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Category: Movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

Like most things about baseball, The Battered Bastards of Baseball reflects as much about an era of American culture, economics, and politics as it tells a wonderfully engrossing story about a brief history of the sport.   Independent baseball–privately-owned teams unaffiliated with the Major League Baseball conglomerate–was a thing of the past when Portland, Oregon’s minor league baseball team the Portland Beavers left town.  It was the early 1970s and Portlanders weren’t spending their time or money on minor league games.  Then enters the well-known TV actor Bing Russell, stepping off his last of 14 seasons on Bonanza where he played a deputy sheriff.  Russell appeared in everything back then, from Westerns from Wagon Train to Rawhide, and modern fare like The Munsters, The Rockford Files, and The Twilight Zone.  There begins an underdog story, a mix of The Bad News Bears, Necessary Roughness, and Moneyball.

If you’re lucky enough to trip into the Netflix documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball, you’ll wonder where this story is headed.  It’s a brief history of 1970s Portland and national baseball, and then actor/movie star Kurt Russell and his mother Louise Russell begin discussing his father in a typical documentary format.  It turns out father Bing had a life-long affinity for the game, even being part of a significant piece of baseball history as mascot for the New York Yankees, befriending Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, and Lou Gehrig, who gave Bing the bat he used in his last game before retiring.  That love for the game apparently never left Bing, who concocted an idea to bring baseball right back to Portland by taking the entrepreneurial route–forming a pure upstart baseball team to play minor league ball.  Resurrecting the independent team model he would hold an open tryout for the new Portland Mavericks–if you build it they will come.  And they did.  Players rejected from the big leagues, some retired, many with paunches, and pre-movie star Kurt on the team, too, some players older than most teams would favor, and a bunch of hairy-faced guys decades before it became the “in” thing–all would come together to form a motley band of brothers that would earn a crack at the pennant.  With a 30-man roster, and Bing’s personal brand of fun, fans packed the stadium again, the team setting a record for the highest attendance in minor league history, blazing the trail in other ways, naming the first woman general manager in baseball, Lanny Moss.  But like all good things it seems, a villain would enter the picture to wreck it all.

The real deal: Kurt Russell playing in the Minor Leagues with the Portland Mavericks.

With that nostalgic, cheery vibe of Ivan Reitman’s 1970s movie Meatballs or a dialed-back Slap Shot, Bing’s grandsons Chapman Way and Maclain Way splice together both baseball, Hollywood, and Portland nostalgia to assemble a completely engaging, crowd-pleasing story of underdogs and misfits and the pied piper who led them.  If you remember that every baseball stadium in 1970s America–and every grade school–had kids chomping on Big League Chew–you’ll learn that connection to the Mavericks, too.

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“Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law.”

From Metropolis to Rocky IV, and The Worst to Universal Monsters, Robotech, Shogun, Slayer, Street Fighter II, Lucha, and more, one of the most eagerly awaited has been figures for RoboCop Although we’ve seen RoboCop as action figures by the likes of toy companies like NECA and other companies over the past 30 years, the new line previewed at New York Toy Fair 2019 from Super7 also pulls in that throwback toy design fans of Super7’s ReAction action figure line flock toward.  Super7 has now released its final figure and packaging designs for RoboCop, and they look great (except that sculpt for the toxic slug guy looks a lot like Super7’s sculpt for John Matuszak’s character Sloth from The Goonies).

But of any action figure previewed at New York Toy Fair in February and released this year, is there any single figure with more potential for collectors than Super 7’s Jackie Robinson?  It has that trading card quality, with its cardboard backing and its vintage photograph design, plus it’s as American as apple pie as a toy/collectible, crossing over in the collector market between ReAction retro figure fans and baseball fans.  And the entire Classic All-Stars line is superb.  The other figures in the first group available measure up with Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Juan Marichal, Carlton Fisk, and Orlando Cepeda–plus the first of the mascots in the toy series, from the Philadelphia Phillies.  You can pre-order any or all now at Entertainment Earth (links embedded in names above).  And if Super7 doesn’t get to your favorite player, these will be easy to paint and modify for your team–just like you may have painted the classic electric football player pieces of years ago.

The other line of figures with potential is the classic Peanuts characters in the ReAction format, featuring two Charlie Browns, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Schroeder, and, of course, Snoopy.  These are based on Charles Schulz′s original strips, and have a look that bridges the Funko Pop! and the classic Kenner retro figure sizing and packaging.

Here are images of these three lines and first phases of designs released:

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There’s something about Mary, a new horror film coming this fall, that screams out John Carpenter.  It has that seaside feel of Carpenter’s The Fog, complete with a haunted seafaring vessel and moody cinematography.  It also has that trapped-in-an-evil-car vibe of Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Christine.  It’s about an old boat with a past, found and restored, and haunted–all Christine elements.  Who doesn’t want more Carpenter movies, or second best, a Carpenter homage?  Mary is a new horror film that boasts its contrast with the average why-not-run-from-the-haunted-house movie by staging its ghost story on a boat: “The thing about boats is there’s nowhere to run.”  A nice double feature with The Lighthouse, perhaps?  The first trailer for the movie also conjures a little Jaws, The Ring, and Dead Calm.

Academy Award-winning actor Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, RoboCop, The Fifth Element) and Emily Mortimer (Mary Poppins Returns, The Kid, The Ghost and the Darkness) star in the indie film, which is directed by cinematographer Michael Goi (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Swamp Thing, American Horror Story), with a cast including Jennifer Esposito, straight off her supporting role in The Boys, plus Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven, Murder on the Orient Express), Natalie Jean (Gotham), Michael Landes (Final Destination 2, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), Stefanie Scott (Chuck, Jem and the Holograms), and Owen Teague (IT, Black Mirror).

The solid leading and supporting cast and some nicely creepy cinematography and scares in the trailer make this look like a good Halloween pick.  And the eerie music is supplied by frequent horror movie–and Avengers movie series–composers The Newton Brothers.  Here’s the trailer for Mary:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If there is a bigger Trivial Pursuit fan I don’t know who it is.  Whether it was the classic 1981 Genus Edition, the 1983 Silver Screen edition, the 1984 Genus II edition, the 1989 1980s edition, the 1992 10th Anniversary Edition, the 1994 Genus III, the 1996 Genus IV, or 1998 Millennium Edition, or the dozens of tie-ins and card deck supplements since, you can pretty much count me in anytime.  But the latest may be the most fun yet.  Adding to the Stranger Things season three Hasbro Gaming tie-ins Dungeons & Dragons, Monopoly, Ouija board, Screen Test, and an Eggo card game is an all-new throwback 1980s version of Trivial Pursuit I thought I was a Trivial Pursuit purist, but the new Stranger Things Back to the ’80s Trivial Pursuit convinced me that the classic game had some problems and they’ve now been fixed.

The questions come from movies, TV, music, people, events, technology, fashion, sports, and more, and that classic orange sports/wild card category is now questions about your knowledge of the Stranger Things universe.  Don’t worry, that last category will be easy to dodge for anyone at the game table not familiar with the series, but new rules and gameplay also make it possible to give anyone a leg up toward an ultimate win.  “Roll again” spaces are gone, meaning there’s more time answering questions and less time rolling multiple times per turn.  You still need six wedges to win, but you no longer need a pie wedge from each category, so the game time is shorter.  If you aren’t a pro in any given category, you’re also no longer hamstringed into riding out a losing game because of the new “walkie talkie a friend” feature.  As with the Who Wants to be a Millionaire gameshow concept, so long as you’re not playing in Upside Down mode, you can enlist a helper, and if you win, share the spoils with a pie wedge for both players.

 

The Upside Down is an easy, clever board add-on that allows the entire board to be switched from real world mode to the dark Upside Down the series is famous for.  When you’re in the Upside Down you can lose pie wedges by answering incorrectly, and you can’t ask a friend for help.  It fits the Stranger Things story, and it further helps level the playing field among a diverse group of players.

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It looks entirely like an experimental expressionistic film, something created by an aspiring filmmaker in film school, maybe an ambitious effort to create something historical and strange like Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.  Is production and costume designer-turned-director Robert EggersThe Lighthouse simply a horror movie about two lighthouse keepers or can we hope for something bigger, more of metaphor and allegory?  Shot in black and white 35mm film, the initial appeal is for anyone fond of classic black and white Gothic horror It’s billed as psychological horror, but will it feature psychological horrors of today or stick with more reserved terrors that reflect its more tempting, classic appearance?

The Lighthouse stars character actor Willem Dafoe, and co-stars Robert Pattinson in his most public role since the announcement he will don the cowl and cape in a forthcoming Batman movie.  Remember Michael Keaton releasing Beetlejuice, Clean and Sober, and The Dream Team with the new acting range spin to get us prepared to see him on the big screen as the dark knight detective?  Genre niche popularity of the Twilight series and his brief stint in the Harry Potter franchise aside, Pattinson hasn’t had the universal appeal and popularity Keaton had with Night Shift and Mr. Mom, making him a household name.  Can he convince fanboys and fangirls he has what it takes?  Can audiences push the future aside and appreciate The Lighthouse for whatever Eggers is trying to do?

As for Eggers, who co-wrote the story with brother Max, this is his second film after the Anya Taylor-Joy vehicle The Witch.  Here he’s trying that tried and re-tried convention of bringing black and white films to modern audiences.  It often works, as it did with popular and critical success for Paper Moon, Young Frankenstein, Raging Bull, Dead Again, Schindler’s List, The Artist, Logan Noir, and Roma.

Take a look at this nicely moody trailer for The Lighthouse:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With costumes designed by Anna B. Sheppard, the designer for Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers, Inglourious Basterds, and Captain America: The First Avenger, you know your World War II movie is in good hands.

The first ninety minutes of Overlord is the stuff of the classic World War II movie.  Think Guns of Navarone or Von Ryan’s Express or a later film, Force 10 From Navarone.  It’s also modern in the way of Inglourious Basterds, but that movie if it had been filmed by John Carpenter, complete with special effects from The Thing and action from They Live.  It also co-stars Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt Russell (also Goldie Hawn’s son) as the tough and confident Corporal Ford, a John Wayne role like he plays like he’s been making movies for 40 years.  If that isn’t enough to go out and get your hands on Overlord, I don’t know what you could want.

It begins with a paratrooper drop, filmed believably, like Memphis Belle, but with the action of Edge of Tomorrow.  The first 40 minutes follows British actor Jovan Adepo as American soldier Private Boyce, a nice, naïve kid drafted recently and dropped into harm’s way behind enemy lines in France the day before D-Day.  Like Starship Troopers and Edge of Tomorrow, this is 100% authentic war, look and feel, and we follow Ford and boyce and their squad from the air on down to the gates of a town where they hide out and plan to blow up a German radio tower.  Despite J.J. Abrams producing this film and hints to the contrary, don’t expect aliens or zombies–this is not a secret Cloverfield 4.  What Boyce, Ford, & Co. find is a lab beneath the tower where the Germans are conducting experiments on the local French villagers and their own men.  It’s here where the story takes a turn for the weird.

The first 90 minutes are brilliant, face-paced, heart-pounding, nail-biting stuff.  Young director Julius Avery and writer Billy Ray pursue the lore of the German experiments toward a the creation of a “superman” or “super soldier” and what that might be like.  To their credit, they approach this like the Korean series Kingdom, which looked to a virus as the creation of a village of zombie-like villagers.  Here Avery and Ray look to twisted science as well, but they add in a bit of a fountain of youth element as part of the creation of these soldiers.  Spoiler:  They don’t all turn out exactly as planned by the Germans.

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Despite every other war of the 20th century being well covered, audiences are still waiting for the great modern movie to depict World War I in a realistic and believable way.  Will Sam Mendes′s next film be the answer?  The director of Road to Perdition and successful James Bond movies Skyfall and Spectre is next bringing us 1917, with Universal Pictures releasing its first trailer for the film this week.  The film follows two British soldiers at a key point in the war.  Soldiers Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) must complete a mission that takes them across enemy lines to deliver a vital message that could save another band of British brothers from walking into a trap.

If the two young stars of Game of Thrones and Captain Fantastic don’t excite you, then the actors that anchor the film might.  Looks for supporting characters played by a current Who’s Who of British film: Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit), Colin Firth (Kingsman, The King’s Speech, Pride and Prejudice), Mark Strong (Kingsman, Shazam!, Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass, Green Lantern), Daniel Mays (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Ashes to Ashes, The Bank Job, Doctor Who), and Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Spectre, The Hour, Saving Private Ryan).  

Beyond that, the cinematography shown in the trailer, filmed by the great Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, A Beautiful Mind, No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Skyfall, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) should get you across the line.  And finally a film depicting the era has the clothing right, thanks to Academy Award-winning designer Jacqueline Durran (Darkest Hour, Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, Beauty and the Beast).  With music by Thomas Newman (Real Genius, The Great Outdoors, Finding Nemo, The Adjustment Bureau, Skyfall, The Highwaymen), this is quite promising.

Take a look at the trailer for the new Sam Mendes film, 1917:

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With the first trailer for The Irishman out, it may be getting clearer why Martin Scorsese′s latest in a 45-year career-spanning string of films is going straight to Netflix.  Despite Netflix claims that it can compete financially with movie theater releases, it has yet to provide a reliable run of hits.  Can The Irishman help?  Even heavy hitters of Scorsese’s past, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, can’t seem to make this movie look compelling.  The audience is left with only “another crime movie with those guys,” with no reference to who or what it’s about.  And is any amount of CGI and makeup going to get audiences to believe in a married couple played by 36-year-old Anna Paquin paired with 75-year-old De Niro playing 55-year-old Frank Sheeran?  If you’re like everyone else you may not know Sheeran claimed late in life to have killed teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa.  So it’s no wonder this feels like Scorsese’s version of an Oliver Stone movie.

Take away the Las Vegas and this first trailer for The Irishman looks plenty like a trailer for Scorsese’s Casino, complete with an attempt to get De Niro and Pesci back to how they looked in 1995, De Niro and Pesci looking like they did in 1990 in Goodfellas, Pacino looking like he did back in 1973 in Mean Streets, or, to jump into Francis Ford Coppola pictures, like Pacino and De Niro looked in 1974 in The Godfather, Part II.  As much as we loved Peter Cushing’s transformation in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Michael Douglas’s transformation in the Ant-Man movies, a legion of fans will need more improvements in technology before they get past the “uncanny valley”–that reaction you have when something digital is trying to look real but doesn’t quite succeed.

Long-time “bad guy” club member Harvey Keitel, Ant-Man’s and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’s Bobby Cannavale, and “Everybody Loves” Ray Romano are not seen in this trailer, but expected to have key roles.  See whether the CGI works for you in this first trailer from Netflix for The Irishman:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Thanks to Fathom Events and other film retrospectives over the years, movie audiences can revisit their first viewings of some of the best films ever made.  In that league comes The Muppet Movie, which just wrapped its 40th anniversary with two days of screenings.  Like the one-of-a-kind The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees, and the symbols of goodness everywhere: Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, and Steve Irwin, The Muppets are a truly unique team, and Jim Henson and his $65 million box office hit The Muppet Movie reflects why they created the word “iconic” in the first place.  It says something when a retrospective anniversary screening can make the week’s Top 10 box office after 40 years.  The Muppets are as accessible and necessary as they’ve ever been.

Paul Williams’ musical score and powerful songs might be the high point of the movie, from “The Rainbow Connection,” to “Movin’ Right Along,” to Gonzo’s emotional “I’m Going to Go Back There Again.”  Or maybe it’s the magic, the forgetting we’re absorbed in characters played by actors that are a frog and a pig and a bear and a dog and whatever Gonzo is.  Or maybe it’s the behind the scenes magic.  Filming in the lagoon once used for Gilligan’s Island, Henson spent an entire day perfecting the scene with Kermit singing in a wetsuit under water, perched inside a metal tank, reaching upward to give Kermit his character.  You wouldn’t know any of it happened that way from the perfectly still water and multiple angles the song is filmed from.  Or that Kermit was operated my remote control for the Schwinn scene (but Kermit the Muppet really was riding that bicycle, no strings attached!).  Jim Henson can’t be overstated as sitting among the kings of creating the fantastical.

But even all of those great components can’t beat the storytelling.  Full of honesty and heart, Kermit’s path is a classic reluctant hero’s journey, equal to that of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Luke in Star Wars, Frodo and Bilbo in Tolkien’s stories (Fozzie is a great Samwise), Harry in J.K. Rowling’s series.  Here our green felted friend assembles a group of new friends to help him succeed by story’s end.  The Muppets had already been known to us through The Muppet Show, yet this movie succeeded in getting audiences to meet them all over again.  The story is playful, too, allowing its own script to become a plot device with the characters.

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The Star Wars vintage Kenner action figures changed toys and franchising forever.  Sales of this line were so successful that it’s no surprise the fan nostalgia for these 3.75-inch figures in new packages is still as great as ever, 41 years after their first appearance in a pre-order campaign for Christmas 1977.  With the return of Star Wars action figures in advance of the prequels, four of the original sculpts returned in a limited set in the 1990s (still sold via third party sellers at Amazon here), and Lucasfilm with its own changes over the years keeps finding ways of bringing them back with the Kenner logo via Kenner’s successor company Hasbro.  The company even released a set of four figures: Luke, Leia, R2-D2, and Chewbacca, in an enlarged 12-inch collection, still available at Amazon here, and even a Cantina set, plus 12-inch re-creations of several other vintage figures, from toy company Gentle Giant, discussed over the past decade here at borg.

We previewed the latest return of the 3.75-inch action figures emerging from New York Toy Fair early this year here at borg, six individually sold characters in “retro” packaging with mock weathering that made them different enough from the originals to dissuade people from selling them as originals.  The characters were Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and a Stormtrooper, with a never-before-released, new design of the classic five-points of articulation for Grand Moff Tarkin, available if you bought the re-issue of the original Star Wars board game.

So far these have only been available through Target stores.  The initial release sold out within a few hours, but throughout the U.S. these still have appeared from time to time over the course of this summer.  Otherwise, they’ve turned up on Amazon (here) from third party sellers with a price in excess of $150 for the set.  So for those who missed out, you now have another opportunity to pick up the six figures in the retro packaging.  Entertainment Earth has just announced it is taking pre-orders for a set of all six figures for only $63.99 (price as of date of publication)–nearly a third of the aftermarket price–if you pre-order for shipment in August here at the Entertainment Earth website.

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