Category: Retro Fix


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you have been watching closely, you may notice that streaming platforms, pay channels, and cable networks rely on hit movies for the bulk of their replays.  Try to find some of your favorites outside the mainstream on Netflix, for example, and you’re likely to find mostly films made since streaming itself started to be a thing.  Starz has been one monthly pay channel option that is slowly bringing back more obscure films from the past 50 years, films like Outland and Wolfen.  Another you may have missed is Let Me In from a decade ago, another of those rare genre-bending films that–if you’re lucky enough to just stumble across it–is the kind of film to remind you why you love genre films.  It stars twelve-year-old actors Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee in powerful breakout performances, the same year Moretz would deliver one of the big screen’s best superheroine performances as the cute but foul-mouthed Hit Girl in the movie Kick-Ass with Nicolas Cage, and just after Smit-McPhee would co-star in the dystopian film The Road with Viggo Mortenson.

Is it horror, an early 1980s coming-of-age tale, a love story, crime-suspense, a story of an abusive father, or something more (as Starlord might say, “a bit of both”?).  If you enjoy not knowing what genre of film you’re jumping into, this is for you.  Like Midnight Special, Skeleton Key, 12 Monkeys, and The Others, much of the film will creep by before you even have any certainty as to what is “really” going on.  Writer-director Matt Reeves, who brought audiences the Cloverfield series and the latest Planet of the Apes movies and is working on The Batman for 2021, mixes some truly dramatic moments into Let Me In, while also adding the next must-watch for coming of age movies, suspense-thrillers, horror, and romance.  Just as James Mangold delivered a father-daughter love story in Logan, Reeves puts his own stamp on a compelling tale of a boy and the girl next door.

The clues Reeves delivers along the way will be more obvious to some than others.  Donnie Darko, Fargo, Logan, The Outsiders–Don’t be surprised if Reeves’ deftly drawn scenes evoke feelings from all sorts of big films.  Disturbing, poignant, triumphant, chilling.  You might even get twisted into feeling a certain sympathy for one of the film’s creepier characters.  A police detective played by Elias Koteas (Shooter, Zodiac, Gattaca) will have you think you’re following Mark Ruffalo’s character in another Zodiac movie.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Goldfinger.  It’s surprising that a novel, a word, a song, and a character James Bond is so well known for didn’t arrive until Ian Fleming’s seventh novel in the series.  Goldfinger is a novel to revisit, one of the better of Fleming’s efforts, defining so much about what we know as James Bond today.  That prolonged car chase.  The requisite run-through of the spy agency’s cutting-edge techno-gadgets.  The over-the-top situations.  Already locked in 60 years ago when Goldfinger arrived on paperback racks in 1959 were the franchise’s womanizing, the liquor and dinner delicacies, Fleming’s ability to offend select groups with each subsequent novel (this time his target is Koreans and lesbians), and that same, cold-hearted, hardened spy.  Its film adaptation five years later would become one of the most popular, the third film to feature the British spy, the one that would cement a theme for Bond thanks to a song by John Barry (with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, memorably performed by Shirley Bassey), and a story most faithfully adapted in the popular comic strip of the 1960s (see our review of that version of the story here).

Although all the Bond novels can be read in any order, Goldfinger is a direct sequel to his first, Casino Royale, spinning a character out of the key baccarat game and a chance encounter at an American airport.  The first half of this novel parallels Casino Royale so much readers may think Fleming literally superimposed sections of this over his first.  In Goldfinger we view Bond in a lengthy, and fascinatingly compelling golf game, matching the import and stakes of his famous baccarat game in Casino Royale.  Who knew the anger and strategy that could go through the mind of Bond over a game of golf? And both novels begin with a similar cold, detached kill by Bond.  Chance and coincidence are focal themes.  One of Fleming’s clever strengths here, being aware of including so many coincidences that the story hinges on, is highlighting that fact unapologetically, even acknowledging it through the dialogue of Bond and his foe.

 

For those who viewed the movie version first, they should be pleasantly surprised as the stories track better than most Bond titles.  We meet this incredible villain, Auric Goldfinger, fascinated with and addicted to gold, bent on being the richest man in the world, a master architect of destruction and planning, yet also dumb enough to leave a brand on his own gold bars, and idly wasting his time duping a hotel guest on a game of canasta, which proves to be his downfall.  We also meet his henchman, Oddjob, the short, rotund Korean man with a rather sharp-brimmed bowler hat.

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It’s easy to argue that the very best part of George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels was Darth Maul.  All of his scenes in The Phantom Menace and especially his “Duel of the Fates” with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi were spectacular, a cut above the rest of the three films, thanks in no small part to the physical prowess (and facial expressions) of actor Ray Park.  The lightsaber scene is still unsurpassed as the best Jedi-Sith duel of all eleven Star Wars films.  Yet, as we learned for the third time this past December, just because someone knocks you down a vast Imperial chasm, it doesn’t mean you’re actually dead (we should have learned this lesson from Luke in The Empire Strikes Back).  The animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars resurrected Maul, first as a rebuilt man with robotic legs in season four (an amnesiac found on a “junkyard” planet like where Rey is later seen), then upgraded with more human-like cyborg legs.  Maul will return in a new 12-episode seventh season, voiced again by Sam Witwer, where he will have a rematch with The Clone Wars heroine Ahsoka Tano, former Padawan of Anakin Skywalker.  Maul will again be portrayed by Ray Park, this time using motion capture for the animation.

Somebody at Disney must know we love Darth Maul (we’re thinking The Clone Wars original director Dave Filoni, back again for this final season) because of Maul’s return in Solo: A Star Wars Story, revealed in the film’s climax as the ultimate villain behind the curtain.  Was Emilia Clarke’s Qi-ra intended to be Maul’s Sith student?  Was she about to be?  Will we ever find out?  Oddly enough, we didn’t/couldn’t learn the answer because the film Solo was made toward the end of Star Wars Rebels, which ended its run years after the events in Solo, although it takes place before the events in Solo.  What we do know is Darth Maul is still around for Star Wars Rebels, where he tricks the young series lead Ezra into being his student, and ultimately Daul dies at the hands of… Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is hiding Luke on Tatooine, something that could also be addressed in the forthcoming, yet-to-be-titled Obi-Wan Kenobi live-action series.  Confused yet?  This ordering might help:

  • The Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
  • The Clone Wars
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars Rebels
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars/A New Hope
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Mandalorian
  • The Force Awakens
  • The Last Jedi
  • The Rise of Skywalker

Understanding The Clone Wars’ other fan-favorite character, Ahsoka Tano, voiced again by Ashley Eckstein, pretty much requires another viewing of both The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels to get fully caught up.  Originally she was destined to die at the hands of her Jedi Master, Anakin aka Vader, but then in Star Wars Rebels there was some time travel and parallel world business that prevented her death, plus the return of Emperor Palpatine… even before The Rise of Skywalker.  Tano is considered by many fans to be one of the strongest heroines of the Star Wars saga (along with Leia Organa, Jyn Erso and Rey), appearing in a number of novels and comics outside the TV series.  Her spirit voice can be heard in the battle between Rey and Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker, where fans learned she must have died off-screen sometime before the events in that film.

First disclosed at San Diego Comic-Con last summer, Disney/Lucasfilm is bringing 12 new episodes of The Clone Wars to pay streaming channel Disney+ beginning next month.  The series appears to follow the older, original series animation style versus the updated, more realistic characters and environments of Star Wars Rebels.  Here’s the first trailer for the series, followed by an earlier preview:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Philip K. Dick′s 1972 novel We Can Build You, his 22nd novel, has its strengths, the first half of the novel full of several thought-provoking ideas that each would have been better served pared down as one of Dick’s fantastic short stories.  From there it slides precipitously off the cliff into the incomprehensible–an attempt at showing a protagonist with an unstable mind inside what is by all other indications the set-up for a future America sci-fi story.  Originally written in 1962 and not published for a decade, and released first as A. Lincoln, Simulacrum, the story is centered on Louis Rosen, an entrepreneur in 1982 with questionable business acumen who co-owns a musical organ company.  We Can Build You begins to illustrate what it might be like to build a new race of artificial humans, previewing many specific elements that would become the framework of many later films, novels, and shows (like the Humans television series 45 years later).  The “simulacra” business branches off as a natural spin-off of a keyboard type organ that interacts with the mind in the future from the 1962 perspective–simulacra being a favorite early sci-fi construct in Dick’s works, also called a Replicant or android in his other works.

For a few dozen pages Dick examines what it is to be alive, for a human or a sentient robot, this time in a new way, showing two simulacra, one a nearly perfect construct of Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war during the Civil War, and later, a simulacra of President Lincoln himself.  Why?  Because of America’s fascination with the Civil War following the commemoration of its centennial in 1961 (when Dick was writing the novel).  How these highly functioning automatons react to these businessmen in the Pacific Northwest “in the future” and the ideas to use them concocted by the story’s wealthy progenitor to Elon Musk form the best sections of the book.  The biggest struggle is with the second half of the novel, when Louis, who serves as the novel’s narrator–with no prior warning–becomes fixated on his partner’s daughter, named Pris.  Louis slips rapidly into some form of schizophrenia, obsessed with the 18-year-old, and the reader becomes aware he also has the unfortunate malady of being a textbook unreliable narrator.

 

Was any part of this novel real?  Was the infatuation never mutual (like with Quentin Tarentino’s insane brother in From Dusk Till Dawn?).  Did his organ company really propose making simulacra as entertainment to re-enact the Civil War, or is the reader crazy for even believing that could have been a legitimate plot point?  Was Pris real or only a figment of his mind?  Did his brother really have an “upside down face” (Dick describes it as some kind of mutation of some future people) or Louis really believed this because of his mental disease and his false reality?  Was anyone real?  Every step of the way modern readers familiar with Dick’s more famous work Blade Runner (adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) will see the inspiration for the Replicant also named Pris in that later work, not published until a decade after We Can Build You, and will question whether this Pris is a simulacra, too, or something else.

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The first major variant comic book cover event of 2020 launches tomorrow as the landmark 750th issue of Wonder Woman arrives at comic stores everywhere.  As with last year’s Detective Comics Issue #1000, DC Comics will feature a set of decade-inspired cover art variants plus a sketch cover version, joining an incredibly rendered Joëlle Jones standard cover with Wonder Woman holding the Earth on her shoulders (which might be the best of all), all available in most comic book stores.  Nearly 40 other variants will also be available if you’re willing to track them down, from retailer incentives to artist and store-exclusive issues.

Look for homage covers by Joshua Middleton (1940s), Jenny Frison (1950s), J. Scott Campbell (1960s), Olivier Coipel (1970s), George Perez (1980s), Brian Bolland (1990s), Adam Hughes (2000s), and Jim Lee and Scott Williams (2010s).

 

The first story features writer Steve Orlando and artist Jesus Merino wrapping the Year of the Villain arc.  DC announced previously that a story by writer Scott Snyder and artist Bryan Hitch will basically reboot the DC universe timeline, establishing Wonder Woman as the first DC superhero.  Other stories were created by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott, Gail Simone and Colleen Doran, Marguerite Bennett and Laura Braga, Mariko Tamaki and Elena Casagrande, Kami Garcia, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks, Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and Riley Rossmo, and Vita Ayala and Amancay Nahuelpan.  Readers will also find pin-up art by Emanuela Lupacchino, Ramona Fradon, Bilquis Evely, Travis Moore, Liam Sharp, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

So which is your favorite cover?  Check out the final covers and original cover artwork below:

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With a new Ghostbusters sequel coming to theaters this summer, expect the original Ghostbusters characters to get the spotlight from several different toy lines.  Plus, following up on individual figures released last year, Playmobil is finally rolling out the DeLorean time machine (including Marty, Doc, and Einstein the dog) from Back to the Future, coming this spring (pictured above).  Online toy store Entertainment Earth is the first out of the gates taking pre-orders for the time machine (check it out here), and it is also offering a special 1955 edition of the figures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown (check ’em out here).  As New York Toy Fair 2020 draws closer, expect to start hearing more about new releases from these two 1980s sci-fi properties.

Ghostbusters has already licensed several products to major toy brands, featuring their Ecto-1 Ectomobile, and characters Venkman, Spengler, Stantz, and Zeddemore, all expected to pop up in Ghostbusters: Afterlife in theaters in July.  We found several sets available on Amazon to get kids (young and old) psyched up to revisit these characters, like the Playmobil Ectomobile, including Janine and Zeddemore (here), a set of all four Playmobil Ghostbusters (here), the Gargoyle Dogs with Venkman and Dana (here), and the Stay Puft marshmallow man with Stantz (here).  The best has also been released before but is coming back next month: the big Ghostbusters NYC Firehouse, which has lots of detail, includes five figures, the firepole, the ghost depository, and it has a garage for the Ectomobile (check it out here).

Funko has individual Pop! figures for Spengler, Stantz, Zeddemore, Venkman, and Slimer, as well as the Ecto-1 with Zeddemore set, Venkman with firehouse set, and Spengler and Venkman and the banquet ghost set.  And that’s not all.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Forty-three years after author Max Allan Collins published his novel Quarry’s Deal in 1976, he has penned the sequel, Killing Quarry, what he calls the last of a sub-series of his famous anti-hero Quarry’s exploits selling his hitman services to targets of other hitmen.  Killing Quarry is available now from Hard Case Crime, the 15th novel of the Vietnam vet whose return from the service wasn’t at all what he expected, and the subject of his own Cinemax series, Quarry, reviewed here at borg last year.  Collins has finished or co-authored nearly as many crime novels with crime writer Mickey Spillane posthumously, reflecting the prolific nature of Collins’ crime writing and expertise, plus Collins’ noteworthy Road to Perdition, five other book series and countless tie-in novels.  Killing Quarry is great fun, a solid retro fix, and true throwback to those action-packed, guns and sex pulp novels of the 1970s.

Collins catches up with Quarry as he’s pulled another name from the Broker’s hit list, acquired after the Broker’s death more than a decade ago.  The Broker was the man who first tapped Quarry for a life of murder for money when he returned from the war with few prospects and a cheating wife.  Quarry takes on both roles as hitman this time, both planning and monitoring the target in a town a few hours away, ultimately to make the hit himself, an enterprise usually split between two partners to the job.  But it doesn’t take long for Quarry to realize the hitman he is after is pursuing his own target, right back to Quarry’s own neighborhood, right across the street in direct eyeshot to Quarry’s own retreat.  The killing life is wearing on Quarry after all these years, but at least he is prepared and knows what is coming for him.  He’ll be ready, so long as he doesn’t fall asleep on the job.

Cinemax’s Quarry television series.

Quarry is joined in the 1980s this time by Lu, the blonde Asian-American woman who became his lover in Quarry’s Deal in the 1970s.  She’s a killer in her own right, and enmeshed with the system of brokers and hitmen that have now become a regional game of hitmen and agents beginning to trip over each other’s territories.  Both Quarry and Lu deserve each other–they are both getting too old for killing and want to stack up their funds and retire to some tropical paradise.  They walked away from each other years ago.  Maybe this time it will work out for them?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The “Moviemaking Magic/Cinemagic” series from Abrams Books is my current favorite book format for genre tie-in non-fiction works.  Check out my reviews of the volume on the Marvel Studios Heroes and Villains here, and the first volume on Star Wars, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures and Aliens, here.  The format is interactive, featuring several series of foldout photographs that allow the reader to see the changes in design over time, like ships from concept to realized model.  And these books allow for hundreds of photographs and how-to film production process accounts and interviews, arranged in an easy to reference chronology.  With the latest film in theaters, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams has published the next look behind the scenes at the production process, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships and Battles, the most comprehensive account of the 11-film franchise’s models, sculptures, concept artwork, and their creators since Sculpting a Galaxy was released in 2005 when we only had six films available (you can see my review of that book here).

The book is targeted at a younger audience, but Star Wars fans of any age will appreciate the detail and information they may not have read about before, including notes from George Lucas from the first idea for the film, his treatment for The Star Wars, to Colin Cantwell and Joe Johnston′s concept drawings, all the way through the two “Star Wars story” movies Rogue One and Solo, and all nine Skywalker saga films, including a preview page of concept art from The Rise of Skywalker.  The original trilogy gets the biggest share of the coverage, including the full run of major ships, how they were developed, and what method was used to get them on the big screen, but the 21st century films and the prequels also get significant sections.  Readers will follow the development of filmmaking methods old and new: full-sized sets and vehicles like the landspeeder and X-wing fighter, scale models (both small and large scale), kitbashing, matte painting, and CGI.

Fans of the Millennium Falcon specifically will not want to miss this book.  They can track the development of the many models and designs used across the original trilogy, which had to be resurrected for the final trilogy with a side trip to an early, modified version of the ship for Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Coverage includes concept art, unused designs, and photos of the pocket-sized models through the multiple full-sized, walk-on creations. The various Death Star space stations and Star Destroyers get similar handling in the book.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Acclaimed horror filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock′s first attempt at developing a film from the professional partnership of French writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac was for their 1952 novel She Was No More He got passed up, but he wouldn’t miss acquiring the rights to their next novel published in 1954–another murder mystery–called D’Entre Les Morts, translated as From Among the Dead, or The Living and the Dead.  H.G. Clouzot would direct She Was No More and release it as the film Diabolique, but Hitchcock would go on to be known best for his adaptation of their work–the film classic Vertigo, labeled for decades by critics as his masterpiece, and even the best movie ever made by anyone.  As readers will learn upon returning to the original Boileau and Marcejac novel, later renamed Sueurs froides or Cold Sweat (the French title of Hitchcock’s film), and finally Vertigo in light of the film’s success, screenplay writers Samuel A. Taylor and Alec Coppel significantly modified the novel for the screen.

The novel is a masterful, gritty look at five years in the life of a Frenchman in 1940 Paris, a lawyer traumatized by acrophobia and vertigo after watching a man die falling from a building, later suffering from depression and psychosis after a bundle of life experiences results in a sort of post traumatic stress disorder.  As the war comes closer, Flavières is asked by an old college friend to keep tabs on his wife, Madeleine, who he claims has developed a strange fixation on her dead great-grandmother who killed herself at Madeleine’s current age.  Flavières does as asked, but soon falls in love with Madeleine.  His love turns to obsession, which only gets worse as the story goes on, and he becomes a voyeur, and eventually controlling, possessive, and manipulative.  It would be nearly impossible for anyone to imagine actor James “Jimmy” Stewart playing the role of the novel’s protagonist Roger Flavières, so different from Stewart’s character in the film, Scottie Ferguson, a likeable San Francisco lawyer-turned cop.

Flavières follows Madeleine everywhere she goes.  As she sits and stares blankly at the gravestone of her great-grandmother, as she visits the dead woman’s apartment, as she drifts about the city in a trance state.  Is she possessed by her ancestor’s ghost?  This is the lingering question of the husband, of Flavières, and the mystery for the reader until the very end of the story.  While observing Madeleine from afar, Flavières watches her dive into the river Seine, and he rescues her, revealing himself, but not disclosing his work for her husband.  Her mysterious nature continues until he accompanies her to a church with a bell tower.  She runs up the steps, but his vertigo keeps him from following.  She screams, and falls to her death.  To this point–the midpoint of the novel–the movie is a close adaptation of the novel, except for the setting.  But the second half of the novel becomes a different journey for the protagonist than what the movie audience has seen.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s always fun to be a fan and find a new edition of a previously published work you overlooked.  In light of this year’s new James Bond film, No Time to Die, and Daniel Craig’s indication this will be his last Bond film, keep an eye out for a new round of speculation on his replacement.  While you’re waiting for the official Bond #25, check out Bond On Bond: Reflections On 50 Years Of James Bond Movies.  Not just another look at the franchise, this was written by Bond himself, or at least the actor who played Bond the longest, Roger Moore, five years before he passed away in 2017.  Bond fans will love that the book doesn’t seem at all to have a ghost writer–this is candid Roger Moore in all his great humor, wry wit, and suave, British sincerity, just as we’ve seen him in interviews over the years and heard him in DVD commentaries.

The book is not just about Moore, but his relationship with the producers, studio, and other actors who have played Bond and their contributions to the franchise.  Moore knows more than you’d think about the significance of Ian Fleming’s stories, and their impact on the world.  He also has an incredible memory, and even if some of the subjects discussed might have been memory joggers posed by others, his anecdotes show insight into the character, and components of 50 years of films, including Daniel Craig’s, that get Fleming’s character just right.  Also, if you played Bond, you get to refer to the character as Jimmy.

How does it feel to walk around knowing the world thinks of you as Bond?  Why did Moore refrain from ever uttering the lines “shaken, not stirred”?  Why did the studio and Moore agree to make many differences in his style of playing Bond compared to his predecessor, Sean Connery?  What’s a press junket like when you’re Bond?  What’s it like to attend the movie premieres with royalty?

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