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Tag Archive: Manchurian Candidate


Review by C.J. Bunce

If a movie project languishes for twenty years, thee might be several reasons to explain why.  Gemini Man, in theaters now, has had both Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer involved in the idea behind the film, but the timing didn’t seem right for them–digital technology had not yet evolved where an actor portraying a 51-year-old could fight himself at age 23, in a believable way.  Now here we are in a Hollywood (New York City, Atlanta, Toronto, etc.) where motion capture performances are the norm.  It’s not a spoiler if it’s in the movie poster, and that’s the case with Gemini Man.  The movie is Will Smith, a retiring government assassin, who must face off against a younger version of himself, raised and trained for combat.  So it shouldn’t surprise you that Gemini Man: The Official Movie Novelization, is a character study of what might happen when an assassin meets himself.

If you’re a fan of science fiction, a rush of prior stories and films should come to mind.  First of all the novelization, which does not give an author credit, instead listing the screenplay writers, Darren Lemke, David Benioff, and Billy Ray, reads very much like an early Philip K. Dick short story expanded to be novel (or movie) length.  The spoiler (if you can call it that) is that there aren’t many surprises.  How would a trained assassin react when confronting a younger clone of himself?  This is a single sitting read, filled with some interesting characters (the kind you’d find in supporting roles in any film, like Mission: Impossible, the Bourne Legacy films, Tomb Raider, or even Dick adaptations like Paycheck.  It’s also heavy on the action, something that would be spotlighted with CGI in the film, leaving the characters in the novel to internalize what is happening on the big screen.  The story feels like it was written for Will Smith.  His character Henry Brogan is the same guy we’ve seen Smith play in Bright, Suicide Squad, I am Legend, Hitch, I, Robot, Enemy of the State, and Independence Day.  Which fortunately means we have a likable protagonist.

The novelization brings in bits and pieces from across decades of science fiction, from addressing the question of how you select who you clone (from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones), to how you control your newly minted human military weapon (from The Manchurian Candidate), to how you survive when the world is crashing in on you (from the Jason Bourne, Shooter, and Mission: Impossible movies), to how you react when you learn you are not really you (from RoboCop, Moon, and the new series Living with Yourself).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Twelve Days is Steven Barnes’ latest sci-fi novel, an urban thriller delving into the evolution of the human brain.  Olympia Dorsey is a single mother of two, working for an Atlanta news outlet.  Her son Hannibal is autistic, and Olympia has been called into his school where they suggest sending her son to a better center for his care.  The center, a spiritual headquarters shrouded in Indian mysticism and nestled in the mountains, sounds too good to be true.  So she brings along her ex-boyfriend neighbor in their first visit to meet a Doctor Strange-esque mystic and martial arts expert who uses her influence and charisma to convince them she has the place for Hannibal’s care, evening promising a complete turnaround for the child in ten days.  Barnes’ crafts a slowly-building story where Olympia, desperate to improve the life of her autistic child, allows herself to be reeled in.

Olympia’s boyfriend Terry is ex-military, and had been plotting a jewel heist with his old military pals, but after his confrontation with the mystic he is somehow changed.  Can he make a clean break from his own criminal enterprise?   What is the motivation of this cult?  Influence?  Money?  Power?  Revenge?  Is the threatened apocalypse in only twelve days real or only a distraction?  And can Olympia get out before it’s too late?

Not like even the typical cult, the mystical mountain facility evokes the frightening Jefferson Institute of Robin Cook’s Coma, only here the victim’s organs aren’t harvested for money.  Here the victims are used as brainwashed agents to use their brainwaves to kill people far away, when submerged in a chamber not unlike that of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report.  It’s when the science fiction begins that Twelve Days kicks in.  Borrowing from the ideas of Joseph Ruben’s 1984 film Dreamscape, Twelve Days presents the most unusual of assassination tools to eliminate all the members of an anonymously leaked “Death List”–a dead pool list that includes both the world’s most wanted criminals, but also its leaders.  Each is being systematically eliminated, and even more are projected to die within twelve days.

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

With Burn Notice over and Homeland confined to premium viewing only, basic cable’s best hope for a weekly spy drama fix may be TNT’s new series Legends.  Un-gripping title aside, this new Sean Bean vehicle shows surprising promise.  Although it follows the cliché template for every crime drama of the last ten years (eccentric male expert and his younger female law enforcement handler), the format is elevated by familiar actors and an intriguing added premise.

Based on Robert Littell’s Legends: A Novel of Dissimulation, Legends the series follows Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, Patriot Games, National Treasure, GoldenEye, The Fellowship of the Ring, Sharpe series) as undercover FBI agent Martin Odum, the “most naturally gifted undercover operative” in the US arsenal.  Bean himself seems naturally gifted for the role, easing eerily between his “legend,” or cover identity, and his real self, donning accents, hairstyles, and costumes with Mission Impossible-style finesse.  But the ultimate deception may be on Odum himself–according to a shadowy figure with Manchurian Candidate overtones, Odum may not really be Odum.  Martin’s “real” life may be nothing more than just another legend.

Larter in Legends

Bean’s performance is bolstered by a strong supporting cast, including Ali Larter (Heroes, Final Destination), Steve Harris (Awake, Minority Report), and Tina Majorino (True Blood, Veronica Mars, Corinna, Corinna, Waterworld, Andre), although we’re hoping Larter and Majorino aren’t getting typecast–Larter already stripping as she did in Heroes and Majorino as the same tech nerd we’ve seen her play so well and so often.

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