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Category: Movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not that often actors that make it to the level of movie stardom get to have that curtain call.  Robert Redford announced after the filming of The Old Man & the Gun that this would be his last film in front of the camera.  A tribute to Redford and a wind-up of a great and unusual career of smartly made choices by the actor, it’s an enjoyable film and final take on the persona Redford played so well in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and Sneakers.  Earlier this year Netflix released a new film called The Highwaymen, a story written by John Fusco about the Texas Rangers that finally took down Bonnie and Clyde.  Years ago Redford was taking the script to Paul Newman intending it to round out their two crime films together (Butch & Sundance and The Sting), but Newman passed away.  That story would have been a great final film for both, but somehow The Old Man & the Gun is truer to the legacy of Redford as that hard-to-resist bad guy.  Redford hangs up the acting part of his life just the way we like him, as the good bad guy.

Writer/director David Lowery could have made The Old Man & the Gun something over the top, something like Space Cowboys, but we know Redford wouldn’t have signed up for something like that.  This is more subtle, sweet, and sentimental, doing something similar for Redford to what Clint Eastwood has been doing with his elder years roles like Gran Torino and The Mule.  The Old Man & the Gun is in the same genre as the Eastwood and Kevin Costner film A Perfect World, another take on Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Catch Me if You Can, and without the intensity of Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine’s Hell or High Water, introducing us to another criminal and his pursuer, this one 82-year-old Redford playing the 62-year-old real-life, early 1980s bank robber Forrest Tucker.  Redford looks more 82 than 62, but it doesn’t matter, older is better here, and the casting director who teamed him with Sissy Spacek as love interest deserves some kudos.  Redford’s thief is a likable enough guy who leads a small-scale Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid gang consisting of a quirky Danny Glover and Tom Waits.  Ultimately the film is worthy of all these actors, enough reason alone to check it out.

Rounding out a quartet of Academy Award-winners with Redford and Spacek and a blink-and-you’ll miss him Keith Carradine, is Casey Affleck, playing the young, local police pursuer a bit differently than the typical cop trying to get his guy that we’ve seen in countless police stories.  Through interviews we watch him learn that every person who has been robbed by Tucker sees Tucker as a nice, sympathetic, grandfatherly old gentleman.  Taking cues from his kids and wife played by Tika Sumpter, Affleck’s cop takes a step back, and his performance is subtly played.  And quite good.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

What defines the Men in Black the best?  The neuralyzer?  The Noisy Cricket?  The suits?  Or maybe its the sunglasses.  1997, 2002, 2012, and 2019.  Plenty has changed in 22 years since the first Men in Black movie, but readers of a new book on all four films in the MiB franchise will learn a lot hasn’t changed.  As part of the release of the latest entry in the series, Men in Black International, Titan Books partnered with Columbia Pictures to put together Men in Black Films: The Official Visual Companion to the Films, an oversized, chrome, hardcover guide spanning the creation of the MiB universe and each film from the original comic books to the new movie.

Writers Lisa Fitzpatrick and Sharon Gosling interview the directors, writers, visual effects crew, and other artists and actors from each movie to find out why the series has resonated with sci-fi audiences.  Moving between images from the film, the characters, and plots, to what happened behind the scenes to develop the ideas from page to final film, readers will get two views of the films: one in-universe and one real-world.  It’s told chronologically, giving equal treatment to each film.  Along with stars Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, James Brolin, and now Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, you’ll see familiar characters from the past played by Tony Shalhoub (Galaxy Quest), Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water), Luke Cage stars Rosario Dawson and Mike Colter (Luke Cage), and the late Rip Torn (Defending Your Life), and you’ll meet new characters played by Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson.

The writers find lots of common threads with the first three films because of the overlap in creators, so look for some deep dives into the moviemaking process from director of the first three films, Barry Sonnenfeld, producers Laurie MacDonald and Walter F. Parkes (and how they coordinated ideas with executive producer Steven Spielberg), production designer Bo Welch, set decorator Cheryl Carasik, and, of course, Rick Baker, monster (and alien) maker, plus dozens more.  It’s all a nostalgic look back to some of the major creators that guided the look of Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s.  It includes commentary from comic book creator Lowell Cunningham and the several writers that had a hand in the screenplays.  From the great futuristic props to those sunglasses and black suit changes, every major talent behind the camera gets to share where the ideas came from, with full-color photographs documenting the production steps along the way.

Here is a look inside Men in Black Films: The Official Visual Companion to the Films, courtesy of Titan Books:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Author Greg Keyes is back again after his smartly written novels War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm with the newly released novelization of Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  Keyes takes what is a convoluted and overstuffed story on film and fleshes out the details of character motivations and plot points, revealing the film really had enough content to be released over two movies.  Keyes’ novel is based on the screenplay by Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields, and a story by those men along with Max Borenstein.  Of course a story credit goes to the many Japanese creators’ works over the past 65 years that the film’s kaiju monsters were mined from.  If you can get past the family of humans that the plot of the latest film revolves around, there is a good story of monsters rising from the ashes that should appeal to any Godzilla fan.

Each chapter begins by pulling the reader into the in-universe historicity of the giant antagonists by quoting myths, historical works, hymns, native poems, and notable stories that make reference to large creatures, ancient gods, and the end of days.  It’s a clever tool, citing works including Yeats’ The Second Coming, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Bacon’s Novum Organum, The Popul Vuh, Tennyson’s The Kraken, Hesiod, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and Job.  It all provides some minimal justification for the constant character references to the monsters as Earth’s ancient gods, as opposed to any attempted sourcing in the scientific record with something like dinosaurs or some kind of Michael Crichton-esque twisted re-creation.

In his novelization Keyes follows the film substantially verbatim, adding some improvements along the way, like specific references to Kong at Skull Island, which merits only an end-credit montage sequence in the film.  This is good preparation for the next film in the series coming next year, Godzilla vs. Kong.  He also provides information that is glossed over in the movie–who are the people affected by the monsters that don’t get the spotlight, those outside Godzilla, Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan?  We learned in the film there were at least seventeen Titans creatures guarded by gated, Monarch outposts, many via names on monitors audiences could blink and miss.

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It’s like Quentin Tarentino bought the rights to direct a Clue remake and merged it with another Kill Bill sequel and Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game.  Whichever way it ends up, the creators of the late summer release Ready or Not know how to make a great movie trailer.  Disney’s new production arm Fox Searchlight, known for independent, horror, and comedy films, looks to have produced a clever idea: a horror film with quirky dark Tim Burton-esque black comedy in a traditional mystery setting.  Make that two trailers, both a good greenband trailer and a good redband trailer.  Check out both trailers below.

Australian actress Samara Weaving (Ash vs Evil Dead, Picnic at Hanging Rock) plays bride Grace, whose new husband, played by Mark O’Brien (Arrival, Warehouse 13), belongs to a family with an eccentric tradition.  The bride must draw a card and survive the game on the card to pass the test and join the family.  She chooses “Hide and Seek” and the family grabs their weapon of choice and proceed to try to kill her.  In the backdrop is this great mansion, backed with production design by Andrew M. Stearn (Chicago, The Handmaid’s Tale, Killjoys), and costumes by Avery Plewes (The Umbrella Academy, Star Trek Discovery).  There’s not much not to like here, except the splattery blood and gore and language that won’t be for every audience.  For everyone else this looks like plenty of goofy fun.

Some high points not to overlook are the Canada actors TV watchers should be familiar with, especially Orphan Black’s standout funnyman Donnie (Kristian Bruun) and Wynonna Earp herself, Melanie Scrofano.  Other familiar faces include Andie MacDowell (Groundhog Day), Henry Czerny (Clear and Present Danger), Adam Brody (Shazam!), Elyse Levesque (Stargate Universe, Orphan Black), Hanneke Talbot (iZombie, Star Trek Discovery), and John Ralston (Haven, Reign).  Ready or Not is directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, with a screenplay by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy.

Here are both the PG-13 and the R versions of the trailers for Ready or Not:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This weekend one of the greatest American film classics celebrated its 30th anniversary across the U.S.  Thirty years later and Phil Alden Robinson′s Field of Dreams still holds up.  But thirty years is a long time, and my umpteenth viewing for Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies theatrical release for Father’s Day netted even more new thoughts about one of my all-time favorite movies.  I can’t think of a better Father’s Day movie, but if you missed it in the theater this weekend, you have one more day and two showings to catch it before it goes back in the vaults until its next anniversary.  Find out more about tomorrow’s two screenings and find your local participating theater at the Fathom Events website for the anniversary event here.  TCM host Ben Mankiewicz adds some film trivia before and after the screening–he’s a great host for these anniversary events.

Not even two minutes pass before Kevin Costner′s Ray Kinsella hears the ghostly words from afar that set the story into motion: If you build it, he will come.  From there, Robinson’s tightly written, major re-work of the W.P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe is non-stop magic (check out my retro review of the novel here at borg earlier this year where I compare it to the film).  It’s accompanied by James Horner′s sweeping, emotional score that will jerk you around from ghost story surprise to epic cross-country adventure and back to quiet, pastoral personal drama.  You can go back and scratch your head over the actual films that won Academy Awards over Field of Dreams for 1989–it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score.  You’ll find Field of Dreams is the only film that stuck with audiences three decades later, airing almost weekly now on cable channels, confirming its place in the Library of Congress’s film recognition and at the top of the American Film Institute’s rankings more than once.

It’s the rare film like Field of Dreams that begs for there to be an Academy Award for best casting.  Margery Simkin, the casting director for films from Beverly Hills Cop to Top Gun to Star Trek Discovery deserves a salute for getting every role just right.  Kevin Costner never veers from pure immersion into this new farmer wanting to follow his gut instincts.  Amy Madigan plays the perfect supportive partner and wife to Ray.  Gaby Hoffman is smart for her age as Ray’s daughter and a true credit to the film.  Director/writer Phil Alden Robinson should share in the brilliant updating the novel character from real-life J.D. Salinger to the fictional Terence Mann–audiences know James Earl Jones so well from Star Wars, yet here we get the benefit of his powerfully emotional eyes and that broad smile and laugh.  I always look forward to Ray Liotta′s steely stare, his knowing calmness, and his snarky laugh-out-loud dismissal of Ty Cobb.  Keeping with the novel and my take from past viewings, Archie Graham brings the magic home as the crucial piece of the puzzle driving the story to its end, played young and eager in a 1920s mindset by the great Frank Whaley and in his later years as a wise small-town doctor by film legend Burt Lancaster.  The quaint beauty of Dubuque, Iowa, made for the perfect backdrop to film Graham’s hometown of Chisholm, Minnesota, for these scenes.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Using a meticulously designed new robot from Weta Workshop, the Australian science fiction movie I Am Mother has all the components of a good story steeped in the classic sci-fi of the 1950s.  It takes place on Earth after an apocalypse that could easily be interwoven into the Cyberdyne/Genisys destruction from the Terminator series, and has that futurism straight out of a Philip K. Dick short story.  What’s left are robots running everything, some on the surface, but one in particular inhabits what looks like a space station buried beneath the planet’s surface.  This robot is called Mother, voiced seamlessly by X-Men series co-star and Australian actor Rose Byrne.  She has preserved several of the last bits of humanity–embryos–in order to repopulate the species via rapid-growth technology.  The production, the design, the light-up props, and the pacing all create the right framework for a significant sci-fi film.  Unfortunately the story is single-threaded, building opportunities for subplots that get left ignored, much like January’s direct-to-Netflix sci-fi release Io.

The build-up is nicely rendered by first-time movie director and script writer Grant Sputore.  The common theme of this genre, as much sci-fi horror as merely sci-fi, is “things aren’t what they seem.”  Or maybe they are.  The audience sees Mother raise a single child from the bank of embryos stowed on the facility, a girl known simply as Daughter, played first by young Tahlia Sturzaker, then for the bulk of the movie by Clara Rugaard, both giving fine performances.  We believe the humans are long gone outside, until a woman arrives, played by two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner Hilary Swank.  She’s been shot, and whether she was shot by humans or robots becomes a mystery for Daughter to solve.  Both Swank and Rugaard look so much alike, their likeness simply must be a plot point:  Are they related, and if so, how?  Sisters?  Clones?  Same hair color and length, eyes, bone structure.  Was Swank’s lost human a former captive in the underground bunker?  How many times has Mother created Daughters or Sons?  How many years from Armageddon is this story really happening?  It’s the answers–or lack thereof–to these questions, and the ultimate payoff Sputore delivers that doesn’t match the rest of the film.

Part of the legitimacy of the film as something more than mainstream popular sci-fi is the amazing body movement work of Luke Hawker acting inside the robot suit he helped design and build with the Weta team.  How rare is it that the designer of the tech is also the actor, who is featured in 90% of the scenes of the film?  The added surprise is this was not a CGI motion capture process, but a practical effect that had to be created with real-world materials.  There is some actual chemistry between Daughter and Mother, and Mother is a pretty great mother to see in action.  It’s like watching young Will Robinson interact with his Robot in Lost in Space.  Add to the believable robot the cold and lonely tenor of the film and you have something like New Zealand’s low budget 1985 sci-fi marvel The Quiet Earth.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the benefits of behind-the-scenes and making of/art books for major studio movies is that anyone diving into the production process for the first time can usually learn plenty about the stages of filmmaking from pre-production to final product.  Just pick a film you like and jump right in.  Abbie Bernstein′s The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is no exception, but it will be particularly fun for anyone who is a fan of concept art and mega-monsters.  It’s also weighted toward pre-production and the pre-visualization process.  Readers wouldn’t expect a film with giant creatures to be filmed with practical sets, but with a modern studio Godzilla movie filmed in the U.S., you automatically expect a predominantly CGI movie.  The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is filled with trial pieces from artists showcasing the process of turning the classic Japanese kaiju characters into something new and different.

Fans of Scott Chambliss will want to read what guided him to make the choices and decisions for the look of the film.  Chambliss has his own style, and when watching the film my reaction was how many sets, and specifically the color and lighting choices, felt like Star Trek 2009, a film in which Chambliss also served as production designer.  Chambliss discusses the visual tricks he used to make Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorra appear to have immense scale, but also appear real.  Several effects companies worked on components of this film, each trying to make their creations the best of the pack without competing against each other–the goal being to create the best final product they could.  Some artists worked on familiar software programs, combining photographs and 3D imaging of locations like San Francisco’s Union Square to combine with actors in Atlanta.   Others made sculptures of each creature–in a variety of materials–and then those sculptures were scanned and manipulated into what the audience sees on screen by others, after even more creators contributed their colors, texture, lighting, and other touches.

The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a great companion book to Mark Cotta Vaz’s Godzilla: The Art of Destruction, the behind the scenes look at Gareth Edward’s 2014 Godzilla film that was the starting point for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Simon Ward’s The Art of Kong: Skull IslandAll of these massive monsters will come together soon in Godzilla vs. King, so it’s a good time to be a fan of kaiju.  For fans of the new Legendary Pictures movie, it’s a good opportunity to understand the characters better from those who created them, and learn more from actors about their experiences on set, including Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Elizabeth Ludlow, Thomas Middleditch, Anthony Ramos, and Bradley Whitford.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After a few packed years of superhero movies, Dark Phoenix is going to be a target for comparison.  No single Marvel movie this year–including Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame–really merits entry on a “best of the best” list, yet all had good, even great, moments, and easily belong in a top 25 superhero movie list.  Dark Phoenix now joins that group.  Instead of a galaxy-changing upheaval, first-time director and award-winning writer-producer Simon Kinberg marked the end of the X-Men movie saga with a personal story.  It’s a story of struggle and tragedy more attuned to the X-Men characters and the cinematic stories 20th Century Fox has told since we first met Patrick Stewart’s professor and Ian McKellen’s metal-manipulating frenemy way back in the year 2000.  Although it’s not as compelling and cinematic as James Mangold’s gold standard Logan or the incredible team-up in X-Men: Days of Future Past, actress Sophie Turner leads an emotional journey for her all-powerful Jean Grey that first began in X-Men: Apocalypse, really backing up that tagline from the movie posters: Every hero has a dark side.  They really meant it.

Kinberg wrote the original script for the Dark Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand, but he gets a lot closer to the spirit of the source material this time.  The key conflict mimics Marvel’s Jim Shooter and Chris Claremont’s reported struggle when they developed the character of Dark Phoenix, asking whether Jean Grey is irretrievably bad or bad only because she is possessed by a dark force.  At the same time most of the cosmic oddities are stripped from the comics story, but not all, pulling the necessary elements from the original tale in a more accessible way for audiences.  Jessica Chastain′s new villain and her compatriots from afar are very much the same as found in the comics, all but in name.  The opening act in particular is perfectly executed, beginning with a nicely cinematic launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and a return to the stealth fighter that Nicholas Hoult′s Beast had been building in X-Men: Apocalypse.  If you’ve seen the trailers or know the story then the subject of the scene is no surprise–a rescue of the astronauts aboard from a giant solar flare, directed by James McAvoy′s Professor X from Earth, but led in space by Jennifer Lawrence′s Mystique, who grew to be the front-line commander of the team in the last film.  The most entertaining superhero of all the X-Men movies is back, Evan Peters′ Quicksilver, this time using his speed and time-stopping powers to assemble the astronauts for rescue in the character’s third and final awesome show-stopper.  He’s accompanied by the teleport-wielding Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler, providing actor Kodi Smit-McPhee the first of several key scenes that showcase his unique superhero, and round out a building arc for the typically background superhero.

The big takeaway from Dark Phoenix may be that it’s clear the material is capable of being recycled and resurrected many times, by different writers, directors, and actors.  Famke Janssen’s performance of Jean Grey was excellent in the original X-Men trilogy.  Sophie Turner’s performance is equally good.  In a few years we’ll see it all over again, which is pretty much what the Phoenix is all about.  Dark Phoenix will likely be accused of copying the empowered women theme of Captain Marvel.  In actuality Dark Phoenix was completed earlier, in October 2017, and if Dark Phoenix hadn’t been delayed by the Fox-Disney merger, the positions would no doubt be flipped to some extent.  The timing and similarities reportedly prompted Fox to go back and make some revisions.  But who says audiences can’t embrace two movies released within 90 days about the two most powerful superheroines in the Marvel pantheon?  Captain Marvel was able to generate far more buzz, and it’s a more upbeat story, so Dark Phoenix is unlikely to make a dent by comparison to that billion dollar box office hit.  But the acting and script for Dark Phoenix is probably a few degrees better, and the wrap-up of so many beloved characters makes Dark Phoenix a more important chapter for its franchise.

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Seven years ago the writers at borg came up with our top ten favorite fantasy movies (take a look at my list here).  I’m happy to see that my list hasn’t changed much.  Two of my top ten fantasy movies are returning to theaters nationwide for limited showings.  First, Field of Dreams (my #6 favorite), is back next week, followed in July by The Muppet Movie (my #3 favorite).  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Field of Dreams will be in theaters for Fathers’ Day, an opportunity to share the ultimate story of believing in yourself and trusting your instincts with a new generation.  It’s scheduled to appear at more than 600 theaters.  Then celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Muppet Movie, Fathom Events is partnering with The Jim Henson Company and Universal Pictures to show the classic big-screen debut of the Muppets on more than 700 screens nationwide.

Fathom Events joins Universal Pictures and Turner Classic Movies to bring Field of Dreams to theaters Sunday, June 16, for showings at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. local time, and Tuesday, June 18, at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time.  Director Phil Alden Robinson′s re-write of W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe (reviewed here at borg), features three of cinema’s most fantastic characters coming together: reclusive author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), baseball player Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster and Frank Whaley) and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson (Ray Liotta).  It was nominated for six–and made three–of the American Film Institute’s lists of the top American films of all time, including being named the all-time #6 top fantasy film.

For two days only this July, The Muppet Movie returns with screenings on Thursday, July 25, and Tuesday, July 30.  The Muppet Movie will play at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (local time) each day.  Following the international success of the television show The Muppet Show, which at its peak aired in more than 100 countries, Muppets creator Jim Henson took a creative risk to have the characters star in their first motion picture.  The result, directed by James Frawley, became a box-office hit, starring Kermit (performed by Henson), Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear (performed by Frank Oz), Gonzo (performed by Dave Goelz) and his chicken Camilla (performed by Jerry Nelson), Scooter (performed by Richard Hunt), and dozens of other favorite characters.

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