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Tag Archive: Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Review by C.J. Bunce

Everyone likes Paul Rudd, right?  Rudd is the center of a new comedy-drama on Netflix that began this weekend, Living with Yourself And his fans won’t be disappointed.  The same struggling character reaching for success–but just missing it–in shows like Ant-Man, Anchorman, and Clueless is back, but this time his character is actually characters, plural, and, like Ant-Man, this show has a sci-fi twist.

In fact you could spend the 3.5 hours of the eight episode, half-hour series spotting all the sci-fi tropes picked up in the script by Timothy Greenberg (The Daily Show).  It all begins with a twist on Orson Scott Card’s short story Fat Farm (found in Isaac Asimov, George R.R. Martin, and Martin Greenberg’s collection, The Science Fiction Weight Loss Book).  In that story, a person goes to a secret clinic to lose weight, not realizing he is actually being cloned, and the “real” him shuffled off to a work farm for the rest of his life, while “new him” returns to his life slim and trim not knowing the difference.  In Living with Yourself, it’s Rudd’s character Miles who is unhappy not with his weight but his underachievement and overall dissatisfaction with himself.  A co-worker puts him onto a pricey spa that can solve his problems, which turns out to be a third-rate, pop-up cloning shop, where, unknown to clients, they get replaced with like-new clones of themselves and their old selves get suffocated and buried in the woods.  The cloning tech isn’t quite so refined so Miles experiences something like Total Recall’s schizoid embolism–instead of killing Miles’ older self, he wakes up in a shallow grave and must confront his new, cloned self.

This all plays out like another Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Twins, with old Miles left to forge ahead with his stale, unrefined DNA and new Miles “cleaned” and ready to conquer the world.  But this is just in the first half hour.  If you stay around for all eight episodes (and Rudd is fun playing two characters, so why not?), expect to catch scenes straight out of Multiplicity, Gattaca, Rachel Rising, The Last Jedi, Harry Potter, even Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and more.  Rudd’s performance in dual roles is done so much in the actor’s laid back style that the double duty goes unnoticed, seamlessly, until the two halves confront each other in the season finale.  It’s not that kind of complex, award-winning visual effects work we saw from Tatiana Maslany as a dozen-plus characters in Orphan Black, but it doesn’t need to be.  The series hits on the classic internal struggle of man versus self, but this is first and foremost a comedy.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the criticisms so far into the third trilogy of Star Wars movies (the third and finale episode, The Rise of Skywalker, is due out this December) is not making the most of the original cast.  This seems to go double with fan expectations for Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.  This is not some fault of fandom, it’s how Lucasfilm prepped its fans with great futures for Skywalker and his family, delivered via Timothy Zahn’s original sequel trilogy and then decades of brilliant stories via Dark Horse Comics.  There you’d find Luke Skywalker, grown into the role of Jedi Master, was everything you’d want from the hero we met in the movies.  Now fans can see that future in a History channel series streaming on Netflix, if they only bring along a little imagination.  That series is Knightfall.

The series follows a re-imagined history of the Knights Templar at the dawn of the 14th century.  If you ignore the historicity, good or bad, and see the film as a fantasy tale of knights in conflict and knights in training, you can see why the Jedi Knights were derived from these historic figures.  The Star Wars influence comes full circle as Mark Hamill himself joins the cast as a master knight named Talus in Season 2.  Here is that very same Luke Skywalker as you might have imagined him from Zahn and Dark Horse’s storytelling, war-weary and battle hardened, as he storms his way into the tale, leading and training knights, sometimes Mr. Miyagi style, sometimes with swords, sometimes with surprising methods.  Tilt your head a bit, cover one eye–do what you need to do–but some of Luke Skywalker’s best scenes as a Jedi Knight are in this series.  The very best is Talus’s final scene.  Mark Hamill, and Luke Skywalker, never were cooler than in his final conflict on the series.

Fantasy emphasis over history aside, for those students of the Middle Ages you’ll find a mix of truth and cinema twisted for story purposes, but overall this is that series about knights and swords, the Pope and the twisted King (they’re all twisted, always) and the beautiful Queen that you’re looking for.  The story follows hero Tom Cullen (The Five, Downton Abbey) as Landry, a wise but conflicted Knight Templar, whose band of trusted brothers botch protecting the Holy Grail, the same biblical cup so many medieval tales are based upon, but more of a McGuffin for this version of the tale.  Landry’s band of knights, Pádraic Delaney (The Tudors) as Gawain, and Simon Merrells (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Ashes to Ashes) as one of the best knights you’ve seen onscreen as Tancrede lead viewers from enough intrigue to keep them coming back for more.  Olivia Ross (War & Peace) is particularly engaging as Queen Joan, one of the only women characters in the series, and Jim Carter (Downton Abbey) is great fun to watch as the regal yet conniving Pope Boniface VIII.  Of the bad guys, you’ll love to hate Ed Stoppard (Zen, The Frankenstein Chronicles) as King Philip (again, all kings are bad), and Julian Ovenden (Downton Abbey, Charmed) as his on-again, off-again confidante and henchman.  As Cullen’s Landry and the Queen of France fall in love, how both the knight order and the King handle the aftermath is the conflict that plays out over 18 episodes, with the backdrop of a coming battle between France and England beckoning.

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The end is near.  At Star Wars Celebration in Chicago today, director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy revealed the title and first teaser for Star Wars Episode IX in a panel hosted by late night TV host Stephen Colbert.  The past returns in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, confirming for many that Abrams is taking a turn from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, including literally mending some of the changes from occurred in that episode of the Star Wars saga.

And this last chapter in the Skywalker family story has plenty of surprises, even in a short teaser.

Check it out, and the seven notable moments we see:

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Lines for Friday guests started early on the opening day of Planet Comicon Kansas City 2019.  Today is expected to be the biggest day of this year’s show, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.  The event is open today and tomorrow at the Kansas City Convention Center.  A big plus for the tens of thousands of parkers today: no NCAA Final Four game is scheduled today, so parking east of the convention center should be freed up for the convention’s annual biggest attended day.

In part because of the 20th anniversary, and because of the great slate of celebrity and creator guests this year, Comicon Friday by all counts seemed to be better attended than a typical Friday at a pop culture convention.  That didn’t stop us from tracking down some actors from TV and film.

Like Henry Winkler, visiting Kansas City this weekend with his lovely wife of 41 years, Stacey.  Winkler, who became a household name in the 1970s and 1980s as Fonzie on Happy Days and as co-star of Night Shift (followed by more than a hundred starring and guest-starring roles in TV and film since), never sat down, graciously greeting everyone who stood in line to meet him, he chatted with adoring fans, signing autographs, and posing with fans for photographs.

John Wesley Shipp became a familiar face in the 1980s on Guiding Light, and then became the star of the first modern superhero TV series in 1990, portraying Barry Allen on The Flash.  He went on to star and co-star on several series over the past 30 years and has a legion of fans on social media.  Most recently fans of the superhero genre saw him portray not only the father of Barry Allen on the CW’s The Flash, Shipp also returned as the Flash that he portrayed in 1990 in the new series last season–fulfilling the dream of those who loved the original show.

We enjoyed talking about his favorite character as a kid (he wanted to be Luke), the weight of a crossbow, and what it felt like to be one of the most beloved characters in the history of film with Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo, who played Chewbacca in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.  No matter how tall you think Chewbacca is, in person, he’s much, much taller.

This weekend visitors also can meet, from film and TV, William Shatner, Lori Petty, Cary Elwes, Dean Cain, Linda Blair, Jennifer Morrison, Daniella Panabaker, Mark Pellegrino, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Bonnie Wright, and James and Oliver Phelps. Check out the entire line-up of celebrity guests and great creator guests like Chris Claremont, Jim Steranko, Jim Starlin, Denys Cowan, Kevin Eastman, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Keith Giffen, Bob McLeod, at the PCKC website here.

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It’s one of the strangest marketing ideas yet.  And it’s a limited time offer for Valentine’s Day.  This is one of those ideas tailored for Star Wars fans–big fans–of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and in particular fans of Resistance fighter Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran.

Online collectible superstore Entertainment Earth came up with a new promotion, that should get a smile or laugh out of your Valentine if he or she has a sense of humor.  It’s a dozen Roses, but these aren’t the kind with thorns, so there’s that.  No, these are Rose Tico action figures, regularly listing for about $18 retail.  These won’t cost the full $220 for the case of 12 figures.  This is a deal for $19.99 total, $200 off retail, or roughly the original price per figure of Star Wars action figures when they were first released in 1978.  You’ll probably not see another deal like this again.

Sure, twelve stormtroopers might make a more desirable army, but then it wouldn’t be a dozen Roses, would it?  And if you don’t have a Valentine who’d appreciate it, buy a case for $19.99 and hand them out at your shop, at your booth at conventions, or give them out as part of your Secret Valentines.  The character of Rose Tico stands for bravery and devotion to her cause and her friends, and might make a good desk totem as a reminder.

The only place to get the $19.99 deal is at this link at Entertainment Earth.  If you’re up for it, you’ll want to act fast as this deal is expected to sell out.

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Last night the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films held the 44th annual Saturn Awards, honoring the best in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other genres, held in Burbank, California.  Coming into last night’s presentation, Black Panther was nominated in 14 categories, Star Wars: The Last Jedi was nominated in 13 categories, and Blade Runner 2049 and The Shape of Water were each nominated in nine categories.  In television, The Walking Dead led the nominations with seven, followed by Star Trek: Discovery with five.  You can never predict who and what will win at the Saturn Awards, but you can be sure they will be very fandom-centric picks.

Black Panther led the night with four wins, for Best Comic-to-Motion Picture Release, Best Director (Ryan Coogler), Best Supporting Actress (Danai Gurira), and Best Make-up.  Star Wars: The Last Jedi followed with three wins, for Best Actor (Mark Hamill), Best Writing, and Best Editing.  In television, because of the Awards’ split between traditional TV shows and streaming shows, the expected suspects came out on top: The Flash and Marvel’s The Punisher as best superhero shows, and The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery each winning awards.  But the most wins was a tie, with three awards each for Better Call Saul and Twin Peaks: The Return.

Here are all the winners and nominees:

Movie Awards

Best Comic-to-Motion Picture Release
Winner:  Black Panther
Nominees:
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Logan
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Thor: Ragnarok
Wonder Woman

Best Science Fiction Film Release
Winner:  Blade Runner 2049
Nominees:
Alien: Covenant
Life
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
War for the Planet of the Apes

Best Fantasy Film Release
Winner:  The Shape of Water
Nominees:
Beauty and the Beast
Downsizing
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Kong: Skull Island
Paddington 2

Best Horror Film Release
Winner: Get Out
Nominees:
47 Meters Down
Annabelle: Creation
Better Watch Out
It
Mother!

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The beginning of a new film references the scope of the success of the Muppets: In 1978 the Muppets were seen weekly by more than 235 million people in more than 102 countries, and Time Magazine called them “the most popular entertainment on Earth.”  Created by Jim Henson in 1955 and starring in Sesame Street, in feature films, and in animated films, the Muppets endure to this day.  Regularly returning on television and in movies, they continue to entertain and educate young and old alike.  Frank Oz, the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and Sam the Eagle, Aughra and Chamberlain in The Dark Crystal, and the performer and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and director of countless other films), has produced and directed a new film with four other original Muppet performers to recount the development–and fun–of working in their timeless fantasy world.

Feeling like an informal dinner party among old friends, but even more like the first hour of a 12-part series, Muppet Guys Talking–Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, is a wonderful, cheery glimpse at life working with Jim Henson, who Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz says “wanted to make a better world.”  Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, the film will be available for fans everywhere for the first time next week at MuppetGuysTalking.comFrank Oz brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Floyd, and Gobo Fraggle; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh; and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.  Along with providing insight into Muppet mastermind Jim Henson, the “Muppet Guys” provide some advice on creating characters that will be worthwhile to creators in many media, as well as offering a great peek into the job of performing with puppetry.  The most difficult part?  Yep, holding your arms over your head inside the Muppets for a very long time.

From John Denver and the Muppets Rocky Mountain Holiday.  You don’t see the dozen human performers underneath the ground working the Muppets and speaking their lines.

Oz and Goelz recount major difficulties in the craft, like building a hole in the ground around a bonfire with a propane tank near their heads, so they could stand and perform their characters sitting around a real campfire above, as filmed for the famous John Denver Rocky Mountain Holiday TV special and album.  They also discuss Henson performing the risky opening scene of The Muppet Movie, stuffed inside a tube submerged in a backlot, underwater stage swamp with a small TV monitor and his arms above his head to perform Kermit singing and playing banjo on “The Rainbow Connection.”  The discussions among these friends are fun to watch, and the viewers will feel like they are a part of the room.  And viewers can’t help but listen for the performers slipping in and out of various voices–like the sound of Grover and Cookie Monster from Oz a few times when he gets animated or is laughing.  The most valuable bits center around what seems to be a shared tool among the performers–Oz developed a thorough backstory for each of his characters that never makes it beyond his own mind, to assist with his performance (like method acting).

Other highlights include Dave Goelz recounting how he got into the business when he was a young aspiring puppeteer working an office job at Hewlett-Packard, Bill Barretta discussing his inspiration for the King Prawn character Pepe, Fran Brill discussing her fix for performing while not being as tall as the others, and Jerry Nelson coming up with the voice of Snuffleupagus and discussing the late performer Richie Hunt (who performed characters including Scooter, Beaker, Statler, Janice and Sweetums).  Sadly documentary contributor Jerry Nelson passed away before the premiere of the documentary at South by Southwest, and the show is dedicated to him.

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One of the best subjects I have discussed with a celebrity was asking Peter Mayhew–the actor known for playing Chewbacca from Star Wars–to talk about working with the Muppets when he guest-starred on The Muppet Show with Mark Hamill as Luke and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO in January 1980.  Mayhew beamed as the memories flooded back and he described two incredible worlds he was immersed in–interacting with these great furry characters from television just as if they were real people, and looking down below them to see an entire separate world of creators sprawled across each other with their hands working in every direction like a giant work of magic.  Frank Oz, the actor and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, and the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and many more, has created a new documentary with five of the original Muppet performers to recount the creation of their timeless fantasy world.

Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, will be available for fans everywhere for the first time in March.  Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz, who also was co-director of The Dark Crystal and director of movies from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to HouseSitter, brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Gobo Fraggle, and the original Saturday Night Live character Scred; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Waldorf/Robert Marley, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh (and recurring Law and Order actress); and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.

Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, the late Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the late Richard Hunt, with Gonzo, Floyd, Kermit, Fozzie, and Scooter.

The performers of so many beloved characters discuss their individual approaches to creating memorable characters and the impact Jim Henson had on their lives and work.  This is all a great tie-in to the 35th anniversary return of The Dark Crystal to theaters next month (check out our preview here and the Fathom Events website here for more information on that event).  For a taste of some of the fun to be had in Muppet Guys Talking, check out the website for the show, MuppetGuysTalking.com, and these quick previews:

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The biggest news of yesterday’s Oscar nominations was in the adapted screenplay category.  Writers Scott Frank, Michael Green, and director James Mangold were nominated for their script for Logan, the film borg.com picked as last year’s best picture in our annual wrap-up last month.  Never before has a comic book superhero story been nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for best screenplay.  The closest was a nomination in the original screenplay category for Brad Bird for The Incredibles, a superhero story not adapted from a comic book property, plus graphic novel adaptations for films History of Violence and American Splendor.  But that puts Logan–an X-Men story starring Wolverine and a film that was the pinnacle of the Marvel franchise–right where it belongs, a film on equal footing with classic screenplay nominees featuring strong character development, including the likes of High Noon, Citizen Kane, Rocky, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Shane, The Grapes of Wrath, Sergeant York, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  The writers adapted their story from no specific Marvel Comic series, instead pulling together ideas from several series, citing Craig Kyle’s X-23 series as a key influence.  Unfortunately actors Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart did not receive a nomination in the acting categories.

But the progress of Oscar doesn’t stop with Logan.  A creature feature, the supernatural fantasy The Shape of Water took a whopping 13 nominations, including best picture, best director (Guillermo del Toro), and best actress (Sally Hawkins) and supporting actor (Richard Jenkins).  Get Out, which is something more than just a horror genre movie (that also made our top list), is nominated for four Oscars, including three for first-time director Jordan Peele, for best picture, best director, and best screenplay.  That’s one heck of an introduction to Hollywood, and ties Peele for the record of most nominations in a single year (along with Warren Beatty for Heaven Can Wait and James L. Brooks, who went on to win all three categories for Terms of Endearment).   The film’s lead actor Daniel Kaluuya will be a big contender for the top spot in the best actor category.

Another film we loved, the riveting historical drama The Post (sometimes historical dramas get it right), received two nominations, including nods for best picture and actress Meryl Streep‘s compelling performance (her 21st nomination, breaking her own record for most nominated actor of all time), but unfortunately Oscar ignored one of the best Tom Hanks performances of his career and Liz Hannah’s exceptional screenplay.   For one of the four nominations for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the beloved composer John Williams garnered his 51st Oscar nomination (he’s won five) for best score, besting his own record and hot on the heels of Walt Disney for most nominations ever (Disney was nominated 59 times).  But was this a missed opportunity, when even Williams seemed impressed with himself for the unique work he’d created for his striking soundtrack for The Post?  As he told Variety in a recent interview, “I’ve never done anything quite like it.  There are three or four montages—the press-rolling montage, the extended review of the former presidents, waiting for Justice Black’s decision—with various degrees of intensity, speed and the like.”  In our borg.com review we correctly predicted nominations for best picture and sound for the war genre movie Dunkirk, which was nominated for eight Oscars, including best picture and best director (Christopher Nolan).  Hans Zimmer was nominated for his musical score, which was key to the film’s success.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new book takes a look behind the scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Abrams Books’ The Art of Star Wars: The Last JediAs with the prior entries in its series: The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Art of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it reflects fascinating and interesting images from the film, plus commentary and interviews from director Rian Johnson and his staff of creative professionals.  Most of the concept art provides a look at ideas left behind, with some exceptions, like the exotic new animals and beasts that could be seen throughout the film, like the sea cow, the porgs, fathier horse-like animals, and the crystalline shard foxes.  Johnson notes in the book’s foreword the challenges and hopes of making his new movie “Star Wars-y.”  Browsing this new book, it will be up to each reader and moviegoer to determine if he was successful.

As with past books in the series, the book was created parallel with the final post-production and film release, so a few key spoiler scenes are not included in the film.  Handily, this edition includes a follow-up section including the death of Han Solo that was omitted from The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  So a few elements are not addressed in this book many fans will want to know about, but perhaps those areas will be included in the behind the scenes volume for Episode IX.  But you will find plenty here to interest any fan–plenty of ship designs and concept art for the film’s new environments and sets.

The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi tells two separate stories, one in the text explaining the decisions made by director Rian Johnson and the visual artists and staff, and the second via the concept artwork that was translated to the screen and the artwork left behind.  The book lists 77 creators behind the backgrounds, landscapes, sets, vehicles, props, and costume designs.  It will take the reader who has seen the film five minutes of flipping through the book to realize it is Jock’s final character rendering work that is seen in the final cut of the film that landed in theaters: Old Luke’s fantastic island garb, Rey’s updated costumes, Rose’s and the Resistance’s uniforms, DJ and Leia’s costumes.  Really all the great, final designs that made it to the screen for the main cast came from the pen and paint of Jock.  But for whatever reason Jock was not interviewed for the book.  What were his influences?  Why this or that design?  It’s unfortunate because it really looks like Jock’s designs for Oliver Queen in his Green Arrow: Year One series directly influenced his designs for Old Jedi Master Luke and that would have been great to learn.

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