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Ragnar.  Lagertha.  Floki.  Rollo.  Helga.  Bjorn.

If you’ve ever dreamed of what the Viking world had been like, if you could spend a week in the world of any of your favorite television shows, MGM and History Channel’s Vikings series should be at the top of your list.  Nobody knows what it was like to live in any period of the past.  We rely on histories passed orally and in writing.  But it’s hard to imagine anyone getting so much more right than what the writers and art directors on Vikings have done.  The fourth season opener, which premieres in two weeks, is a relentless volley of action, excitement, and gritty drama.  After building conflicts, and the bloodiest most realistic battles on TV, it all comes together this season.  We’ve previewed the first four episodes of the season and Vikings could be on its way to be the year’s best drama.

This season History Channel has also added four episodes to its initial 16 episode order.  Beginning February 18, a new episode will air every Thursday for ten weeks with the remaining episodes to air later in the year.  Season three culminated with the battle in Paris, where Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) was victorious but returned to Kattegat nearly dead, leaving the legendary scheming of those around him–his wife Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) and his oldest son, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig).  Meanwhile the driven Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) develops a new relationship with her former lieutenant Kalf (Ben Robson), Rollo (Clive Standen) betrays all by remaining in France and the incredible character Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) must answer for the death of the Christian priest Athelstan.  And King Ecbert (Linus Roache) strategizes to defend Wessex from Ragnar.

Lagertha

New to the cast this year is Peter Franzén (The Gunman) as King Harold Finehair, a man who seeks to be King of Norway and a potential threat to Ragnar, Jasper Pääkkönen (Jet Trash) as Halfdan The Black, King Harold’s younger brother; and Dianne Doan (Descendants) as Yidu, a true newcomer to the world of the Vikings who fascinates both Ragnar and Aslaug.

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Alice Through the Looking Glass clip

It’s not every day that Hollywood makes a sequel to one of your all-time favorite fantasy movies.  It’s Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, based on Lewis Carroll’s 1871 book Through the Looking-Glass, with Tim Burton producing this time around and James Bobin (The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted) in the director’s chair.  We previewed the first trailer for this fantasy film here at borg.com back in November.

Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, and Helena Bonham Carter return, with Rhys Ifans and Sacha Baron Cohen joining the cast.  Danny Elfman will again be producing the musical score.

Alice posters

Here’s the second, fantastic trailer for Alice Through the Looking Glass slated to air during this weekend’s Super Bowl coverage:

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Foster Star Wars The Force Awakens hardcover cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

In a parallel universe where Star Wars: A New Hope might have been snubbed by moviegoers and gone the way of obscurity like Logan’s Run and The Black Hole, another sequel to the original Star Wars was already penned.  Alan Dean Foster had access to George Lucas’s scripts and original story treatment from 1973, titled The Journal of the Whills.  Foster was commissioned to write the follow-on story, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, in case Star Wars did not make it as a hit at the box office.  But Star Wars would have a different fate: more money and a bigger budget was available for a scriptwriter for The Empire Strikes Back, and Splinter would never see the screen.

Along with so many good decisions for the Episode VII release based on nostalgia (like a poster commission from classic Star Wars poster artist Drew Struzan) sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster was tapped to return to Star Wars and has adapted the film into the Star Wars: The Force Awakens novelization.  Fans of Splinter will no doubt rush to read Foster taking on the galaxy of Star Wars again, and he has even brought the title of the original George Lucas 1973 story Journal of the Whills into the post-Disney Star Wars canon by referencing that work in his prologue, just as he referenced it in Splinter.  If you missed Splinter, you can still pick up a copy here, but it’s not for fans who would cringe at the thought of a Luke vs. Darth Vader confrontation before the critical confrontation in The Empire Strikes Back.  But the nostalgia factor will be high for fans of Splinter, which was published in 1978 as the first expanded universe Star Wars novel.

Splinter_of_the_Minds_Eye

In the days before DVDs a fan’s primary source to revisit favorite films was the novel or comic book adaptation.  Today fans are seeing The Force Awakens multiple times in the theater and the film has broken all the meaningful box office records.  But the DVDs and Blu-rays aren’t available yet, so this novelization is still another way to access the story in-depth.  Better yet, as with many adaptations, Foster expands upon concepts only touched upon in the movie, and lends some insight into backstory fans can otherwise only speculate about.

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Bone Tomahawk

Review by C.J. Bunce

Writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s 2015 film release Bone Tomahawk starts as a classic Western about life on the frontier–living at home, visiting the local saloon, working in the local Sheriff’s office.  It quickly becomes a genre-bending damsel in distress/ “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” picture and much more.  Several other genre elements are woven together to create a solid, serious drama that is equal parts suspense thriller and gritty, meaty Western that rises above most efforts to make a classic Western in the past 45 years, if you forgive it for one scene that dips into gruesome, in-your-face horror.  Put Bone Tomahawk up there with Silverado.  It’s a far better Western than even the much celebrated Unforgiven.

Bone Tomahawk follows four men as they pursue the mysterious captors of a local frontier doctor–a woman (played by Lili Simmons)–and the criminal she was operating on (played by David Arquette) and the on-hand sheriff’s deputy (played by Evan Jonigkeit).  It’s a simple story, yet it couldn’t be more unique in its execution.  In possibly Kurt Russell’s finest bit of reserved, serious acting ever on film, he plays Sheriff Hunt.  Made of the same mettle as Gary Cooper in High Noon and John Wayne in The Searchers, he is relentless in his pursuit.  Patrick Wilson is equally relentless as the husband of the missing doctor.  His leg has been wounded from a fall and so he must forge ahead limping along throughout the film as he sleuths out what is really going on.  Think of him as a mix of Gary Cooper in Sergeant York and Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window Lost’s Matthew Fox is the slick but honorable, impeccably dressed gentleman barfly, who once had a thing for the doctor, and volunteers to help find her.  The posse is rounded out by the now crotchety character actor from film and TV, Richard Jenkins.  He’s droll and provides a different flavor of humor along the way.

Bone Tomahawk movie poster

Zahler isn’t afraid to let the movie flow at its own pace, and allow the viewer to soak up the scenery, the Western tropes, the camaraderie of the team as they eat and sleep and take their horses forward through the long desert way.  It’s an 1890s Assault on Precinct 13, only like High Plains Drifter the nature of the mystery is hidden from us for so long that the anticipation warrants calling this out as a top-notch suspense thriller.  Who stole the townsfolk and are they still alive?  And what is that strange music we hear in the wind before bodies start falling?  Like The Ghost and the Darkness, you want to run away from what is out there waiting for you–this feels like a ghost story, maybe even every frontier family’s personal nightmare come to life.

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This weekend Warner Bros. has released a behind the scenes look at J.K. Rowling’s return to the wizarding world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, derived from the Hogwarts textbook of the same name by magizzoologist Newt Scamander.  Fantastic Beasts is a prequel with a screenplay written by J.K. Rowling–her first–and it’s set in 1926 New York City.  It follows Eddie Redmayne as Scamander, a Charles Darwin of sorts cataloguing magical creatures.  It is a prequel, but don’t expect to see young Hogwarts professors or other familiar names.

Fantastic Beasts is directed by David Yates, who served as director of the final four Harry Potter films.  Harry Potter fans will learn some new lingo, like “No-Maj”–American for Muggle.  A No-Maj named Jacob, played by Dan Fogler, has a run-in with Scamander, Scamander loses his magical case, and some beasties escape, which may reveal the wizarding world to the rest of us.  Fantastic Beasts co-stars Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs) as Porpentina, Alison Sudol (Transparent) as Queenie, Ezra Miller (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) as Credence, Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Star Trek Nemesis) as Gnarlack, Samantha Morton (Minority Report, John Connor, Jane Eyre) as Mary Lou, Jon Voight (Mission Impossible, National Treasure) as Henry Shaw, Sr., Carmen Ejogo (Selma) as Seraphina, Jenn Murray (Brooklyn) as Chastity, and Colin Farrell (Total Recall, Phone Booth, Minority Report, Daredevil) as Percival Graves.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them poster

Take a look at this new behind-the-scenes feature for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (and raise your hand if you wish Colin Farrell were playing a young Professor Snape):

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Baskets

Review by C.J. Bunce

Hardly a beat is skipped before find you yourself wondering if television viewers who may be unfamiliar with Louie Anderson’s brilliant stand-up comedy realize that Zach Galifianakis’s mother on the new FX Networks series Baskets actually is being played by a man.  It’s the brilliance and sincerity of Anderson’s ability to play a mother character that tells you Baskets is one darkly hilarious new series.

Galifianakis–who co-created the show and is a series writer along with comedian Louis C.K. and executive producer Jonathan Krisel (Portlandia, Saturday Night Live)–plays a very serious, committed, “classically-trained” clown named Chip Baskets, stuck now in Bakersfield as an under-appreciated rodeo clown.  Galifianakis also plays the dual role of Chip’s more successful brother Dale.  In the inaugural episode we follow Chip’s traumatic efforts to attend “clown college” in Paris, where the key difficulty is the simple fact that Chip doesn’t speak French, so he can only limp along trying to understand the professor’s French humor lessons.  Ultimately Galifianakis plays the part for all it’s worth.  He’s truly destined to be Emmett Kelly’s perpetually sad Weary Willie.  Opposite Anderson as his doting mother, and Martha Kelly, who plays an infatuated Costco insurance agent who might have stepped out of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, Galifianakis is at times both funny and oddly depressing.  Baskets the Clown is real in as much as Elliot’s character is real on Mr. Robot–modern young guys stuck in a rut in every part of their lives.  Yet somehow the laughs sneak through.

Baskets Costco Anderson

Sometimes they don’t just sneak through, however.  Anderson explodes with humor in every scene and is a true scene stealer, whether he’s cozying up to Chip’s not-girlfriend Martha, amazed at all of the varieties of Costco’s soda water, or pondering the wonder of Arby’s curly fries.  Baskets’ somewhat mail order/now estranged French wife played by Sabina Sciubba, drops Baskets the Clown (he really wants to be called Renoir the Clown) into one too many unreal, and maybe surreal, melodramas that require you to laugh along at his both hopeful and hopeless predicaments.

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SMT X

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

Around this time last year, my good friend Steve suggested that we check out A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) at the Silent Movie Theater here in Los Angeles and I had no clue what it was.  I briefly checked the description, saw a positive Metacritic score and thought to myself, “Why the heck not?”  I ended up seeing a fantastic slow-burning film that made the vampire genre fresh.  I also saw one of the best images to portray a character in a long time.

Early in the film, the co-protagonist girl vampire decides to go home with a drug dealer who had previously threatened the other protagonist as well as a local streetwalker.  As he bursts into his lair, he walks by a large fish tank and gives it a smack.  Seconds later he’s doing lines of cocaine on a glass table, a mounted deer head and a mounted antelope head on the wall behind him, before turning on the annoying techno.  He sits on a couch draped with a blanket of what looks like tigers that would jump out under black light.  In the corner there is a hookah.  As the girl vampire explores the rest of the pad, she finds a set of drums just below a large marijuana leaf poster.  I laughed to myself as I immediately realized I had in those brief seconds already characterized this asshole in my mind with no redeeming qualities.  Sure, the actions earlier helped, but that apartment spoke to me clearly and it screamed into my brain “HE IS A DOUCHEBRO.”

douchebro

Those items and that music might not mean the same thing to every person.  Maybe to others they see a seedy drug-dealing criminal.  Some may see a guy that is definitely more current in his musical taste than I (as Clem Snide and The Replacements play as I write.)  Others may see an advocate for marijuana besides business reasons that has been stigmatized due to its frequent use by hippies and non-WASPs.  (I put myself in the advocate camp, by the way, as the criminalization and the imprisonment of many people in jail due to marijuana related offenses seems to be one of the many effects of the inherent racism in our justice system.  But, that’s for another discussion at another time by others much more qualified than I.  Check out Deray McKesson on Twitter to start your journey on that front or some of the great essays in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the soon-to-be author of the Marvel comic Black Panther).  I just know that for my viewpoint, the more the scene unfolded, the more it verified my judgment.

Such is the magic of great set design.  As a background actor, I get to see lots of set design up close.  Items might not show up distinctly on camera, but choices get made in the costume, prop and set departments that impact the feel of a scene.  The care that the professionals take in these aspects of filmed entertainment mesmerizes me more than most things.

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race-poster

Stephen Hopkins, director of The Ghost in the Darkness, Predator 2, and the reboot of Lost in Space, and TV series House of Lies and 24, is bringing to the big screen the momentous race of Jesse Owens, the black track and field gold medalist who showed-up Adolf Hitler’s racist regime by winning in the 1936 Olympics.  The cleverly titled Race stars Stephan James (Selma) as Owens, the role previously given to John Boyega, who instead left the production to take on the role of Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Race co-stars Saturday Night Live alumnus Jason Sudeikis as Coach Larry Snyder, as well as Academy Award winners William Hurt and Jeremy Irons.  Race is the kind of serious topic biopic the Academy traditionally looks for at Oscar time.  If the film is the great drama that the story deserves, this could be a breakout role for both James and Sudeikis.

Jesse Owens biopic

But can Sudeikis overcome his comedy acting past to drive this drama home?  Many ex-SNL regulars have tried to break the SNL curse and jump into drama, including Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, and Eddie Murphy, along with other comedy talents like Michael Keaton, Eddie Izzard, Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Will Smith, Robin Williams, and Jonah Hill.  Will the Academy recognize Race a year from now?  Murray, Aykroyd, Martin, Brooks, Hill, Smith, Williams, and Keaton have all been nominated for acting Oscars, but no ex-SNL actor has won an acting Oscar, and only comedic actors Foxx and Williams were able to make the switch from comedy to drama and take home the big prize.

Check out this trailer for Race:

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Venus_002_A_Main    Munchkin_013_A_Main

It’s Comic Shop Wednesday!  Haven’t been to your comic book shop lately?  We have six hi-res previews for borg.com readers courtesy of BOOM! Studios of what you’ll find in stores today–so you can see what you’re missing.

Look for Venus from writer Rick Loverd and artist Huang Danlan.  Pauline and the rest of the survivors from the Mayflower take stock of the base on Venus, but there’s a saboteur in their midst who’s sowing tension in the ranks.

We love writer Dan Abnett and artist I.N.J. Culbard’s Wild’s End: The Enemy Within.  The group of anthropomorphic townspeople is scattered in the woods of Lower Crowchurch as an alien threat returns.

EFNY_014_A_Main    Spire_006_A_Main

In The Spire from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Jeff Stokely, Meera is held by the Zoarim at their camp as part of the Pax proceedings.  But she’s not alone.

In the ongoing sequel to John Carpenter’s Escape from New York by writer Christopher Sebela and artist Maxim Simic, Snake Plisskin prepares to defend his property from the government.  At any cost.

BOOM! Box, the BOOM! Studios imprint for kids titles, has two great issues out today from Peanuts and Munchkin. 

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XFiless11_06_cvr

If you’re catching this week’s reunion of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully on The X-Files, don’t forget that the story of these agents of the unexplained has been going strong each month in the pages of IDW Publishing’s The X-Files: Season 11.  Below we have a preview of the next installment available in comic book stores everywhere tomorrow.

For the record, the comic book series is considered canon, and the truth is they’ve earned it.  Show creator Chris Carter is executive producer of the series.  The writers and artists know the characters and the story.  Following right after the events in the second big screen follow-up to the TV series, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, the comic books are as good as the original series and even better than the movies and the first of this new TV series.  What does modern technology, a world of the Android phones, and the political climate resurfacing Cold War Era issues mean for Mulder and Scully’s quest for the truth?  What new secrets will be behind all the unexplained events they encounter and all the conspiracies?

Writer Joe Harris, artist Matthew Dow Smith, and colorist Jordie Bellaire provide a familiar look and feel for both the actors behind the characters (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) and the often dark and mysterious settings for the series that fans will appreciate.  Look for a photo cover variant and fun alternate cover to Issue #6, also (pictured below).

the_x_files_season_11__6_variant_by_roberthack

Below check out a borg.com preview of the first five pages of Issue #6 before its release in comic book stores tomorrow, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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