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Category: Movies


It emerges from the nearly 20-year franchise about cars and action that began in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious.  The ninth movie in the Fast & Furious franchise is on its way to theaters this summer, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, and Universal Pictures has released its second trailer–check it out below.  The five leads have ample action movie street cred, beginning with Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, not only from their previous roles in the franchise.  In addition to his Time Magazine cover appearance as one of the most influential people of today, Johnson has busted heads in films including Walking Tall, The Mummy series, Get Smart, The Other Guys, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Central Intelligence and the new Jumanji series, and, of course, there’s his wrestling days (and he wrestled Seven of Nine in a memorable Star Trek Voyager episode).  He’s already played Hercules, but coming soon look for him as Black Adam, Doc Savage, and he’s said to be in talks to play Jack Burton in a Big Trouble in Little China remake.  Statham’s own on-screen fight record goes back to three action movie series: The Transporter, The Expendables, and The Mechanic, plus The Italian Job, The Bank Job, and a bunch more, from Parker to last year’s The Meg. 

Although she hails from Plaza Sésamo, Eiza González earned her action film cred in Baby Driver, Alita: Battle Angel, and the From Dusk Till Dawn TV series.  Vanessa Kirby climbed the big peak in Everest and had her breakout performance just last year in Mission Impossible: Fallout.  As the film’s villain, you couldn’t ask for a better tough guy than Idris Elba, playing Heimdall in the Marvel movies, plus key roles in Star Trek Beyond, Prometheus, 28 Weeks Later, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Pacific Rim, and The Dark Tower).  And that’s Helen Mirren in the trailer, too, who also has a slate of badass roles in action films including the RED series, The Fate of the Furious, years of Prime Suspect, and the coming Luc Besson action movie Anna.

The Fast & Furious series has seen plenty of break-out performances along the way, including the span of the career of Paul Walker, and memorable roles for Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ted Levine, Ludacris, Lucas Black, Sung Kang, pre-Wonder Woman Gal Gadot in four of her first films, John Ortiz, Luke Evans, and Kurt Russell.  Former Brad Pitt and Jean-Claude Van Damme stunt double-turned-director David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) is directing this entry, bringing even more action movie experience to the film.

Check out the second trailer for A Ninth of Furious, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw:

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After another day of Star Wars news via Star Wars Celebration 2019, including the teaser for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and leaked footage of Jon Favreau’s November series The Mandalorian on YouTube, Topps, the trading card company, has rolled out the first tie-in product for Episode IX, but you’ll need to act quickly if you want to get it.

Topps is the company that first issued Star Wars trading cards in 1977, eventually to include five different series of cards showcasing scenes from the film, puzzles, behind the scenes images, concept art, marketing images, stickers, and bubble gum.  In case you missed it, take a look at our past coverage of the history of Topps and the Star Wars franchise via our reviews at borg of these Abrams books: The Original Topps Trading Card Series books for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, plus Star Wars: Topps Classic Stickers, and Star Wars Galaxy.  We also looked at the great Rogue One Sketch Art Cards, The Force Awakens trading cards (similar to this set), and Mark Hamill′s creative autographs on Star Wars Topps trading cards across the years here.  Notably the first trading card series for Star Wars wasn’t issued by Topps at all, but via a Wonder Bread premium–a small set of 16 cards, available in marked loaves of the bread and via mail request.

A must for Topps Star Wars trading card collector completists, the first series for the final entry in the nine episodic Star Wars films is here: The Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Trailer Set is the first look at the last installment of the Skywalker saga via Topps cards, and it includes ten cards featuring images from the film’s teaser trailer.  Collectors of Topps’ 1977 series will notice the homage design to that series on both the front and reverse of the cards.

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The end is near.  At Star Wars Celebration in Chicago today, director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy revealed the title and first teaser for Star Wars Episode IX in a panel hosted by late night TV host Stephen Colbert.  The past returns in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, confirming for many that Abrams is taking a turn from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, including literally mending some of the changes from occurred in that episode of the Star Wars saga.

And this last chapter in the Skywalker family story has plenty of surprises, even in a short teaser.

Check it out, and the seven notable moments we see:

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The master of the assassin sub-genre is back again.  You may know him for writing and directing The Fifth Element (starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich), and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (starring Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan), but you may also know Luc Besson as the writer and director of the 1990 film Le Femme Nikita with Anne Parillaud (and its English remake, Point of No Return with Bridget Fonda), and the 1994 movie The Professional (Natalie Portman, Jean Reno).  He’s also written the screenplays for The Transporter starring Jason Statham (2002), Taken starring Liam Neeson (2008), and Colombiana starring Zoe Saldana (2011).  Then he tied together his science fiction sense with his trademark badass woman leading role in 2014 with Lucy, starring Scarlet Johansson.  That’s several assassins, spies, and action sequences in Luc Besson’s personal dossier.

Besson is writing and directing his next film, too.  It’s called Anna, and he’s tapped the actress behind the unforgettable alien woman from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Sasha Luss (who played the ill-fated Princess Lïhio-Minaa) as the title character.  From its first trailer (check it out below), Anna seems to be part Red Sparrow and part Atomic BlondeOr another La Femme NikitaBut it’s going to be very difficult for fans of spy movies to differentiate this latest entry from Atomic Blonde, especially if the film is really structured as revealed in the trailer.  It looks like it could be a remake, but it isn’t.

Some credibility and gravitas come from the presence of Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren, whose own badass spy and assassin role in RED and RED 2 should come to mind.  Other actors in the film include Luke Evans (The Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit series) and Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Tron: Legacy, The Dark Knight Rises).

Here’s the first trailer for Luc Besson’s Anna:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In his new novel Firefly: The Magnificent Nine, author James Lovegrove embarks on his next journey with the crew of Serenity following his highly successful launch point for the first ever novel series for the franchise, last year’s Firefly: Big Damn Hero (reviewed here at borg).  It’s been thirteen years since we last saw a Firefly story like these two novels, which each contain the contents of about an entire movie.  Along the way creator Joss Whedon has authorized some shorter tales via the comic books (discussed here).  Firefly: Big Damn Hero was the Firefly event of last year, and this year we’ll have two novels competing for that honor, with Tim Lebbon′s contribution to the series of novels coming this fall in Firefly: Generations So how did Lovegrove’s Firefly: The Magnificent Nine compare to his Firefly: Big Damn Hero?

As with Firefly: Big Damn Hero, Lovegrove writes the voices of the entire crew perfectly.  This is another space Western, the core of the original series, and both books feel like natural progressions following the original 14 episodes (Firefly: The Magnificent Nine fits between the last episode and the 2005 film Serenity, allowing the inclusion of two fan-favorite characters–and they’re all fan-favorite characters–Hoban “Wash” Washburne and Shepherd Book).  In a significant way the challenge of writing new Firefly stories is that writers only have 15 “canon” stories to build from, along with any notes from Whedon’s story development.  The potential pitfall is mining the original episodes too much for throwback references.  At 336 pages that’s not anything to worry about for Lovegrove.  Yes, fans will appreciate the Easter Eggs throughout the tale: Jayne Cobb’s famous hat (“a giant piece of candy corn gone wrong”) does not get ignored here, and neither does his weapon of choice, Vera.  But the framework of the story allows for plenty of opportunities for Lovegrove to do more with the characters.  It’s hard to beat his ability to get inside the head of River in Firefly: Big Damn Hero–a difficult character who didn’t get enough time to get fleshed out in the series.  But this time River takes a backseat and Jayne gets the spotlight.  As a completely original story Firefly: Big Damn Hero wins, but not by a lot.

As the title should indicate, Firefly: The Magnificent Nine is an homage to the classic, epic Western The Magnificent Seven, its source Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and countless adaptations since.  It’s notable and important that this isn’t another actual adaptation or full retelling of the story, as Lovegrove takes his own tangent from the story after setting up the novel’s first act.  But he peppers the story with familiar references, like using actors’ names and Kurosawa himself for new characters in his story.  He also has plenty of Louis L’Amour tropes and references.  One thing this novel makes clear is there are at least as many opportunities for new novels in the series as there are Kurosawa movies and L’Amour novels to pull good ideas from.  So this isn’t merely another take on The Magnificent Seven so much as establishing that the nine heroes of the Serenity are worthy of that title.

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It’s a twofold celebration:  It’s not only the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of Batman, it’s also the 30th anniversary of director Tim Burton’s visionary film, 1989’s Batman, starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Kim Basinger.  On this year’s Free Comic Book Day, May 4, Fathom Events has pulled together the first of the four original Warner Brothers Batman movies: Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, and Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.  The four Bat-films will screen over four days as part of Fathom Events’ Batman 80th anniversary marathon.

My sister and I saw Batman on its opening night in June 1989, and stayed in our seats to watch it again.  The crowd erupted at every scene that revealed something iconic from the comics, but nothing compared to the ovation with the first appearance of the new Batmobile.  The excitement makes sense–audiences hadn’t been dazzled with superheroes on the screen in this way since Christopher Reeve appeared in 1977’s Superman, more than a decade before.  On the heels of Frank Miller’s success with the surprisingly dark and gritty four-issue mini-series The Dark Knight Returns in 1986, it was still a surprise when audiences got their first glimpses at Burton’s similarly dark, Gothic vision for the film.  His choice of then comedic actor Michael Keaton for Bruce Wayne and Batman drew the same kind of ire as any outside-the-box announcement today.  But Keaton was trying to show he had a different side, as demonstrated by his recent dark and outrageous role in Beetlejuice followed by his dramatic film Clean and Sober.  As for Jack Nicholson, everyone just wanted to seem him play the role his smile was made for, as the crazed, maniacal, murderous jokester The Joker.

So if you missed them the first time, you get Danny Elfman′s defining theme, plus Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney as Batman, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, Chris O’Donnell as Robin, plus an arsenal of villains: Jack Nicholson as The Joker plus Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Danny DeVito as The Penguin, Jim Carrey as The Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze.  And all four movies have in common Michael Gough as Alfred and Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon.

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Remember how epic the “ultimate” eleven-movie Marvel marathon sounded back in 2015, or the 20-movie Marvel film festival last year where participating theaters screened only four movies per day?  Yeah, not so much after this next marathon arrives.

At only three theaters (so far?) AMC Lincoln Square 13 (New York), AMC River East 21 (Illinois) and AMC Metreon 16 (California), fans will have the opportunity to experience a movie marathon like no other–AMC and Marvel Studios’ 22 Movie Marathon.  Beginning Tuesday, April 23, this marathon has it all: Watch all 21 films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe all leading up to and including the latest, film #22, Avengers: Endgame.

We have no doubt that this will quickly sell out in any theater they decide to hold it.  This is how good the franchise is, how much the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies outweigh the worst, how crazy and devoted Marvel fans are, and how epic this could be.

The event will include marathon-only collectibles, and some sort of to-be-determined concessions offer.  Plus Avengers: Endgame will be screened at 5 p.m. local time April 25, about 55 hours after Iron Man begins on April 23, and one hour earlier than regular public show times.  Do you have what it takes to survive 58 hours in a theater?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

From an educational standpoint and an historian’s eye, the Holocaust is the most important subject of study for anyone to understand why humans look to the past for answers.  Every aspect of historical scholarship can be found in studies of the subject, understanding politics, religion, power, discrimination, survival, and the worst potential of mankind.  A powerful new documentary takes a new look at the Holocaust through the eyes of a grandson and great-granddaughter of one artist, Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943), whose vivid, stunning expressionist and minimalist paintings document a broad look at life, tradition, and culture in Jewish Poland prior to World War II.  Produced, directed, and written by his great-granddaughter Elizabeth Rynecki, Chasing Portraits illustrates the competing challenges in the debate over the repatriation of cultural artifacts, as it also pulls in issues of borders, the distance of time, and the critical importance of studying art history.

Once you get past the first minutes, which seem to be filmed on an old camcorder, this amateur documentary steps up into a compelling journey, thanks in part to a musical score that ties it all together, by Matthias Zimmerman.  The German Nazis murdered Moshe Rynecki in a concentration camp in Warsaw in 1943.  Many of his more than 800 paintings and some of his sculptures and carvings were smuggled out.  Hundreds were taken out by his son and her wife, who escaped Warsaw with their young boy, the documentarian’s father.  Other works fall into the categories of gifts, works purchased legally, and works that may have been stolen and resold.  Elizabeth Rynecki first meets with her father in her documentary, whose house walls are lined with his grandfather’s paintings.  She also points to a closet where several works are rather haphazardly stacked, no doubt viewed only by few people over the past 70 years.  In one moment her father replaces a framed piece that falls to the side with a thunk.  This becomes a key scene–although it’s not clear that the director realizes it–as she does not circle back to it later.  It’s key because she begins a journey of discovery that takes her from the U.S. to Poland and Jerusalem, inside major museums and private collections, in part to reclaim what she believes are paintings that rightfully belong to her family today.  By the end of the film she acknowledges that tens of millions of visitors have admired her great-grandfather’s works in the museums, and she interviews museum directors that have clearly given the paintings the care any curator would give to his/her collections.

The question for the viewer becomes one of moral rights and legal rights–the debate over repatriation of cultural and artistic works.  And the crux of the debate over where these cultural works belong today–to descendants in private collections or on display in national museums as educational tools for a vastly wider audience.  Eventually Ms. Rynecki files a claim for three works held by a private person in Jerusalem, whose method of acquiring the works is questioned.  But ultimately she retracts the claim.  Along the way she interviews her father, who says he clearly would prefer to forget his memories of Poland during the war.  Yet he complies with his daughter’s requests to document his memories, until it becomes too much for him emotionally and physically.  Clearly there is importance to the works, to his experience, and to sharing both with future generations, and Ms. Rynecki encounters numerous crises of conscience as she takes each step forward in her pursuit.  How far should she go?  How far is enough?  Her time travel to the past explores these questions and much more.

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In marked contrast to the fun, fantastic, and surprising Warner Brothers release Shazam!, finally arriving in theaters in general release today and reviewed previously here at borg, film fans now have their first look at Warner Brothers’ fall release, Joker For a franchise from the same superhero universe, you couldn’t find a most strikingly dissimilar pair of films, if the first trailer for Joker is any indication of the rest of the film.  Joaquin Phoenix is stepping in this time to fill the role previously played by Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto, Cameron Monaghan, and even Mark Hamill in animated versions, and countless others.  This time the character is named Arthur Fleck, so we don’t know whether this is truly the same as the other Jokers or just some parallel world incarnation of the larger-than-life, psychotic, clown villain who became a household word for TV audiences as portrayed by Cesar Romero in the 1960s.

If audiences and fans of DC Comics and DC movies know one character inside and out, it’s the Joker.  So why another movie with the Joker, and more to the point, why another origin story?  Phoenix, the multiple Academy Award-nominated actor from Gladiator, Walk the Line, and The Master, digs in with great, nuanced skill in all of his roles, and Joker will no doubt be any different.  So if you’re still a fan of the dozen recent dark visions into the superhero universe of DC Comics, Phoenix probably is a solid casting choice.  But can you really have a major Joker tale without Batman?  What about all that “creating each other” business?  The market certainly seems saturated with dark comics adaptations and we’re hoping Shazam! will grab audiences so we see more superhero films like it and The Lego Batman Movie ahead, or DC could split the difference and mine the Marvel Cinematic Universe for some fresh ideas.  But first, it’s going to be a Joker tale later this year.

Check it out for yourself, the first trailer for Joker:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Eighty-five years ago today, April 1, 1934, two Texas highway patrolmen, 26-year-old Edward Wheeler and 22-year-old Holloway Murphy were on motorcycle patrol, checking on a car they thought may need assistance.  Instead, they were gunned down by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.  It was Easter Sunday.  The two notorious criminals had repeatedly evaded the law, in part because they were sheltered in an era where the stupidity of the masses outweighed sense and a large segment of the populace viewed them as some kind of folk heroes.  Despite being captured by two former Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, that legendary hero status stuck somehow, thanks in part to Hollywood, and specifically the rather popular and also critically acclaimed movie Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  That film portrayed a rollicking, at times humorous, ride, which in fact, shared little of substance about the criminals and their victims.  Hollywood is now doing an about-face with a new, edgy, thoughtful drama, which includes the murders of Wheeler and Murphy and others, in director John Lee Hancock‘s The Highwaymen, now on Netflix.

Hancock, who wrote screenplays for the Kevin Costner/Clint Eastwood film A Perfect World, the screenplay for Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and wrote and directed the 2004 version of The Alamo, offers up a reserved, measured tale not of the infamous criminals this time, but the two aging men, Hamer and Gault, who knew how to track and kill criminals.  That’s thanks to a script by John Fusco, who has experience writing historical accounts for the screen, as found in his Billy the Kid story Young Guns, the Babe Ruth biopic Babe, the 1890s horse rider tale Hidalgo, and his heavily researched series Marco Polo.  Despite the sometimes dry “historical drama” label, The Highwaymen is by no means devoid of compelling storytelling.  Plus, headlined by Kevin Costner, playing the elder more experienced former Ranger Frank Hamer, and Woody Harrelson as the slightly less experienced B.M. “Maney” Gault, the film showcases the chemistry between the duo.  In one key dramatic sequence the two lawmen come upon a temporary residence for the criminals, looking for clues among the closeted clothing in what could be the bedroom of any small town couple of the day.  But Harrelson may get the most satisfying scene, as he responds to being cornered by a group of Barrow supporters while in a public restroom.

The film is fueled by a compelling musical score by Thomas Newman (Spectre, Skyfall, Road to Perdition, The Shawshank Redemption, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Man With One Red Shoe), the kind of a soundtrack that will no doubt stand well as its own creative work.  His score sets the tempo of the picture while not overtaking it, as happened with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-nominated score for Costner’s The Untouchables, a similar era film that will no doubt be compared to The HighwaymenNewman’s music is entirely different, a balance of post-Civil War, Western, and Depression-era motifs with guitar that echoes the former Rangers’ cowboy, horse-riding past.  Cinematographer John Schwartzman delivers the kind of bleak, spacious, 1930s America perhaps last scene in László Kovács’ film work on Peter Bogdanovich’s depression-era film Paper Moon.

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