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Review by C.J. Bunce

A fantastic animated movie is heading to theaters this week that your family is not going to want to miss, and (assuming you’re already planning to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi) if you see only two movies over the holidays you’ll want to make sure this is one of them.  Once referred to as the greatest children’s book since Winnie the Pooh, the 1936 internationally successful The Story of Ferdinand has finally been adapted into a full-length animated film.  It is the real deal–a classic animated movie in the tradition of Pinocchio, Bambi, Snow White, The Jungle Book, Tarzan, and Beauty and the Beast, possibly the best film in decades to merit inclusion among these cinema greats, with a level of animation that may have you thinking of the Aardman stop-action films because of its quality 3D animation.  The 32-page original story written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson has been expanded into a larger story with new characters like many popular children’s books–think Dumbo the Flying Elephant, The Polar Express, and The Night at the Museum–remaining completely loyal to the original story.

Ferdinand tells the story of a rural Spanish bull (voiced by actor/WWE wrestler John Cena) who is not interested in growing up like other bulls to fight a matador in the giant arena in Madrid.  He leaves his farm and is adopted by a man and his daughter, where he spends his days smelling (and caring for) flowers on the hillside.  He eventually grows to be a giant bull, larger than any bull around, and a mishap bee sting lands Ferdinand back at the farm with the bulls he grew up with.  They, too, have grown up: Valiente, a stubborn, angry bull (voiced by Ant-Man’s Bobby Cannavale), a small bull named Bones (voiced by Law and Order’s Anthony Anderson), Guapo, a show-off bull (voiced by NFL football player Peyton Manning), an engineered super bull named Machina, and a Scottish Highlander named Angus (voiced by Doctor Who’s David Tennant).  Law and Order’s Jeremy Sisto provides the voice of Ferdinand’s father and Jerrod Carmichael (Transformer: The Last Knight) is the voice of the dog, Paco.  Soon an ambitious goat (voiced by Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon) befriends Ferdinand as Ferdinand learns what it means to be seen by everyone as a “monstrous” bull again.

Ferdinand has it all, at its core a story about an individual who stays true to himself, beautiful scenery, some fun and familiar voice actors, a complex villain, an outstanding musical score with great songs, and powerful themes.  Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha, who directed the Ice Age films and Rio, demonstrates his mastery of cutting edge animation, with a screenplay that creates several subplots that all get nicely tied up by film’s end.  The soundtrack includes songs from Smash Mouth, Green Day, Shakira, Ed Sheeran, and many more.  Prolific composer John Powell (The Italian Job, Shrek, The Bourne Identity, Paycheck, X-Men: The Last Stand, and next year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story) offers up a musical score that includes all you’d hope for in a Spanish story, incorporating a variety of styles and instrumentation.

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We’ve reviewed dozens of books from the Alien franchise over the past six years at borg.com.  The latest book blends the look and style of the Batman v. Superman Tech Manual (reviewed here at borg.com) and the virtual world potential of Pokémon Go.  The Book of Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual, by Owen Williams, allows diehard fans of the franchise a new way to immerse themselves in the world of the U.S. Colonial Marines.  With a nod to real world guides like the U.S. Army Survival Manual this future version is interactive, merging a free Alien Augmented Reality app that readers can download to their smartphones with the preparatory lessons and guidance in the book.  The Alien Survival Manual is entirely in-universe, featuring explanatory material for the reader newly stepping into the boots of a new Marine.

The book features historical data on six past missions.  You’ll revisit or learn for the first time what went wrong on key case study missions involving the xenomorph aliens: USCSS Prometheus–the first recorded encounter with the aliens, USCSS Covenant–a colonization ship is annihilated by xenomorphs, USCSS Nostromo–an ovomorph and xenomorph encounter, USCSS Sulaco–less information is on file from this mission, and lastly, the Fiorina 161 mission–two facehugger aliens board the ship, and USM Auriga–the perils of attempting to clone this unpredictable alien species.

Once trainees are up to speed on their history, it’s time to engage via your smartphone or Surface/iPad with six real-world training missions.  An embedded separate workbook inside the Alien Survival Manual incorporates some basic augmented reality features, placing the familiar aliens in the virtual space of your own room when used with the Alien AR app.  The goal of each mission?  Survival.

Mission #1 is engaging a xenomorph egg simulation.  Mission #2 is a drop-ship simulator, where Marines must maneuver a ship onto a designated landing surface.  Mission #3 is an alien autopsy simulation.  Mission #4 is a chestburster simulation.  Mission #5 is an alien queen encounter (hint: just drop your phone and run).  And Mission #6 is weapons training.  Grab that M41A pulse rifle!

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It was only back in 2015 that the fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World, premiered its first trailer, and a rather bad one at that.  Now as 2018 approaches we have a trailer for the fifth film in the series, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  And the latest trailer reveals yet another rehash of the original, brilliant, Steven Spielberg adaptation of Michael Crichton’ fantastic novel.  As with Jurassic World, the effort is not entirely futile, Jurassic World was simple entertainment on a big scale–a feast for the eyes.  But for some of us, for all its incredible special effects and fantastic futuristic technology, Jurassic World proved the maxim George Lucas laid out in reference to the success behind the original Star Wars–“Special effects are a tool, a means of telling a story… A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”  And that summed up Jurassic World–the umpmillionth variation on the Frankenstein how-not-to-build-a-monster story, and the latest twist on Crichton’s original look at a theme park gone haywire in his movie Westworld.

Yet if every other blockbuster that takes the leap into Sequel World is able to continue forward with more and more and more and pulls audiences into theaters, why not Jurassic Park?  For those that want to reclaim even a spark of the original in the theater again, maybe it’s enough.  So what does the trailer tell us that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has going for it?

First off, Chris Pratt is back.  Audiences like Pratt movies in part because they simply like Pratt’s charm.  He has the same brand of star power as John Wayne, who always appeared to be playing John Wayne in all his movies.  Like Schwarzenegger, Willis, Van Damme, etc.  It must be an action star thing.  So if you’ve watched Pratt (like we have) in everything from Everwood to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, we’re wagering you’re going to like Pratt returning as dinosaur wrangler Owen Grady.  Bryce Dallas Howard is an equally good if not better actor, with less of a fan following, and here she and Pratt are back again being snarky with each other (snore) in a Jurassic World preview.  If they didn’t have chemistry in the first film, why would we expect it to surface in a sequel?  Maybe what we need is the return of Jeff Goldblum in his best-loved role as Dr. Ian Malcolm?  His performance in 1993 was so well-received that Crichton, who killed off Malcolm in the original novel, resurrected the character for the sequel.  Did Goldblum’s return help The Lost World: Jurassic Park?  Not really.  But it’s been twenty years since we last saw Dr. Nature… Finds… a Way, so maybe enough time has passed so we can love him all over again.

And there are dinosaurs.  We’ll never get tired of more dinosaurs.  I want to see a triceratops racing a stegosaurus on the big screen.  How about you?

Check out this new trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom:

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As the meme goes, you either think Die Hard is a Christmas movie or you’re wrong.

Although we’re not quite sure where we’d rank Die Hard along with the likes of It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Gremlins, or Trading Places, we’d agree:  Yes, Virginia, Die Hard is a Christmas movie–as much as Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is a Thanksgiving movie.

Writer Doogie Horner and illustrator J.J. Harrison would also agree, and so Horner merged Die Hard into Clement Clarke Moore’s classic annual Christmas storybook, A Visit From St. Nicholas (the poem everyone knows that begins with the line ‘Twas the night before Christmas…”), and Harrison drew the pages of the story in the “Little Golden Book” style.  The result is A Die Hard Christmas–The Illustrated Holiday Classic, a cute little 32-page hardcover tome that will fit right nicely alongside the stocking of your favorite action movie fan this Christmas.

Of course it’s not really a children’s book.  What keeps it from a G rating is a few scenes showing bad and good guys getting killed with cartoonish blood spatter illustrations, and the single use of John McClane’s famous phrase from the film that Bruce Willis is best known for, beginning with “Yippie ki-yay,” etc.  So consider yourself warned.

For adults it’s a clever idea, executed with some love by Horner, who reports he has watched Die Hard 102 times so far.  Take this line, for instance: “Karl swept the ground floor, shooting every guard dead while visions of bearer bonds danced in his head.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new in-universe book finds Star Trek: The Next Generation captain of the Enterprise-D and Enterprise-E, Jean-Luc Picard, providing a first-hand account of his family roots, his Starfleet Academy days, and his career as one of the franchise’s greatest leaders.  The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard: The Story of One of Starfleet’s Most Inspirational Captains is edited by (actually written by) David A. Goldman, a Fall release published by Titan Books.  Goldman’s portrayal of the inner monologue of Picard paints a picture of the famous captain that most fans will recognize, a man who would acknowledge his roots in France, his ambition to join Starfleet, his valued friendships in people like Marta Batanides and Jack and Beverly Crusher, Boothby the groundskeeper, Professor Galen, and many more figures that he would encounter throughout his life.

Most of the book is the backstory that fans have only glimpsed of Picard via episodes of the series including Family, Conspiracy, Tapestry, The Best of Both Worlds, Yesterday’s Enterprise, The Chase, All Good Things…, many more episodes, and Star Trek Generations, but here many blanks are filled in.  Key to the series and the character of Picard was his long relationship with Guinan, and the Autobiography recounts their first meeting.  Readers will also find Picard’s surprising personal ties to the crew of the original starship Enterprise, via James T. Kirk’s nephew Peter, Hikaru Sulu’s daughter Admiral Demora Sulu, Admiral Pavel Chekov, and even Dr. Leonard McCoy and President Uhura at one of Spock’s weddings, where Picard served as member of the honor guard.  Of course, McCoy, Scotty, and Spock would all appear in Picard’s life in his Enterprise-D years (seen in Encounter at Farpoint, Relics, and Unification) and Enterprise-E years (seen in the prequel book to the Star Trek 2009 reboot movie, Star Trek: Countdown).  The Autobiography shows Picard in his own primary timeline fans know from the series (not his Q-guided revisitations of the past), all the way to his encounter with Spock before Spock returned to the past after the destruction of the planet Romulus, and ending at Picard’s retirement to his family’s vineyard in France, where we encounter Picard during the finale of the television series, and see an image of him with beard in his portrait gallery.

In many of these in-universe books, readers familiar with the character whose voice is being emulated may find it difficult to embrace the characterization.  Writer David A. Goodman handles that risk well here, interspersing some believable stories to bridge gaps from Picard’s past as told in the television series, and stitching together key pieces of his life toward the final quarter of the book into a complete and honest view of the character that many fans would call their favorite of all the Star Trek series.  Goodman also peppers his narrative with some Easter eggs via subtle throwbacks to not just Star Trek: The Next Generation but to other Star Trek series and movies, plus he also throws in some Star Wars references for good measure.  Are all the inner thoughts just as Picard would think and say them?  So much of the character of the Picard is in the British accent of actor Patrick Stewart, making both seem so much one and the same.  Stewart would add his own inflections, words, and phrases, supplementing the scripts.  The character in the Autobiography does not adhere to that same British voice, but the thoughts are still believably very “Picard.”

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Leading up to the premiere of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi later this month, this Friday fans of The Empire Strikes Back (and who isn’t?) will have a brief opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream.  What kid in the 1980s didn’t wish he had Han Solo’s parka?  If you were lucky enough to already have your own parka, then you gained a certain higher status with your friends on the playground.  Anyone who wanted to have their own tauntaun and Snowspeeder can have the next best thing this week, their own real-world coat to keep warm this winter, inspired by Commander Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, and Captain Han Solo’s coats from the Rebel’s Echo Base.  Sorry, no Chewbacca faux fur coat is available.

To commemorate the release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, Columbia Sportswear worked with Lucasfilm to give buyers a look and feel similar to the real thing, with only 1,980 jackets available for sale for each style.  For the basic collection, the Han Solo parka will be blue, because that is what fans remember and how it appeared to most viewers on the screen (following Rogue One director Gareth Edwards’ philosophy of re-creating what you remember instead of what the originals exactly looked like).  For more discriminating fans, Columbia is releasing an undisclosed but far lesser number of special Han Solo parkas in a dark brown color closer to the original coat in the Lucasfilm archives at Skywalker Ranch.  The standard Luke, Leia, and Han coats will be sold at $400, but the special Han coat will be released at $1,980, and will include a hand-signed (Han signed?) Harrison Ford autograph on the front.  The jackets will be available in limited quantities at the Columbia website here at 12:01 a.m. EST and at store opening in Columbia branded retail locations in the United States, Canada, Europe, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea.

This is the second year Columbia is releasing an exclusive line of Star Wars-inspired clothing.  Last year in advance of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Columbia released a $400 Jyn Erso Resistance jacket and a $500 Captain Cassian Andor Resistance parka.  Don’t look for any replicas from Columbia very soon from The Last Jedi, but here are the descriptions of the four styles offered:

   

Leia Organa Echo Base Jacket.  Stand fearless against both the Empire and the ice planet Hoth with the limited-edition Leia Organa Echo Base jacket.  Inspired by Leia’s original costume featured in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, this versatile jacket and vest combination is crafted of a durable, water-resistant, cotton-blend fabric and insulated with Omni-Heat Reflective lining.  With a vintage look, flattering feminine fit, and eye-catching details—including stowable hood, princess seam piping, and gusset sleeves—you’ll stay comfortable and confident whether you’re taking on the elements or staring down a Star Destroyer in a galaxy far, far away.

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Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies has just revealed the titles of 13 classic movies that will return to cinemas across the country during the yearlong 2018 TCM Big Screen Classics series.  They are (drumroll, please!):

January:  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre — “Badges? … I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”  John Huston directs Humphrey Bogart and father Walter Huston.  On the National Film Registry and *six* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

February:  The Philadelphia StoryGeorge Cukor directs Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart in the classic romance comedy.  On the National Film Registry and *seven* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

March:  VertigoJimmy Stewart and Kim Novak star in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best thrillers.   On the National Film Registry and *six* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

April:  Grease The favorite musical of the 1970s with the bestselling soundtrack.  On *seven* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

May:  Sunset BoulevardGet ready for your close-up!  Billy Wilder’s creepy noir mystery starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson.  On the National Film Registry and *four* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

June:  The Producers — Mel Brooks directs Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, and Kenneth Mars in the classic comedy.  On the National Film Registry and *two* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

July:  Big — Okay, but I get to be on top.  Pull out your FAO Schwarz floor keyboard.  Penny Marshall directs Tom Hanks in the fantasy coming of age classic.  On *five* American Film Institute “best of” lists.

August: The Big Lebowski — The Coen Brothers direct Jeff “The Dude” Bridges and an all-star cast in the fan fave, cult classic, crime comedy.

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Saturday entertainment memorabilia collectors and diehard Star Trek fans lined up in person, and bid via telephone and online as auction house Prop Store auctioned off 400 lots of screen-used props and costumes for Paramount Pictures at Prop Store’s new location in Valencia, California.  The auction included many key items used in the production of the 2009 J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot film as well as the 2013 sequel Star Trek Into Darkness.  Paramount retained many more items than were auctioned off, but this was the third–and the largest–public auction of items from what the franchise refers to as the “Kelvin timeline.”  The Kelvin timeline resulted after the failure of Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock to prevent the destruction of the planet Romulus and the subsequent journey by the Romulan Nero back in time as revenge to destroy both the USS Kelvin, the ship where Captain Kirk’s father served, and subsequently the planet Vulcan.  The Kelvin timeline includes the third film of the new series, Star Trek Beyond, but no items from that film were included in Saturday’s auction.

If high hammer prices are any indication of popularity, Star Trek shows no signs of slowing down.  Most lots exceeded their auction estimates, and lots for key characters far surpassed those estimates.  As you might expect, costumes from Chris Pine’s Captain James T. Kirk, Zachary Quinto’s Mr. Spock, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan led the way.  Several Kirk costumes were at auction–examples of his standard gold tunic Starfleet uniform sold in lots of varying descriptions and completeness for $30,500, $14,640, and $8,540 (prices listed here include the added buyer’s premium fee charged to all buyers).  Even a costume for a Kirk double actor (an actor who stood in for Pine during stage preparation) fetched $3,965 and a similar unlabeled captain costume sold for $6,710.  Yet another Kirk uniform–a gray dress uniform for a double actor–sold for $12,200, and one of his Kronos (Qo’noS) disguises sold for $8,540.  But the best-selling lot was a costume worn by Quinto as Spock that also included phaser, holster belt, and communicator props–that lot sold for $33,550.  Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan costumes were all big sellers, selling for $18,300, $9,150, $9,150, $8,540, $8,540, $6,710, $6,100, and $5,795, making him roughly tied with Kirk as the most popular of the characters with items represented at this auction.  Other key characters represented included a Uhura Starfleet uniform for actress Zoe Saldana that sold for $17,080, a Dr. McCoy “Bones” uniform for actor Karl Urban that sold for $9,760, and similar costumes that sold at the same price for Simon Pegg’s Scotty and John Cho’s Sulu.  No costumes were auctioned that were used by the late Anton Yelchin’s Chekov.  The auction also included several recognizable production-made and screen-used Starfleet props.  A rare Starfleet rifle sold for $15,860, and Kelvin timeline chrome Starfleet phasers sold for $3,355 to $11,590.  Only a handful of Starfleet background/stunt communicators were available, selling for $1,342 to $2,745.  Static/stunt tricorders sold for $2,318 to $3,355.

Well-known Star Trek aliens also invaded the Prop Store auction.  Klingon uniforms from a deleted scene in the 2009 Star Trek that were re-used in Star Trek Into Darkness were auctioned off (selling between $600 and $1,110), plus new Klingon costumes from the sequel, some of which included helmets and light-up “working” phasers and rifles (selling for between $1,952 and $9,760).  Four Vulcan uniforms sold, including one in the same style as that worn by Leonard Nimoy as Spock in one of his last performances as the character (these sold for $549 to $1,098).  And nine Romulan costumes sold, including some labeled for Eric Bana’s character, the villain Nero (selling for as low as $732 to a lot of two costumes for $1,342).

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In many ways the spy protagonist Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron in this year’s action blockbuster Atomic Blonde, will be barely recognizable to fans of writer Antony Johnston and artist Sam Hart’s Lorraine Broughton, the heroine of the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City The most obvious change is certainly that Broughton is not drawn blonde in the pages of the comic, but the modifications go much further.  Yet, if you can separate the source material from the film, both can be appreciated for the great stories and the visuals that both offer.

We reviewed the film Atomic Blonde here at borg.com back in August.  The original Oni Press graphic novel is now available in a movie tie-in edition.  Atomic Blonde is no doubt a catchy and excellent title, and matches the violent and dynamic tone of the film.  But The Coldest City is also a great title, carrying its own clever double meaning.  In the book’s pages Sam Hart draws a black and white spy story that echoes the bleakness of the Cold War territory Antony Johnston’s tale revisits.  Top spy Broughton is serious about her job, she’s street savvy, and has years of experience when she’s brought in for a debriefing at the beginning of the story.  Hart’s art style is striking, and like Jean-Marc Rochette’s artistry in his graphic novel Snowpiercer (reviewed here), the panels aren’t cluttered with detail, and he instead relies on simple, dark lines with shadows to emphasize the mood.  From every angle The Coldest City is an engaging “end of the Cold War” story.

As different as Atomic Blonde appears to be from the graphic novel, the film is substantially faithful to its source.  You might find the differences in the book and movie analogous to a comparison of the film version of Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig to Ian Fleming’s original novel (we reviewed that one here).  The imagery is different but the author’s intent comes through, albeit in an updated package.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The downside to discovering an author that’s new to you but who passed away decades ago is that no more novels will be coming your way from that author.  But that’s not necessarily the case if that author is Erle Stanley Gardner, and you’re reading something newly published from Charles Ardai’s Hard Case Crime imprint.  Ardai continues to locate lost, never before published novels, and reprints some of the best forgotten works from decades of great pulp crime novels.  Hard Case Crime released the never-before published Gardner novel The Knife Slipped last year.  Back in 1940 The Knife Slipped was rejected by Gardner’s publisher because of his lead character, a brash and brilliant private investigator named Bertha Cool, who Gardner describes as “profane, massive, belligerent, and bulldog,” and in her first case her tendency to “talk tough, swear, smoke cigarettes, and try to gyp people” was enough to reject the story.  Gardner promptly replaced the novel with Turn on the Heat, the second in his Cool and Lam series, a series that would expand to 30 novels.  And if Gardner’s name is familiar it may be because he also created the popular mystery genre icon Perry Mason (Gardner would write 86 cases featuring his famous lawyer).  At his death in 1970, Gardner was the #1 bestselling author of all time, with hundreds of millions of books in print.  Turn on the Heat was published in 1940 under Gardner’s pseudonym, A.A. Fair.  A reader of both Gardner and Fair, master crime novelist Raymond Chandler once accused Fair of stealing a plot point from a Gardner novel.

Turn on the Heat plays out from the viewpoint of Cool’s employee, ex-lawyer and full-time private eye Donald Lam.  Lam tells his story in that sweeping, pull-us-all-along-for-the-ride manner that Archie Goodwin embraced in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series.  It helps that Lam is a fan of Cool, but his tolerance for her domineering style brings him to his limits more than once in the story.  But the feeling is purely mutual.  Lam seems to forget he’s an employee and spends too much from the expense account.  Like Stout’s Prisoner’s Base case where Goodwin lied to Wolfe to keep him out of trouble, Lam must lie to Cool to protect her, and as with Wolfe, Cool doesn’t like it one bit.  Cool has the business acumen and savvy, but Lam also knows the score and is able to stay ahead of all the players almost all the time, as he attempts to solve the case for the client, protect the agency, protect Cool, protect himself from a murder rap, protect a girl from a murder rap, keep the D.A. off his case, and somehow serve a little revenge to the thug who keeps roughing him up.

Cool has taken on a new client and sets Lam about tracking down the client’s estranged wife, missing for twenty years.  Lam is a feet-on-the-street detective, but his leads dry up quickly.  When the wife shows up at a local hotel, Lam finds the case leading in an unpredictable direction, and he soon becomes bent on thwarting efforts of the police, the D.A., and even his client to keep him from the truth.  Not convoluted or contrived as many other crime novels of the day (and today), Gardner’s mystery is well-paced and doesn’t employ any far-flung solution to wrap-up the whodunnit.  Gardner’s prose was far ahead of its day in many ways–three times I turned to the copyright page to verify this book was actually written in 1940 because of sentences and word-usage I would have wagered had not come into the American lexicon until decades later.

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