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Tag Archive: Magnum PI


Review by C.J. Bunce

The next tropical paradise action series has two things going for it:  star Poppy Montgomery and a tropical island setting.  Unfortunately that’s probably not enough reason to come back for more.  The new series, Reef Break, will air Thursdays on ABC, with the first season of 13 episodes filmed.  The pilot aired last night, and unless the network made significant changes, viewers can expect a series you’ve seen before with rough writing and rudimentary stumbles.  The show follows Australian native actress Montgomery back on her home turf as Cat Chambers, a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners, confident ruffian with a history (aka baggage), who returns after several years away to the tropical island town of Reef Break.  Filmed and written attempting to conjure a “tropical noir” vibe, it’s crime drama in the vein of Castle–it looks like it wants to be the next Castle with a Hawaii Five-O backdrop, but it has a long way to go.

Audiences have hardly seen a TV season go by–going back to her debut in 1994 on Silk Stalkings–where Montgomery wasn’t either firmly planted atop an acclaimed series (seven seasons on Without a Trace as the high point) or featured as an eye-catching supporting character She’s more than up to the task for this role, which is a showcase of her acting showing both her smarts, saving lives, solving cases, and otherwise being the smartest person in the room, and her physicality, surfing the waves, pulling a gun on the bad guys, and getting punched in the face by the daughter of a man she killed in the show’s backstory.  Montgomery looks like she’s having fun, and for some of her diehard fans that might be enough.  But the material also seems to be light faire for someone of her caliber.  She has presence and even swagger, but the story and dialogue are sub-par, and she’s using a Southern drawl that doesn’t seem like it fits the role (she’s filming in Australia, let’s hear that accent!).  The worst feature is reliance for emotion on an over-stuffed pop song soundtrack.  The opening scene alone incorporates iffy covers of three different overplayed radio songs.

A lot, probably too much, is going on here for a pilot, so it’s a surprise a network picked it up.  Cat Chambers is an ex-thief and now a fixer with the skill set of a British spy or FBI agent, and she knows everyone, and everyone knows her, in this island community.  Already the governor is ready to offer this almost ex-con (arrested, never convicted) a job–for anyone familiar with storytelling he’s set-up as the series recurring bad guy.  The appeal is for fans of Magnum P.I., which had instant chemistry in its reboot with the benefit of nostalgia in addition to the tropical setting, or counterpart series Hawaii Five-OReef Break is also not as clever or quirky as Death in Paradise Part of the pilot fail is a clunky introduction of all the characters, and an ending that shows all the characters are all too coincidentally connected.  It’s goofy and escapist, but so far more goofy than escapist, and doesn’t compare to that instantly slick and sharp (and now canceled) CBS crime series Whiskey Cavalier.

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Our borg Best of 2018 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2018 here and the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2018 here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg TV Series, Best TV BorgHumans (AMC).  No other series touches on the ramifications of technology, specifically the perils of an onslaught of real-world cyborg technology, like AMC’s Humans.  This year three characters stood out, including Gemma Chan’s Mia, the cyborg Synth from past seasons, who sacrificed everything for the liberty of cyborgs in the UK.  Then there was Ruth Bradley’s Karen Voss, a Synth who refused to live segregated from the humans, opting instead for a normal life for the cyborg son she assumed care for.  And Katherine Parkinson’s Laura Hawkins, a human lawyer who fought so hard for the cause of the Synths all year, only to throw away all the good she had done, failing the first real challenge that was presented to her.  This year’s best TV borg is shared by Synths Mia and Karen, as each showed the uphill battle any future outsider must overcome when faced with humans.

Best Sci-fi TV SeriesThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  What had been a two-season build-up all came together in the series’ third season with the audacity of killing off key characters, wisely adhering to the framework of the source Philip K. Dick novel.  The use of science fiction to tell an often gut-wrenching array of subplots and unique characters has set up a fourth season with plenty to address.  Exciting, smart, scary, and even fun, it is an unusual science fiction show that isn’t merely trigger-happy sci-fi.  Honorable mention: Humans (AMC), Counterpart (Starz).

Best New TV Series, Best Reboot, Best Ensemble CastMagnum PI (CBS).  If you would have told us a year ago our favorite show this year would be a reboot of Magnum, p.i. starring Suicide Squad’s Jay Hernandez and an actress in the iconic role of John Hillerman’s Higgins, we wouldn’t have believed it.  And yet, even as diehard fans of the original, we had to acknowledge that many elements of the reboot series were even better in the new series.  With the dangerous risk of taking on a beloved property, the production maintained loyalty to the original while making it fresh, scoring Magnum PI high marks on all counts.  Every character was smartly written–suave and confident Magnum, energetic Rick and TC, and a savvy Higgins–every actor was perfectly cast, and each show was another round of nostalgic fun for fans of the original.  Best New TV Series Honorable mention for Best New TV Series: Counterpart (Starz), Lodge 49 (AMC).

Best Series, Best Drama, Best ComedyLodge 49 (AMC).  Lodge 49 told two stories: a darkly serious drama of real people dealing with real-life 2018 adversity, and the other a comedy farce like no other.  Hanging over our heads was the idea that this was going to be a fantasy show, complete with secret codes, hidden rooms, and psychic visions.  If you’re looking for all the elements of great fantasy the hint of it all could be found throughout this series.  And yet it wasn’t fantasy at all.  An oddball Cheers?  A southern Twin Peaks without the Lynchian weirdness?  Star Wyatt Russell’s hero Dud could be dismissed as a typical young man with no vision, or maybe he’s that idealist that everyone needs to strive to be.  Maybe we’ll learn more about that next season.  Honorable mention for Best Drama: Counterpart (Starz).  Honorable mention for Best Comedy: Baskets (FX).
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It’s time for borg‘s annual look at 2018’s Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  This year we selected 24 characters that rose to the top.  Again the studios gave us more to cheer about than ever.  We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and cheer on.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong (and, okay, sometimes evil), you’ll find no one here timid or weepy, but all rely on their individual skills to beat the odds and overcome any obstacle that comes their way.  Over the years we have expanded the list to include any tough, savvy, gritty character played by a woman, so villains are welcome here, too.  Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, or human, but all have fought, some against difficult circumstances, others against personal demons (literally, figuratively, or both), and some against gun and laser fire.  And they all showed what a tough, kick-ass character is about.

In 2018 these characters broke new ground, and unlike last year’s great list, this year’s selections would not have worked as well had the characters been swapped for males.  We had a former MI-5 agent, bounty hunters, assassins, doctors, defenders, advanced superhumans, superheroines, warriors, witches, and even a few cyborgs–with a roster evenly split between television and movie characters.

Better yet, here’s something we haven’t said before.  Several of our selections this year were played by women over 50.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2018:

Enfys Nest (Solo: A Star Wars Story).  For the first half of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Enfys Nest was the leader of a band of pirates, a character as cool and ruthless as anyone Han Solo ever faced.  But once she took off her mask,  it became clear how important she was, how significant her mission was–even more so than Han Solo’s own pursuit of mere wealth.  She foreshadowed what Han would later find with Leia, an early glimpse at a rogue and scoundrel who actually had some good in him.  When they joined forces, it made their characters even better.  And she became one of the best warriors in the Star Wars universe since the original trilogy.  (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Okoye (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War).  Is there any woman warrior as powerful and impressive in a fantasy movie this year as Danai Gurira’s Okoye?  We can’t think of any.  A smart commander, a brave soldier, a loyal ally.  Stalwart, devoted, steadfast, strong physically, intimidating and wise, with a keen unwavering ferocity, she represented the best of Wakanda, and fought bravely to defend the world at the last stand against Thanos.  (Disney/Marvel)

Higgins (Magnum PI).  Few television characters are as beloved as Jonathan Higgins in the original Magnum, p.i.  So it was going to be risky having any actor step into the role John Hillerman made famous.  So when the show honored the original character and late actor with such a finely tuned, updated character and actor, we took notice.  Perdita Weeks’s Juliet Higgins is everything Robin Masters was–the character we all thought Higgins was in secret.  We don’t know whether we’ll learn the truth this time around and what that truth will be, but as an ex-British secret service agent, she’s a James Bond for Thomas Magnum to partner with–literally running alongside the show’s star and fighting and shooting her way as an equal.  And the result?  Every episode of the first season was full of great action and fun.  (CBS)
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Review by C.J. Bunce

Magnum, p.i. was no doubt one of the best television series to come out of the 1980s, thanks to star Tom Selleck, the late John Hillerman, the beauty of Hawaii and good writing by Donald P. Bellisario.  The series ran for eight seasons and continues to be broadcast in reruns on cable channels any hour of the day, every day.  For years talk of a sequel movie or series sounded pretty exciting, but as the actors got older that became less and less likely, and that was only solidified with the death of John Hillerman last year.  The idea of a reboot may make many flinch, but what really is the harm in taking any past series, film, or franchise forward?  CBS is taking a chance with such a revered show, and Monday night it aired episode one of its new Magnum p.i. (changing only the comma), first previewed here at borg back in May).  So how did they do?

About ten minutes into the pilot for the series and viewers will know the creators of this reboot loved the original series, and that translates to the conscientious, careful effort taken with the update to the characters so many know and love.  In some ways Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad) is even cockier than Selleck’s Thomas Magnum.  He also plays his Magnum as completely genuine, the guy you can see having friends like Rick (now played by Zachary Knighton) and T.C. (now played by Stephen Hill).  At its worst the new Magnum p.i. plays like a sequel to another reboot series, Hawaii Five-O (thanks in part to both an appearance by new series regular Sung Kang, who had a brief stint on Hawaii Five-O, and the show’s location).  But a sequel to Hawaii Five-O would be no bad thing, and it’s the same way the original Magnum, p.i. began.  (Thank goodness this is not another prequel!)  At its best, it has that blend of expensive cars, high-octane chase scenes, and good old-fashioned fun that the Fast and the Furious film series is known for, and that’s thanks to that film series’ director/actor Justin Lin taking the reins and directing this pilot episode.

Along with a likeable supporting team of new actors playing Magnum’s fiercely loyal war buddies, the smartest move taken by the production is not replacing Higgins with a caricature of John Hillerman.  The new Higgins is Ready Player One’s Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins–yes, she’s British, complete with the Hillerman poise and accent, but unlike the original Higgins her MI6 background is let loose right away, as she holds her own in hand-to-hand combat against two former Marines with weapons attempting to kill her.  And of course the location is again Honolulu, Oahu, and the surrounding Hawaiian islands we’ll no doubt get to visit again over the next season.  And Mike Post and Pete Carpenter’s memorable theme song.  And the two female Dobermans as the lads, Zeus and Apollo.  And seemingly disposable $250,000 Ferraris–we watched two destroyed in just the first episode.

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1988.  That was the last year you could turn on your television and watch three things: Magnum, p.i., Murphy Brown, and a crime drama written by Dick Wolf.  1988 becomes 2018 this Fall as thirty years later CBS launches three new shows, a reboot of Magnum, p.i. (with a title changed a little to Magnum P.I.), a continuation 20 years later of the original Murphy Brown, and FBI, the latest gritty drama from Law & Order creator Dick Wolf.  See trailers for all these new series below.

Director Justin Lin created a TV movie for the pilot of his Magnum P.I.  Lin, famous for his Fast & Furious movies, but also his direction of one of the best Star Trek films, Star Trek Beyond, plus acclaimed television series True Detective and Community, provides a preview about as big and expensive as you’re ever going to see, proving Lin is probably the right guy for the job.  Fast cars and action reflect the feel of the original series, with an obvious update to a modern production concept, but the show also includes the key characters: Suicide Squad and Bright’s Jay Hernandez is Thomas Magnum, ex-Navy SEAL, working for Robin Masters, wearing his Detroit Tigers hat, same ring, same watch, same Old Dusseldorf beer, and driving Robin’s Ferraris.  This time Magnum is the inspiration for Masters’ novels.  Jonathan Higgins is now Juliet (ex-MI6) Higgins (or is she really Robin Masters?), played by Perdita Weeks (Ready Player One, Penny Dreadful) tending to the lads and annoyed by Thomas.  And Thomas’s war buddies are back, with T.C. played by Stephen Hill (Luke Cage), and Rick played by Zachary Knighton (LA to Vegas).  And Oahu doesn’t look like it has changed in 30 years, with the borrowed universe of the Hawaii Five-O series thanks in part to production designer Keith Neely (and that’s Five-O actor Sung Kang in the preview).  Oddly enough the original Magnum, p.i. was relocated from California to Hawaii because CBS did not want to close down its Hawaii offices after the wind-down of the original Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980), and here again is Magnum riding on the coattails of Steve McGarrett.  The fan base is already going to be divided up for this one: reject it because the original is a classic, or put aside the past, embrace the new, and see what Lin can do.

The preview for Season 11 of Murphy Brown feels more like an improv character study performed by each actor from the original show, sharing what the character has been up to for the past 20 years since the series went off the air.  Candice Bergen is back as Brown, Faith Ford is Corky Sherwood, Joe Regalbuto is Frank Fontana, Grant Shaud is Miles, Tyne Daly takes over Phil’s Bar and Grill (original Phil actor Pat Corley died in 2006), and Lady Bird’s Jake McDorman debuts as Murphy’s son Avery.  81-year-old actor Charles Kimbrough, the first actor to say “that sucks!” on television and Murphy Brown’s Jim Dial, might have a guest role in the show’s planned 13 episodes.  Unfortunately one of the series’ best loved characters, Eldin Bernecky, won’t be back, as actor Robert Pastorelli died in 2004.

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By C.J. Bunce

When pondering what I want to see in the movie theater that hasn’t arrived yet I think a lot about several Philip K. Dick short stories, or TV series that I’d love to see continued on the big screen, like a big screen Magnum, P.I., or Simon & Simon or Chuck—although if it is as underwhelming as the last X-Files movie then maybe not.  I’d love to see some early twentieth century biopics of Bix Beiderbecke or Karl King (who, among other things, composed the circus themes for Ringling Brothers and played in Sousa’s band).  And it would be fun to take a bunch of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass songs from South Of The Border and The Lonely Bull and make them the soundtrack to a modern spaghetti Western, sort of like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with She’s The One A good Green Arrow or Bionic Man movie, or a good sequel to Return of the Jedi would all be fun.  And some things have been done already, but not quite right.  Space Ghost had his own cartton then interview show, but how about an adaptation of the serious origin series by Joe Kelly?  A big budget movie based on Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air could be awesome (the TV version suffered a bit despite a good cast).  The Russian story of Lieutenant Kije was filmed more than half a century ago with music by Prokofiev, but it needs a good updating.  We’ve seen four Tom Clancy novels about Jack Ryan, but the creepiest of the series, Debt of Honor, has yet to be made.

A lot of films have been made, and in coming up with this list one of my ideas–a film featuring Super Grover and the cast of Sesame Street–seemed long overdue.  I figured Sesame Street got bypassed for the Muppets, as shown in a funny scene from The Muppet Movie where Fozzie the Bear offers Big Bird a ride to the west coast to break into movies, and Big Bird says no thanks, he’s trying to break into public television back in New York.  Well, apparently they made that movie back in 1985 and I missed it, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That BirdYou can’t know everything.

For me this list was tough until I moved away from books as source material.  I think the movies I see in my head are better than how some of my ideas would likely turn out produced by the studios.  But let’s get on with it–with a nod to Art Schmidt for his idea with DC Comics and Jason McClain for mentioning Connie Willis.

    

From the comic books:  DC Comics’ Dark Knight Returns and Hard-Traveling Heroes

At lunch in high school my friends and I fantasy-cast Batman: The Dark Knight Returns over and over.  Ultimately we arrived at (the now late) Paul Newman as the ideal retired Batman, in the graphic novel another wealthy race car driver type.  In real life Newman was very much the Bruce Wayne interpreted in Frank Miller’s four-issue series-turned required-reading—as suave guy, well-liked, a wealthy philanthropist.  In a different universe Clint Eastwood would be great fun as a superhero coming out of retirement to have that last hoorah with the Batman cowl.  Probably too late now.  Of all the Batman stories, The Dark Knight Returns is #1–it is so well-established as more than a cult favorite, even beyond Watchmen, you just have to ask DC Comics and the Hollywood machine:  Why can’t someone just put it on the big screen?

I’ve said over and over here at borg.com that the best Green Lantern story ever is his team up with Green Arrow and Black Canary in Neal Adams’ and Dennis O’Neil’s classic Green Lantern Issues #76-87 and 89, the so-called “Hard Traveling Heroes.”  Imagine Black Canary pulling up on her motorcycle.  Imagine Green Arrow defending the kid robbing the slumlord.  Imagine Green Arrow catching Speedy.  Imagine Hal, Ollie and Dinah driving across America in their pick-up truck.  And harpies.  And encountering a religious cult.  And more harpies.

I’ll echo Art Schmidt: DC Comics needs to catch up with Marvel Comics movies, with Iron Man (the first one), Captain America: The First Avenger, and with Fantastic Four’s brilliant realization of Human Torch and The Thing, maybe my favorite heroes to screen so far.  OK, they nailed it with Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Batman.  Hopefully with The Avengers, Marvel Comics sets a new bar that DC Comics will have to work toward with a multi-hero story, maybe even with the Justice League or Superfriends.  Art’s recommended Cry for Justice, which we have discussed here before, is a great choice for this.

From the sci-fi novel: Remake, by Connie Willis

If you haven’t read Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Connie Willis’s books then you are in for a great ride through one of several fun and varied works.  For me, the concepts and Hollywood prophesies in her novel Remake are too cool to pass up and I have no doubt represent a foreshadowing of the future of film only slightly touched on in the Ralph Fiennes film Strange DaysRemake is science fiction at its best, and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1996.

In our near future, Hollywood no longer needs to make new productions.  A film technician rearranges classic films via computer manipulation, so that the viewer can select who he wants to watch the next time he watches Raiders of the Lost Ark.  How about John Wayne?  How about Humphrey Bogart?  Why not edit out all the cigarettes so we no longer encourage smoking for future viewers?  What other movies would be fun to manipulate?  This is the world of our future where Viacom and Paramount are now Viamount, where actors are reduced to stand-ins.  OK, so it probably won’t really be our future as totally envisioned by Willis.

The technician falls for a strange woman who wants to dance in a musical and he is continually sidetracked as he pursues her through the novel.  The love story is well done—but it’s the world of our future that would be fun to see, finally, on the big screen.  And you would not need to film an entire movie, simply clips, like the old soda pop ads that blended dead celebrities with living ones, and that allowed Nat King Cole to star in a modern music video with his grown daughter, the singer Natalie Cole.  Hollywood has the technology today—so why not see how far CGI can go?

I’d frankly love to see any Willis book adapted to film, and in addition those mentioned by others in this series, Bellwether and To Say Nothing of the Dog would be great picks.

From the sci-fi novel: Fantastic Voyage 2: Destination Brain, by Isaac Asimov

When the original Fantastic Voyage was in theaters in 1966, Isaac Asimov created the novelization.  He was not happy with it because he was adapting someone else’s work (it was based on a Jerome Bixby story).  The original film reflected Hollywood basically at its infancy with special effects related to the future of medicine.  In its day it was a good effort.  With the 1987 novel Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, which was not a sequel but an entirely new story, Asimov created the world inside a microscope that only he could envision.  The book is like Dennis Quaid in Innerspace, but with a serious mission and tone.  A group of scientists, such as you would find in the typical multi-disciplined problem solving team from a Michael Crichton novel, shrink themselves down to microscopic size to enter into the brain and try to diagnose the condition of a colleague, Dr. Pyotor Shapirov, the creator of the very technology that finally allows man to transport to such a miniscule size.

In 2001 Imax theaters featured a documentary on its giant-sized screens called The Human Body.  Audiences were able to see (and sometimes be grossed out by) the inner workings of the body.  Filmmakers would hardly need much by way of CGI to show a voyage through the cells.  Maybe this would be fun to attempt for some creative producer, and a project showing yet another frontier of science to science fiction fans.

From the art gallery: the cinematic paintings of Edward Hopper

How about a story for stage or screen where each scene begins or ends as an Edward Hopper painting?  And the focal character is the girl from his Automat, maybe also the same girl from his Chop Suey painting?  New York Movie, First Row Orchestra, Summertime, Cape Cod Evening—they all tell some secret story.  Or at least they all could, in the right filmmaker’s hands.

Hopper’s cinematic compositions and use of light and shadow has caused filmmakers to mimic his style before.  House by the Railroad supposedly influenced the house in the Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the home in the Terrence Malick film Days of Heaven.  Director Wim Wenders’ film The End of Violence incorporates a tableau vivant of Nighthawks. Surrealist horror film director Dario Argento recreated the diner and the patrons in Nighthawks as part of a set for his 1976 film Deep Red.  Hopper has inspired both Blade Runner and Road to Perdition.

Turner Classic Movies uses animated recreations of Hopper paintings as introductions to classic films and in That ’70s Show the producers recreated the diner from Nighthawks.  But how about a full-scale movie showing us something about these characters we don’t know?  That’s something I’d love to see on the big screen.

From the ancient history books: the world briefly changed by Akhenaten

I could find a non-fiction work for the adaptation, but it’s the story itself I really want to see here.  The pharaoh Akhenaten was the leader of Egypt for about 17 years from circa 1353 B.C. to 1335 B.C.  He was married to Nefertiti and had six or seven daughters and at least one son–Tutankhamen.  In his reign he revamped the religion of his country like never before, moving from a polytheistic pantheon of gods to the worship of a single god, the Aten, or sun-disk.  Following his reign the empire was returned to its prior state and for Akhenaten’s blasphemy his name was chiseled out of a significant part of the written record.  Art during his reign became more expressive and naturalistic.  Images of the pharaoh show a realistic image that hid no flaws, a long face, not the typical glorification and heroic imagery of Egyptian leaders before and after.  Akhenaten is so interesting from a number of levels that it would be a great challenge to reflect his reign in film.  Certainly a rebel and not a traditionalist.  A stunning wife.  How do you show all the Egyptian relationships—including accepted inbreeding as a norm–without coming off as judgmental?  As pharaoh he was “one with the god Aten.”  How do you portray daily life in an interesting way where the ruler is God and what could you show about his family on film?  A great pandemic swept across the Middle East during this period, taking out the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma, and how did they manage through that?  But even more interesting, with all the stories of the history of conflict in Egypt, what did life look like during the years of Egypt’s own version of Camelot?  This all would be incredible to depict.

From fantasy opera:  Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung

I have only seen one version of The Ring that comes close to clarifying this odd and complex story composed of four epic operas for a general audience: P. Craig Russell’s two volume graphic novel of The Ring of the Nibelung.  A few years ago I discussed The Ring with Russell and he said it was a great effort to produce it and it became a sort of magnum opus for him.  But even an adaptation of Russell’s adaptation would need streamlined for mainstream audiences—yet, it would be a great starting point.  Predating that other famous fantasy ring series (the one by J.R.R. Tolkien) by decades, Wagner’s opera is epic in scope and length, taking four nights or 15 hours to perform the full opera.  We already have a superb soundtrack from Wagner, but can someone make a feature-length, meaningful adaptation in the English language that conveys the energy and power of the original without all the nonlinear bits and pieces?  The reward would be a giant vision of gods, heroes, mythical creatures and magic.

Other operas due for a good movie?  The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro.

More than any of the above I would love to see our own Elizabeth C. Bunce’s retelling of Rumplestiltskin, A Curse Dark As Gold (maybe a classic PBS/BBC series or Hayao Miyazaki anime film would be fun) or her fantasy noir Thief Errant series on-screen.  A Curse Dark As Gold has already been performed superbly in a full-length audio CD version by a Broadway actress so I’ve had a little taste of what it would be like to witness it fully played out.  And speaking of ECB, tomorrow she’ll give us her take on stories that should be adapted for the big screen.