Category: Movies


Tomorrow night Public Television stations will broadcast Sunday’s Kennedy Center ceremony honoring Bill Murray for his unique blend of comedy and social commentary.  The Mark Twain Prize, first given to Richard Pryor in 1998, is the nation’s top honor for comedians.  Everything’s coming up roses for Murray this week as his favorite team the Chicago Cubs gained their first win of this year’s World Series, and Murray was a trending topic for a photo he took in Scotland in 2012 wailing with a toddler–a photo mistaken for Tom Hanks by many.

The 2016 awards event features Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver, and David Letterman, among several other celebrities mildly roasting the actor/comedian/golfer/celebrity and saluting his work.  In the show Murray gives his own salute to one of his five brothers, the well-known character actor Brian Doyle-Murray.  Two other brothers, Joel and John, are also actors.

So what’s Murray’s best work?  Is it his classic comedy skits or Weekend Update work on Saturday Night Live?  Or his assistant groundskeeper from Caddyshack?  What about his Dr. Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters?  You can’t forget his Army soldier John Winger in Stripes.  Or how about his weatherman in Groundhog Day?


Murray is known for continuing to surprise us.  Like when he earned an Academy Award nomination for his drama Lost in Translation, when he played Dustin Hoffman’s friend in the Oscar winning Tootsie, and when he gave us his own take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in Scrooged, portraying FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson, and a war hero in Monuments Men.

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It’s that time of year again.  The 2016 World Series is now in full swing with the first game a sweep by the Cleveland Indians.  How will the Chicago Cubs fare in Game 2 tonight?  If you’re not in the baseball frame of mind yet, we have five of the all-time best baseball movies you can stream right now for free or for less than four dollars on Amazon Prime’s streaming service.  Most of these can also be rented on Netflix.  And let’s face it–everyone should own our fifth movie on the list.

Have you seen them already?  Then you know these great films can be watched over and over again.

Let’s start with a classic:  Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees from 1942.  The movie recounts the then-recent personal triumph and tragedy of what baseball as an American pastime has created over and over for more than a century: baseball players as American icons.  Pride of the Yankees shows the personal side of being a famous baseball player, and features real-life legends Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and Bill Dickey, all playing themselves on-screen.  Academy Award winners Teresa Wright and Walter Brennan co-star.  If you want to see classic baseball from a contemporary view, this is your movie.  Although the story is certainly bittersweet and a tear-jerker, it reflects baseball as more than just a game.


The most recent movie on our list is Moneyball, from 2011, a modern classic we’ve already watched over and over.  Moneyball reveals the game as a modern business.  The conflict between playing the game as classically envisioned and the game as seen from an analytical angle is wrestled with from the real life mostly true story of the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane as he turned the team around in its 2002 season.
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Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial.  The Green Mile. Escape to Witch Mountain.  Watcher in the Woods.  Maggie.  Super 8.  The Omen.  D.A.R.Y.L.  A Perfect World.  Starman.  Michael.  Tomorrowland.  The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The Blues Brothers.  The Twilight Zone Movie.  What could these all possibly have in common?  Somehow they are all conjured up together into this year’s release, Midnight Special.

Let’s get the only problem with Midnight Special out of the way first.  It had an inexplicable limited release this past March.  And its theatrical and television trailer was creepy cool, but too cryptic to draw in the masses.  If you don’t tell people what your movie is about, they won’t always take the time to learn more and decide to see it.  And what a loss!  Midnight Special is not only one of the year’s best films, it’s one of the best films of the decade.

You will think about The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” but it’s nothing like it.  You will think about Haven and Grimm, but it’s not like that either.  And you may even accuse Stranger Things of being a knockoff of this film.  But it’s very, very different.


A father and his old friend kidnap his son from a religious cult, with the government in hot pursuit for very different reasons, drawn in by the son’s mysterious abilities.  Is some messianic end looming ahead?  Why is the government justified in tracking the father down for treason?  Replace the enchantment and wonder you’d find in Spielberg’s Close Encounters and E.T. with a combination of mystery, curiosity, and heart-pounding dread.  Gripping, personal, riveting–Midnight Special will keep you guessing until the end.  What happened to this kid?  Why does he have these powers?  What ends will his father and his friend go to protect him from what seems like the entire world crashing down on them? 

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Old Man Logan is one of those great comic book ideas that surprisingly took such a long time to come around.  It would be like seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger come back in Conan the Conqueror to play an elder King Conan, a film that always seems in the works but never quite in a moving-forward state.  In the X-Men movies it means Hugh Jackman, in supposedly his last of nine films portraying the steely clawed X-Man, gets a rare chance to complete a character study 17 years in the making.

The first trailer for Logan, the next X-Men movie following this year’s hit films X-Men: Apocalypse and Deadpool, reveals more than what we expected to see of Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier.  Hugh Jackman looks the right age as Wolverine years after the villains take over Earth.  The other universe of Marvel films outside the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” has been well-established to bounce around, in parallel worlds, and has resulted in the most satisfying movies in the superhero genre, particularly with the spectacular X-Men: Days of Future Past. 


And something new and exciting:  We meet a new X-Men character from the comic books, Wolverine’s clawed clone X-23.  Will Logan be as good or better than past X-Men entries?  Check out this first trailer:

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It’s hard to believe the humorously named doof named Bright from Everwood made it to the Big Time.  And we couldn’t be happier for him.  The down to Earth, easy going Chris Pratt has been one of the high points of everything he’d touched, whether as the goofy Andy on Parks and Recreation, the rookie in Moneyball, the only redeeming feature of Jurassic World, the everyman star of The Lego Movie, the wise-cracking cowboy in The Magnificent Seven, or his real-life charity one-upmanship with the other Marvel superhero actor Chris, Chris Evans.   Chris Pratt’s taking over lead movie roles and his leading role as Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, to be reprised in next year’s sequel Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2, is why.

If 2014’s blockbuster hit Guardians of the Galaxy is not in your all-time list of Top 5 superhero movies, it’s time to go back and try again.

Marvel Studios dropped both a new poster and the first teaser trailer for the sequel this week, confirming that the entire band is getting back together again for the sequel, sure to have a great 1970s soundtrack to accompany us on our adventure.  Pratt, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Dave Bautista’s Drax, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, Vin Diesel’s Groot, Karen Gillan’s Nebula, and Michael Rooker’s Yondu lead the cast.  But it looks like they are saving the new slate of stars for the next trailer.


First, check out the first preview and poster for Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It will take fans of the earlier editions of The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future, Revised and Expanded Edition less than a dozen pages of browsing to realize the enormity of the material–and the effort–required to update the previous 1999 edition for this 50th anniversary boxed, hardcover, two-volume reference published this week.  Enterprise–the series that has been virtually ignored in Star Trek reference publications, finally gets its due, as does the later seasons of Voyager, the last season of Deep Space Nine, and the films Star Trek Nemesis, Star Trek (2009), and Star Trek Into Darkness. 

An invaluable reference until the creation of the online fan-run Memory Alpha, the original three editions of the The Star Trek Encyclopedia were the only place for fans to get quick Star Trek data with the last update in 1999.  The advent of the Internet seemed to have spelled certain doom for any hope of a revised and updated edition.  Memory Alpha has more than 40,000 pages of detailed Star Trek reference data.  How could a 1,056 page two-volume edition compete?  For one, long-time fans of all or many of the Star Trek series likely appreciate the ability to pull a reference book off the shelf.  Memory Alpha’s recent updates make the website difficult to navigate and website TrekCore’s value is very much in its screen captures.  Star Trek reference works have been very sporadically released in the past 20 years, so fans are always clamoring for a new book.  The Star Trek Encyclopedia is very much an encyclopedia, and many may not remember the days of pulling a volume of an encyclopedia off the shelf and reading it through for entertainment.  This is a great set of books to do just that.  And the detailed content is what fans want.

Excluding this summer’s release Star Trek Beyond, original edition creators (and former Star Trek art department creative gurus) Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda craftily and seamlessly weaved the J.J. Abrams’s movies–called the Kelvin timeline now– into this work as explained in their foreword (only Star Trek (2009)’s villain Nero’s entry, for example, bridges both the Prime timeline and the Kelvin timeline in The Star Trek Encyclopedia).  The Star Trek Encyclopedia is also the first publication that thoroughly addresses the nuts and bolts of Star Trek Into Darkness. 


I came up with a list of my favorite items: references, characters, objects, and places that did not turn up in the past editions, to see if they all were now included.  They were, except for entries and images of certain key alien weapons, uniforms, and artifacts from the Kelvin timeline (like John Eaves’ beautifully designed Klingon weapons, Romulan disruptors and rifles, or the new Klingon uniforms and helmets).  These types of updates are present across the board for Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.  Artist Ian Fullwood updates Doug Drexler’s artwork quite well, adding to his work updates with the same look and feel as Drexler’s original creations.  Don’t expect past entries to be updated other than some have updated photographs–the research and preparation was clearly all about the new series and movies, also what the fans want and expect.

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One of the best in-universe, sci-fi, tie-in books that we have come across is part of this year’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s Aliens.  Insight Editions’ Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report is not only a great idea–a book that could have been a movie prop used by the likes of Paul Reiser’s junior executive Carter Burke–its execution is superb.  Remove the title wrap and you have a mock leather-bound, heavy duty field guide that you might see passed around by the corporate types in the next Alien movie.

Written by Aliens, Star Trek, and Resident Evil tie-in novelist S.D. Perry with lavish artwork and designs by Markus Pansegrau and John R. Mullaney, The Weyland-Yutani Report pulls out all the stops to deliver a comprehensive Board of Directors summary guide to the findings and technology uncovered with the Alien movies beginning with Ridley Scott’s prequel Prometheus in 2012 to 1979’s Alien, to Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1986), and through to Alien: Resurrection (1997).  (The Predator crossovers are not covered in The Report). 


The most eye-opening data ties together–in a manner more clearly than portrayed in the films–Weyland-Yutani corporation and its founder Sir Peter Weyland, from details available in the films and information that was only character background that didn’t make it into the films.  The goals of the corporation that were the fabric that connected all the films is investigated with some top secret findings (and some redacted), including the hierarchy and gross (as in chestburster) anatomy of the Xenomorphs, groundbreaking (future) scientific achievements of “The Company,” as well as weapons, ships, tools, and theories of alien beings and their connections to early Earthlings.  (Learn even more about “The Company” at the corporate website here).

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Independence Day: Resurgence hit theaters in a summer full of major releases, so odds are you missed this one.  Nearly the entire key cast–excluding most notably Will Smith–returned for the sequel to 1996’s surprise summer hit Independence Day: Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, and even John Storey and Robert Loggia in his final role.  Fans of the original and fans of Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Godzilla) and his take on the classic disaster movie will want to check out the new Blu-ray and the extensive special features available this week for the first time, which detail the planning and enormity of the special effects created for the film.

Resurgence is best if viewed as the next entry in a long cinematic history of rollicking disaster films.  Think Irwin Allen’s Earthquake, Towering Inferno, and The Poseidon Adventure or more recent films where Earth’s monuments stand little chance at survival like The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and San Andreas.  Independence Day: Resurgence provides an entirely new look at Earth.  The setting is today, but it’s a parallel world that lays out a possible world 20 years after the defeat of an alien menace.  As revealed in our review of The Art & Making of Independence Day here, Emmerich and co-creator of the original Dean Devlin pulled out all the stops in creating a big-budget special effects spectacle.


But it’s not fair to just label it only a disaster movie.  Resurgence is in good company as sci-fi is concerned.  With its mysterious sphere and aliens that telepathically communicate with humans we can look back to the roots of modern sci-fi films in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  It’s critical look at what humans might do when encountering aliens evokes The Day the Earth Stood Still.  And it’s look at the knee-jerk reaction of mankind to militarize and destroy with a blind eye to others we don’t understand is straight out of Starship Troopers and Ender’s Game.  It doesn’t achieve the success of any one of these, but does make for a solid summer popcorn flick with a rousing soundtrack and some cutting edge visuals, and in doing so it plays much like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

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An encore presentation of the National Theatre’s presentation of Danny Boyle’s production of Nick Dear’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein’s monster and Jonny Lee Miller as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, is coming to theaters in time for Halloween.  Fathom Events and National Theatre Live has partnered to create the next Halloween event for your calendar–a new Halloween tradition with one of England’s best known and most popular actors.

Recorded from a live stage production of the National Theatre in 2011, U.S. audiences have one opportunity this year to see the production on the big screen.  Directed by Academy Award-winner Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), the production features Jonny Lee Miller (CBS’s Elementary, Trainspotting) and Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC’s Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit, Doctor Strange, The Imitation Game).  The adaptation was written by Nick Dear.


The original production featured two performances with Miller and Cumberbatch switching roles.  The production was a sell-out hit at the National Theatre, and the broadcast has since become an international sensation, viewed by over half a million people in cinemas around the world.

Here is a preview of the Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein:

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Troopers in the hall

Written and directed by Jon Spira and funded via Kickstarter, a documentary about the making of the original Star Wars is now available in the U.S. via Netflix after a release last year in the UK and limited-city U.S. theatrical release this summer.  Elstree 1976 is a time travel trip to visit some of the more obscure actors who portrayed characters and, except for Darth Vader actor Dave Prowse, would not make either the poster credits or, for some, even the movie’s end credits.

Yet each of the characters they portrayed became known by diehard Star Wars fans because of its historic success.  Spira’s documentary asserts 2 billion people on Earth have seen Star Wars–something like 25% of the planet’s population.  Perhaps even a fleeting image of an actor in such a universally acknowledged work justifies our fascination with even the most obscure bit player (see George Lucas’s Frames, reviewed here and here at, for instance).  Remember the Stormtrooper who uttered the line “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for… move along”?  What about Luke’s friends from the deleted Tatooine scenes?  Or one of the actors who claims to be the Stormtrooper who cracked his head on the door aboard the Death Star?

Elstree 1976 poster

Spira selected ten actors to be featured in his film.   Hundreds more could be seen in a similar documentary or documentaries made tomorrow.  But what fascinates is that just as Star Trek actors will tell you about how you never leave Star Trek once you play any part in the franchise, the same holds true for Star Wars.  The convention circuit has breathed new life into careers and new opportunities to make money.  Unlike many films about fans of big franchises, this documentary is quite respectful of the fans, not showing them as oddities.  Most of the actors interviewed are respectful and grateful to the fanbase, too.  The only downside is the uncomfortable politics of the convention circuit among these actors–a few see themselves as a higher status of guest and believe others should not be going to conventions, which sort of misses the point of conventions altogether.

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