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It’s that step after you’ve exhausted all of the Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger horror flicks.  It’s in the camp of horror with The Ring, The Grudge, and Urban Legend, and maybe even When a Stranger Calls.  This one is another take on the Bloody Mary legend (or is it Beetlejuice?).  It’s, of course, Candyman, the horror that first saw a young Tony Todd as the creepy villain from the mind of famed horror writer Clive Barker, all of 28 years ago.

We now have a first trailer for a sequel to the 1992 cult horror film, again called Candyman The big news is it’s coming from producer Jordan Peele and director Nia DaCosta, and because of Oscar-winner Peele (Get Out, The Twilight Zone) it stands a better chance at getting noticed from the ordinary slasher film fare.

It also seems to have greater credibility because Tony Todd is back in at least some role in the film, giving the perception that he’s given this sequel his own seal of approval, which is good for fans of the original Candyman.  Todd starred in the first film with Virginia Madsen (Swamp Thing, Monk, Dune) and Ted Raimi (Twin Peaks, Ash vs Evil Dead), before he became well known for roles in Chuck, The Crow, The Flash, The Orville, The X-Files, the Final Destination series, and several Star Trek series.

Wait–there’s no candy here.  How many times will “say my name” be the theme of 21st century movie?  We’ll pass on the red band trailer for this one.  But here’s the green band–yet still blood, bug, hook, and scare-filled–trailer for the new Candyman:

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What’s going on at Mystery Mansion?  Scooby-Doo and the Gang are ready to find out.  You can take on the roles of the Mystery Inc. Gang in a new board game coming soon from Avalon Hill.  Based on the game maker’s award-winning Betrayal at House on the Hill board game, the newly developed Scooby Doo! Betrayal at Mystery Mansion lets you become Scoob, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, or Fred and explore a mansion and its grounds, finding clues, encountering strange occurrences, and maybe even catch site of a monster.  Ruh roh!

Offering 25 haunts based on popular Scooby-Doo episodes and movies, just like the show you collect Clues to learn what’s really going on.  That’s when the Haunt starts, and one player will switch sides to play the role of a never-before-seen monster… or maybe a ghost?  Will you be able to stop it before it carries out its sinister plan?

Scooby-Doo! Betrayal at Mystery Mansion is designed for 3-5 players (25-50 minutes play time), and designed so every time you play it’s new–the Betrayal at House on the Hill rules have been modified for family night fun (ages 8+)–allowing for lots of repeat play.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The latest Aliens novel will come as a surprise to fans of the Alien franchise and tie-in novels.  More of a video game tie-in than an outer space/sci-fi/horror tale, Aliens: Phalanx finds its confrontation with the gloss black, spike-tailed Xenomorphs on a planet much like audiences saw in the sister series, Predators, where individuals are plucked from across the universe and dropped on an undeveloped planet to survive being hunted by that franchise’s title creatures.  Like something out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, or the tie-in novels for Warcraft, Tomb Raider, or Gears of War, readers meet up with members of a pre-industrial culture fighting for survival.  Aliens: Phalanx arrives in stores everywhere today and is available to order here at Amazon.

Literally a society on the run, locals must strategize their movements to get from place to place, actually living among the Xenomorphs that they not surprisingly refer to as “demons.”  Writer Scott Sigler details in more than 500 pages–the longest Alien tie-in yet–his characters’ journey, all toward the ends of touching back into more of the familiarity of the Alien universe.  The conceit of the films is that humans could stand any chance against the Xenomorphs.  Readers’ suspension of disbelief will be pressed even further here, when those being asked to survive in the tale do not benefit from the full arsenal of Weyland/Yutani’s corporate-backed armament as found in the Aliens movie and prior stories.

Billed as a “medieval” tale, Aliens: Phalanx is probably more about “going medieval,” survival in the modern sense, more than anything that touches on the actual Middle Ages (as a historian I wouldn’t have guessed the Middle Ages presence here over, say, an early North or Latin America construct).  In fact, without the title and cover art, for most of the novel readers wouldn’t know they were reading an Aliens universe story.  The environment, the worldbuilding, the culture, the lack of naming convention all lend the book to have been readily adapted to an alien world of any sci-fi franchise, or even something like Cowboys and Aliens, as the vibe is more something out of S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk–primitive culture but not so primitive antagonists in a horrifying, primal bid for survival.

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Super7, the toy company known for its wide variety of action figure licenses and its retro Kenner style carded, 3.75-inch action figures, greatly surpassed its delivery at last year’s Toy Fair (shown here and here) by bring hundreds of prototype figures, card back mock-ups, and final versions to New York Toy Fair 2020 this past weekend.  More than the typical sneak peek, Super7 previewed a huge variety of action figure cards for its ReAction line, with pre-ordering forecasted for later this year and some items available now here at Amazon.

New action figure licenses at the show include Army of Darkness, An American Werewolf in London, Aliens, Andre the Giant, Back to the Future II, Knight Rider, The Munsters, Archie, Red Dawn, Beavis and Butt-Head, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Son of Frankenstein, Spongebob Squarepants, Halloween II, and a new line of NBA All Stars.  Bands with new figures seen for the first time in the Super7 line include RUN DMC, Notorious B.I.G., and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

Plus past figure lines will see more additions this year.  Those include Universal Studios Monsters, Peanuts, several Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Nightmare Before Christmas, lots of Transformers, Toxic Crusader, Thundercats, Ghost, Misfits, Mars Attacks, Alien, Chucky, and Robocop, and Super7 displayed several final figures this weekend that were previewed last year here at borg, including They Live, Teen Wolf, Major League Baseball All Stars, MLB Mascots, and characters from the Rocky movie series.

Take a look at close-up views of just a sampling of the action figures on display at this year’s event:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Watching the incredible award-winning Netflix series Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the seamless visuals and storytelling can’t prepare viewers for the amount of detailed craftsmanship required to create the series (which was our pick for Best TV Series, Best New Limited TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, and Best TV Soundtrack in our year-end wrap-up last year here at borg).  It was far more involved than any other live-action project, CGI production, or animated series, and that feat is what Daniel Wallace’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance–Inside the Epic Return to Thra is all about.

Like in Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making Solo: A Star Wars Story (a diary of sorts of the making of that film reviewed here), creating this level of rich behind the scenes account for such a complex production benefits from being assembled during the development and execution of the series.  This is a complete story that begins where Caseen Gaines’ compelling The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History (reviewed here) ends, taking readers from 1982 into the development of Thra’s expanded universe of books, comics, and online resources, all waiting to be combined together to inspire and become the Netflix series.

But the biggest thing not found on the screen–the thing that glues together the book and process behind the series–is the imagination, influence, and contributions of Brian Froud.  Readers will find hardly a page of this volume without a key concept design personally envisioned, painted, or sketched by Froud, the visionary behind the look of the original The Dark Crystal film.

And that explains why the series feels so faithful to Henson’s original film.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Only mere seconds into Farmageddonthe next big production from frequent Oscar-winner and stop-motion pioneer Aardman Animations–and viewers will feel the pangs of their favorite classic Steven Spielberg movies, complete with a magical score that has all the beats of a John Williams-esque adventure, thanks to composer Tom Howe.  This is a return to the lovable Aardman underdog Shaun the Sheep, star of several series and films who we last saw on the big screen in 2015’s Shaun the Sheep movie.  But this time our lovable wooly hero encounters an alien visitor and the resulting effort by directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan with writers Jon Brown, Mark Burton, and Nick Park may be Aardman’s most effective, most lovable, and most far-reaching crowd-pleaser to date.  A direct-to-Netflix presentation, it also stands a chance at being a contender for best full-length animated film at next year’s Oscars.

Shaun the Sheep steps in for Spielberg’s Elliott in this modern close encounter with a lovable extra-terrestrial named Lu-la, so adorable that she may even make Baby Yoda go “awww.”  The impeccable stop-motion animation viewers expect from Aardman is here, as well as the cast of endearing anthropomorphic farm animals, but the heartfelt story, unthinkably successful chemistry between clay characters, exquisite visual effects, lighting, and cinematography, and an emotional score make for a triumph of sci-fi and family storytelling, proving a common language is not necessary to understand relationships between someone that might be a bit different.  Here that’s a sheep and an alien, but the story is effective enough that kids (and attentive adults) will apply the message to everyone.  In fact, Aardman proves language isn’t necessary at all–the story is told entirely without spoken English dialogue, relying on expressive visuals, animal voices, and sound effects, making it truly internationally (or intergalactically) enjoyable.

This fun new sci-fi/fantasy adventure begins with a dog guarding his sheep–a motley but crafty band who live at the farm including Shaun–followed by a great homage to Looney Toons classic barnyard antics as the show establishes the farmyard bond between sheep and dog and dog and man.  The man and dog– The Farmer and Bitzer–show Aardman going back to its roots, what first made the filmmaker internationally known through its award-winning shorts.  Wallace and Gromit could be cousins to this man and dog duo, and anchoring the film with the ensemble here again (as with past Shaun stories) instead of going off in a different direction was a wise choice.  It takes a special combination to merge classic animation with expert laugh-out-loud comedy situations, and the creators at Aardman are the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the spirit and creativity of Jim Henson.  The story is sweet and can appeal to a variety of audiences.  The older crowd can try to spot all the influences, and the young at heart can marvel at Farmageddon′s sheer joyous presentation.

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Joseon has become a living hell.
No one will get out alive.
“We must stop it at all costs.”

Director Kim Seong-hun hid the secret to the cause of the zombie plague in the Netflix series Kingdom in plain sight, taking the first season to reveal its secret.  In season two the Crown Prince at last will return to confront his father and the clan of thugs that have kept him under guard, but not before the dead evolve into something worse.  The first South Korean series released by Netflix, Kingdom will see its second season arrive on the streaming provider next month, and Netflix has released its trailer (watch it below).  Sprouting from a well-documented, mysterious plague that killed tens of thousands of people in Hanyang (present-day Seoul) during the 19th century Joseon dynasty, the series transports the viewer to a fully realized Korea of the past, complete with opulent sets, costumes, and production values said to have cost nearly $2 million per episode.  The result matches a stunning script (based on a web series by Kim Eun-hee, who counts herself a zombie aficionado and proves it with this series), top acting from a slate of South Korea’s most award-winning actors, and cinematography showing locations most Westerners have never seen, with an exciting Braveheart of the Far East meets The Walking Dead genre action feast.

In the first season the king came down with smallpox, and on his death bed his latest wife, a young pregnant queen (played by Kim Hye-jun) schemed with her father and the king’s supposed confidante, Lord Cho (Masquerade’s Ryu Seung-ryong), to seize control of the throne, conspiring with Cho’s embedded clan of thugs to shun the true heir, the Crown Prince, played by Ju Ji-hoon (The Spy Gone North) as an earnest, Henry V-inspired leader.  The Crown Prince’s tough (and humorous) lieutenant  is back, assisting him on his journey, played by Sang-ho Kim (Octopus), with the doctor who joined them, played by Doona Bae (Jupiter Ascending), and the mysterious rifle-trained warrior, played by Kim Sung-kyu.  His past was the biggest secret that was left up in the air at the end of season one.

Deception.  Murder.  Conspiracy. 

We named Kingdom the best horror series and best import in our end of year wrap-up here at borg last year (read our full review here).  A prince who above all else looks to protect his people and lead them.  Swords and bow and arrow, and early rifles, as the only means of defense.  Gorgeous, truly cinematic imagery.  Western viewers got an incredible look at a beautiful island, forests, waterfalls, bubbling brooks, palatial estates, lakes and mountain views probably never captured for a wide modern audience, thanks to some stunning cinematography.  Fog, night, and fire eerily presented among cinematic storyboarded action sequences.  The music a blending of traditional, medieval, Eastern themes, and sweeping programmatic action movie cues.  The production sets and artistry are probably matched only by History’s Vikings of the current historical and fantasy TV series available.  And the expected horror of the zombie genre–sword beheadings were never filmed so believably.

Here is the trailer for season two of the big budget, cinematic television series, Kingdom:

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The major toy companies have big plans for New York Toy Fair 2020 this weekend, and already have released marketing information for one of the biggest toy licenses, despite the Skywalker saga ending with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker this past December.  But the Disney+ series has had no problem taking up any slack, thanks to The Mandalorian, universally seen as the most acclaimed and fan-reviewed sci-fi/fantasy series yet–a major rarity in a modern era of snark, trolls, and haters.  Finally, last year’s bizarrely planned drought of available toys featuring The Child, more popularly known by fans as Baby Yoda, will at last be met with a saturation of varieties of the character.  The character will only get more popular and the toys available featuring it are sure to be the major win this year for Disney and Lucasfilm, if not the entire toy industry.  Look for the return of Star Wars: The Clone Wars with a final season on Disney+ to be met with a return of figures and playsets from the animated series.

Getting a jumpstart on the weekend toy show, several of the new toy lines are already available for pre-order focused on The Mandalorian.  We selected what we see as the best of the bunch from the Star Wars previews.  The entirety of the Star Wars licensed products revealed at the show will be even bigger.  Check out images below and links to pre-order at Amazon where available.  As with every annual Toy Fair, just because the toys are announced doesn’t mean you won’t have to wait until next Christmas season to see them in stores.  Ugh!  But some you’ll find are available right now.

So let’s start with The Child.  The big toy will be Hasbro’s The Child Animatronic Edition (shown above), a battery-powered toy with 25+ sounds and movements, including “Force nap,” giggles, sleeping sounds, coos, “Force activation,” and a removable necklace, and fabric robe.  It’s available for pre-order now here for $59.99.  Projected release date is December 15, 2020.  The gamble is getting your order in now versus the possibility of short supplies in December.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Joe Cox’s new book, The Immaculate Inning: Unassisted Triple Plays, 40/40 Seasons, and the Stories Behind Baseball’s Rarest Feats, is a fun new sampling of the biggest, rare feats in baseball, as well as some of the strangest and more obscure baseball stats.  If there was ever a game full of trivia, it’s baseball.  After 150 year of organized gameplay, it’s no wonder.  As referenced in The Immaculate Inning, in 2003, USA Today ran a study of what was the hardest thing to do in sports.  The answer–hitting a baseball.  So for those pros who have done it in astronomical numbers (and sometimes unusual ways), you’re really talking about 150 years of the best athletes around.  Two grand slams in a single game?  It’s a big deal–it’s happened 13 times, but how about two grand slams in a single inning?  That was the case with Cardinals third basement Fernando Tatis in a 1999 game against the Dodgers.  Cox’s book, available in a hardcover now here at Amazon, is being released in paperback next month in time for the new season (opening day is March 28!) available for pre-order now here.

A pitcher striking out 20 batters in a single game (done only six times), completing an unassisted triple play, two baseball versions of the horse racing Triple Crown–one at bat, one on the mound, and records for hitting streaks, RBIs, hitting a homer in your first major league at-bat, stealing 100 bases in a season, hitting .400, striking out 300 batters in a season, pitching 50 consecutive scoreless innings–these are the Guinness Book-level feats of baseball that many a player has dreamed about that fill the pages of The Immaculate Inning (the title is the name for a trio of consecutive strikeouts in a single inning with no balls or balls otherwise getting into play).

Other inclusions are more bizarre and the beasts of rules that don’t follow logic more than anything else.  Like the four-strike inning, which has happened 87 times, most notably by Cubs pitcher Orval Overall in the 1908 World Series (Angels pitcher Chuck Finlay did it three times before anyone else had done it once).  All of the stats in this book, in fact, are exactly the kinds of “freaky things” Finlay predicted one day to “end up in one of those trivia machines in some bar somewhere.”  Or in Joe Cox’s book.

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A celebrated Agatha Christie supernatural mystery from 1961, The Pale Horse has been adapted into a mini-series, and it’s coming to Amazon next month.  The series stars Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle, Zen, A Knight’s Tale) as Mark Easterbrook, the story’s main protagonist, a historian who accompanies a celebrated mystery author named Ariadne Oliver to a small town called Much Deeping (Oliver was based on Christie, but may or may not be a player in the Amazon adaptation).  The story’s title comes from the Revelations story from The Bible: “Then I looked and saw a pale horse.  Its rider’s name was Death…” In the novel the Pale Horse is the local inn.  An inn that houses three witches.

Sean Pertwee (Gotham, Doctor Who) is Inspector Stanley Lejeune, responsible for tracking down a series of murders.  He approaches Easterbrook when his name is found on a list hidden in a shoe of one victim.  This adaptation comes from Sarah Phelps, who adapted Christie’s The ABC Murders (reviewed here) and Dublin Murders (reviewed here).  Easterbrook’s wife, a key player in the story, is played by Kaya Scodelario (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Maze Runner).

Will this adaptation be typical Christie cozy mystery or one of her more over-the-top tales?  (The witches are probably a hint).  It looks to have some of the flair of Minky Woodcock and The Wicker Man Take a look at this trailer for Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse:

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