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Category: Fantasy


Kermit in A Muppet Christmas Carol

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

Audiences have loved Charles Dickens’s yuletide ghost story, A Christmas Carol, for 171 years, and it’s been committed to film at least 50 times.  It’s hard to dispute the status of 1951’s Scrooge starring Alastair Sim, or surpass Patrick Stewart’s masterly performance as the cruel miser in the 1999 television adaptation.   But for annual, feel-good holiday fun, our money is on The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Released in 1992 and representing the first of several retellings produced by the zany puppets & crew, The Muppet Christmas Carol also boasts a strong human cast.  Most notable, of course, is Michael Caine (Batman Begins, Get Carter) as Ebenezer Scrooge, in a turn that is just the right balance of humbug and humor.

Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge

The Muppet version brings all the elements you expect from A Christmas Carol, from dead-as-a-doornail business partner Marley, to Tiny Tim asking God to bless us, everyone… but with wonderful Muppet twists.  All your favorite Muppets are here, as well, in their expected roles: Kermit the Frog as put-upon clerk Bob Cratchitt (with nephew Robin in the roll of Tim); Miss Piggy as Mrs. Cratchitt, naturally; and even 1990’s standard duo Gonzo and Rizzo, taking a meta-fiction approach as tour-guide-to-the-tale Charles Dickens and a skeptical sidekick.

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Review by Art Schmidt

Peter Jackson’s final installment of his screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel The Hobbit is a breathtaking piece of film which aspires to the almost insurmountable heights that his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King achieved.  The goal is a worthy, if almost unrealistic one, and Jackson spares no expense in trying to soar to those heights where he took us ten years ago.

I’m of two minds about this movie, and have been struggling to combine them into a single piece for you, our faithful readers.  But like Jackson with this trilogy, I am not quite up to the task.  And so, like Jackson, I will split something that should be in a single piece into multiple pieces, and although I am aware that they will likely not equal the sum of what a whole, single review should, I will try nonetheless because I have too much to say on the subject and am utterly unable to edit myself.  Much like a certain director we all know and admire.

Review by a fan of fantasy cinema

The Battle of the Five Armies is a really good film.  Is it great?  Well, that will be up to each viewer, honestly.  It is big and bold, and gives good screen time to the multitude of characters we have come to know over the course of the last two films in the trilogy.  The movie opens where the previous film left off, a different approach from other films in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, which tended to open with flashbacks or clever recaps to bring the viewer back into the world of Middle-earth which may have faded slightly since the previous film.  Not so here, as the audience is plunged directly into the story right where we exited it last year.

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The dragon Smaug, scary and crazy in the second Hobbit film which bears his name, is magnificently rendered and feels vibrantly alive in the dark theater, the screen aglow with dragonfire and the air electric with his howls of rage and vengeance.  Benedict Cumberbatch captures the right amount of menace and vanity, bringing the drake alive in ways that superb CGI just could not do on its own.  The poor people of Laketown would surely stand in awe of Jackson’s creation if they were not fleeing for their very lives before it.

Martin Freeman knows how to play the everyman, which is essentially what Bilbo Baggins represents.  An everyday man who is snatched up from his comfortable if boring life and thrown headlong into the exciting, unpredictable and oft-times dangerous unknown.  His subtlety and good humor shine through his portrayal of the Hobbit and it is to Freeman’s credit that he can simultaneously stand up to the chiefest and greatest of calamities and also stand up for himself to Thorin, pointing out the sickness that everyone else can see but dare not mention.  The dwarves are also a humorous, entertaining lot, but far too much time would be required to provide the multitude of them a lot of individuality or backstory.  The few who are selected for the spotlight are well worth the time.  Lee Pace, Richard Armitage and Luke Evans play three leaders of different races whose loyalties lie to their people but with widely different styles and personalities.  As with the previous films, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and even Christopher Lee as Saruman himself all put in appearances, though not in a way most might expect!

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Garfield_V5_coverA   Peanuts24_coverA

With all the focus on teen and adult readers, you might not know that several popular comic book and comic strip characters are still going strong, and available each week for kids of all ages in your local comic book store.  With the annual re-airing of the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, why not see what the Peanuts gang is up to today?  BOOM! Studios’ KaBOOM! line has several series catering to the demographic that may not be ready for Revival and Rachel Rising.

This week KaBOOM! is releasing new issues of Garfield, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and yes, Peanuts.  And for a slightly older set of readers, BOOM! Studios’ BOOM!Box is releasing the next issue of the 2014 breakout hit series Lumberjanes. 

After the break, check out previews for all these titles, courtesy of BOOM! Studios.  All these issues hit comic book stores tomorrow.

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First up is that lasagna-loving cat Garfield in the trade paperback edition of Garfield, Volume 5.  Whether you’ve read the prior books or not, it’s a cinch to get caught up on Garfield, Jon, and Odie.

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Jaws movie poster A   Dark Crystal movie poster

Funko Toys CEO Brian Mariotti has been revealing some new toy lines coming from Funko in 2015 as part of his 12 Days of Christmas blog posts at the company’s website.  The biggest news is after four decades someone is finally making a series of action figures for Jaws.  So look for Brody, Hooper and Quint arriving just in time for the 40th anniversary of the film.

An equally big surprise is his news of two new Star Trek action figure toy lines, one for the original series and one for Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Mariotti did not mention whether designs for any of the figures had yet been developed, or their release dates.

Gremlins movie poster   Terminator 2 movie poster

Other series getting the 1970s retro-action figure treatment will be Terminator 2, The Dark Crystal, and Gremlins, along with modern shows Breaking Bad and Boondock Saints.  And Mariotti said he planned to release more TV shows and films slated for the ReAction line by Christmas.  We’re hoping those lines might include Planet of the Apes, The Last Starfighter, Die Hard, Alien Nation, Blade Runner, They Live, or Big Trouble in Little China.

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DM Guide

Review by Art Schmidt

Every gaming nerd in the world has stories about their first D&D game, their first (and usually favorite) edition played, their first character, first group, etc.  I won’t bore you with any of mine (I’ve got some pretty awesome ones, though!) but suffice to say I have been playing D&D since before the hardbound books, so it’s been a long time.  My first Dungeon Master’s Guide was the 1st Edition book, all two hundred and thirty-two glorious, black and white, densely packed pages of it.  It opened up worlds of possibility for my friends and me.  We spent endless hours exploring magical realms of perilous danger and heroic adventure.

I ran most of the games, as I had the Dungeon Master’s Guide (or “DMG” in gamer parlance) and a burning desire to create my own worlds.  We played the printed adventures, or modules, and then I created my own.  The DMG was a great help in this, chock full of tables, charts, and endless descriptions of magical items, weapons, ancient relics and fearsome villains.  I do not know how many tablets of graph paper I went through in my teenage years, but I always had some pages tucked in my text books, my folders, or folded up in my pockets, covered in lines and boxes representing mines dark and deep, full of orcs and dragons and swords of flame.

First Ed DMG

Remember 1979? We didn’t even have Atari back then. This was the BOMB!!!

Having spent the majority of my gaming years running games, versus playing characters, I have owned and used every edition of the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide (except for 4th Edition, and to be honest that’s not out of any dislike for that system but due to a lack of desire of any of my gaming group at the time to make the move from 3.5).  And I’ve loved them all, though at varying levels of love.  The original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) Dungeon Masters Guide (note the lack of the possessive apostrophe; this was 1981 for sure) was a genuine first love, wide-eyed and unjudging and incapable of believing we’d even been blessed with such a magnificent gift.  It literally opened up worlds of imagination for millions of gamers world-wide.  Never mind that the book itself was a jumbled mess of disparate information, random thoughts shoveled into a solid form so quickly that no thought was given to organization or flow.  It didn’t even have chapters, but did we notice or really care?  Heck no!

2nd Edition was more like Puppy Love; it all looked good on the outside and added in a lot of things we thought we wanted, and we knew we were supposed to love it because we loved the game.  But the mechanics weren’t completely sewn together and there were some issues with over-powered spell casting classes.

DMG version 3 dot 5

If they made a Guide to all of the 3.5 Edition rule books, it would be thicker than the DMG.

3rd Edition was a nostalgic love; it was a brave new departure from the old standard but the system was broken from the get-go.  The wildly popular Edition 3.5 was a rebound love;  3rd Edition was dysfunctional and a rough break-up, and 3.5 was a welcome bowl of ice cream and a warm blanket.  And it worked very well.  But after years of fluff and bloat, the system became unwieldy and overly complicated.  Especially so for players and DMs who wanted to focus on story, but had to acquiesce to players who wanted to min-max their way to a War Hulk or Shadowcraft Mage build which everyone knew would eventually break the campaign (and the story!).

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AfterlifeWithArchie_07-0   copperhead04_cover

If you’re wondering what some of the best comic book series are from 2014, you need look no further than your local comic book store right now.  Three of the top ten series of the year have new issues released today.  With Afterlife with Archie, Issue #7, a new story arc begins, featuring the classic Riverdale gang in the aftermath of an encounter with zombies.  Image Comics’ Copperhead, Issue #4, continues its standout story of newly-arrived sheriff Clara Bronson and her son in a sci-fi Western town of aliens and mischief.  And from BOOM! Studios, Wild’s End, Issue #4, continues what could be described as what would happen if neighbors of Winnie the Pooh and the gang have a War of the Worlds encounter, and if that story was directed by Quentin Tarentino.

WildsEnd04_coverA    AfterlifeWithArchie_07-0V

Afterlife with Archie is written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa with that fantastic artwork we’ve come to expect from Francesco Francavilla.  Copperhead is from the minds of writer Jay Faerber and artists Scott Godlewski and Ron Riley.  And Wild’s End is written deftly by Dan Abnett, with artwork by I.N.J. Culbard.

Check out previews for the new issues of each series, after the break:

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LegenderryRS01CovABenitez   LegenderryVampi01CovABenite

As reported here earlier this year at borg.com, Bill Willingham’s successful steampunk/steampulp series is spawning three new series coming in February.  Starring Vampirella, Red Sonja, and the team of Green Hornet and Kato–as they all were re-envisioned for the Legenderry universe, these series follow the characters after the events in the seven-issue mini-series that wrapped this summer from Dynamite Comics.

We now have the images of the three main covers for each title, shown above and below.  Rarer variants will feature original art black and white versions of some of these covers.

LegenderryVampi01CovCIncenD   LegenderryVampi01CovBIncenP

The first to be released is writer David Avallone and artist David Cabrera’s Legenderry: Vampirella.  Coming February 4, 2015, the publisher has describes the series as:

A return to Bill Willingham’s fantastical steampulp world of LEGENDERRY! Vampirella comes home from the epic battle in The Principality to find that her Scarlet Club has been closed, and powerful forces within The Big City are conspiring to destroy her… but they quickly learn they’ve pissed off the wrong immortal vampire.

February 11, 2015, Dynamite releases writer Marc Andreyko and artist Aneke’s Legenderry: Red Sonja.

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Aston Martin DB10 - New Bondmobile

The same agency that taunted James Bond in five classic James Bond films (Thunderball, Dr. No, The Spy Who Loved Me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice) will be the title of the next Bond film, SPECTRE, the 24th in the current franchise and 26th to feature Bond if you include David Niven’s Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again.  SPECTRE, which stands for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion,” is the movie incarnation of the less gritty sounding SMERSH, a Russian acronym for “Special Methods of Spy Detection” in the original Ian Fleming Bond novels.  Two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz will star as the next Bond villain, named Oberhauser.  SPECTRE is also the agency led by fan favorite Bond villain Blofeld, which has led to speculation that Oberhauser is really an alias for Blofeld, like the much ballyhooed, almost-surprise villain Khan in the last Star Trek movie.

Although all Bond novel titles have been used for Bond films, unused titles for original Fleming authored Bond works include “The Hildebrand Rarity,” “Risico” or “The Double Take,” “007 in New York,” and “The Property of a Lady.”  You Only Live Twice, Never Say Never Again, Licence to Kill, The World is Not Enough, Tomorrow Never Dies, Die Another Day, Goldeneye and Skyfall were sourced from concepts within the novels, and A View to a Kill taken from the story “From a View to a Kill.”

SPECTRE movie poster teaser 2015

Even a slick new Aston Martin, the DB10 (shown above) is being rolled out for Bond for the next film.  After the break check out the new title teaser video for the film.

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Reptillus Maximus and Woody

Following on the Halloween special Toy Story of Terror, Disney- Pixar Animation is queuing up a new Christmas special airing tomorrow night on the ABC Network with a replay Sunday, December 7, 2014, on ABC Family, and Friday, December 12 on the Disney Channel.  Toy Story That Time Forgot brings back Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and their friends for a half-hour special harkening back to the days when franchises would roll out a special holiday show, like Peanuts and Garfield and even Star Wars.

As with Buzz and Jessie’s (Joan Cusack) prior entrances, the kids have some new toys heading their way this Christmas.  Toy Story That Time Forgot features the two dinosaurs Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Trixie (Kristen Schaal), and introduces some new characters into the playroom–a set of battle dinosaurs led by Reptillus Maximus (Kevin McKidd).

Toy Story That Time Forgot poster

Look for the return of other toys, too, including stuffed hedgehog Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) and Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles).

After the break, check out four short previews for Toy Story That Time Forgot:

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Pan movie poster

With this past week’s release of trailers for both Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it is no wonder a handful of smaller films’ trailers were lost in the wake of news from those far more highly anticipated films.  Two films are foreign war productions that may appeal to war/action film genre fans, and the other is a fantasy you’ve likely seen many times before, but this time featuring a handful of fan favorite genre actors.

First the fantasy–it’s director Ed Wright’s retelling of Peter Pan, titled simply Pan.  J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is one of those classic tales that stands up there with the likes of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Middle-earth novels, and The Chronicles of Narnia.  Peter Pan has been done over and over, including the coming December 4 live-primetime production featuring Christopher Walken as Captain Hook.

Jackman as Blackbeard

Unlike most of the above novels, a definitive visual presentation of Peter Pan has yet to be made, although many would argue the success of the Disney animated version or possibly Steven Spielberg’s Hook.  This newest incarnation has some actors that may serve to entice fans to check it out.  It stars Wolverine Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, Veronica Mars’s Amanda Seyfried as Mary, Tron: Legacy’s Garrett Hedlund as Hook, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily.

Here’s the trailer for Pan:

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