Category: Movies


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.

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Marvin Robot voice Alan Rickman

The great British actor Alan Rickman died yesterday in the same week as singer and Labyrinth star David Bowie, and the Internet is full of tributes.  Alan Rickman gave us some great performances and as genre performers go, few have traversed more of our favorite franchises than Rickman.  In honor of Mr. Rickman let’s take a walk through our favorites in case you might have missed one.

Most of us first met Rickman as the villain Hans Gruber in 1988’s Die Hard, the first of action-packed films featuring Bruce Willis as John McClane.  Rickman’s ability to portray the seething, classic, moustache-twirling villain won us over from the beginning, and would be a hallmark of the characters he would play over the course of a quarter of a century.  At least one of my friends would recount Quigley Down Under as his next memorable film, but most remember well his Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner.

Nottingham Rickman

All in, Rickman was featured in three of my all-time top ten fantasy film favorites: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.  It is the sequel to the latter, Alice Through the Looking Glass, where we will witness Rickman’s last performance on screen later this year, as the voice of the blue caterpillar.  It will be difficult not to tie Rickman to his Severus Snape incarnation in all eight Harry Potter films for an entire generation–and many generations to come.  He stepped into the shoes of Snape more than any of his film roles.

Severus Snape Rickman

But Rickman won’t be remembered only for his major fantasy film roles, as two of his films struck chords for fans of sci-fi movies.  His parody of a Spock-type alien Dr. Lazarus in the 1999 Star Trek parody Galaxy Quest was second to none.  And his voicing of the droopy robot Marvin in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy opposite Martin Freeman and Zooey Deschanel added the gravity needed to make the 2005 movie another sci-fi classic.

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Jem movie poster

G.I. Joe: Retaliation director Jon M. Chu is transforming another 1980s animated television series into a live action theatrical release.  The series Jem ran three seasons and 65 episodes, between 1985 and 1988.  Jerrica Benton was the secret leader of the glam rock, all-girl band in the original series.  The band’s name, Jem and the Holograms, will soon be the title of the live action film.  The original Jem prompted a successful toy line from Hasbro, one of the companies bringing the series to the big screen.

The magical elements of Jem do not appear to have made it to the new movie.  In the animated series Jerrica projected a holographic image over her own to disguise herself.  Aubrey Peeples (Sharknado), who could almost be a ringer for actress/singer Zooey Deschanel, now stars as Jerrica, who takes on the persona of Jem as her career in music takes off, thanks to a music producer played by Juliette Lewis.  The 1980s brat pack star Molly Ringwald co-stars.

Ryan Hansen Jem and the Holograms

Isn’t that Ryan Hansen, Dick Casablancas from Veronica Mars, at the end of the trailer, getting an autograph from Jem?

Check out this preview for Jem and the Holograms:

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Cruise in Jack Reacher

Tom Cruise.  No matter the character, no matter the story, no matter the director, he just can’t make a bad movie.  Last year’s release, Jack Reacher, available now on Netflix streaming and DVD and Blu-ray, is another home run.  But for the lackluster title and so-so marketing effort, Jack Reacher might have been a really big hit last year.  Cruise turns in a solid performance again, similar to his high-calibre lead acting in last year’s sci-fi release Oblivion, reviewed here at borg.com.  Later this year the 51-year-old screen legend is back again, in another sci-fi release, Edge of Tomorrow, with co-star Emily Blunt.

Jack Reacher, odd name aside, could be one of those heroes you compare to Harry Callahan, Frank Bullitt, or a Daniel Craig-era James Bond.  The character is that good, as is Cruise’s fit into the role of a smart and tough drifter who turns to the aid of a comatose defendant and his struggling defense attorney in the case of a shocking, random mass shooting.  Cruise’s drifter is also ex-military, the kind of ex-military that can take on a group of thugs by himself, and take part in a big-screen shoot-‘em up.  We see Reacher learning and growing as he tries to make all the right moves–and get constantly set back–throughout the movie, not something many films give audiences much of these days.  He thinks like a lawyer or detective and does so believably, and Cruise taps into his work in The Firm or A Few Good Men, making Reacher a good follow-on for fans of those films.

Duvall and Cruise in Jack Reacher

As Reacher attempts to find the top gunman at a rifle range, we find Robert Duvall in another great role similar to his work in A Civil Action, this time as a craggy expert with a rifle.  Along the way we meet several villains, including one played by A Good Day to Die Hard’s Jai Courtney, but far and away the most intriguing is writer/director/producer Werner Herzog as what could be a Bond villain as “Zec”.  Creepy.  Vile.  Evil.  He gives a pawn who screwed-up a choice: death, or chew off his own fingers.  Yikes.  Rosamund Pike (Surrogates, Pride and Prejudice) excels as the defense attorney in several scenes with the opportunity to convey a wide range of emotions for a single film–and cinematography by (Zooey and Emily’s dad) Caleb Deschanel (The Right Stuff, The Natural, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, National Treasure), gives her plenty of well-timed, stare-into-the-camera close-ups.

Rosamund Pike in Jack Reacher

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Argo film about a film wins Best Motion Picture Golden Globe 2013

It probably makes sense that the Golden Globes allows for more genre win opportunities than the more drama-oriented Academy Awards.  Still, the Globes didn’t go as far as they could with the best of what is on TV and in movies.  Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield not winning in the comedy categories for New Girl is a big miss.  Kevin Costner is a great actor but I don’t see how anyone was a better actor on TV or film this year than Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock.  Fans of genre fave show The Big Bang Theory will be bummed to see that show slighted for best comedy series.  The BBC’s drama The Hour was the best of television for the past two years so there is another miss.

So here is what they got right:

Argo as Best Film.  Check.

Ben Affleck as Best Director for Argo.  Check.

Brave as Best Animated Film.  Check.

Adele for Best Original Song for Skyfall.  Check.

Quentin Tarantino for Best Screenplay for Django Unchained.  Check.

Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor for Django Unchained.  Check.

Brave wins Best Animated Film Golden Globe 2013

Although we’re having a hard time getting excited about Homeland‘s slow building second season after its great first season (but we plan to be caught up soon), it’s great to see Homeland lead the TV awards with best drama and acting nods for the always great acting of Daniel Lewis and Claire Danes.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Renaissance gal Zooey Deschanel seems to be at the top of her game in many respects.  She has headlined major motion pictures, such as Jon Favreau’s Elf and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, she’s the star of the funniest sitcom on TV this year, The New Girl, and she has cut several albums with Portland singer-songwriter M. Ward in her group She & Him.  With their new album, A Very She & Him Christmas, you won’t be alone if you think you’re listening to old vinyl LPs of excerpts from the 1950s and 1960s, of tunes and voicings evoking The Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, The Carpenters, Patsy Cline and Dusty Springfield, backed up by a solid Willie Nelson-inspired guitar.  It’s not every day you listen to an album four times in a row, trying to determine who sang that song before, who this singer seems to sound just like, and wondering if you’ve just heard this album somewhere before.

With Christmas albums, either you want something new, or more likely, you’re after that feel of the familiar, nostalgic tune that you’ve heard so many times over the years that you have the lyrics committed to memory.  With A Very She & Him Christmas, you get not only nostalgia, you get some 1950s rock, some Hawaiian vibes, some beach music, some lounge/1960s mod, most soulful, a few cheery, and all ultimately sentimental and sweetly sung.   Look for some nice acoustic walking guitar lines, as well as some cool reverb electric guitar a la Del Shannon’s Runaway.  Don’t look for a lot of Deschanel’s typical layered alto, leathery smooth voice.  It still is a sophisticated sound, but more adherence is given to classic renditions of these mostly familiar songs than improvising or toying with the classics.

Expect little of the often labeled “cutesy Zooey Deschanel”–here instead is a more mature Dusty Springfield style of emoting, some Patsy Cline-inspired sounds mixed with some Karen Carpenter-esque aching loneliness and all with a Mama Cass Eliot level of a Deschanel’s full volumed voice.

This is a great addition to your Christmas CD collection or iPod.  The album cover says it all, with its That Thing You Do retro feel.  Some highlights of the recordings on A Very She & Him Christmas include:

1. The Christmas Waltz.  A lazy and quirky version of a classic that feels like Deschanel is stuck inside on a wintry day, passing away the hours, looking out on the world she is missing.

2.  Christmas Day.  A hip and up-tempo ice 1950s electric guitar, breezy, California Christmas.  An unfamiliar but nice tune, that feels a bit like it could have been written by George Harrison while singing with the Travelling Wilburys.

3. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  Melancholy and melancholy.  Almost a creepy dark , soulful vibe.  Will have you wondering if you left a Carpenters album in the stereo.

4.  I’ll be Home for Christmas.  Tinny and tinselly classic rock version of a usually bland and dreary, sentimental song.  Still soulful, this version’s background skips along with some actual hopefulness.

5.  Christmas Wish.  This song has the feel of a California beach Christmas tune.  Very Beach Boys influenced, almost feels like this should be on the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album.  reminiscent of the old Coca-Cola commercial sound “I’d like to teach the world to sing.”

6.  Sleigh Ride.  A great up-tempo, cheery tune you’d expect on a Zooey Deschanel album.  She sings on the back beat of the normal tune, more than just playing with the syncopation of the tune.   At first gives you a bit of a start.  And she does this holding of notes on consonants that is unusual but kind of cool.  Ultimately the playfulness of the back and forth between Deschanel and Ward make this a highlight of the album.

7.  Rockin’ Around the Christmas.  The best song on the album.  Upbeat 1950s, great use of background singers.  Sounds as if you pulled a vinyl Christmas album out of a vinyl retro shop and spun it on the 50-year-old stereo you’ve kept in the attic.  And not just any album… a Patsy Cline Christmas album.  You’d swear it was Cline on the last line of the song.

8.  Silver Bells.  A cool idea, Silver Bells, only Hawaiian style, backed with Deschanel playing ukelele.  A lot less of the full sound we’ve heard before from Deshanel as far as voice goes.  But that’s a good thing here because instead she mirrors the nostalgic singing style of Rosemary Clooney.

9.  Baby, It’s Cold Outside.  Tons more playful than her brief version from the movie Elf, Deschanel and Ward really balance each other equally in a classic rendition of the song.

10.  Blue Christmas.  Probably the best version of this song I have ever heard, and it’s pretty much my least favorite Christmas song, so that’s saying something.  Deschanel is more expressive and soulful than on the other songs on the album.  It also has a little Country pop ballad twist, which is a nice interpretation of this song since Country often equates to “blue” lyrics.  You get the feel she is singing to a few folks from atop a stool with her guitar in some off the highway, Alabama roadhouse bar.

11.  Little Saint Nick.  Another fun, California Christmas song.  Nice use of background voices.  Sang sweetly, again with a touch of that ukelele played by Deschanel.

12.  The Christmas Song.  A drifting, willowy, mature, satiny version of the classic.  Another album highlight.

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