Tag Archive: Best of the Best retro review


Jaws movie poster

ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE–On the Fourth of July weekend, you must include a summer blockbuster in your planning, and there’s not much better you could ask for than a Fourth of July screening of Jaws, which features a small coastal town in the days leading up to the holiday back in 1975.  Thirty-nine years later and the entire film still stands strong, dated only by some clothing of the locals, which–let’s face it–could still be the fashion in beach communities up and down both coasts.  This weekend the Alamo Drafthouse offered up the opportunity to see Jaws on the big screen again or for the first time.  Unlike screenings of some other classic films at other theaters, this screening had what looked like an original reel of Jaws with flickers and pops.  In an age of widely available, digitally-re-mastered cuts of classic movies like Jaws, it was surprisingly fun to see the film just as audiences would have seen it in 1975.

I first saw Jaws at the S.E. 14th Street Drive-in theater in its initial summer run.  I was about the age of Scheider’s youngest son in the movie.  Knowing I would fall asleep in the back seat likely before the film started, my folks hadn’t figured I would actually manage to see the entire introduction.  Luckily the film was darkly lit and I didn’t know what I was watching.  I took away no memory of the film beyond dark images of a girl swimming.  My sister didn’t fare as well, and what made the film the blockbuster it was sunk in with her–that great white shark keeping us all out of the water–a summer when beaches across the country must have had lower attendances–and it certainly kept her away for a while.  Not having seen Jaws straight through in several years, but instead viewing it probably hundreds of times in bits and pieces over those intervening years, I couldn’t have been happier that it was as good as I remembered and even more engaging on the big screen.

Jaws crew

Take star Roy Scheider, for instance.  Today you might cast Eddie McClintock or Colin Ferguson for his role as everyman on his first gig as new chief of police in a new town.  Scheider has many funny lines to break the tension, beyond the many quotable lines.  His wife played by Lorraine Gary carries on as the supporter of her husband perfectly.  Richard Dreyfuss is, of course, Richard Dreyfuss, always holding back a laugh even in the most desperate of circumstances.  Jaws is without a doubt Dreyfuss’s best role–a great feat considering his many big roles over the decades (American Graffiti, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl, Always, The American President, R.E.D.).

But what is no surprise is the powerhouse performance by character actor Robert Shaw as Quint.  I think this was the first time I ever intended to order a drink or snack from the dine-in seating theater but was so transfixed, mostly due to Shaw, that I walked out having never ordered anything.  It’s not just the Indianapolis speech he is known so well for.  There’s also his introduction at the city council meeting.  His mouthiness when his boat is being loaded to go after the shark.  His taking the time to teach the chief how to tie knots on the boat.  Shaw, who died young resulting from problems with alcoholism, created the quintessential (pun intended) old salty sea captain in Jaws.  His performance is full of nuance.  Sure, he is part Captain Ahab, but he is so much more.

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From Russia with Love book cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

The fifth James Bond novel, From Russia with Love, was a popular mainstream read back in 1957.  One of President Kennedy’s favorite books, the film adaptation would be the last movie he would ever see before that fateful trip to Dallas in 1963.  From Russia with Love reflects a lot about the Cold War era and Europe in the late 1950s.  As part of the James Bond universe it is a rare faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel.  And, unlike some of Fleming’s Bond novels that fail to hold up to modern sensibilities, including The Spy Who Loved Me (previously reviewed here) and Live and Let Die (reviewed here), From Russia with Love is full of political intrigue and spymastery, putting it toward the top of Bond’s adventures along with the novels Casino Royale and Moonraker.

A nice twist is the admission within the story of the more ludicrous elements, as just that, ludicrous.  Namely, the plot focuses on a sort of off-the-book operation by SMERSH (SPECTRE in the film, the Soviet secret spy program), and its efforts to kill Bond and exact revenge on MI6 through an elaborate sex scandal plot, all for the deaths by Bond of Le Chiffre in Casino Royale and Hugo Drax in Moonraker and other bruises to the Soviets.  Its means?  By assigning a Soviet cipher clerk (think Bletchley Circle) named Tatiana Romanova, stationed in a consulate in Istanbul, to pretend to fall in love with a photo of Bond and attempt defection to Great Britain.  The catch?  Only James Bond can collect her in Turkey and bring her over to the Brits.  Dangling the carrot of a Spektor code breaker machine that the Brits have never been able to get their hands on, she’s SMERSH’s best bet to finally bring Bond to his knees.  Thankfully, MI6 doesn’t blindly jump right in–MI6 sees it as an obvious trap, yet the value of the code breaker is too good to pass up, and it’s just the type of mission Bond is good at.

From Russia with Love classic pulp cover

There’s more to From Russia with Love than the typical Bond novel.  Sure, there’s the suave spy, the womanizing, the “Bond girl,” the martinis.  There’s also the exotic locations.  You’ll get the feel you’ve been to Istanbul, to the “stinking streets” of the city, to the Soviet consulate, the SMERSH training grounds, to a party and fight and bombing at a Gypsy village, and a ride on that famous train, the Orient Express.

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Wizard of Oz in IMAX 3D

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

When I was little, they showed The Wizard of Oz on TV once or twice a year, usually at holidays.  Back then, genre fan that I have been since birth, I was fascinated and baffled by the change from black & white to Technicolor.  I knew it was an old movie–what I didn’t understand was that it hadn’t always been shown on TV.

And if that’s the only way you’ve seen it, you haven’t.

If you’re a diehard Oz fan, feel free to skip this and come back tomorrow.  You don’t need it.  You’re already in the theater.  But if you’re just a casual fan, an admirer in theory… or even if you think you couldn’t care less about the 75-year-old film classic, do yourself a favor and clear two hours some evening this week.  Get thee to a SPECIAL ONE WEEK-ONLY FIRST-EVER IMAX 3D THEATER SHOWING and don your IMAX 3-D glasses. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

What have we missed, all these years of cramming Victor Fleming’s vision onto the small screen?

Scarecrow

The special effects that stand up to any modern CGI. It starts with a tornado more terrifying and realistic than anything in Twister and continues with the appearances and disappearances of the witches in a plume of red smoke and ethereal bubble, flawlessly woven into the film.  The matte painting backdrops throughout the film convey a sense of scale and scope to make Oz seem like a complete world, far bigger than just the parts Dorothy visits.

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STTNG Best of Both Worlds Banner

Last night at 7 p.m. across America theaters showed a one-night only event–the world premiere of the remastered release of Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode “The Best of Both Worlds,” including specifically the cliffhanger Part 1, which arguably is the most important Star Trek episode and one of the best episodes of any TV series to hit the airwaves.  Why the best?  It featured a constellation of concepts that came together at just the right time, airing at the end of Season 3, the season where the NextGen cast and writers became comfortable in their roles and produced several incredible episodes, including “Who Watches the Watchers,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (the other contender for best NextGen episode), “Captain’s Holiday,” “Hollow Pursuits,” “The Most Toys,” and “Sarek.”

star-trek-tng-best-of-both-worlds-blu-ray

The stakes were never greater in a Star Trek episode than in “The Best of Both Worlds,” with the beloved Captain Jean-Luc Picard assimilated by The Borg, turned into the leader Locutus who had all of Picard’s memories and strategies to use against his shipmates.  It also featured something we all wanted to see–Jonathan Frakes’s Commander Will Riker as Captain of the Enterprise-D.  Its cliffhanger ending at the end of Season 3 created a devoted fan following who waited with bated breath all summer and came back for Season 4 and thereafter stuck with Star Trek as loyal fans to this day.  The Star Trek franchise might not be as successful today were it not for this great two-part episode.

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By C.J. Bunce

(Insert a spoiler alert here as a courtesy to anyone who really thinks a 50 year old film needs one!)

Sometimes you are at the right place at the right time.  Having recently heard about the new Fathom Events series, where the satellite-video entertainment company transmits a one-night only event around to movie theaters across the country, I keep going back to the Fathom website to see what is next.  And I marked my calendar when a Hitchcock film made the list.  Last week we let borg.com readers know about this past Wednesday’s screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, a Turner Classic Movies presentation to celebrate the 100th year of Universal Pictures, on the cusp of the 50th year since The Birds first premiered.

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By Elizabeth C. Bunce

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.”  Thus the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) explains temporal theory to a “clever and listening” Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan, Never Let Me Go, The Great Gatsby) in the best-ever episode of Doctor Who, “Blink” (2007).

It’s a tough call.  “Blink” came in the middle of a great season, sandwiched between the brilliant “The Family of Blood” and “Utopia,”–a period when Stephen Moffat and Russell T. Davies were clearly at the top of their form.  But there’s something about “Blink” that lifts it out of the realm of episodes that are simply great, and makes it an enduring, must-watch classic, and earns borg.com’s nomination for Best Doctor Who.  (To be fair, there was a dissenting vote.  Jason McClain is partial to “The Girl in the Fireplace.”  But we think he’s wrong and just needs to watch “Blink” again.)

First, there’s the time travel. Ok, sure–it’s Doctor Who.  It’s all time travel.  But this episode does more than drop our heroes into another time to explore–it’s a twisty, precisely calibrated interplay of past, present, and future, with the Doctor stuck on the sidelines and the fate of the universe in the hands of a not-so-ordinary Londoner.  “Blink” is masterfully orchestrated and perfectly paced from the first moment, a complex puzzle of self-fulfilling, paradoxical prophecies that never misses a step or leaves the viewer remotely confused (even when we don’t know what’s going on).

Second, the story–all scant 45 minutes of it–feels not only complete and satisfying, but epic.  Villainy on a grand scale.  A tantalizing mystery.  Romances that span generations, though their starcrossed lovers only know one another for moments.  Between “Sally Shipton” and “It’s the same rain,” we live the entire lifelong love-that-might-have-been between Det. Insp. Billy Shipton and Sally.  We are treated to the sweet love story of Kathy Nightingale and her young man from Hull, which comes full circle when her grandson brings her letter and photos to Sally–before the story even begins.  It’s all one beautiful complex loop of time, love, and missed and grabbed chances.

Third, Carey Mulligan.  Usually, TV episodes missing all of their familiar characters don’t work, but “Blink” pulls it off.  Not only do we not really miss the Doctor, I think we’d all take even more of Sally, Larry, Kate, and Billy–but Carey Mulligan is the key to everything.  From the instant Sally hops the wrought iron fence at Wester Drumlins and strips off the peeling wallpaper, we’re rooting for her.  Mulligan feels like an actor you know you’ve seen before, and her poise and talent pull the whole episode up to her level.  It’s no surprise to see her cast now in impressive roles like The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan.

Fourth, the Weeping Angels.  Best. Villains. Ever.  “Whatever you do, don’t blink.”  “Blink” turns an archetype of holiness into a gothic nightmare, and the sweet innocence of Sally and Larry only makes them all the more startling.  They’re a fascinating alien species as only Doctor Who can conceive (“quantum-locked” creatures who cease to exist when looked at), but they’re also as scary as any classic horror movie monster.  And yet, for all the terror they inspire, they still “kill you nicely,” as the Doctor says.  (They’re not always so nice, however, as Doctor Number Eleven and Amy Pond later learn.)

Fifth, the dialogue.  C’mon–“Blink” is full of great lines, from the now quotable “Timey-Wimey Stuff,” to my personal favorites, “It goes ding when there’s stuff” and “There’s a thing.  Well, four things and a lizard.”  We also love Larry’s surprised, “You live in Scooby Doo’s house,” when he finds Sally at Wester Drumlins, and the adorable carpark exchange between the flirtatious Billy and bashful Sally.  Also, Sally’s parting admonition, “Don’t look at me, don’t look at me,” chillingly echoes the “Don’t blink” refrain of the episode.

If that’s not enough to plead our case, perhaps the best evidence in “Blink’s” favor is Point Number Six: the fact that “Blink” functions as a complete standalone episode–it’s Doctor Who, but it’s also very much its own entire story, both fascinating and approachable enough to entertain Whovians and non-fans alike.

By C.J. Bunce

Today we know what happened to Charles Van Doren, either through living through the aftermath of the quiz show scandals or watching the movie Quiz Show.  Like McCarthyism and later like Watergate, certain events poke at the public and make you question what is going on around you.  Comparing ourselves to readers in the 1950s we know that we never made it to Venus  colonization in the 1990s.  We know that Marilyn Monroe would die young.  We know that Tucker’s automobile would not get very far.  Imagine the era of the Cleavers in Leave it to Beaver.  When Sandra Dee didn’t have to worry about her future but could smile and make everyone happy on the big screen.  Imagine back to the world of the Twilight Zone, but the Twilight Zone neighborhoods before weird things start to happen.

To me, it all looks black and white.  That is of course because of television, because movies had color in the 1950s.  Kodak photos were in color in the 1950s.  But even if you grew up in the 1970s you got to see everything your parents watched because of the miracle of cable TV.

Of course Time Out of Joint could take place anywhere, but it is roughly 1958 when Philip K. Dick wrote Time Out of Joint that we meet Vic and Ragle and Margo and Junie and Bill.  A time when Charles Van Doren was winning game shows on television.  Upheaval in the Middle East.  Recession, millions unemployed.  Familiar?  A normal family: Vic who works the registers at the grocery store, stay-at-home wife but civically active Margo, and son Sammy.  Margo’s brother Ragle, irresponsible, single, 46 years old and flirts with the neighbor’s wife, lives with Vic and Margo and spends the day answering contest entries in the newspaper.  He works as hard as anyone who works full-time, simply to keep winning the contests, and he has won two years in a row–national champion, his photo published in the newspaper.  Publicity of Ragle as local winner was good for the local paper.

If you have ever moved across the country to a new city, you probably felt uneasy at first.  Maybe its the new trees that look like nothing you grew up with.  Ocean where you knew only plains.  Seasons that don’t change quite right.  Simple things like grocery store chains you never heard of in your several years as resident of planet Earth.  And yet some things are familiar and you gravitate toward those places.  Maybe it is something as familair as a Target store or A&W root beer stand.  Anything that can help you get your bearing.  maybe you put your phone down at home and later find it in your car.  Too much on your mind?  Or is it something else?

Neighbors Bill and Junie Black come over to Vic and Margo’s with espresso and lasagna one night.  And tidbits of information make the reader feel like something is a little off.  Sammy’s radio gets no signal, and we learn there has been no radio reception nearby for years.  As a reader, you are slowly sucked into a world like our expected America of the 1950s, but something makes us uneasy.  Vic walks into a room fumbling for a light cord that is not there.  He doesn’t remember the room having a light switch.  Soon Ragle becomes the central character in our trip back 50 years.

Vic is paranoid.  But not so much as Ragle.  No surprise, since this is the age of paranoia, right?  Russians, civil defense alerts…all ready for the Bay of Pigs coming soon to a bomb shelter near you.  Everyone is a bit… paranoid, everyone except Bill Black.  Vic suggests Ragle can pull it all together, after all, he solves riddles with data and charts and scientific-precision calculations in their living room.

Later in the week Ragle asks Junie to go swimming, a break from strategizing his contest entries.  She recalls walking up steps where there should have been three steps but there were only two.  Ragle can’t seem to get the oddities out of his brain.  He walks to the soft-drink stand to get a beer, and it dematerializes leaving a note that states “SOFT-DRINK STAND.”  Ragle thinks he is having a nervous breakdown.  He wants to quit the contests and take a vacation out of the country.  He tells Vic.  Vic and Ragle agree something is wrong.  Somehow “the time is out of joint.”

Sammy has more slips of paper he picked up at the site of some old houses Margo was trying to have leveled by the city to protect kids from getting hurt there after school.  Ragle buys the slips of paper from Sammy and goes to the ruins and unearths several magazines he is not familair with and a phone book from an unrecognizable town and time period.  He begins calling the numbers and the operator says to try the call again.  He questions the operator and she hangs up on him.  He flips through the magazines.  One features a story that Laurence Olivier is dead.  “But he’s alive, I know it,” says Margo.  And there is a photo of a beautiful woman none have them have seen before and the magazines speak of her as if she is famous.  “Marilyn Monroe.”  The magazine says she is famous here in America.  But that can’t be.  No one has heard of her.

As readers, and suggested by Dick, is Ragle just mentally ill?  After all, he lives with his sister’s family at age 46.  He doesn’t have a real job but sleuths out word games not by solving puzzles, but like the kids that ace the SATs because they figured out the supposedly random code of the bubble dots.

The next morning neighbor Bill Black gets to work and receives a report.  About the phone calls being made.  He rushes to the office of a man named Lowery.  Could all this be happening?  Is Ragle sane again?  Suddenly we are thrust into a world that could be found in the TV series Lost.  But this experience is for more personal, far more real.  Hints at the world Dick would later write that would become the film The Adjustment Bureau and short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” that M. Night Shyamalan would uncover with The Village, that Bruce Willis encountered in Mercury Rising, that Rod Serling would investigate in “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and countless other Twilight Zone episodes.  That The Truman Show would unapologetically borrow from decades later.  But there is more here.  Dick reveals ideas in his novels in a way that seems relevant and current, even 50 years later.  Time Out of Joint is no different, and is one of my favorites of all his works.

My hints at read-alikes and watch-alikes above will give you a hint at themes to expect in this solid science fiction work that today would be side by side with mainstream bestsellers as the science fiction is only a small part of what happens to these characters.  Looks for themes that Dick pursues in later works, like the meaning of what is real, who we are.  I have a stack of all but one of Dick’s works and plan to make my way through many of them again and others for the first time.  If you have only met Philip K. Dick through the numerous movies based on his works, then there is a giant volume of brilliant novels, and maybe even more brilliant short stories that lies ahead.  Time Out of Joint would be a great entry into Dick’s work.