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Category: Movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

After its second week in theaters, Ready Player One is still chalking up sold-out screenings nationwide.  Whether or not you’re a video game fan, and whether or not you read Ernest Cline’s novel the film is based on, it’s a fun way to spend 2.5 hours.  Although his producer credits are hit-and-miss over the past few decades, director Steven Spielberg tends to take on films he cares about, and handles them with care.  Same goes for Ready Player One.  Along with his Oscar-nominated film The Post, Ready Player One proves there’s no slowing down for the director’s success in making good films.  Even if Ready Player One is not as great as the films from the 1980s that it honors (Spielberg’s choice to ignore references from his own films leaves a big, obvious gap throughout scene after scene), it’s a nice story, and a progression of the kind of coming-of-age story the director first created long ago with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Yet the backbone of the story doesn’t flow from the 1980s, but the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

In the year 2045, Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse), and a group of people he has only met as their avatars in a giant MMPORG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) called OASIS, embark on a quest to solve the late OASIS founder’s puzzle in three steps, which would reward the winner with control of the OASIS and the hundreds of millions of dollars the company behind it (called IOI) is worth.  The big win is the authenticity of relationships between Sheridan and his co-stars, including Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) as Art3mis (pronounced Artemis), Aech (sounds like the letter “H”) played by Lena Waithe (Master of None), Daito (Win Morisaki), and Sho (Philip Zhao) as they work together on their journey.  Cooke’s character really comes alive as the high point of the film.  The villains are more textbook bad guys, led by Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), with his bulky minion i-R0K (“I rock”) played by T.J. Miller (Deadpool), and a seriously underutilized Hannah John-Kamen as F’Nale.  i-R0K carries the bulk of the film’s best comedy lines.  Surprisingly the story misses the opportunity to give the viewer enough information to solve the three riddles of the film.  Instead we watch the characters move through a great big fictional world only they know about.  But the adventure is a good ride.  Look for Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) and Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Shaun of the Dead) as an interesting odd couple of Gates/Jobs-inspired visionaries.

Get ready for dizzying races and chases with the latest CGI and motion capture special effects–so much so that much of the movie feels like an animated movie.  We’ve come a long way from the 1980s version of the subject matter in Disney’s Tron–the first visit into a video game world.  But Ready Player One is similar in tone to Tron and another video game movie of the era, The Last Starfighter–all good family films with positive themes.  Here that’s the importance of community, leadership, and personal responsibility, and the negative side of new and emerging technologies like drones and having more than merely virtual social relationships.

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An all-star cast from the past and present heads up the new action-thriller Hotel Artemis.  The first trailer is out and it looks like a new take on John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, maybe colliding with Atomic Blonde.  It stars Academy Award winner Jodie Foster as The Nurse–the head of a members-only, exclusive, secret hospital for criminals, built on two concepts: Trust and Rules.  And it all goes spy vs. spy as the bad guys must face even badder bad guys.  Foster looks and sounds great as a tried and true, battle-worn healthcare worker who has clearly encountered any and all kinds of patients and circumstances over the years.  Hotel Artemis–oddly enough–seems to fit right into her catalog of films like Flightplan, Panic Room, Inside Man, and Elysium.

You couldn’t ask for a more exciting cast of Hollywood’s current big names.  Joining Foster, Black Panther and Marshall actor Sterling K. Brown stars as Waikiki, a thief whose team gets wounded in a robbery.  That team includes his brother Honolulu, played by Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse).  The real badass of the film is one of our favorites, Atomic Blonde co-star Sofia Boutella as a jet-fueled, Bruce Lee-skilled assassin.  Boutella has conquered the genre with roles in Kingsman: The Secret Service, Star Trek Beyond, and The Mummy.  Who else would you want in your corner but an orderly played by Dave Bautista Chuck, DC and Marvel, Blade Runner, and James Bond–Bautista has played some great parts in cool worlds.  And it doesn’t stop there.  These characters must confront another bad guy group, led by a cocky villain played by Jeff Goldblum.  Hotel Artemis also hosts Jenny Slate (Venom, Zootopia, Parks and Recreation, The LEGO Batman Movie), Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Heroes), and Charlie Day (Pacific Rim, Pacific Rim: Uprising, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). 

Hotel Artemis is coming from the mind of writer/director Drew Pearce, known for writing big films like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Iron Man 3, plus he’s also writing the next Ghostbusters and Sherlock Holmes movie.  Get ready for a trailer done just right:

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First premiering at a film festival in Toronto last September, a new costume drama biopic will be slipping into theaters in the U.S. next month and UK theaters in July.  Mary Shelley is a film from a story by Emma Jensen, looking at Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s romance with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, including the famous contest in which Shelley would write in the year 1816 what has been called the most influential science fiction and horror story of all time.  Saudi Arabia’s first woman filmmaker, Haifaa al-Mansour, is directing, with Elle Fanning in the lead role.

The first trailer for the film unveils a historical drama, presenting a young cast for a new generation of Regency romance moviegoers.  Portraying 16 to 18-year-old Shelley is 18-year-old Elle Fanning (as of filming), who has impressed audiences in her short career with star roles in films Super 8, Maleficent, and the remake of The Beguiled.  Co-star Maisie Williams will be familiar to Game of Thrones and Doctor Who fans.  Mary Shelley has the look of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but without the fantasy and horror elements.  That may be thanks in part to co-star Douglas Booth as Percy Shelley, who appeared in both films, as well as Jupiter Ascending and a few historical TV dramas.  Mary Shelley also features Tom Sturridge (Far from the Madding Crowd) as Lord Byron, and Ben Hardy (X-Men: Apocalypse).

Actor Amelia Warner (Aeon Flux, Mansfield Park) composed the film’s musical score.  Kevin Downey, who worked in the art department on The Terror, Ripper Street, Little Women, and Penny Dreadful, is the film’s set decorator.  Caroline Koener is costume designer.

Here is the first trailer for Mary Shelley:

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At this year’s D23 convention, director Brad Bird and Disney/Pixar creator John Lasseter revealed a first look at the coming sequel to 2004’s The Incredibles with the return of superhero costumer Edna “no capes” Mode, and we saw a full trailer back in February (check it out here).  Holly Hunter’s character Helen aka Elastigirl is in the drivers’ seat for the eagerly awaited sequel, and a new trailer for the movie shows us even more.

In the original film Jack-Jack revealed his powers to his babysitter.  This time father Bob Farr aka Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) takes on a Mr. Mom role, doing the same kind of botched parenting antics as Michael Keaton in the 1983 film.  Most of the original cast is back, including Nelson, Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson (Frozone), Sarah Vowell (Violet), with Huck Milner replacing Spencer Fox as the new voice of son Dash.  Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone looks to be as funny as ever.

That mid-century modern artistry defines this series, as well as Michael Giacchino’s 1960s-70s spy flick soundtrack, an update to his exciting original musical score.  It looks like the superheroics are coming from Elastigirl in this chapter, and the humor from Mr. Incredible.

Check out this new trailer for The Incredibles 2:

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Forty years ago this weekend, the soundtrack to the movie Grease was released in stores, two months in advance of the premiere of the movie.  Singles from the LP, “Grease,” and “You’re the One That I Want,” went to #1 in the United States, while “You’re the One That I Want,” and “Summer Nights” went to #1 in the UK, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Sandy” went to #2 in the UK, and “Grease” made it to #3 in the UK.  Back in 1978, even in advance of the movie, the radio was playing these songs and every teenager knew the words to this musical set in the 1950s with a disco beat.

The Bee Gees lead Barry Gibb wrote the song “Grease,” released on the album on the heels of The Bee Gees’ megahit album Saturday Night Fever from only a few months back in November 1977–still unsurpassed as the best selling soundtrack album of all time.  The song “Grease” also includes guitar work by Peter Frampton.  Five of the 24 tracks feature vocals by the film’s leads John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, with six performed by 1950s throwback group Sha Na Na.

Grease, the movie, expanded on the success of both Happy Days and American Graffiti, and the 1970s nostalgia for the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Fathom Events and TSM Big Screen Classics brought Grease back to theaters this week and you have one final opportunity to catch a screening this Saturday, April 14, 2018.  Check your local listings and the Fathom Events website here for details.  Released in June 1978, Grease became the highest grossing musical film ever, and forty years later it holds a spot in fourth place.

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Jason Statham has a way with selecting movies that get noticed and re-watched.  Or credit his agent.  Seventeen years in big movies and still fighting the good fight in roles once played by Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis, he’s back this summer in what’s bound to be a big summer movie, battling a larger than life shark in The Meg.  The latest trailer shows this new big monster mash was actually made on a real production budget, unlike dozens of forgettable attempts to both impress and scare moviegoers for more than forty years since Steven Spielberg’s original Jaws (remember Piranha, Crocodile, Barracuda, and Alligator?).  Forget about the obviously goofy Sharknado series and see if this might bridge the gap between drama, humor, and jump-out-of-your-seat summer fun.  Take a look below and see if you agree The Meg has a chance at surpassing some of the better B-movie efforts at a sea monster movie, like Anaconda and Lake Placid.  

We first noticed Statham’s cool and cocky bravado under the direction of one of the all-time genre greats, John Carpenter, in Ghosts of Mars, playing opposite Pam Grier and Joanna Cassidy.  He quickly led the first of his three Transporter movies beginning in 2002.  Then he co-starred in one of the best heist movies of all time with an all-star cast in 2003’s The Italian Job, followed five years later in one of the best heist movies of all time without an all-star cast in The Bank Job.  And he’s co-starred in both The Fast and the Furious franchise and The Expendables, played Donald E. Westlake’s well-known crime lead in Parker, and starred in a dozen other single-word action flicks, including Collateral, Cellular, Revolver, Crank, Safe, and Redemption.  

Now it’s time to see Statham take on a giant squid and a not-so extinct megalodon aka “The Meg.”  The film is expected to score in the China market, also featuring major star Bingbing Li (Transformers: Age of Extinction, Resident Evil: Retribution).  The Meg also features a handful of familiar television actors, including The Heroes star Masi Oka.

Check out this fun trailer for The Meg:

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A few hours ago Lucasfilm released a new, very long trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story.  If you’re not already all-in for this next Star Wars adventure, this may get you there.  Lucasfilm also released a new, retro style movie poster.  But be forewarned:  We’re getting to the point in the cycle of a coming summer blockbuster where Hollywood starts showing audiences too much of the film.  So if you have the patience, you may want to move along.  It’s doubtful any major spoilers are given away in this trailer, but it seems likely we’ve had a peek at at least 90% of the key environments in the film already.

What?  You’re still here?

If you’re like us, you can soak in all the Star Wars goodness as Disney & Co. is willing to serve it up, spoilers be damned.  The most exciting bit from this new look is Chewbacca.  We hoped and expected he would be key to this film, and so far it seems director Ron Howard is going to deliver on that expectation.  The other bit of note is Donald Glover’s assimilation of Billy Dee Williams’ performance from The Empire Strikes Back as Lando Calrissian, his summoning of all that cool from the actor now frequenting conventions across the country, his transmografication into the suave character we want to see.  Everyone else looks great, too, including new Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich.  If you don’t think he evokes Harrison Ford, so what?  Consider if you’d seen this Solo movie in chronological order, before 1977.  From the trailers Ehrenreich’s entry into the franchise seems more like Mark Hamill’s back in 1977.  We hadn’t heard of Hamill either, yet the unknown actor jumped in nicely to lead the way in the new galaxy, far, far away.

So get ready, if you dare, for the next dive into the past world of Star Wars in this new trailer from Solo: A Star Wars Story:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Director Guillermo del Toro’s ode to Godzilla and the mecha genre in 2013’s Pacific Rim continues with del Toro producing the sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising, directed by Steven S. DeKnight.  As you’d expect, that means bigger and better Jaegers–those enormous fighting, armored machines initially only manned and newly created as flying drones to defend Earth–and some bigger and more terrifying Kaiju–humanity’s nemeses in the form of terrifying, alien, Godzilla-inspired monsters.  Fans of the franchise can see the development of the next generation of both creations, and how their development relied upon getting the right look and sound effects together, in the new book The Art and Making of Pacific Rim: Uprising.

Director DeKnight, showrunner of Marvel’s Daredevil, and producer of genre favorites Smallville, Angel, and Dollhouse, provides a foreword to the book and takes readers through each step of the development of the film from idea to fleshing out the look of the film’s giant-sized spectacles and its several new human characters.  Screenwriters T.S. Nowlin and Travis Beacham provide insight into the direction of the story, and DeKnight and visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang (Star Trek Beyond, Godzilla, Total Recall, John Carter, The Chronicles of Riddick, Labyrinth, Highlander, Krull) explain the look and rationale for each element of the film.  Author Daniel Wallace incorporates interviews with cast members John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Charlie Day, and others, plus costume designer Lizz Wolf describes her concepts behind the signature look of each character.  We also meet the next generation of cadets, with a young slate of international performers: Wesley Wong, Rahart Adams, Karan Brar, Lily Ji, Shyrley Rodriquez, Ivanna Sakhno, and Levi Meaden–a group of up-and-coming actors that will be fun to watch emerge in films in the next few years.

But for most fans it will be the concept art for the Jaegers that are of key importance for a book like this, and they should be happy as most of the content is devoted to these designs, including discarded concepts and rejected variants.  Production designer Stefan Dechant (Kong: Skull Island, Alice in Wonderland, Minority Report) talks about his influences for design elements of each Jaeger (like F-16 Fighters for Guardian Bravo, the Millennium Falcon for Bracer Phoenix) and how the massive weaponry was developed.  Color was a key design factor for the Jaegers and the Kaiju, and the large icons were also defined by their sounds.  More so than most behind-the-scenes looks into films, The Art and Making of Pacific Rim: Uprising may provide the most attention to the incorporation of sound effects.  Supervising sound designer and editor Erik Aadahl (Transformers, Godzilla, Terminator Genisys, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) shares many of his secrets to help create the foreboding presence of the monsters and machines.

Key for fans of the franchise will be the book’s incorporation of tipped-in scrapbook materials, reproductions of original artwork like unused Jaeger concept art, storyboards, a monster/machine size comparison chart, a glossy, full-color pull-out blueprint of Romeo Blue, and several other reproductions of the designers’ concept art.

Check out these images from The Art and Making of Pacific Rim: Uprising:

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Years after a much publicized but failed effort to restore the Star League by the likes of Steven Spielberg and Seth Rogen, the writer for 1984’s beloved science fiction classic The Last Starfighter looks like he may finally be getting a sequel off the ground.  According to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars Rebels writer Gary Whitta, he has teamed up with writer Jonathan Betuel on a film that would stand as a sequel and a reboot to the original story that watched young Alex Rogan leave planet Earth to become a Starfighter to defend the Star League against the Ko-Dan Armada.  It’s one heck of a tease–on the heels of last weekend’s release of the 1980s nostalgia-driven film Ready Player One, Whitta picked a great time to pique the interests of the original film’s legion of fans.

Originating from a video game parked conveniently at a rural trailer park and store called Starlite Starbrite (the store still exists in Acton, California, southwest of Vasquez Rocks Park), a young man demonstrated for the first video game generation that–despite parents’ protests to the contrary–you can save the world by playing for the high score.  Although plenty of movies enter the concept art phase only to end up a footnote in a retrospective film art book decades later, preliminary design drafts of what has been referred to previously as merely Starfighter emerged via Whitta’s Twitter account Wednesday.  Matt Allsopp, a concept artist who worked on Rogue One along with Whitta, created these unmistakable designs, incorporating the Star League emblem, Gunstar ships, and Starfighters.  This takes the idea past the rumor phase, providing some evidence that this latest effort looks to be real after all.

Whitta teased the coming film project with eight photographs of concept art, writing on his Twitter page, “Okay, probably shouldn’t show you this so early but here’s a little something I’ve been tinkering on with my co-writer Jonathan Betuel.  You might recognize the ships.  Thanks to the amazing Matt Allsopp (lead concept artist on ROGUE ONE) for creating these images for us.”  He later added, “People seemed excited by the first tweet so here’s a tiny bit more of Matt’s concept art. Can’t show anything more after this, it’s all too spoilery [smile] #GreetingsStarfighter”.

Lance Guest as Alex Rogan, as he is about to take his first step into a larger world, from 1984’s The Last Starfighter.

Our hope?  How about bringing in original director Nick Castle, and if he’s not interested, what is Rogue One director Gareth Edwards up to these days?  It seems like an obvious target release for the second half of 2019–the 35th anniversary of the original.  It would also seem obvious to include actors Lance Guest, who played Alex, and Catherine Mary Stewart, who played Maggie.  Both well-known The Music Man star Robert Preston and prolific TV and film actor Dan O’Herlihy, who played Centauri and Grig, respectively, passed away several years ago.  In addition to the top photo above, check out seven more images of Matt Allsopp’s gorgeous, futuristic, and evocative concept art below:

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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 Scorcese 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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