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Review by C.J. Bunce

Originally self-published via Kickstarter as With Kind Regards from Kindergarten, a new steampunk children’s chapter book arrives at bookstores this month from Insight Kids, renamed The Clockwork War.  Bookended by a grandmother trying to persuade a hesitant granddaughter to give kindergarten a try, in the style of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Kline creates a fantasy tale about an orphanage, two friends, and a giant oak tree to nudge the granddaughter along.  Addressing those time-honored angsts of childhood: bullies, advertising, commercialism, roaches, the lack of monsters under one’s bed, plastics, progress for progress’ sake, soot and smog, and henchmen, author Adam Kline assembles a clockwork fantasyland in a fable style pointing young ones to the inevitable lesson that at some point everyone must “rise to the occasion.”

Karlheinz Intergarten and Leopold Croak begin their story under the tutelage of Miss Understood and her orphanage, both fast friends with active imaginations.  Miss Understood will be likeable for kids, full of mixed-up (but apt) sayings like “the early nerd gets the worm,” “all’s well that smells well,” and “money can fry happiness.”  While playing in the giant oak tree during a storm, Leopold is struck by a lightning bolt, and loses his imagination.  Lonely when Leopold no longer wants to play, Karlheinz (Karl) leaves town to become apprentice to a clockmaker, whose companion is a clockwork mouse named Pim.  Many years later Karl becomes a brilliant clockmaker in his own right, and when his mentor dies he returns with Pim to the town of his youth to find it dying and polluted, driven into the ground by the richest man in town: his old friend Leopold, who has lost sight of fun and friendship and focuses only on his corporation and his moneymaking, popular line of electronic toy girl dolls.  He has seemingly forgotten the needs of his real daughter, who is perched above town away from all others, allergic to everything but cucumber tea.

“Some rats are evil, Pim,” sighed Karl. “I won’t argue that.  But they’re almost never born that way.”  And this is true–of rats, of cats, of dogs, and everything else. It’s especially true of people.

A clockwork fly and mouse, a hungry dog, cats’ fear of any loud noise, a giant thug, a pirate ship, and a dragon all come together under Karl’s guidance to teach lessons to both Leopold and the granddaughter at home hearing the tale.  Kline pulls themes and styles from a variety of classic and modern sources, from Pinocchio to Edward Scissorhands, from Aesop’s Fables to the Grimm television series and Mouse Guard, and from The Invisible Man and Hugo to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

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The good news?  The networks all have released previews of their new Fall TV series.  The bad news?  Most of the trailers play-out pretty flat–look for more of the same bland, dry, typical attempts at the next best Emmy-winning drama and the same brand of network comedy.  We showed you previews for three new series from CBS last week (here) for shows we think might be worth giving a shot: the reboot of Magnum, p.i., the return of Murphy Brown, and the Dick Wolf series FBI with Law & Order’s Jeremy Sisto and the DCU’s Connie Nielsen.

We were looking forward to New Girl’s Hannah Simone starring in a reboot of The Greatest American Hero, but ABC rejected the series after the pilot was filmed.  Forever and Law & Order’s Alana de la Garza‘s series Chiefs, and Timothy Hutton in Main Justice are still expected from CBS.  What We Do in the Shadows is a werewolf-zombie comedy starring Doug Jones coming from FX.  HBO is expected to launch a series called Camping with David Tennant, Ione Skye, and Juliette Lewis.  And Showtime has City on a Hill with Kevin Bacon, Aldis Hodge, and Jill Hennessy, Ball Street with Don Cheadle, and Kidding with Jim Carrey, Catherine Keener, and Frank Langella.  But we’ve seen no trailers for these series yet.

Putting aside the ongoing series being continued between now and year end, several new series with trailers now released may be of interest based on actors who have previously acted in genre series, so we’re going to run down those that may be worth at least a viewing of the first episode.

Here are the other new series, the genre actors you might want to know about, followed by the trailers for Fall 2018:

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For the fourth consecutive year, Wizard World will be invading the Iowa Events Center this June, bringing comic book writers and artists and celebrity guests to meet thousands of attendees for Iowa’s largest comic and pop culture convention.  Wizard World Comic Con Des Moines will again feature non-stop live entertainment, gaming, panels with celebrities, and cosplayers.  Celebrity guests scheduled to attend the show include Winston Duke (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War), James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek), Charisma Carpenter (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Matt Ryan (Legends of Tomorrow, Constantine), Jim Beaver (Supernatural, Deadwood), Lisa Berry (Supernatural), Gregg Sulkin (Runaways, Faking It), hosted by Kato Kaelin.

Comic book creator guests include Phil Hester (Green Arrow, The Bionic Man, Shipwreck, The Irredeemable Ant-Man), Ande Parks (Green Arrow, Capote in Kansas, The Lone Ranger), Chad Hardin (Harley Quinn, Justice League), Tom Cook (Masters of the Universe, Smurfs), and dozens of other writers in artists in the event’s Artist Alley.  Purchase books, sketches, and other original art, and get autographs from dozens of creators and entertainers.

Even more celebrity guests and creators are expected to be announced in advance of the event.

   

Wizard World Comic Con events bring together thousands of fans of all ages to celebrate the best in pop culture movies, television, gaming, live entertainment, comics, sci-fi, graphic novels, toys, original art, and collectibles.

Show hours are Friday, June 1, 2018, 4-9 p.m.; Saturday, June 2, 2018, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday, June 3, 2018, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.  Kids 10 and under are admitted free with paid adult admission.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

James Cameron has plenty to say about science fiction and he pulls in some sci-fi directors and dozens of sci-fi actors and creators to lay it all out in his new AMC series James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction.  Many series have wrestled with the subject of defining science fiction, most recently Ridley Scott’s Prophets of Science Fiction, where the Alien and Blade Runner director honored George Lucas, Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley. Not known for his interviewing, Cameron opted to record more informal chats with a small circle of his contemporaries, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (plus an interview by friend/science fiction writer Randall Frakes of Cameron himself), attempting to guide them down his framework of analysis, sometimes gaining agreement and other times sparking interesting tangent questions.  The interviews are divided up and sprinkled across six episodes of the AMC television series, and the blanks are filled in with sound bites from creators, professors, writers, and popular names from modern science fiction.  But the companion book, also titled James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, is far more insightful, showing the broader unedited interview text for each of Cameron’s six key contributors, plus great color artwork to illustrate his history of the genre.  Ultimately the book is a more useful, informative, and interesting overview of science fiction than what the series provides, and recommended for fans wanting to dig deeper into the history of the genre.

For those that haven’t encountered a review of the genre, Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, available now from Insight Editions, will provide the appropriate highlights.  The combined narrative is at its best when attempting to find the reasons for the importance of science fiction as literature and art, as influence to society, and as a reflection on mankind’s discovery of self, but it’s also fun for any diehard genre fan to follow along, agree or disagree, and ponder the myriad alternatives to the examples given to illustrate the topics covered.  The book is better than the TV series at analyzing and presenting the coverage, tying each key contributor to a sub-genre or major sci-fi concept: alien life, outer space, time travel, monsters, dark futures, and intelligent machines.  Cameron has done his homework and claims to have read nearly anything and everything since he was a kid on the subject.  His own significant science fiction contributions, namely Terminator, Terminator 2, and Aliens, and developing the two biggest women film roles of the genre–Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 and Ellen Ripley in Aliens–are only slightly overshadowed by more than required attention to his film Avatar  as frequent centerpiece topic. He also spends more time on modern science fiction films, sometimes leaving behind classic films that had done it all before.  So surprisingly great influences like Star Trek, Rod Serling, and John Carpenter get far less attention proportionately than you’d find in another science fiction overview, and the vast body of science fiction television series is barely tapped at all.

The most insight comes from George Lucas and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Lucas provides rare reactions to fan criticism of Jar Jar Binks, his Star Wars prequels generally, and his concept of midichlorians manipulating the Force, which he states would have been key to the third trilogy had he kept control of the franchise.  Immersed in an interview about science fiction his responses seem to reflect regret in selling Star Wars to Disney, as if he had far more Star Wars stories to tell.  The rest of the book’s seriousness is counterbalanced nicely by Schwarzenegger, who Cameron repeatedly attempts to get introspective about playing science fiction’s greatest villain and hero cyborg as the Terminator.  Not a method actor, Schwarzenegger reveals himself as fanboy and entertainer when it comes to science fiction, drawn more to the spectacle and excitement of science fiction roles and how the characters appear on the screen more than any life-changing meaning from the stories that Cameron is searching for.

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1988.  That was the last year you could turn on your television and watch three things: Magnum, p.i., Murphy Brown, and a crime drama written by Dick Wolf.  1988 becomes 2018 this Fall as thirty years later CBS launches three new shows, a reboot of Magnum, p.i. (with a title changed a little to Magnum P.I.), a continuation 20 years later of the original Murphy Brown, and FBI, the latest gritty drama from Law & Order creator Dick Wolf.  See trailers for all these new series below.

Director Justin Lin created a TV movie for the pilot of his Magnum P.I.  Lin, famous for his Fast & Furious movies, but also his direction of one of the best Star Trek films, Star Trek Beyond, plus acclaimed television series True Detective and Community, provides a preview about as big and expensive as you’re ever going to see, proving Lin is probably the right guy for the job.  Fast cars and action reflect the feel of the original series, with an obvious update to a modern production concept, but the show also includes the key characters: Suicide Squad and Bright’s Jay Hernandez is Thomas Magnum, ex-Navy SEAL, working for Robin Masters, wearing his Detroit Tigers hat, same ring, same watch, same Old Dusseldorf beer, and driving Robin’s Ferraris.  This time Magnum is the inspiration for Masters’ novels.  Jonathan Higgins is now Juliet (ex-MI6) Higgins (or is she really Robin Masters?), played by Perdita Weeks (Ready Player One, Penny Dreadful) tending to the lads and annoyed by Thomas.  And Thomas’s war buddies are back, with T.C. played by Stephen Hill (Luke Cage), and Rick played by Zachary Knighton (LA to Vegas).  And Oahu doesn’t look like it has changed in 30 years, with the borrowed universe of the Hawaii Five-O series thanks in part to production designer Keith Neely (and that’s Five-O actor Sung Kang in the preview).  Oddly enough the original Magnum, p.i. was relocated from California to Hawaii because CBS did not want to close down its Hawaii offices after the wind-down of the original Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980), and here again is Magnum riding on the coattails of Steve McGarrett.  The fan base is already going to be divided up for this one: reject it because the original is a classic, or put aside the past, embrace the new, and see what Lin can do.

The preview for Season 11 of Murphy Brown feels more like an improv character study performed by each actor from the original show, sharing what the character has been up to for the past 20 years since the series went off the air.  Candice Bergen is back as Brown, Faith Ford is Corky Sherwood, Joe Regalbuto is Frank Fontana, Grant Shaud is Miles, Tyne Daly takes over Phil’s Bar and Grill (original Phil actor Pat Corley died in 2006), and Lady Bird’s Jake McDorman debuts as Murphy’s son Avery.  81-year-old actor Charles Kimbrough, the first actor to say “that sucks!” on television and Murphy Brown’s Jim Dial, might have a guest role in the show’s planned 13 episodes.  Unfortunately one of the series’ best loved characters, Eldin Bernecky, won’t be back, as actor Robert Pastorelli died in 2004.

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One hundred comic book artists have come together over the past year to create the next great joint art project, this time featuring the fan favorite characters of the Adventure Time animated and comic book series.  Last year Wonder Woman was featured for her 75th anniversary.  This year a new group of some of the best-known names in the world of comics volunteered an original work of art featuring Adventure Time, penciled, inked, painted, or otherwise colored on a BOOM! Studios Kaboom imprint Adventure Time blank comic book cover.  It’s all for a good cause that gives back to, and in effect pays forward comic book creators that came before them.

It’s called the The Adventure Time Get-a-Sketch 100 Project.  All proceeds of the auction of the original artwork will go to the Hero Initiative, an organization that helps out the comic book industry by contributing funds to individuals and their families in the event of medical and financial crises.  Most of the comic creators the fund helps were piecemeal workers in their careers over the past decades or those without any kind of retirement program.

And for those who can’t afford the original artwork, the Hero Initiative is creating a hardcover and softcover edition compiling all the covers that will be for sale beginning May 30, 2018, with proceeds of those books also going to the Hero Initiative.

You’ll find some of the very best Adventure Time-inspired sketch images you’ve ever seen in this group.  Many are from well-known artists, but some of the finest works are showcased by more recent artists entering the industry.

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In February’s Super Bowl barrage of commercials viewers saw their first look at Tom Cruise’s next outing in the American version of the James Bond movies.  The sixth Mission: Impossible film, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, showed Cruise returning as Ethan Hunt, along with returning cast Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan, Sean Harris, and Alec Baldwin, plus some surprises.

Three months later Paramount released the next trailer for the film early this morning, showing more action and more disasters for Ethan Hunt.  And that includes more Cruise doing many of his own stunts.

Superman Henry Cavill is the latest leading man to share significant screen-time in an M:I mission with Cruise.  Plus Black Panther’s Angela Bassett looks to be a key force in the film.  Vanessa Kirby and Rebecca Ferguson also co-star.  In advance of the new trailer, Cavill announced a new poster for the movie (above).

Here is the new trailer for Mission: Impossible – Fallout:

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The biopic genre has a proven track record when it comes to musicians, despite the fact that it’s probably more difficult to achieve compared to other biographical attempts.  Each attempt is a bit of a Frankenstein tale.  On the one hand you must re-create the image, the look, the style, the flair, the charisma of the musician.  He or she must perfectly emulate the style of skill the musician was famous for.  The filmmaker must also encounter the emotion the music itself brings forth through the actor and somehow, via filmmaking skill or instinct–or just plain magic–resurrect the performances, the good and the bad, to trick us all into thinking we’re watching the real thing.  And yet filmmakers have succeeded over and over.  After months of waiting we now have our first look at Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in the first trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody.  Check it out below.  It’s a great casting and a great trailer, and it may send chills down your spine.

Art is in the eye of the beholder, so you may not buy every instance where Hollywood has put music stars on the screen, but take a look at just a few attempts.  They can be from any time period.  Take Tom Hulce as Mozart in Amadeus.  Was that an easier task since modern audiences didn’t have a pre-conceived notion of what to expect?  Similarly, do we know whether Gary Oldman was successful as Beethoven in Immortal Beloved?  Flash forward to the first part of the 20th century and more contemporary audiences knew Clifton Webb made a great John Philip Sousa in Stars and Stripes Forever, James Cagney knew every step of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Jimmy Stewart had Glenn Miller’s mannerisms down in The Glenn Miller Story.  Sometimes these life stories brought out the very best work of their actors, like Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter, Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams, Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens in La Bamba, Gary Busey as Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story, and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray.  The best yet may very well be Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in The Doors.  Kilmer became Morrison for a legion of the band’s fans.

In the past three years social media has highlighted the aging of the rock ‘n’ roll generation, as the architects of the music begin to pass away at a quicker rate, not only the good–or great–who died young (like Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Jim Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and Janis Joplin), but the founders that lived long lives, like Chuck Berry, and some of the biggest names in all of modern pop music: Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Prince, David Bowie, and Tom Petty.  So it would seem moviegoers should expect a flood of biopics of musicians in the coming years.

Freddie Mercury was one of a kind, any way you describe him.  From a casting standpoint, he had a unique look that couldn’t have been easy to copy.  It’s great that audiences have had the chance to see Rami Malek in a critically acclaimed major performance before he goes all-in with such a beloved personality.  And it’s not only Malik.  Ashes to Ashes and Midsomer Murder’s Gwilym Lee is a ringer for Brian May, too.  Don’t take our word for it–here’s the amazingly cut trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Ahoy there, matey.  Gaming developer Rare and distributor Microsoft have said they expect their new shared world action-adventure game Sea of Thieves to be a major success for Xbox One and Windows PC, with a Rare company executive stating he expects the game to become a franchise as popular as Halo, Gears of War, and Minecraft.  As part of its efforts to bring in players, Rare has partnered with Titan Books to publish a tie-in to the game, Tales from the Sea of Thieves.  Sea of Thieves the game is a first-person pirate adventure allowing players to sail a legendary world alone or with a crew of up to four players.  Released in March, the game’s greatest appeal so far for fans has been its great visuals, opting for a cartoon-like palette versus a photo-real world, and its cooperative gameplay.

Written by Paul Davies, Tales from the Sea of Thieves is a fictional journal written loosely in the style of seafaring lore like you’d find in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly novels, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, more recently William Goldings’ To the Ends of the Earth, and countless other historical accounts.  Its design becomes a real-world take-home prop from the game, a mock “battered and beaten” textured hardcover that looks and feels like a 19th century book that will go well with your tricorn, Jolly Roger, parrot, compass, and telescope.  The contents are in-universe, providing the accounts of pirate crew experienced years before the events of the game, introducing the types of adventures players can encounter in the game.

The tales are light fare, suitable for any age.  They don’t go so far as the darker side of the high seas as you would find in Lovecraft, but the voices are similarly evocative of his style.  The artwork is stylized from the game and fun, full color with the icons and emblems you’d expect from pirate lore.  Even the page edges are untrimmed as with journals and books of years past.

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Review by Art Schmidt

This week the team over at Wizards of the Coast that produced the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is coming out with the newest addition to the line of hardcover books which make up the rules and playable content for the game.  Fifth Edition is by far the most popular and widely-played edition of the grandfather of all role-playing games for the last few decades and may be the most popular edition ever.  This newest book is titled Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, and its primary function is to provide nearly 150 new monsters for use in the game’s adventures, but the book itself is so much more than that.  Previous editions have focused their monster books on stuffing as many creatures into them as possible.  The more monsters, the more players will find the book useful, and (presumably) the more copies will sell.  What the current team has excelled at is deviating away from that “more stats are better” mentality, and instead focuses on the “why” of the monsters instead of the “how many”.  And Wizards of the Coast continues to pull this off beautifully in Tome of Foes.

Whereas previous D&D editions would have had the Monster Manual, and then Monster Manual II, followed by Monster Manual III, etc., 5th Edition has the requisite Monster Manual (reviewed here) but then wowed fans with Volo’s Guide to Monsters (reviewed here).  Essentially a book full of monsters, Volo’s deviated from previous norms and expectations in that it provided a wealth of information (re: text) about the monsters, their origins, histories, societies, clans and behaviors rather than just their hit points and ever-more-creative ways to wreck a party of characters.  And people bought in, big time.  The stories behind why mind flayers eat brains and how they manage to have a functioning society, or about the different kinds of giants and how drastically different their societies were and how they view their own roles amongst giants and their gods, were fascinating, and provided many a DM (and player) ideas for running their campaigns and players.

Limited edition, alternate-art cover by Vance Kelly.

At its core Tome of Foes still is a book full of monsters, but the background information it provides is just as deep and satisfying as that found in Volo’s.  The chapters on The Blood War and the Elves are especially valuable in providing players with more sparks for their imagination.  There are many new player options available in Tome of Foes in the form of playable races and sub-races.  Of particular note are the new options for tieflings (a playable race from the Player’s Handbook) and the gith (a D&D favorite dating all the way back to the 1st Edition Fiend Folio).  The gith are a race with two sub-races who roam the Astral plane with their silver swords, marauding and fighting each other in an endless conflict that sometimes spills over into the players’ world.  Tieflings currently have only one race option in the Player’s Handbook, as compared to other playable races such as elves, dwarves, and halflings, who each have two or more sub-race alternatives to customize their characters.  In the Player’s Handbook all tieflings are described as being infused with the essence of Asmodeus, the ruler of the Nine Hells in D&D lore, and they have one set of abilities for their race.  In Tome of Foes tieflings are provided with eight other alternatives, one for each of the rules of the eight layers of Hell that are ruled in Asmodeus’ name (he himself rules the bottom-most, or ninth layer of the Nine Hells).  These options provide a wide range of play for tiefling characters, specifically different stat modifiers and innate spellcasting abilities.

For the gith, the playable race is an interesting addition to the game, with two sub-races, the githzerai and the githyanki, the two original 1st Edition races of gith.  The gith are structured as other races, with a major and minor stat bonus (depending on sub-race chosen), additional abilities, alignment tendencies (though again, as with all previous 5th Edition publications, no restrictions or mandates), and of course, psionics.  As with previous psionic abilities, these are spellcasting abilities with a “psionics” attribute, which allows for casting without components.  In other words, a mental method of casting.  Although many players continue to clamor for a psionics mechanic in this edition, it seems as though the designers are sticking to their guns: psionics is just spellcasting without mumbling, hand-waving, and balls of bat guano.  And in the current version of the game, which nicely balances a wealth of meaningful character-building choices with rules mechanics that are easily accessible to the game-playing public at-large, this seems a wise choice.

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