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Tag Archive: Sleeper


Review by C.J. Bunce

Any list of 10 or more items these days quickly becomes the stuff of argument.  But in the right context it can become the stuff of discussion and curiosity.  A list of 50 items takes some work to prepare and if that list accompanies a genre that has spanned more than a century, then it really invites discussion. Which brings us to Turner Classic Movies and Running Press’s new look at the science fiction genre in Sloan De Forest’s Must See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World This latest pop culture book to engage science fiction fans may show that, after all these years, the best and most important works of science fiction are not really all that controversial.  Yet it wouldn’t really be worth picking up if it only confirmed readers’ love for epic films.  Must-See Sci-Fi takes that next step and also serves that need of all fans of film to take another look at the classics and be open to those films we may have overlooked.

Consisting of 50 approximately 1,000 word essays on each film across 114 years, from 1902 to 2016, Must-See Sci-Fi covers the significance of each film selected in its 280 pages, including a plot overview, key memorable scenes, plus some good behind-the-scenes trivia, as well as plenty of color and black and white photographs.  From A Trip to the Moon in 1902 to Arrival in 2016, the book has a fairly consistent coverage (but weighted with more selections from the 1970s and 1980s, and the 1940s have no entries).  Most will agree with the films included from George Méliès’s groundbreaking beginning through the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. But controversial for one person may not be controversial for another.  De Forest presents her case for those films you might not find on other lists–many firsts of sci-fi emphasized instead of the definite look at a sub-genre, like Alphaville, Solaris, Sleeper, The Man Who Fell to Earth, THX 1138, The Brother From Another Planet, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. One great feature is a recommendation of two “watch-alike” films after each section–If you loved a film, you have two more films to track down and compare, and if you missed a film but don’t like the two suggested films, the book may telegraph your level of enjoyment once you screen the entry.  Readers will also see the impact across a century of filmmaking from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the works of both H.G. Wells and Jules Verne on these selections.

Key to the fun of delving into science fiction film history is understanding the roots of science fiction–how modern science fiction 99% of the time derives (or combines) its story elements from key benchmarks from stories or films of the past.  As the book progresses readers can see author De Forest frequently referring back to those sources, and after 1977’s Star Wars the remaining 16 entries all seem to rely significantly on films of the past–sometimes they even appear to be merely another twist on one of the films in the first half of the book.  And yes, readers will find new discussion topics.  La Jetée may be an incredibly fascinating short film, but is it more of a “must-see” than Terry Gilliam’s update 12 Monkeys?  And how did a Woody Allen movie ever make the cut?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Jason McClain is a big fan of Ed Brubaker’s writing.  He’s mentioned his appreciation for Brubaker’s Sleeper books here at borg.com more than once.  So when I saw the enticing noir cover art on the first issues of the new series Fatale, I figured this was a good place to start.  I picked up Issues 1 and 3-5 and it took me awhile to track down #2 so I only this week could read the first story arc straight through.  The new story arc starts with the next issue, coming out soon.

Based on the noir covers I was looking forward to what I have found in my favorite film noir–Otto Preminger’s Laura, Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, Dial “M” for Murder and Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart in Call Northside 777, also Sorry, Wrong Number, Elizabeth C. Bunce’s fantasy noir Liar’s Moon, and in a strange way, even the voiceover version of Blade Runner.  For the most part these are all crime noir stories.  A dangerous damsel–the Femme Fatale as in Double Indemnity–plus a Dana Andrews-looking character in a gray fedora who is usually a cop or newspaper reporter, and a dangerous city full of secrets and dark, wet streets–all of this is the stuff of noir.  But I was thinking about this all wrong.  I had no idea Ed Brubaker and artist partner Sean Phillips were creating a supernatural 1950s pulp horror/thriller, not a noir pulp crime novel.  None of my favorite film noir has anything supernatural so from only a few pages in I was thrown a bit.  Fatale is noir, but it is just as much supernatural horror.  So I read the story once and was confused a bit.  Then I figured out what genre I was reading and read it again.

If you like supernatural horror and you like the 1950s underworld as your setting, Fatale is a very interesting read–almost like revisiting a lost story type.  The supernatural bits remind me of the TV series Medium, which often contained surprisingly dark and gory crime moments juxtaposed with the lives of good, caring people.  Same goes here.  Like the movie Skeleton Key, where a man and woman use voodoo to switch bodies and live forever, and like Rosemary’s Baby and The OthersFatale’s characters are sucked into shocking and frightening situations and as readers we aren’t supposed to know all that is going on until the end.

Fatale has the requisite fascination of an otherwise boring man with an attractive, inaccessible, mysterious woman.  Nicolas Lash meets Josephine at the funeral of his godfather, Hank Raines.  Raines once knew Josephine back in the 1950s.  She’s blackmailed by a detective in the 1950s world of the story, Walt Booker, and both Josephine and Walt have this unnatural power over each other.  Is Josephine a “pusher” in the X-Files sense or does she just bring out something in others innocently?  What are these occult priestly fellows in red showing up dead everywhere and this fanged beast who kills Raines’ wife?  I’d need a few more re-reads to really catch the complexity of what happened here.  Each issue from #2 on has a lead-in paragraph at the beginning to explain what happened in the prior issue.  I found myself puzzled by these summaries, as in “oh, is that what happened last issue?”  Since I read these through in one sitting, I’d think I shouldn’t be surprised by a summary of what I just read, yet I was.  Usually if stories suffer it’s through too much “telling” and not enough “showing.”  Here I think this story has the reverse problem, but only a bit, and could stand to explain a little more plainly what the heck is going on with the mass suicide, magic dagger, old novel script and some pile of papers that need translating.  At times I felt I was totally in sync with the story–there was a 1960s James Bond aura at different points along the way that created a cool vibe.  Then with the symbology and strange beast who was also a leader that looked like Hitler, I was out of sync again.

Without question, the best part of Fatale is Sean Phillips’ 1950s style art.  If I wasn’t following a scene from the dialogue then I could usually get there with the visual storytelling.  Fatale looks like the noir I’d expect to see, for most of the scenes.  Dave Stewart’s coloring creates a world familiar to fans of Edward Hopper’s paintings.  I think the storytelling has some jarring moments, however.  Things like expletives that seem out-of-place and -time bothered me here.  It could be because, even if people used expletives in the real 1950s, 1950s movies never did, and so the aura of 1950s drama seems more accessible to me than what might have been real-life lingo (although I refuse to believe folks in 1950s swear as much as, and with the exact same colorful metaphors as, we have today as this work reflects).  So I love the look of Fatale, but am not sure of how much I like the story and whether I would recommend it to others not familiar with this genre.  The “voiceover” parts were quite good (the “it was a dark night in the city when I first met her” kind of thing).  Are Brubaker and Phillips’ other works supernatural horror like this?  I’d be willing to try more of their works to find out.

Fatale did make me think a lot about characterization, mood, and what makes something a crime novel vs a horror novel vs a supernatural thriller.  In a different kind of way, it made me think about complexity of story much as I did reading and watching the Watchmen graphic novel and film adaptation.  Anything that makes you think like that is probably a good thing.

Fatale is available at Amazon.com for pre-order in a trade edition titled Death Chases Me.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

When the idea first came around to write the top five adaptations of comic books, video games, books or characters that I’d like to see, I thought, “Great, what a great idea.”  Then, it slowly dawned on me.  I hate adaptations in most every case.  Seabiscuit?  Hated it.  The Lorax?  That looks so despicable, I refuse to give it my money.  Harry Potter?  I will never trust anyone that says, “No really, the next one is when they start getting good.”

The next thing I realized is that in some, possibly misguided, corner of my mind, there are still some things that I’d like to adapt.  Stories that captured my attention and that are on my list of things to write after I finish my current project.  I may never get to them, especially since a couple have been on my list for a while, but hope spring eternal, especially at this time of year.

So, how would I approach this?  First, I have to assume that I trust the filmmaker, like I trust Peter Jackson after the The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I know that’s not a rational assumption.  For every Fellowship of the Rings that Jackson did, there’s a filmmaker who does Batman and Robin, Iron Man 2 or any Harry Potter movie.  For every V for Vendetta that takes Alan Moore material and makes it great, there’s a From Hell or Watchmen and I go back to hating adaptations.

To make a great adaptation, the filmmaker has to respect the source (don’t get me started on Michael Bay and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), understand the vibe of the source and still be willing to go off script and put their own voice into it.  I wonder if instead of a shot for shot remake, if Gus Van Sant had done something new with Psycho, it would have worked.  The cynic in me doubts it very much, but the optimist wonders mostly to himself that it could have been interesting if nothing else.  A shot for shot remake with Anne Heche instead of Janet Leigh?  Why not just watch the original?

So, what does that leave to adapt?  I think it leaves things that I don’t consider sacred and fortunately that still leaves plenty.  I’m not saying these aren’t favorites, but I think they could work nicely as adaptations.  Just to make it more interesting, not only will I choose the five things to adapt, but make them in five different genres.  First the honorable mentions: American Gods (tough to make, but in the hands of someone like Tarsem Singh who did the underrated The Fall there would be some cool, trippy otherworld sequences) and Geek Love (come on, aren’t we due for a great carnie movie?).  Now, let’s do the countdown.

5.  Red Dead Redemption – Genre: Western

I don’t know if there has been a good video game movie.  However, if they follow the story of Red Dead Redemption they’ve already got a pretty cool cinematic western.  John Marston plays the typical western hero of a former rogue looking for redemption and trying to save his wife and child.  It’s been done many different times, but if you have good actors, good scenery and good dialogue to go with this story, it could work.  I can’t tell you much more about this particular story;  I just know that I’m still surprised that a video game actually moved me.

   

4.  Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew – Genre: Animated Feature

Originally, this spot was for The Invaders as I love a good WWII movie and there’s nothing better than fighting Nazis.  Then, as I wrote it, I mentioned some other favorite comic book characters: The Powerpuff Girls and Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew and how they would look cool fighting Nazis as well.  Then, I kept reading it over and over, and since Captain America: The First Avenger already went back to World War II, there’s not much space for The Invaders.  There won’t be more Bucky.  There won’t be the original Human Torch, Toro, Union Jack or Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  The Powerpuff Girls already have a TV show and a movie.  However, if you’re looking for a silly parody of super groups as an alternative to The Avengers or I have to assume an eventual Justice League movie, then look no further than Captain Carrot, Yankee Poodle, Fastback, Pig Iron, Alley-Kat-Abra and Rubberduck.  If they can fight the Nazis, that might be the perfect movie.

3.  Doomsday Book by Connie Willis – Genre: Medieval England Period Piece and Sci-Fi

C.J. Bunce introduced me to Connie Willis at his first San Diego Comic-Con when we went to a panel she did, and I read a few of her novels and found them charming, interesting and fun.  I think the appeal to adapting Doomsday Book comes from glimpsing a true epidemic in the form of the black plague in the eyes of someone from the future.  I didn’t like Contagion much, so maybe the book adaptation of Doomsday Book could effectively show the terror of an incurable disease spreading and the feeling of helplessness that follows.  For the protagonist Kivrin, trying to not reveal you’re from the future adds a great layer to that tension, having to remain disconnected while not being sure if she’ll ever leave this doomed time.

2.  Sleeper by Ed Brubaker – Genre: Noir

I’ve written about Sleeper in two previous Borg.com posts, so you know how much I like it.  I also think that it would make a fantastic film noir.  You have the femme fatale in Miss Misery, you have a guy that doesn’t know what’s good or bad anymore and you have crime galore.  If that’s not a great film noir, with bonus super powers, I don’t know what is.

1.  The Great American Novel by Philip Roth – Genre: Baseball Comedy

The Great American Novel might be one of my favorite baseball books of all time.  I took it in the third round of a baseball book draft.  (I knew it would last until then, so I grabbed The Boys of Summer and The Glory of Their Times with my first two picks).  The story of the Ruppert Mundys and the forgotten Patriot League as told by “Word” Smith (thanks, Wikipedia) would run circles around Moneyball the movie.  I think the fictional 14-year-old manager (I think that’s the age – goodness, I need to buy a copy of this book to read again and so I can look up such queries) would make a better representative of sabermetrics than the “fictional” Peter Brand.

Moneyball the book was my fifth round choice in the baseball draft – and just another perfect example of how I dislike movie adaptations of books that I enjoy.  As much as I would like to see this list made into movies now that I’ve written this post, my gut tells me it’s probably better if they’re not.

Come back tomorrow and C.J. Bunce searches out some choices he think would be difficult to adapt but fun to watch.