Category: Movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

A blend of Spectre, Mission: Impossible, and Zootopia is coming your way this Christmas, and it has the look, humor, strong writing, and overall vibe of The Incredibles.  It’s director Nick Bruno and Troy Quane′s new animated film, Spies in DisguiseWant to see a U.S. version of James Bond?  How about Will Smith as James Bond?  Or a story focused on the character Q?  Like The Incredibles it has a great musical score, fast action, quick edits, lifelike CGI environments, and fun that will having you laughing out loud throughout the entire movie.  That and more is what you get with Spies in DisguiseIn his third film this year, Will Smith isn’t actually playing James Bond, but a familiar type of spy named Lance Sterling, who works in a U.S. spy facility in Washington, DC, located under the National Mall.  At the section that is the equivalent of the Bond world’s Q Branch is a host of scientists making the latest weaponry and safety equipment for Sterling and his peers.

Enter Spider-Man actor Tom Holland′s Walter Beckett, who has been an inventor of spy gadget toys since his youth, living with his mom who was a cop who later died on duty, and now he’s creating the real thing.  Only Walter’s gadgets don’t kill or hurt–they resolve conflicts in other ways.  Sterling learns this when he tries to set off a bomb when surrounded by 70 villains at a drug lord’s lair in Japan.  Instead of leaving everyone dead, it sets off Walter’s Kitty Glitter bomb–which allows Sterling to escape by temporarily disorienting the enemy with a glitter cloud and cute cat video.  This is a great family film with heart like you’d find in the Aardman’s holiday treasure Arthur Christmas, putting a stiff master spy with a young optimist very much like Arthur of the Christmas movie, borrowing that film’s theme, “being weird or different is cool.”

To defeat Sterling’s greatest foes–a cyborg with a high-tech arm named Killian voiced by Rogue One, Ready Player One, and Captain Marvel’s Ben Mendelsohn and the drug lord, Kimura, voiced by Heroes, Hawaii Five-O, and The Meg’s Masi Oka–Sterling needs the ultimate weapon.  Walter thinks he has that weapon almost perfected, but before he has a chance to explain it Sterling drinks down the formula for it.  As advertised in the trailer, it makes Sterling d-i-s-a-p-p-e-a-r, and in Walter’s view disappear means take on the form of a pigeon–yes, a pigeon–so the spy won’t be detected, because nobody pays attention to pigeons, right?  Every city has ’em.  And it only gets better from there.  Walter’s Q shop of tech ideas is nothing short of brilliant, funny, and even thought-provoking, including his all-protective Inflatable Hug.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As dramas about the current problems in the world are concerned, it doesn’t get much better than The Laundromat, one of the many direct-to-Netflix dramas premiering this year.  It’s full of genre favorite actors and the subject is that “ripped from the headlines” variety.  The film begins with a couple celebrating their 40th anniversary with a trip to Niagara Falls.  Unfortunately they do like many do on any vacation, they take local transportation.  Here that is a small commuter boat.  When a minor wave hits the side, the boat rocks and sinks.  The man, played by James Cromwell, dies, and his wife, played by Meryl Streep, lives.  We then meet the crooks of the story, two law partners in Panama played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, breaking the fourth wall to explain the rules of modern finance, and ultimately a step-by-step guide to international money laundering via the U.S. tax code.  The duo is perfect, dressed to the nines to reflect their wealth, courtesy of costume designer Ellen Mirojnick (Starship Troopers, The Chronicles of Riddick).  Like every villain in any story, these villains see themselves as the victims.  Director Steven Soderburgh then spins a story requiring some bizarre worldbuilding–in our own world–that recounts only a few of the many strange aspects of the real-life Panama Papers scandal, which ultimately took down all sorts of politicians and multi-millionaires.

Unlike any other good film about an actual historical event that follows the basic sequential framework, like, as an example, The Post, which also starred Meryl Streep, the value of this film is in its style and design and the way it tells the story.  It’s also an educational tool that explains the realities of “wealth management,” but it doesn’t do it in a bland way, incorporating the law partners like the stage manager in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, but because of the actors’ charm, it’s handled much better than previous similar efforts, like, say, The Wolf of Wall Street or Goodfellas.  As good as Soderburgh’s The Informant!, the style of his Ocean’s 11 series, and the gravity of his Erin Brockovich, this should be counted as a big film for 2019.  It’s funny when it needs to be, but its scope is real and grave, highlighting the fragility of life with not only the story it tells, but the precariousness of every player as they go to and fro in the film, all one slip from becoming Streep or Cromwell’s character at any point.

The Laundromat has an all-star cast of genre favorites, featuring great work from the likes of Jeffrey Wright, Robert Patrick, Nonso Anozie, Will Forte, Chris Parnell, Rosalind Cho, David Schwimmer, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Sharon Stone.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

From Hong Kong to the U.S. and Australia to Uganda, Australian director Serge Ou and writer Grady Hendrix track the scope of the Hong Kong kung fu movie industry and its pop culture influence on the world in the documentary Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks, now streaming this month on Netflix.  Splicing interviews with kung fu legends of the past with new discussions with martial artists and actors influenced by them, Ou offers up a surprisingly rich look at how and why kung fu movies gained an international following that continues to this day via Jackie Chan comedies, the Matrix movies (with a sequel due in theaters next year), and new television series like Wu Assassins and Iron Fist. 

Beneath what is in essence an overview of the genre is a smart mixture of social and cultural commentary on a global phenomenon centered on an artform mixing athleticism, dance, and grace.  Kung fu made its way to American audiences with Tom Laughlin in Billy Jack, and into millions of homes via the Kung Fu series.  This was paralleled by Bruce Lee movies and lesser films (they call them Bruce-sploitation) from China and U.S. studios, direct-to-video crotch-kicking and “squirrel-grabbing” action on VHS tapes in video stores, heroines leading the way as a sub-genre, eventually moving to black and inner city audiences embracing the culture, starting with martial artist and actor Jim Kelly (who co-starred with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon), re-emerging later as an influence on hip hop music.  The genre got even bigger boosts with Jackie Chan heavy-stunt comedies, followed by The Matrix and the Academy Awards arrival of the genre with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Chinese co-productions with other nations, and actors of Chinese background in the mainstream outside of Asia would eventually come along.

Viewers meet (or revisit) early kung fu icons Cheng Pei-Pei and Sammo Hung in new interviews, along with Billy Banks, who would turn the genre into his own fortune via the creation of the Tae Bo workout, early American female kung fu star Cynthia Rothrock, martial artist Richard Norton, plus from the 21st century shows, Iron Fist actor Jessica Henwick, Wu Assassins actor JuJu Chan, Doctor Strange actor Scott Adkins, and Marvel stuntwoman and choreographer Amy Johnston, among others.  It’s all interspersed with great action sequences and other clips from more than 100 films.  A theme underscoring much of kung fu movie history is a distinct lack of safety standards, with more than one participant in the documentary stressing that Hong Kong kung fu movies couldn’t be made anywhere else for that reason.

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If you want to see how much the 1980s-inspired Stranger Things has worked itself into the 21st century zeitgeist, you need only turn to the last three big studio trailers revealed over the past three days.  Make no mistake, if Stranger Things isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread it’s pretty close, full of fun characters and great riffs on some of our favorite bits of nostalgia.  So why shouldn’t everything and everyone try to get on the bandwagon?

The most exciting trailer comes from a film Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray have been interviewed about since Ghostbusters II.  Taking a cue from Halloween, Predator, and Terminator, the franchise is doing some skipping of reboots and making Ghostbusters: Afterlife a direct sequel to Ghostbusters II.  The lead role will be played by young (perfectly cast) Mckenna Grace, who has appeared in lots of genre films and shows (Ready Player One, Independence Day: Resurgence, Captain Marvel, and horror franchises: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Annabelle, Amityville, and Hill House).  In a nice nod to the late Ghostbusters co-star and writer Harold Ramis, she and Stranger Things co-star Finn Wolfhard (who wore his own Ghostbusters suit in his series) will play the grandkids of Ramis’s character, Dr. Egon Spengler.  Shifting to a prairie setting from the city, the tone feels more like the creepy and cool Netflix series in the first trailer, but it hints that slime-bearing apparitions we last saw in Manhattan will be showing their faces soon.  And a bonus: Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) plays the grade school teacher, and the kids’ mom is played by Carrie Coon (Avengers: Infinity War).  Plus Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts–everyone but Rick Moranis–have been confirmed for at least a cameo.  And there’s an El Camino and the return of the Ecto-1.  What more could you want?

 

Along with Ghostbusters: Afterlife are new trailers for Wonder Woman 1984 and Free Guy.  As you’d guess from the title, Wonder Woman 1984 is also looking back to the 1980s, complete with a big shopping mall action scene like we saw this summer in Stranger Things.  It looks like it’s trying to be a Marvel movie, complete with a World War-era soldier named Steve (Chris Pine) making his return from the past to co-star and Gal Gadot back in her title role, making an Iron Man entrance.  The movie has a comedic actor starring as a kooky villain (Kristen Wiig), making it look like we’re going to get another Superman III–yet another 1980s thing.  The third movie in our Stranger Things vibe is Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds in a spin on the lead character of the LEGO movies–here he is a video game character as in the 1980s nostalgia-filled Ready Player One, a non-player character who decides he wants to be the hero.  The movie co-stars the guy who plays our favorite character in Stranger Things, Joe Keery.  It doesn’t look like Tron, but we’ll take it.

Check out these trailers with a Stranger Things vibe for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Wonder Woman 1984, and Free Guy:

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We’ve seen Disney go back to the well as the norm lately, with a host of live-action remakes of animated movies from the “vaults.”  Ticking off the list so far have been Aladdin, Cinderella, The Jungle Book (twice), and Pete’s Dragon, with Beauty and the Beast, Lady and the Tramp, the second take on The Jungle Book, and The Lion King remakes really more CGI than live-action, with a few centered on classic villains, including two Maleficents and one Cruella.  What other animated Disney films will audiences see adapted to the real world in the future?  So far news of pre-production has been mentioned for The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lilo & Stitch, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, The Sword and the Stone, yet another take on The Jungle Book, and spin-offs including Tink, Rose Red, and Prince Charming.  With more than a dozen live-action remakes of animated Disney movies in production, it’s a surprise to see a preview for one that looks like it could have been a standalone live-action film from the get-go.  Utilizing the production designer of The Lord of the Rings movies, Disney has upped the ante for Mulan.

Based on the 1998 animated Oscar-nominated film, which was based on a Chinese folk legend of a young heroine who posed as a boy to fight for her people (The Ballad of Mulan), with a lot of influence from Jin Yong’s heroine Huang Rong in Legends of the Condor Heroes, next year’s Mulan replaces roles voiced in the animated film that included Eddie Murphy, Harvey Fierstein, Donny Osmond, and Miguel Ferrer, instead showcasing a legion of Chinese and Chinese-American actors and a film steeped more in traditional Chinese folklore.  In the title role is Yifei Liu (also known as Crystal Liu) an actress who has grown up with roles in wuxia stories, starring in Return of the Condor Heroes, and appearing with Jackie Chan and Jet Li in John Fusco’s Forbidden Kingdom.  In the first trailer for Mulan (below) we meet her father, played by Wu Assassins and The Man in the High Castle’s Tzi Ma.  Other key cast members include Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) as Bori Khan, Gong Li as the Cyclone Mei-inspired witch Xian Lang, Rogue One’s Donnie Yen as Commander Tung, M*A*S*H and Star Trek’s Rosalind Chao as Hua Li, and Chinese mega-action star Jet Li as The Emperor.

Mulan is directed by Niki Caro, who you may know as the director of the fantastic and inspiring McFarland USA, among other award-winning films.  Clearly this is not going to be a shot-for-shot remake as we’ve seen with past Disney efforts.  Costumes were designed by Bina Daigeler (Volver, Grimm), and the music was created by the prolific film composer Harry Gregson-Williams.  The rich production look is courtesy of Grant Major (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Meg, X-Men: Apocalypse, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny).

Take a look at this fantastic, exciting new trailer for Mulan:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Sometimes you can align the right fan with a project and come up with something great.  Add Mark Edlitz to that list and his fascinating, broad look at the James Bond franchise in The Many Lives of James Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy As audiences get ready for 2020’s No Time to Die, the franchise continues to be as popular as ever, through new fiction and non-fiction books, comics, music, posters, and more.   But how do you translate the master British spy from Ian Fleming’s original stories into new stories, or adapt the character to the big screen, to audio books and radio plays, and to spin-off comic books and novels?  Mark Edlitz is a long-time fan who took his tape recorder along to Bond conventions over the years and interviewed everyone he could find in front of and behind the camera, then expanded that into people behind the books and everything else he could find.  The result is the largest collection of Bond oral histories anywhere.  The result is The Many Lives of James Bond, now available for the first time, from Lyons Press.

Supplemented with sketch art (from artist Pat Carbajal) and peppered with black and white photographs of the interview subjects, Edlitz makes up for some of the big creators he was unable to interview by interviewing people close to them.  Interviewing people is not easy: Sometimes the subjects aren’t good at being interviewed, and oftentimes subjects are evasive for whatever reason.  But most subjects in the book said they felt a certain family connection to the honor of working on a Bond project, and were open with their thoughts.  It’s full of all kinds of surprises, and more insights than you can imagination about being Bond, from interviews with Roger Moore and George Lazenby, a stunt double, Hoagy Carmichael and David Niven’s sons (Fleming’s initial visions for Bond), and Glen A. Schofield, who provides his account of working with Sean Connery as voice over actor in a video game 20 years after his last Bond performance.  The Many Lives of James Bond also looks back to some early, pre-Bond film era performers.

  

Edlitz covers casting the role and directing Bond (from movie directors Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale), Roger Spotiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies), and editor and unit director John Glen (who worked on eight films with four Bond actors)), writing words and working with the famed producers who own the Bond legacy (from interviews with more than a dozen writers, including three-time Bond screenwriter Bruce Feirstein), creating music for Bond (from songwriters Leslie Bricusse (Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice) and Don Black (who wrote songs for five films)), creating clothes for Bond (from Jany Temime (Skyfall, SPECTRE)), and even marketing Bond (in movie posters created by Robert McGinnis (Diamonds are Forever, Live and Let Die), Rudy Obrero (Never Say Never Again), and Dan Goozee (Moonraker, Octopussy, A View to a Kill)), all while trying to be faithful to Fleming’s vision while adapting when necessary to changing times.

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No Time to Die It will be the 25th official James Bond movie and the 27th if you include the independent movie Never Say Never Again and the first version of Casino Royale, all part of the longest running blockbuster franchise that began in 1962 with Dr. No.  The first full movie trailer for No Time to Die is here (check it out below), along with several character posters.  And those (like us) who see Daniel Craig as their favorite Bond will be sad to hear Craig says this will be his last turn at 007.  His performance as “the man every guy wants to be and every woman wants to be with” would no doubt be familiar to author Ian Fleming, whose character was a rugged, late career spy as Craig has played it (check out our past reviews of the Bond novels here at borg).

Along with other international venues, Bond returns to Jamaica in his next film, where we’ve seen him before in Dr. No and Live and Let Die, but more importantly it’s Bond coming full circle, as Jamaica is where Fleming wrote all of his Bond stories, at his real home there he called Goldeneye.  Long-time series producer Barbara Broccoli tapped Cary Fukunaga, a cinematographer and relative newcomer to the big screen, to take the reins as director, following Sam Mendes, who directed the last two Bond movies.  Returning as the familiar core characters are Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, and Léa Seydoux as Bond’s latest love interest from the last outing.  New to the series are Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) as the villain Safin, plus Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049), Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel) as a new 00, Lourdes Faberes (Knightfall), Rae Lim (Tomb Raider), and Billy Magnussen (Black Mirror).

 

Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica.  His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help.  The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

Check out all the character posters (which list the UK release date) and the first trailer released today for No Time to Die:

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We’ll all forever scratch our heads over why it didn’t enter anyone’s mind at Marvel Studios to get Black Widow her own movie before Infinity War and Endgame.  Was it because they didn’t plan to kill off Black Widow in Endgame until the last minute?  In repeated interviews Scarlett Johansson doesn’t even seem to know why.  Captain Marvel was great fun, but wouldn’t it have made sense to have this film as the penultimate film in the decade-long, newly titled Infinity Saga?  But it looks like Disney and Marvel pulled it off.  Johansson as a younger Black Widow, and a great, fun, surprise cast gets the spotlight in the first trailer for next summer’s first likely blockbuster, which arrived this morning.

As you’ll see in the trailer below, Black Widow features the return of Johansson, plus adds Stranger Things and Hellboy star David Harbour as the Soviet answer to Captain America, the Red Guardian, Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) as assassin Melina Vostokoff aka Iron Maiden, Florence Pugh (The Commuter) as Yelena Belova, and de-aged Oscar-winning actor William Hurt, who started the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe off in The Incredible Hulk, back as General Ross.  Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow takes place following the events of Captain America: Civil War, so it’s not really all that long ago.  Recall when Natasha Romanov left Steve Rogers at the cemetery at the end of the film?  This is evidently what she alluded to when she left.  The villain is Taskmaster, but the identity of that actor/actress has yet to be revealed.  And Pugh’s character might be getting queued up to take over the Black Widow mantle later in this new phase (#4) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as her character has been known to use the title in the pages of the comic books.

 

Along with the trailer, a second poster was released Tuesday morning, following the red hourglass style of the first poster given to fans at Disney’s D23 Expo this year.

First previewed at D23 Expo, check out this first trailer for Black Widow:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Following up on The Toys That Made Us (previously reviewed here at borg), Netflix’s surprise hit documentary series leaning on viewers’ nostalgia with a look behind select high-profile toy lines of the past, this weekend the streaming provider added a new series based on the same formula.  The Movies That Made Us takes a four episode-per-season look at what someone somewhere thinks are important movies in the national consciousness.  The series arrives nicely timed, since season three of The Toys That Made Us already is showing signs the studio has run out of ideas.

Like The Toys That Made Us, the new series isn’t really about the subject of the series, instead taking viewers on a deep, dark dive into the business world of pop culture.  Like the first series, The Movies That Made Us has some fascinating gold nuggets.  It also has its problems.  The biggest issue being the odd introductory selection of movies, and the second, the glaring omission of key players viewers want to see interviewed for the stories.  As for the first issue, understandably the show is trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of viewers.  But it seems highly unlikely any single person, whether a movie buff or casual moviegoer, would put the following four movies on their list of must-see films: Dirty Dancing, Home Alone, Ghostbusters, and Die Hard As for the second problem, part of the issue is the series is too late to the table.  So many of the key players behind and in front of the camera in these films have died, like Ghostbusters writer/actor Harold Ramis, Dirty Dancing director Emile Ardolino and co-stars Patrick Swayze and Jerry Orbach, Home Alone writer John Hughes, and Die Hard actors Alan Rickman and Alexander Godunov and writer Roderick Thorp.  But people die and that shouldn’t hold up a good story, except that so many players that could have been interviewed who are living also didn’t participate.  A documentary about Dirty Dancing without star Jennifer Grey?  Die Hard without Bruce Willis?  Ghostbusters without Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, or Rick Moranis?  And the clincher… they couldn’t get Macauley Culkin, Joe Pesci, or Catherine O’Hara to say anything about Home Alone?

It really gets to the point of audience expectation.  Movie buffs will enjoy this series’ first season even if they didn’t care for the films, simply because it’s always going to be interesting for them to watch the wheeling and dealing of the studio machine told from the people who were there.  In that regard, the episodes about Dirty Dancing and Home Alone were entertaining by virtue of their tales of odd ideas that managed to emerge like the phoenix from dead deals to become major box office successes through a lot of luck and happenstance (told nicely in the episodes).  And the same was true for The Toys That Made Us, although after nine episodes an hour of the retired talking heads of Toyland has lost its luster.  To that end, the series should be called something more accurate, like The Making of the Movies That Made Us, etc.  But even that would set the expectation that you’d see more than talking heads interspersed with fuzzy snapshots from productions of the past.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Writer Ramin Zahed is back with his next dive behind the scenes of the latest animated films (including Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Missing Link, The Little Prince, and Klaus), this time exploring this year’s CGI version of The Addams Family in The Addams Family: The Art of the Animated Movie.  You might have thought you’d seen it all when it comes to the creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky (and ooky) family that became a classic to two generations, first as a 1960s television series and later as a 1990s movie series.  What you might not have known was the Addams Family dates back to a New Yorker cartoon from the 1930s.

For the 2019 movie The Addams Family, co-directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan didn’t want to make another version of the TV or film versions in animated form.  So they went back to the source, creator Charles Addams.  In interviews with executives and animators, Zahed explores the source material and concept artwork that inspired the new film.  It turns out Charles Addams created character descriptions for each of the famous characters, Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Grandma, Thing, and It–it was these descriptions that the character designers used to guide the personality of the new animated version of the characters.

The Addams Family: The Art of the Animated Movie walks readers through each of the above characters, supporting character art designs, a portrait gallery from the mansion, props, vehicles, and setting locations, providing images of the designs artists went through before deciding on the final, with concept art, storyboards, and production art, and inspiration from Charles Addams’ original cartoons.  Contributors from the film include producers Gail Berman, Alison O’Brien, Alex Schwartz, and Danielle Sterling, character designer Craig Kellman, production designer Patricia Atchison, story lead Todd Demong, animation director Mike Linton, and animation creators Rav Grewal, Casey Kirkpatrick, Marie-Eve Kirkpatrick, Laura Brusseau, and Yiqun Chen.

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