with the production look very good, which is likely why publication of that book was originally cancelled by the studio.  The Next 25 Years will provide a similar vibe for franchise fans reflecting the memories (good or bad) of Star Trek’s execs, writers, and actors.

Those who have read every magazine and book on Star Trek over the years already know most of the gossip found here from a 30,000 foot view.  The Next 25 Years is a “tell-all” book.  What may be different is you get the details from multiple sources and in more detail than a passing fan would probably care to read.  It’s one thing to read a tell-all article in a magazine, and quite another to read all the tell-all tales of a subject of this massive scope over 864 pages.  But don’t walk away–there are some good nuggets along the journey.  Like some detail on the several attempts to make spin-off series that failed after Enterprise, F. Murray Abraham’s view of making Star Trek: Insurrection, Kate Mulgrew’s approach to Captain Janeway, and how Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Brannon Braga, and others cyclically stepped into Gene Roddenberry’s shoes initially with new ideas, but ultimately came back to his approach.  So diehards will want to read it simply for their niche fandom area of the franchise.  Actor/director Jonathan Frakes, for example, never appears in the book as anything but professional, positive, and contemplative about the past.  Gene Roddenberry’s son Rod is similarly diplomatic despite all of the negative statements lobbed against his family members.  Others reveal their flawed humanity for all to see, the colloquial “airing the dirty laundry” comes to mind.  Just keep in mind that other saying: “Don’t believe everything you read.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It will take fans of the earlier editions of The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future, Revised and Expanded Edition less than a dozen pages of browsing to realize the enormity of the material–and the effort–required to update the previous 1999 edition for this 50th anniversary boxed, hardcover, two-volume reference published this week.  Enterprise–the series that has been virtually ignored in Star Trek reference publications, finally gets its due, as does the later seasons of Voyager, the last season of Deep Space Nine, and the films Star Trek Nemesis, Star Trek (2009), and Star Trek Into Darkness. 

An invaluable reference until the creation of the online fan-run Memory Alpha, the original three editions of the The Star Trek Encyclopedia were the only place for fans to get quick Star Trek data with the last update in 1999.  The advent of the Internet seemed to have spelled certain doom for any hope of a revised and updated edition.  Memory Alpha has more than 40,000 pages of detailed Star Trek reference data.  How could a 1,056 page two-volume edition compete?  For one, long-time fans of all or many of the Star Trek series likely appreciate the ability to pull a reference book off the shelf.  Memory Alpha’s recent updates make the website difficult to navigate and website TrekCore’s value is very much in its screen captures.  Star Trek reference works have been very sporadically released in the past 20 years, so fans are always clamoring for a new book.  The Star Trek Encyclopedia is very much an encyclopedia, and many may not remember the days of pulling a volume of an encyclopedia off the shelf and reading it through for entertainment.  This is a great set of books to do just that.  And the detailed content is what fans want.

Excluding this summer’s release Star Trek Beyond, original edition creators (and former Star Trek art department creative gurus) Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda craftily and seamlessly weaved the J.J. Abrams’s movies–called the Kelvin timeline now– into this work as explained in their foreword (only Star Trek (2009)’s villain Nero’s entry, for example, bridges both the Prime timeline and the Kelvin timeline in The Star Trek Encyclopedia).  The Star Trek Encyclopedia is also the first publication that thoroughly addresses the nuts and bolts of Star Trek Into Darkness. 

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I came up with a list of my favorite items: references, characters, objects, and places that did not turn up in the past editions, to see if they all were now included.  They were, except for entries and images of certain key alien weapons, uniforms, and artifacts from the Kelvin timeline (like John Eaves’ beautifully designed Klingon weapons, Romulan disruptors and rifles, or the new Klingon uniforms and helmets).  These types of updates are present across the board for Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.  Artist Ian Fullwood updates Doug Drexler’s artwork quite well, adding to his work updates with the same look and feel as Drexler’s original creations.  Don’t expect past entries to be updated other than some have updated photographs–the research and preparation was clearly all about the new series and movies, also what the fans want and expect.

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Star Trek Book 2016

The in-universe book can be found in all sorts of genres.  In Star Trek we’ve seen this type of book recently with Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years and The Autobiography of James T. Kirk.  You’re either a fan of this type of work or you aren’t–these books attempt to take readers deeper into the world and stories of our favorite characters.  More than found in the basic canon, in a way that often seems less imaginative than something like a tie-in novel.  Rarely have we read this type that knocked our socks off.  An exception is DK’s Star Trek: A Visual Dictionary–a simple but enjoyable look inside all facets of Star Trek (reviewed here previously at borg.com).  A new in-universe book by DK qualifies as a good read and maybe even a great Star Trek work.

The Star Trek Book celebrates 50 years of Star Trek with what amounts to a school textbook from Star Trek’s future.  Detailing the lives of key players in the Federation, chronicling major events, technologies, cultures, and locales, The Star Trek Book lives up to its promise.  The chronicle itself is brilliantly executed.  Not simply a time period by time period account, such as taking each series one by one, instead this account weaves the facts and features of all series and movies together as a singular whole.  This makes for a reference you won’t simply read and file away on the shelf, but one you keep coming back to (as we have in the weeks since we got a first look at the book).

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The reboot universe of Star Trek, here designated for the first time as the Kelvin timeline, is handled alongside the original series cast and stories.  The Enterprise series is intermingled with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek Voyager, and the key events from the movies, all in a way that finally gives each component equal coverage.  So fans of one or all the series will find something of interest here.

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