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Review by C.J. Bunce

Underneath The Boys, a series so full of all things offensive, with language, misogyny, immorality, violence, sex–something sure to offend everyone, lies a backbone of a story that might have something to say, if the way it was laid out wasn’t so exploitative.  It’s easy to imagine show execs Eric Kripke, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen pulling the strings behind the curtain on this project, but what exactly are they trying to say?  Mocking the real-life modern horrors on your TV, protected by the acknowledgement that the moral is clear that all the bad they show is bad, it’s intended as satire, as social commentary.  It’s an unusual medium to convey its many messages, questions without answers for many things Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson took on in their source material comics of the same name, very much like Alan Moore and Frank Miller’s stories from the 1980s it attempts to pay homage to.  It’s impossible not to compare The Boys to Moore’s Watchmen–superheroes for a dark and modern time that are different but familiar to the superheroes we all know so well–it may be even closer to Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns despite its lack of well-known characters.  The entirety of the story of the first season, now streaming on Amazon Prime, is the familiar “Who watches the watchers?”

Who are “The Boys” of the title anyway?  Led by ever-angry Bill Butcher, played by the actor of all franchises Karl Urban, it’s a small team of five rebels determined for their individual reasons to take down Vought, a corporation that manages the superheroes that protect Americans from almost every crime that’s occurring.  As good as the production values are, the series is not that clever, but its difference is how over-the-top and grimy it’s willing to get to tell its story.  From the previews you might think it compares to The Umbrella Academy.  Make no mistake, the storytelling in The Boys is better and less yawn-worthy, except The Umbrella Academy showed off some better superhero special effects along the way with its Number Five character.  You’ll find a lot here no one else is willing to touch on TV, making it a clear NC-17/R+ show: Carlin’s seven dirty words get explored, anti-fundamentalism, blasphemy in themes and situations, assault on today’s politics and extremism, nationalism, misogyny, sex abusers and other deviants, gender issues–most of these used to make valid points about issues mirroring modern times.  But like watching the daily news (or newsfeed) it’s not that enjoyable.  It never manages to approach similarly violent but fun efforts like tongue-in-cheek superhero films Deadpool or Kick-Ass.  Except for the vengeance.  When the bad guys pay–and that’s strangely rare–it’s hard to deny some of the scenes are pretty satisfying, especially when Urban wields a newborn supe as a laser gun.

The Boys has some cream-of-the-crop acting, which elevates the entire project.  Urban leads it all as the Daniel Craig-in-Layer Cake level, put-upon, amped-up mercenary Butcher.  As with all of his performances he jumps right in, creating one of his best, ugly characters (compare to his Caesar, Vaako, Cooper, and Skurge).  Equal to that is a layered performance by Jessica Jones’ Erin Moriarty.  The series is really about her.  She plays Annie January aka Starlight, a young, naive woman who sincerely wants to use her powers to help others.  She makes it into an elite, corporate controlled group of “supes” called The Seven.  But she quickly learns The Seven are more bad than good for America and the planet: one supe forces her to have sex, another invisible supe hangs out in the restroom leering at her.  Along the way Starlight picks up a friend in The Hunger Games’ Jack Quaid as Hughie Campbell, a guy whose girlfriend is killed by a speedster supe in The Seven–but was it an accident?  Hughie is enlisted to help Butcher try to take down Vought–the corporation behind The Seven.  Vought might as well be Detroit’s Omni Consumer Products from RoboCop or Veidt Enterprises from Watchmen, but even more vile.  The shock and in-your-face violence is every bit a match to these films from that infamous era of no-holds-barred 1980s violence.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With costumes designed by Anna B. Sheppard, the designer for Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers, Inglourious Basterds, and Captain America: The First Avenger, you know your World War II movie is in good hands.

The first ninety minutes of Overlord is the stuff of the classic World War II movie.  Think Guns of Navarone or Von Ryan’s Express or a later film, Force 10 From Navarone.  It’s also modern in the way of Inglourious Basterds, but that movie if it had been filmed by John Carpenter, complete with special effects from The Thing and action from They Live.  It also co-stars Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt Russell (also Goldie Hawn’s son) as the tough and confident Corporal Ford, a John Wayne role like he plays like he’s been making movies for 40 years.  If that isn’t enough to go out and get your hands on Overlord, I don’t know what you could want.

It begins with a paratrooper drop, filmed believably, like Memphis Belle, but with the action of Edge of Tomorrow.  The first 40 minutes follows British actor Jovan Adepo as American soldier Private Boyce, a nice, naïve kid drafted recently and dropped into harm’s way behind enemy lines in France the day before D-Day.  Like Starship Troopers and Edge of Tomorrow, this is 100% authentic war, look and feel, and we follow Ford and boyce and their squad from the air on down to the gates of a town where they hide out and plan to blow up a German radio tower.  Despite J.J. Abrams producing this film and hints to the contrary, don’t expect aliens or zombies–this is not a secret Cloverfield 4.  What Boyce, Ford, & Co. find is a lab beneath the tower where the Germans are conducting experiments on the local French villagers and their own men.  It’s here where the story takes a turn for the weird.

The first 90 minutes are brilliant, face-paced, heart-pounding, nail-biting stuff.  Young director Julius Avery and writer Billy Ray pursue the lore of the German experiments toward a the creation of a “superman” or “super soldier” and what that might be like.  To their credit, they approach this like the Korean series Kingdom, which looked to a virus as the creation of a village of zombie-like villagers.  Here Avery and Ray look to twisted science as well, but they add in a bit of a fountain of youth element as part of the creation of these soldiers.  Spoiler:  They don’t all turn out exactly as planned by the Germans.

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Before Walter Simonson and Tom Palmer collaborated on their stunning adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back, they joined forces to create a great run of stories in the pages of Marvel Comics’ original Star Wars monthly, featuring two of the most famous borgs of all time, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.  By some kind of miracle the original page art from the 1980s was located to come together for IDW Publishing′s sixty-third Art Edition publication.  Boasting the 1:1 scale, original comic page art sized, pages in a deluxe hardcover edition, this is another of those books Star Wars fans have always dreamed of.

Just as we saw with Howard Chaykin and Roy Thomas’s earlier Art Edition for Star Wars (reviewed here at borg), Walter Simonson Star Wars Artist’s Edition presents high-quality copies of the original page art.  Unlike many past Artist’s Editions, however, the entire lettering and logos are all present, so readers can re-visit the entire issues (minus ads) for Issue #51 “Resurrection of Evil,” Issue #52 “To Take the Tarkin,” Issue #55 “Plif!,” issue #56 “Coffin in the Clouds,” Issue #57 “Hello, Bespin, Good-Bye!,” and Issue #60 “Shira’s Story,” all written by long-time The Amazing Spider-Man and Action Comics writer and Venom, Carnage, and Scott Lang Ant-Man character creator David Michelinie, with lettering by Joe Rosen and John Morelli.

Take a look at the original inked artwork in these stunning preview pages of Walter Simonson Star Wars Artist’s Edition presented for borg readers courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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A foreword to Dylan Struzan′s new book A Bloody Business notes that it “isn’t purely fiction.”  In Struzan’s introduction, she remarks, “What I’m about to tell you, I heard mostly from Jimmy Alo… This is the story of Meyer Lansky and the beginning of organized crime.  I’m telling it to you the way Jimmy told me.  I’m telling you this up front so you won’t be surprised later on.  You be the judge of whether or not it’s bullshit.”  And therein lies the rub.  Is this even a novel, or is it non-fiction?  A Bloody Business is a painstaking, excruciatingly detailed account of a decade of organized crime kingpins Lansky and Charlie “Lucky” Luciano–640 pages of dialogue and set-ups for dialogue, so the reader’s inner ear can hear the account as actors might recite lines in a 1930s mobster movie.

The book is based on 50 hours of discussions Struzan had with Jimmy Alo, a kid at 15 when he started working deep inside a life in the crime world with the key players in the book (he was well-known in his day, and the basis for the character Johnny Ola in The Godfather, Part II).  Alo told Struzan the stories in the book beginning when he was 91 years old, with the understanding she would only write the book after he died.  It’s written as fact, and if it had footnotes with citations to authority or other substantiation, then the book would be far more effective.  As written it provides great color for the times, connecting the constellation of events that led to the era, and for anyone writing their own 1920s-1930s fiction the book would be immensely useful.  It would also be a good study piece for diehard historians specializing in the era–they are best positioned to pick and choose the fact from the fiction.  For everyone else there’s a “take our word for it, or don’t” quality.  Without further research by the average reader, and without elaboration on the context for the events of each chapter, the book may be a struggle.

 

For many the best reason to get A Bloody Business will be the artwork.  Dylan Struzan is the wife of Drew Struzan, the world-famous movie poster artist, and here he partnered with his wife on her first book to supply 25 (including the cover) original poster-worthy illustrations featuring 1920-1933 crime figures including Lansky, Luciano, Al Capone, and contemporaries like Mae West, the Marx Brothers, and Duke Ellington.  A color version of this hardcover edition would have been welcome by fans of the artist (see our discussion of Struzan before here and here), known for the original movie posters for major films including Star Wars and Back to the Future.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

M.F. Gibson′s new novel Babylon Twins doesn’t seem to be targeted for the Young Adult section of the bookstore, but it should be.  Following a pair of twins who share a secret language whose lives take a turn as a big pharma-virus, artificial intelligence experiment, and robot war collide to take down and remake civilization.  The novel fits well with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games novels and would make a good follow-up for fans of the series, especially older teens.  More focused on their survival in a Creek Stewart sort of way (move along if you can’t stomach animal hunting for survival purposes), these girls don’t ever get the kind of gourmet food the competitors land in The Hunger Games. We meet the girls both when they’re young and later as young adults, and their lack of contacts and traditional educational resources keep their dialogue and needs more child-like than adult.

The best comparison to this story of dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi is the classic 1970s sci-fi film Logan’s Run.  Like the Runners of that story, Clo and El live the best they can after escaping the new norm thanks to their mother, but when their mother leaves their forest hovel they decide to take their brother and return to the city to find her, ten years after the “end of the world.”  This is far more classic sci-fi than zombie horror, a good entry point for young adult readers dabbling into the short stories and novels of Philip K. Dick (like Minority Report) and Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog.  Encounters with freakish new lifeforms that aren’t what they seem as found in classic sci-fi like Logan’s Run or Beneath the Planet of the Apes combine with a setting sharing a lot with that of Dawn/Rise/War of the Planet of the Apes, or the Jessica Chastain movie Mama (without that movie’s kind of horror).

Readers of John Christopher’s Tripods series will also see parallels in Babylon Twins Gibson’s wooded home for the girls conjures a loneliness oddly akin to Christopher McCandless’s grim solo journey in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, yet their path is much different.  Girls with younger brothers may particularly love the book, as the older sisters really never give the poor little brother a break across the entire story, including chastising him, berating him as bigger sisters do, and even tying him up and throwing him in the car at one point.  It’s all written with a dose of humor.  And the youthful voice of the narrator and characters reveals a coming of age story for the twins, sometimes dipping into the stuff of middle grade stories from Judy Blume.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This month sees the bicentenary of acclaimed American author Herman Melville′s birthday, August 1, 1819.  If you were an artist and asked to draw a defining interpretation of the author’s creations, what would you draw?  Ahab, Ishmael, Queequeg, the Pequod, the whale, or some other inspiration from Moby-Dick, right?  So the fascination for many of a new book of artwork interpreting and saluting the 19th century American author will be searching out how the 1851 classic novel Moby-Dick; or The Whale is interpreted, and what other creative ideas found their way to paper recalling his other, lesser-known works.  This Wednesday comic book publisher A Wave Blue World/AWBW will be releasing such an assemblage, From Hell’s Heart, a full-color, hardcover volume featuring the works of 57 artists.

Most readers today will look at the title and first recall Ricardo Montalban uttering the title as the villain Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, part of his many monologues pulled by screenwriter Nicholas Meyer from the likes of Melville and Shakespeare.   But you might also recall from grade school days the short story of Bartleby, the Scrivener, a character study of the early poster boy for the modern office’s work-averse workforce.  Artist Nacho Yunis provides a superb mock retro-style comic cover for his entry honoring that story, and Fernando Blanco’s contribution is perhaps the most evocative snippet in the book from the mind of Melville.  The artists stepped up to create imagery more interesting than the Melville excerpts you were have likely to been force fed-in junior high American literature class.  Surprisingly, most of the artists conjured images taking on the feel of H.P. Lovecraft in their haunting beauty, including the image of psychological horror on the cover by the artist known as Well-Bee.

Comic book readers will find renderings from some familiar artists in these pages, including Andrea Mutti, Maxim Simic, Ryan Sook, Denis Medri, and Brandon Graham.  As expected, the bulk of the artwork is devoted to the great whale.  Bjarne Hensen provides a strikingly colored street scene from Moby-Dick.  Victoria Maderna and Federico Piatti contributed a fantasy image that begs for an entire reprint of the novel with their artwork peppered throughout.  Steve Baker opted for fun, depicting the whale as a dog and kids playing Moby-Dick as they might play Cowboys and Indians.  Cosimo Miorelli gets the mood in his image just right.

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Despite every other war of the 20th century being well covered, audiences are still waiting for the great modern movie to depict World War I in a realistic and believable way.  Will Sam Mendes′s next film be the answer?  The director of Road to Perdition and successful James Bond movies Skyfall and Spectre is next bringing us 1917, with Universal Pictures releasing its first trailer for the film this week.  The film follows two British soldiers at a key point in the war.  Soldiers Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) must complete a mission that takes them across enemy lines to deliver a vital message that could save another band of British brothers from walking into a trap.

If the two young stars of Game of Thrones and Captain Fantastic don’t excite you, then the actors that anchor the film might.  Looks for supporting characters played by a current Who’s Who of British film: Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit), Colin Firth (Kingsman, The King’s Speech, Pride and Prejudice), Mark Strong (Kingsman, Shazam!, Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass, Green Lantern), Daniel Mays (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Ashes to Ashes, The Bank Job, Doctor Who), and Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Spectre, The Hour, Saving Private Ryan).  

Beyond that, the cinematography shown in the trailer, filmed by the great Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, A Beautiful Mind, No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Skyfall, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) should get you across the line.  And finally a film depicting the era has the clothing right, thanks to Academy Award-winning designer Jacqueline Durran (Darkest Hour, Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, Beauty and the Beast).  With music by Thomas Newman (Real Genius, The Great Outdoors, Finding Nemo, The Adjustment Bureau, Skyfall, The Highwaymen), this is quite promising.

Take a look at the trailer for the new Sam Mendes film, 1917:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After its first episode back in 2015, we called it “your next favorite TV series.”  This week iZombie saw its last episode.

Rob Thomas hasn’t directed the blockbuster movies or gained the same fame, but he’s filled in the gaps on television for genre fans where Joss Whedon left off.  Along with giving us Veronica Mars (and refusing to let the world of Neptune, California, fade into TV history), Thomas brought Liv Moore and the post-apocalyptic zombie world of iZombie to life, a bigger and better heroine than the one found in the original Chris Roberson and Michael Allred comics.  That was thanks to New Zealand actor Rose McIver, whose versatility and charm took her from roles in Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Legend of the Seeker to create one of our newest favorite superheroes.  And with Thursday night’s fifth season and series finale episode it’s all over now, yet still leaving plenty of opportunity for future episodes, series, a film, or novels, just as Thomas has provided for his sleuth Veronica Mars.

Can the middle–the place of reason our heroes are striving to fight for–survive the extremism from both sides of the ongoing struggle?  In the finale, “All’s Well that Ends Well,” Thomas brings everything full circle, wrapping up every last plot thread for Liv, Major, Clive, Ravi, Peyton, Dale, Blaine, and Don E.  But he throws an eleventh hour wrench into the plot–the cure for zombies won’t help the kids with Fröhlich’s syndrome.  Are they doomed either way?  As always, Thomas leaves plenty of room for fun–the actors and characters, the banter, and that chemistry, that made iZombie so good for five seasons.  Along with McIver, Malcolm Goodwin, Robert Buckley, Rahul Kohli, David Anders, Aly Michalka, Bryce Hodgson, and Jessica Harmon formed probably the best ensemble cast on network genre TV.

A perfect series finale is a reminder of how iZombie matched the success of Grimm in so many ways, and filled the void left by that show so well.  iZombie also improved with each of its five seasons, and exponentially improved in its final season–as Grimm did–once the end of production was in sight, complete with the year’s best hour of TV, the noir send-up episode “Night and the Zombie City.”  Series like these prove that when ratings aren’t the only driving force and creators have freedom to take characters in new directions, audiences are in store for a real treat.

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With the first trailer for The Irishman out, it may be getting clearer why Martin Scorsese′s latest in a 45-year career-spanning string of films is going straight to Netflix.  Despite Netflix claims that it can compete financially with movie theater releases, it has yet to provide a reliable run of hits.  Can The Irishman help?  Even heavy hitters of Scorsese’s past, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, can’t seem to make this movie look compelling.  The audience is left with only “another crime movie with those guys,” with no reference to who or what it’s about.  And is any amount of CGI and makeup going to get audiences to believe in a married couple played by 36-year-old Anna Paquin paired with 75-year-old De Niro playing 55-year-old Frank Sheeran?  If you’re like everyone else you may not know Sheeran claimed late in life to have killed teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa.  So it’s no wonder this feels like Scorsese’s version of an Oliver Stone movie.

Take away the Las Vegas and this first trailer for The Irishman looks plenty like a trailer for Scorsese’s Casino, complete with an attempt to get De Niro and Pesci back to how they looked in 1995, De Niro and Pesci looking like they did in 1990 in Goodfellas, Pacino looking like he did back in 1973 in Mean Streets, or, to jump into Francis Ford Coppola pictures, like Pacino and De Niro looked in 1974 in The Godfather, Part II.  As much as we loved Peter Cushing’s transformation in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Michael Douglas’s transformation in the Ant-Man movies, a legion of fans will need more improvements in technology before they get past the “uncanny valley”–that reaction you have when something digital is trying to look real but doesn’t quite succeed.

Long-time “bad guy” club member Harvey Keitel, Ant-Man’s and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’s Bobby Cannavale, and “Everybody Loves” Ray Romano are not seen in this trailer, but expected to have key roles.  See whether the CGI works for you in this first trailer from Netflix for The Irishman:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Thanks to Fathom Events and other film retrospectives over the years, movie audiences can revisit their first viewings of some of the best films ever made.  In that league comes The Muppet Movie, which just wrapped its 40th anniversary with two days of screenings.  Like the one-of-a-kind The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees, and the symbols of goodness everywhere: Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, and Steve Irwin, The Muppets are a truly unique team, and Jim Henson and his $65 million box office hit The Muppet Movie reflects why they created the word “iconic” in the first place.  It says something when a retrospective anniversary screening can make the week’s Top 10 box office after 40 years.  The Muppets are as accessible and necessary as they’ve ever been.

Paul Williams’ musical score and powerful songs might be the high point of the movie, from “The Rainbow Connection,” to “Movin’ Right Along,” to Gonzo’s emotional “I’m Going to Go Back There Again.”  Or maybe it’s the magic, the forgetting we’re absorbed in characters played by actors that are a frog and a pig and a bear and a dog and whatever Gonzo is.  Or maybe it’s the behind the scenes magic.  Filming in the lagoon once used for Gilligan’s Island, Henson spent an entire day perfecting the scene with Kermit singing in a wetsuit under water, perched inside a metal tank, reaching upward to give Kermit his character.  You wouldn’t know any of it happened that way from the perfectly still water and multiple angles the song is filmed from.  Or that Kermit was operated my remote control for the Schwinn scene (but Kermit the Muppet really was riding that bicycle, no strings attached!).  Jim Henson can’t be overstated as sitting among the kings of creating the fantastical.

But even all of those great components can’t beat the storytelling.  Full of honesty and heart, Kermit’s path is a classic reluctant hero’s journey, equal to that of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Luke in Star Wars, Frodo and Bilbo in Tolkien’s stories (Fozzie is a great Samwise), Harry in J.K. Rowling’s series.  Here our green felted friend assembles a group of new friends to help him succeed by story’s end.  The Muppets had already been known to us through The Muppet Show, yet this movie succeeded in getting audiences to meet them all over again.  The story is playful, too, allowing its own script to become a plot device with the characters.

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