Tag Archive: Best of 2021


Jungle-Cruise-Movie-Trailer-Dwayne-Johnson-Emily-Blunt

Review by C.J. Bunce

Some movies are exactly as advertised.  Count Jungle Cruise in that category.  And yet–it’s bigger and bolder and braver than you might have guessed from its trailers.  Comparisons to the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean, Romancing the Stone, and African Queen are all completely warranted.  Jungle Cruise is a big, sweeping adventure–and visual amusement park ride–that draws out the best of stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt.  First previewed in autumn 2019, it’s another pandemic delay that has the scope and spectacle that would have made it the perfect box office hit in a normal year.  But at least now audiences can see what they’ve been missing as Jungle Cruise arrived this past weekend on the Disney Plus streaming service.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As much as any movie has been able to keep its secrets in the past few years, it’s hard to beat the surprises in the epic fantasy film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first film of Phase IV of the Marvel Cinematic Universe without an Avengers headliner.  And when I say fantasy, I mean it–it’s got it all, a combination of the magical realm of Doctor Strange, the ancient, secret country hidden from the rest of the world like Black Panther, a mix of Asian lore, Shakespearean family squabbles (including a famous, Oscar-winning Shakespearean actor), and a plot–and dragons–right out of The Lord of the Rings (after all, Ten Rings are better than One Ring, right?).  It has action, it has ties to the old and new, and, thanks to co-star Awkwafina, it’s the laugh-out-loud funniest of all the Marvel movies.  And it’s finally arrived on Disney+ so mass audiences still staying away from movie theaters finally have a chance to see what they missed.

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Star Trek A Celebration cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

In many ways the most diehard Star Trek fan is going to be surprised when they flip open the new behind-the-scenes account of the original 1966-1969 series in the full-color, hardcover, coffee table-style book, Star Trek: A CelebrationEven if you’ve read everything about Star Trek you could get your hands on, you haven’t seen it in one volume presented like this.  Star Wars fans have seen this kind of volume in the works of the late JW Rinzler, and although this book is not as dense, it will serve the same purpose for Star Trek aficionados.  The wildly popular The Princess Bride–A Celebration was given similar treatment, as was the landmark Star Trek: Voyager–A Celebration, released only this year, also by publisher Hero Collector.  I can’t understate what a welcome book this is for fans of the original Star Trek series.  As Star Trek fans across the globe celebrate 55 years of the Star Trek franchise, coinciding with the centennial of the birth of its creator, Gene Roddenberry, it’s well past time fans got a book to–yes–celebrate one of the greatest and most influential television series of all time.  Star Trek: A Celebration is available today for the first time here at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The Courier is the movie that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy promised to be (and failed miserably at).  The excellent spy film starring Benedict Cumberbatch in yet another unique performance that only he could deliver was an unfortunate bit of pandemic collateral damage.  It premiered in January 2020 at Sundance Film Festival under the title Ironbark, and was slated to arrive in theaters to a wider audience last year.  That means it also missed Oscar contention for the 2020 contest, where The Courier easily would have been the best film.  Because of a brief March 2021 theater push, it is apparently still in the running for 2022 ceremony, which makes it the only major contender for not only the best film, but also Cumberbatch’s performance.  As the masses now finally get to see it, streaming to homes thanks to Amazon Prime (finally with an August release in both the U.S. and UK), we’ll just call it the best drama so far for 2021. 

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Alien3

Review by C.J. Bunce

The best work of some of the best creators, especially movie directors, happens when the creators are tested by someone else’s source material, where they aren’t allowed to indulge themselves with carte blanche resources and instead show restraint in their skill and craftsmanship.  Perhaps Stanley Kubrick’s best work really is his adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and Quentin Tarantino’s best work is Jackie Brown, his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch–both studies in how to create a perfect film.  Although 20th Century Fox obviously wasn’t ready for it, William Gibson, known for “cyberpunk,” actually handled his screenplay for the third Alien movie quite well, but it was summarily discarded.  Next month, dressed up and fleshed out is Pat Cadigan’s Alien3–The Unproduced, First-Draft Screenplay by William Gibson: A Novel Pre-order Cadigan’s novel adaptation now here at Amazon.  Readers will find no cyberpunk here, but what Gibson handed in was a better Alien franchise story than what became Alien3, not quite Alien or Aliens, but still one great thriller.  Understandably, however, the script was rejected by the studio for missing a key feature that couldn’t be overlooked.

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Castle in the Air Westlake

Review by C.J. Bunce

The New York Times once called Donald E. Westlake the Neil Simon of the crime novel, and that’s a pretty accurate comparison.  But his work is so much more than that.  In the world of Hard Case Crime reprints from writers of the past, Erle Stanley Gardner was the master of hard-boiled detective tropes, full of real characters and master of the human condition, Mickey Spillane wrote about those dark shadows in the corners of cities large and small, grabbing readers and sucking them into the worldbuilding of his stories, and Max Allan Collins is the craftsman keeping all the best of the genre alive with new stories today.  Donald E. Westlake was the entire package–his work cinematic in its descriptions, laser-sharp in its details, wondrous in its scope, full of intrigue, action, adventure, and yes, brilliantly funny humor.  Each one of his adventures is a sprawling production like the best James Bond movie you ever watched (in part why his Forever and a Death made our Best of the Decade list this year).

Our look at the works of master crime writer Donald E. Westlake continues with his 26th novel published under his own name and 73rd novel in all, Castle in the Air, reprinted by Hard Case Crime for the first time in 40 years.  It’s The Bank Job meets It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and it’s flat out the best retro read we’ve reviewed this year.

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ARMY OF THE DEAD

Review by C.J. Bunce

Zack Snyder finally did it.  Despite taking on a heist movie and a zombie picture in a major action movie, he wrote a script and delivered the type of action blockbuster he has not yet been able to create.  Army of the Dead is his first movie to get it right, a load of tropes, a mash-up of genre ideas, a tightly written story with a great cast, and wall-to-wall fun.  Not a comedy like Shaun of the Dead or iZombie, Army of the Dead features the right amount of humor for this story, while incorporating all the expectations of any fan of the father of the genre, George A. Romero.  Rivaling the incredible action and effects in 6 Underground, it also rises to become one of Netflix’s most promising productions.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Sony Pictures Animation, the studio that made Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse and the LEGO movies brought its latest and greatest animated film to Netflix earlier this month with The Mitchells vs. The Machines–a sci-fi, apocalypse, coming of age story (reviewed here) about a normal but weird family that tries to dodge a planet-wide extermination resulting from the very technologies humans are so addicted to.  Much of the action takes place during a cross-country trip, and it’s that imagery that is underplayed on the big screen, but really comes to life as incredible art in The Art of The Mitchells vs. The Machines, a behind the scenes book of exploration coming to Amazon here and a bookstore near you next week.  Gravity Falls creators Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe wrote and directed the film, a visually stunning spectacle, with contributions by the Academy Award winning duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (both known for the LEGO movies and Into the Spider-verse).  Author Ramin Zahed interviews those creators and more and shares hundreds of concept art images for this next look into the development of cutting edge animation.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Surprisingly great, surprisingly real, and surprisingly… current?  Sony Pictures Animation, the studio that brought you Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse brings its latest and greatest animated film to Netflix this weekend.  It’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines–a sci-fi, apocalypse, coming of age, story about a weird family that ends up being the last family on the planet to be exterminated from the planet by the very technologies humans are so addicted to.  Gravity Falls creators Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe wrote and directed this story, a visually stunning spectacle reflecting life as we knew it in 2020… and may know it again, with contributions by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (both known for the LEGO movies and Into the Spider-verse).  The themes are influenced by Tron and Tron: Legacy, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and the Terminator movies, leaning hard on the plot of Terminator: Genisys.  It’s loud, colorful, crazy, and it gets family relationships just right, at least of the 21st century variety.  It’s also the movie I was hoping for with The Incredibles 2.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Get ready for your next immersion into adventure and fun, and it’s in 3D.  I love classic storytelling methods that surprise the reader, from the Victorian to modern technology, whether it’s stereoscopic images, View-Master reels, lenticular images, pop-up books, or state-of-the-art digital animation.  One of my very first books as a young boy was Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, with 3D diorama artwork and a lenticular cover.   I’ve reviewed several 3D movies here at borg, too, from The Creature from the Black Lagoon to Jaws 3D, and Predator and Rogue One French artist Matthias Picard’s roving young adventurer Jim Curious returns after his debut in 2014’s Jim Curious–A Voyage to the Heart of the Sea in his next book, Jim Curious and the Jungle Journey It’s a complete 3D adventure using anaglyph 3D, that classic blue-red 3D style and includes two pairs of 3D glasses–just like the kind from 3D movies in the 1920s to the 1980s.  The eye-popping images will take your breath away.

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