Category: Retro Fix


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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We’re three episodes into the CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, sixth of the now annual efforts to get interest from the audience of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Batwoman, or Black Lightning in more than just one of their several adaptions of DC Comics.  The Crisis crossover has so far aired during Supergirl, Batwoman, and The Flash, and is now streaming on the CW app, continuing January 14 with episodes on Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow.  If you’re able to not be critical of all its flaws, you may be able to sit back and have fun with all the cameos and guest stars.  But the clunky writing and even clunkier dialogue may also leave you thinking about what could be–what could be done with the DC characters if only someone would put forth some extra effort.  Nobody expects TV series to produce the results you get with a movie budget, yet so far CW’s series have been more faithful to the spirit of the comic book source material than DC at the theaters (this year’s movie Shazam! as the welcome exception).  With all the money going into so many related series, why not cut a few of the series and combine efforts to focus more on compelling combined team scripts?  The actors are great, a cut above the material they’re working from, and it’s difficult to watch the crossover event and not wish executive producer Marc Guggenheim & Co. would give the actors something more.

Sure, it’s tough to cram so many characters into so few minutes.  But you also don’t want your fans making excuses for you.  We like fan service, a term host Kevin Smith uses a few times in his after show to describe this crossover, but how about that extra push to boost the quality?  That said, there is something for every taste in the Crisis crossover, and if you’re willing to sit back and let it all come at you, you’re going to find some great efforts to pull at your nostalgia strings.  Everyone involved, especially as they discuss their efforts in the after show, seem to love the material.  The overall big wins include John Wesley Shipp, who still holds the title for all-time best superhero adaptation, returning again for some scenes as the Flash from his 1990-91 series, Brandon Routh playing both his regular series character The Atom and donning the cape again he wore as the big-screen Superman in Superman Returns, and Matt Ryan, who couldn’t be more dead-on from the comics in his performance, reprising his role as John Constantine (more Justice League Dark, please!).

In part, the CW is stuck because of deals and studios, which (sort of) explains no Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, (yet two Supermans?) or big-screen Batman actor–although voice actor Kevin Conroy has a legion of fans who are probably more than happy to see him take a turn as a Kingdom Come-inspired Bruce Wayne.  Having a voice actor who doesn’t look like any comic version of Batman is just something you have to go with here–maybe close your eyes and imagine him in the animated Batman series.

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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, you probably think of the incredible scope of its collection.  It houses some of the most famous and rare paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other artifacts from ancient times to the present day.  Its collection can be parsed in so many ways to record the history of almost any subject.  So it was a brilliant idea for The Met to open up its collection to focus on imagery for the holidays to illustrate a book about traditional Christmas stories.  Christmas is Coming! Celebrate the Holiday with Art, Stories, Poems, Songs, and Recipes is an ideal single source book of traditional Christmas songs and stories, illustrated with attractive imagery from artists celebrating the holiday across the centuries.  It also includes new poems commissioned for the book and holiday recipes created by the chefs from the restaurant at The Met.  If you’ve ever tried to find that one book with stories to read by the fire, with songs to sing to pull out every year, this is for you.

Along with excerpts of The Christmas Story and The Three Wise Men from the Bible, are historic Christmas stories from Arthur Conan Doyle, the Brothers Grimm, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Leo Tolstoy, and Lucy Maud Montgomery, and poetry from William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Christina Rossetti, H.P. Lovecraft, E.E. Cummings, and Robert Louis Stevenson.  It includes Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Francis Church’s timeless editorial Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. 

The artwork spans the entire collection of The Met, ranging from religious paintings depicting the Nativity from the 15th century and a winter landscape by Camille Pissarro to a collection of three dimensional holiday-related objects, illustrations of Santa Claus, and several images curated from a collection of vintage holiday cards donated to the museum.  Christmas is Coming! includes sheet music for ten of the most familiar Christmas songs, and recipes hand-selected by chefs at The Met that include Shepherd’s Pie, Turkey Pot Pie, English Toffee, Cranberry-Thyme Shortbread, and more.

Here are some excerpts from The Met’s Christmas is Coming!:

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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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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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WKRP Nessman reporting Thanksgiving stunt

Pull the TV dinner out of the oven.  Throw some butter on those peas.  It’s time again for your annual tryptophan coma.  And another annual tradition.

Yes, it is time again for your annual viewing of the best Thanksgiving episode that ever graced the small screen.  Finish this phrase: “As God is my witness, I thought…”

Then watch and enjoy our traditional viewing of the greatest Thanksgiving episode of TV ever (note: no actual turkeys were harmed in the making of the show):

(YouTube versions change a lot, so feel free to look around for a better version, unless it’s already carried by one of your streaming providers)

And in between your seconds and thirds of tofurkey, this epic roasted cabbage (we tried it, it’s actually good), mashed potatoes (or cauliflower), corn casserole, bean casserole, pea casserole, brown and serve rolls–and don’t forget the gravy–and PIE, then check out other Thanksgiving blasts from the past here.

And don’t forget the cranberries.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The BORG Staff

Review by C.J. Bunce

For years it seemed like new Christmas classics were few and far between.  It usually takes some time for a movie to gain “classic” status, and that itself is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.  Early on audiences stamped the label on Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas.  You have your A Charlie Brown Christmas, your How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and a bevy of Rankin & Bass stop-motion animated shows like Frosty the Snowman.  Then more modern fare came along, like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Elf.  Oh, and we can’t forget Die Hard.  All stamped with an anvil as “classics.”  If you want to see more movies from cinema history, check out the Turner Movie Classics book Christmas in the Movies, reviewed last year here at borg.

Putting aside the modern made for TV movies, if you’re younger, you may count as a classic something like The Polar Express, with Tom Hanks.  It’s that kind of recent film category where you can add in Netflix’s new movie–its first animated feature, Klaus Both of these movies are animated in interesting ways that will keep you entertained simply from a visual perspective, Klaus from its unique lighting and color choices and a strong Spanish comic art style (as seen in Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy).  They also share a certain traditional storybook look, and their tales also look back to nostalgia for their ideas.  Klaus is another origin story take on Santa Claus.  Audiences have seen this many times, including in the not to be missed films Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (featuring the voices of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, and Keenan Wynn) and in books like L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and more recently, the brilliant Santa: My Life and Times, with artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz (we reviewed it here).

Spain’s Sergio Pablos directed Klaus intentionally stepping away from modern Disney-style CGI animation to traditional hand-drawn art, so it looks more like Disney’s top technical achievement, the Oscar-winning Beauty and the Beast from 1991, and less like The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  The story is cute, and contrasting with the traditional visual style, is the inclusion of humorous dialogue told by voice talents famously known for being snarky.  We follow a postman named Jesper, who couldn’t look or sound more like David Spade, actually voiced by Jason Schwartzman.  Jesper is a non-achiever, and his father sends him to a distant Scandinavian town to learn to be successful at his job.  The town ends up like a lawless town out of the Old West.  His job is to get people to use the mail service again.  Along the way he runs into a Hatfield-McCoy conflict, with one part voiced by Joan Cusack, and an old man with a house full of toys named Klaus, voiced by J.K. Simmons.

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Of all John Carpenter’s films, They Live may be the most riveting.  It’s one of those uses of science fiction to advance social commentary, and it did it like nothing before.  When you think of science fiction movies, the big franchises probably come to mind first, but then there are those gold nuggets that had a mid-level of success that reflect unique, special visions.  Films like Total Recall and They Live built fan followings over time.  Right before They Live star Roddy Piper’s death, he was in discussions to attend a local event, but it wasn’t meant to be.  But 31 years after the film’s release, who wouldn’t be excited for Super7 to get their mitts on the They Live license for some retro Kenner-style action figures?

We first previewed the cards for the figures coming out of this year’s New York Toy Fair.  The slated figures were for Roddy’s lead badass and a male and female alien (the movie and Super7 call them ghouls, but we all know they were aliens).  The figure of Roddy was destined to be one of the coolest figures ever, based on the great prototype displayed at Toy Fair.  Unfortunately, the incredible sculpt for the Roddy Piper figure (his character was called Nada) didn’t make it to the production stage for failure to secure the image or similar rights and so the two alien figures are the totality of what is being released for the film.  (Keith David’s character Frank would have made a great figure, too).

Roddy Piper’s Nada prototype figure from Super7 would have included his sunglasses and three weapons as accessories, but no bubblegum.

In the film, aliens have arrived and coerce some humans to sell out–to allow the aliens to dig their claws into society and take over. A small group has discovered the truth, and its band of resistance fighters uses specially developed sunglasses and contact lenses to identify the aliens among us. The show’s heroes acquire the glasses and learn that it’s not only the people hiding secrets, but an entire world of subliminal messaging has lulled the bulk of society into complacency.

This week Super7 previewed a variant for the male “ghoul” (which may be available for a single or both of the “ghoul” figures, but we’ve only seen the male so far).  And its packaging may be Super7’s best retro “ReAction” packaging yet.  So what’s so great about the variant figure?

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