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Category: Movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

Even better than seeing the original on the big screen again, writer-director David Gordon Green’s Halloween hits all the right notes to make the latest, but surely not the last, installment in the Halloween series the best sequel of the franchise.  This Halloween may be the best horror sequel so far, in any series.  Some may think that’s an easy task, yet for fans of the genre and nine previous sequels, including a similar effort 20 years ago with Halloween H20 and a reboot series by Rob Zombie, this weekend’s theatrical release will probably become the new go-to movie after the original, next year and the year after.  Horror fans knew the film worked on paper–genre-defining scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis returning again to the role that made her famous, this time showing her extensive preparation for the inevitable return of the serial killer that she barely slipped past as a teenager, contributions from co-creator John Carpenter as executive producer and composer, and Michael Myers’s return, even performed by original actor Nick Castle and a weathered 40-year-old latex mask.  The actual delivery fulfills the promise: the retro-style opening credits and Carpenter’s haunting theme prepare the audience for the suspense, thrills, and jumps over the next two hours.

Tha performances are everything:  Curtis’s Laurie Strode is tough, smart, and prepared, but she’s not perfect, a bit addled by a lifetime of fear and not physically strong enough to take on Myers, so the outcome is not entirely predictable.  Will Patton (The Mothman Prophecies, The Postman, Armageddon, Falling Skies) joins the cast as Sheriff Hawkins, an older version of the first young man to arrive at the original murder scene in 1978.  He, along with Omar Dorsey (Castle, Chuck, Starsky & Hutch) as Sheriff Barker, bring the added gravitas and nostalgic vibe from former go-to Carpenter company cast members like Peter Jason and Keith David.  Strode’s granddaughter Allyson, played by Andi Matichak (Orange is the New Black, Blue Bloods), like her grandmother, turns the horror genre upside down, as less of a victim, instead taking charge of the situation when possible.  To a lesser extent the script provides some opportunity for Ant-Man’s Judy Greer to protect her family as Laurie’s daughter and Allyson’s mother.  Rounding out the performances are a young Jibrail Nantambu as more than the stock kid stuck for Halloween night with his babysitter.

When a genre’s failings are part of what define it, even the film’s lesser components are consistent with the spirit of the original film.  A doctor and an institution that are overly interested in a 40-year-old murder that gets mocked by a group of students, along with events that occurred in sequels that are ignored this time around and dismissed as the stuff of local legend, all somehow fit the movie and the genre.  Could Carpenter himself have filled in some of the story missteps had he directed this one?  Who knows.  For the most part, Strode, Myers, and their new story follow the rulebook for the characters established 40 years ago.

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The most infamous, notorious, and maybe even most beloved of toymakers, Marty Abrams is back in the toy biz years after a stint in prison for fraud and the bankruptcy of his famous toy company (get the whole story on Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us).  The company he made famous–MEGO–gave kids the ultimate 1970s line of licensed 8-inch (1:9 scale) action figures, and it returned to stores with a vengeance this year.  Not to toy stores–since they seem to be a thing of the past after the bankruptcy of Toys R Us this year–but to the end cap at your neighborhood Target store.  Replaced in recent years by the 3 3/4-inch line of licensed small-scale action figured from Super 7, Funko, and Biff! Bam! Pow!, the classic MEGO figures are making a comeback.  Abrams has pulled in a bizarre cross-section of licensed properties to get his foot back in the door with kids, collectors, and anyone able to be sidetracked on their way to pick up school supplies and shampoo.  Abrams was a groundbreaking importer, manufacturer, marketing maven, inventor, and brand developer who founded MEGO Corporation, the first company to license action figures based on TV shows and comic book superheroes, and the first to sell dolls in clear bubbles on cards that hung on pegs instead of in boxes stacked on store shelves.  If you were a kid in the 1970s, you probably had at least one of his figures (I’m pretty sure we still called them dolls back then).  My three-year-old self was not excluded:

The first wave of figures are already on the discount shelves at Target.  Look around and you’ll find an eclectic mix of pop culture nostalgia, some figures resembling sculpts and costumes from the original MEGO figures, others representing characters that may leave you scratching your head, wondering who has been eagerly waiting to see this show in an action figure line.  So Wave One includes Sulu and Chekov from the original Star Trek series, Charlie’s Angels’ Kelly Garrett (complete with ’70s hairdo), Peg Bundy from Married with Children, Action Jackson (not the movie version) sporting a jumpsuit, NORM! Peterson from Cheers, Piper Halliwell from the original TV series Charmed, Dracula (sculpted after Bela Lugosi’s version), Alice the housekeeper and center square from The Brady Bunch, Tootie the youngest girl from Facts of Life, Jimi Hendrix in his Woodstock outfit, and probably the best of all (OK, besides Jim Hendrix): Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli (aka Fonzie) looking like the original Mego figure from Happy DaysTwo dual figure sets feature Jeannie and Tony from I Dream of Jeannie and a Mirror Universe figure set of Kirk and Spock from Star Trek.  Mego also has a 14-inch (1:5 scale) DC Comics line, including Wonder Woman from the TV series, General Zod from the two original Superman movies, a classic style Harley Quinn, and a Golden Age Batman.

Wave Two, arriving this month at Target stores nationwide, includes Frankenstein, Greg from The Brady Bunch, John Ratzenberger’s Cliff Clavin from Cheers, Starchild from the band KISS, Alyssa Milano’s Phoebe from Charmed, Ron Howard’s Richie Cunningham from Happy Days, Cheryl Ladd’s Kris Munroe from Charlie’s Angels, Spock and the Gorn from Star Trek, Samantha from Bewitched, Kelly Bundy from Married with Children, Jo from Facts of Life, and dual sets featuring Dorothy, Toto, and the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, DJ and Stephanie Tanner from Full House.  In the 14-inch DC Comics line look for Superman, Batgirl, Green Lantern, and Poison Ivy.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For a generation of film fans, the words “Hammer Horror” are synonymous with the first color horror movies and studio stars Peter Cushing and David Prowse, who would go on to find real fame in Star Wars, and Christopher Lee, who would be the go-to guy in the 21st century for dark, imposing characters in Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien movies, James Bond, the Star Wars prequels, and much more.  Before these blockbusters, these British thespians made movies for a London film company called Hammer Film Productions, and they were instantly recognized as Baron Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster, and Count Dracula.  These aren’t the famous monsters of Universal Studios fame, but thanks to Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures’ distribution, their take on these classic horror characters gained their own international fan following.  In time for Halloween, Telos Publishing has released a new information-filled guide for fans of Hammer’s horror legacy, writer Alistair Hughes’s Infogothic: An Unauthorised Graphic Guide to Hammer Horror.

As for the “graphic” in the title, it’s a bit of a play on words–think infographics, charts, diagrams, illustrations, and maps connecting the often intertwined fantasy world inside the Hammer films.  The titles to the studio’s Dracula and Frankenstein sequels provide an idea of the absurdity film goers were in for, with a list that makes the Planet of the Apes pile of sequels seem pretty short: The Brides of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Kali–Devil Bride of Dracula, Dracula AD 1972, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Dracula Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Horror of Frankenstein, The Evil of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Frankenstein Created Woman, and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.  Hammer also made monster movies set much earlier than the 19th century.  The most famous starred Raquel Welch in Ray Harryhausen’s One Million Years BC and Ursula Andress in She.  Steven Spielberg would later provide a nod to Hammer films at the end of Jurassic Park.  The words on the banner falling in the final sequence with the T-Rex was an homage to the Hammer film When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. 

One diagram in Infogothic recounts the 30 most famous actors to portray Dracula.  In others Hughes pieces together family trees based on information from the films for the Van Helsings and the Frankensteins.  A chart shows the number of adaptations of Frankenstein movies by decade (the 1970s wins with nine, and there has been 51 in all so far as we bask in the character’s 200th year).  Need to locate the story locations for each of the Hammer monster movies?  Hughes provides maps for that, too.  And Frankenstein’s monster and the Count aren’t the only monsters Hammer featured–the book includes interconnections of the several mummy movies and other creature features Hammer produced (The Gorgon, The Reptile, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Plague of the Zombies, The Abominable Snowman).  Hughes also includes details of lesser known and unproduced films throughout his book.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Not since the original Predator, Alien, and Aliens has Hollywood been able to match these sci-fi classics, despite attempts with eight sequels in these franchises.  But the ninth attempt–this summer’s release of The Predator–has come the closest to matching that classic blend of sci-fi, horror, future military, and action thriller.  In the new behind-the-scenes book The Predator: The Art and Making of the Film, writer James Nolan explains why director Shane Black’s return to the franchise after 30 years was the right stuff needed to bring the excitement and fun back for fans of the original genre-defining alien hunter.

The colorful hardcover includes Black’s own multi-page mission statement provided to the cast and crew, where he provides a truly unique look into the mind of a Hollywood director and storyteller.  He unveils the risks, the challenges, and his choices to resurrect the spirit of 1980s blockbuster action movies, while providing an update that is both loyal to the original movie and its ground-breaking creators like Stan Winston, while carrying forward a future vision for the film series.  Hired to serve as writer on the original 1987 film, Black chose to take on an acting role instead, and the rest was sci-fi history–until he was entrusted last year to helm this sequel.  To provide a first-hand account of production, Nolan interviewed Black, his writing partner Fred Dekker, key cast members Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Jake Busey, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane, Keegan-Michael Key, and Augusto Aguilera, Predator actor Brian Prince, stunt performer Trevor Addie, production designer Martin Whist, director of photography Larry Fong, special effects supervisor Jonathan Rothbart, set decorator Hamish Purdy, costume designer Tish Monaghan, prop master David Dowling, producer Bill Bannerman, special effects icons Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis, and many more.

The biggest attraction in the book is the detailed photography of the interiors of the two alien spaceships and the armor and props.  Readers get to see concept artwork, computer mock-ups, designs, in-process photographs, and close-up stills.  In many films props are just set decoration that help to create the environment, but in The Predator the prop gauntlet, the helmet, and especially the “kudjad” spaceship key factor directly into the mystery.  Who could ever get enough of the aliens–the dreadlocks, those teeth, the shoulder cannon?  And then there’s the giant hunter, whose size and ship also factor into not just the finale, but the future of the films.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When Lando Calrissian showed up on the doorstep of Han Solo and Leia with a toddler Ben in tow, Han knew the outcome couldn’t be anything good.  In Daniel José Older‘s novel Star Wars: Last Shot–A Han and Lando Novel, it’s Lando that causes angst for Han, but it also gets him away from a home life where it’s just not happening for the former smuggler and decorated General of the Rebellion.  Someone has set off some assassin droids and if your name was ever on the title for the Millennium Falcon, you’ve been marked.  The mastermind behind the droids is a character inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, a medical student plucked from his good life and plunged into a maddening existence where he begins to merge men with machines.  For Fyzen Gor, droids are the more advanced form and he will stop at nothing until the galaxy knows it.  Enter Han, Chewie, Lando, and Ugnaught, an Ewok tech guru or “slicer,” an attractive Twi-lek who Lando has his eyes on, and a young hotshot pilot, and you have a Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven story plucked from the pages of classic Marvel Comics.

But that’s the present, or at least the present time as it existed a few years after the events of Return of the Jedi, where only part of the story takes place.  Both partners Han and Chewie, and Lando and companion droid L3-37 have each encountered Fyzen Gor and his enigmatic Phylanx device before–once before Lando loses the Falcon to Han during Solo: A Star Wars Story, and once afterward.  Star Wars: Last Shot presents three parallel stories all culminating with the present search and confrontation with Gor to learn the secret of the device.  L3-37’s theme of droid rights is a significant element in this tale, and further expands L3’s influence on the future beyond being merged with the Falcon’s computer.  Despite several key cyborgs in the Star Wars galaxy (not the least of which being Luke and Darth Vader), this novel is Star Wars taking on cyborg themes not usually found in the franchise outside the early comics, themes you’d find wrestled with previously in other sci-fi properties.

The prequels live on.  Adding to the surprise presence of Darth Maul in Solo: A Star Wars Story, writer Older resurrects many bits and pieces from the Star Wars prequels, including a Gungun who makes clear that Jar Jar Binks was not emblematic of the alien race.  We also encounter many names, aliens, and places from past stories, like aliens reflecting the likes of Bossk, Hammerhead, Ewoks, Ugnaughts, and Cloud City from the original trilogy.

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Universal dropped its next trailer for the third film in M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero trilogy, Glass. They’re all being brought together in today’s trailer by the writer/director of The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village, The Happening, Wayward Pines, and Lady in the Water–Samuel L. Jackson returning as Elijah aka Mr. Glass, the seemingly fragile, self-aware comic book villain of the title, Bruce Willis as the unbreakable hooded vigilante David Dunn, and James McAvoy as Patricia/Dennis/Hedwig/Barry/Jade/Orwell/Heinrich/Norma or just The Beast.

Shyamalan’s psychological horror-thriller Split was a real genre buster–one of those odd movies that really didn’t seem to fit into the genre you thought you were getting from the previews, like Midnight Special.  But we’d learn only at the end we were inside not only the mind of a sociopath, but the mind of a particularly twisted supervillain from the darkest edge of comic book land.  How many more theater seats would have been filled if moviegoers had known Split was the sequel to Shyamalan’s cult-favorite superhero movie Unbreakable?

Glass is arriving just on the heels of last year’s Split.  Unbreakable arrived in theaters way back in 2000.  It all is coming together a bit like J.J. Abrams disjointed, multi-genre Cloverfield movie series.  Take a look at the latest trailer from Universal for Glass:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s the performances of the leading actors that stand out in this weekend’s theatrical release, Colette.  Colette is a biographical story of an avant-garde couple in turn-of-the-twentieth-century France, famed authors who wrote under the pen names Colette (nee Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) and Willy (nee Henry Gauthier-Villars), and the writing of four popular books by Colette that were published under her husband’s name:  Claudine à l’école (1900), Claudine à Paris (1901), Claudine en ménage (1902), and Claudine s’en va (1903).  In the film, directed by Wash Westmoreland, genre favorites Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Imitation Game, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Never Let Me Go, Domino) portrays the younger spouse Colette and Dominic West (Les Miserábles, Tomb Raider, The Hour, The Wire, 300) her very showy and ostentatious libertine husband Willy.  As a tangent for Star Wars fans it’s a Naboo reunion–Knightley was one of Queen Amidala’s handmaidens and her decoy in several scenes, and West one of her royal guards nearly 20 years ago in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

In Colette Knightley and West have great rapport.  It’s a mix of love and conflict that rises to the level of hatred, but along the way their chemistry is quite strong with a carousel of humorous moments throughout their relationship.  It would elevate the writing too much to equate Colette and Willy with Beatrice and Benedick of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, but their back-and-forth repartee is quick and sharp.  They are portrayed to have been a successful (at least financially) if not unorthodox pair.  When Willy courts the much younger Colette in the opening of the movie he has already established fame as a writer (as an early James Patterson-type who took credit for the actual writings of a few employed ghost writers).  But after gambling, over-spending, and other debts catch up to him he turns to Colette to pen the stories she has told him of her youth in pastoral France.  Her work proves to be much more popular than anything he had ever written.  Although he does pout a bit, he spends the large advance for the second book on a country house for Colette.  Not quite Dangerous Liaisons (but close), their equal opportunity games and his spiraling debts ultimately bring their marriage to the breaking point.

Along the way their lifestyle begins to dip even beyond the hedonism and joie de vivre the Belle Epoque, Bohemian, and Decadent movements France was known for, as their marriage branches out to include others: two women (one for both, one for him), played by Eleanor Tomlinson (The Illusionist, Jack the Giant Slayer) and Shannon Tarbet (Inspector Lewis), and ultimately Colette leaves Willy for a third, acting partner Missy, played by Denise Gough (’71, Star Wars: Battlefront, Mass Effect: Andromeda).  Some brief sex scenes and nudity account for the R rating.  Although the film ends with the split of Colette and Willy, Colette would go on to be an early feminist icon, writing many more novels and stories, her best known would be Gigi, the 1944 novel that would become the famous Audrey Hepburn film (Colette specifically selected Hepburn for the role).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fathom Events has done it again, bringing a film classic back to theaters for older fans to enjoy again and new generations to experience on the big screen for the first time.  Although I’d seen the 1968 action thriller Bullitt dozens of times, this was my first viewing on the big screen.  It’s no exaggeration that the ten-minute chase scene the film is known so well for becomes a roller coaster ride in the theater.  I must confess–maybe it was the tint on my own television, or because of the posters showed the Bullitt 1968 Ford Mustang in black, but I never noticed how bright green it was before–the car is unmistakably a vivid green (technically “Dark Highland Green”) when viewed on a 30-foot instead of a 2-feet-high screen–literally an eye-opening difference.

As expected my favorite scenes stood out–Steve McQueen‘s mannerisms in every scene as Frank Bullitt establish that of what was likely the average, real police officer in 1968, far from the angry, distant San Francisco cop Clint Eastwood would make famous three years later.  Bullitt was friendly, considerate, compassionate, even sensitive toward those strangers of San Francisco he encounters throughout the film, like the doctor being bad-mouthed by Robert Vaughn‘s Senator Chalmers not quite out of hearing range, like Bullitt as grateful to a night nurse who brings him a meal in the hospital hallway, when he tips the cabbie played by a young Robert Duvall, and as he hangs out and makes eyes with his girlfriend (Jacqueline Bisset) at what was probably an actual, trendy Haight-Ashbury jazz club.  McQueen is seen waking up, buying groceries, buying a paper–normal life scenes spliced into an action movie with the best-ever car chase.

I’m not sure opening credits were ever carried out as in Bullitt either before or since, with the letters of the credits smoothly coming at the audience almost in 3D, converting into an unusual transition into the next camera shot (backed by a jazzy opening theme).  Yes, that opening is even more effective in the theater, and it ties into director Peter Yates and cinematographer William A. Fraker‘s nearly comic book-inspired camera angles found throughout the movie.  A shot upward from the passenger side of the pursued hitmen’s car.  Two shots where the cameraman looks like he was taken out by the racing classic cars (the Charger actually hit the camera in one edited sequence).  The first-person driver’s seat view of so many modern video games.  Several scenes also fade to and from reflections in windows, blurred crowds from behind planters, like from an Edward Hopper painting.  Do you need a reference for late 1960s clothing?  Yates loiters a bit on several crowd and restaurant scenes where the audience can examine styles from all social classes.  Best of all?  The thousands of classic cars and trucks from the 1960s, 1950s, and 1940s.  Every scene incorporates beautiful imagery as a preserved photo album of the best vintage cars to the left or right of the center of action.

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You’ll believe a car can fly.

Before there was a Fast and the Furious series, before Baby Driver, before Clint was Dirty Harry, before Smokey met the Bandit, or before Max ever got mad, there was Steve McQueen in Bullitt You may try but you’re unlikely to conjure up a film that defines cool more than McQueen does as a San Francisco cop trying to protect a witness in a major case.  For 50 years the Oscar-winning car chase (from editor Frank B. Keller) has topped best action scene lists from film critics and everyone else.  Robert Vaughn was hardly better than as the demanding Senator Chalmers.

The music of the great Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mannix, Starsky and Hutch, Planet of the Apes) perfectly encapsulates the era, complete with a jazz flute interlude.  There’s a reason Hollywood kept returning to Schifrin for action movie scores, like Kelly’s Heroes, Enter the Dragon, Brubaker, Charley Varrick, Cool Hand Luke, THX 1138, and the Dirty Harry and Rush Hour movies–the music is that memorable.  We are lucky to have a dozen great Steve McQueen movies to re-visit, and this is one of the best.  Plus you can only look to James Bond movies for an opening credits montage as cool as you’ll find in Bullitt.

You have two more chances to see Bullitt in the theater for its 50th anniversary re-release.  And that’s today, October 9, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time.  Get tickets now and check theaters availability at the Fathom Events website, www.FathomEvents.com.

Don’t miss it!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

One of the more unusual offerings previewed this weekend at New York Comic Con 2018 is a collectible taking you back to the original Jurassic Park.  That’s the good movie, the memorable one that faithfully follows the story of Michael Crichton’s bestselling novel.  The one where Dr. Ian Malcolm was supposedly killed in the book, but kept alive in the movie thanks to the spark Steven Spielberg saw in Jeff Goldblum‘s performance.  Dr. Malcolm provided the powerful lesson of the movie with the punchline, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

And for whatever reason Spielberg included Goldblum in this GQ-worthy shirt-open pose.  It’s the image that would, years later, launch a thousand memes.

Now thanks to Chronicle Collectibles, you can get your own homage to this… infamous (?) scene, the first officially licensed, limited edition 1:4 scale Dr. Ian Malcolm statue.

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