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Review by C.J. Bunce

What defines the Men in Black the best?  The neuralyzer?  The Noisy Cricket?  The suits?  Or maybe its the sunglasses.  1997, 2002, 2012, and 2019.  Plenty has changed in 22 years since the first Men in Black movie, but readers of a new book on all four films in the MiB franchise will learn a lot hasn’t changed.  As part of the release of the latest entry in the series, Men in Black International, Titan Books partnered with Columbia Pictures to put together Men in Black Films: The Official Visual Companion to the Films, an oversized, chrome, hardcover guide spanning the creation of the MiB universe and each film from the original comic books to the new movie.

Writers Lisa Fitzpatrick and Sharon Gosling interview the directors, writers, visual effects crew, and other artists and actors from each movie to find out why the series has resonated with sci-fi audiences.  Moving between images from the film, the characters, and plots, to what happened behind the scenes to develop the ideas from page to final film, readers will get two views of the films: one in-universe and one real-world.  It’s told chronologically, giving equal treatment to each film.  Along with stars Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, James Brolin, and now Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, you’ll see familiar characters from the past played by Tony Shalhoub (Galaxy Quest), Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water), Luke Cage stars Rosario Dawson and Mike Colter (Luke Cage), and the late Rip Torn (Defending Your Life), and you’ll meet new characters played by Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson.

The writers find lots of common threads with the first three films because of the overlap in creators, so look for some deep dives into the moviemaking process from director of the first three films, Barry Sonnenfeld, producers Laurie MacDonald and Walter F. Parkes (and how they coordinated ideas with executive producer Steven Spielberg), production designer Bo Welch, set decorator Cheryl Carasik, and, of course, Rick Baker, monster (and alien) maker, plus dozens more.  It’s all a nostalgic look back to some of the major creators that guided the look of Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s.  It includes commentary from comic book creator Lowell Cunningham and the several writers that had a hand in the screenplays.  From the great futuristic props to those sunglasses and black suit changes, every major talent behind the camera gets to share where the ideas came from, with full-color photographs documenting the production steps along the way.

Here is a look inside Men in Black Films: The Official Visual Companion to the Films, courtesy of Titan Books:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Is there a more likeable superhero in all of the DC Comics and Marvel Comics extended universe than Melissa Benoist’s Kara Danvers on CW’s Supergirl?   New this year from Abrams/Amulet Books is Jo Whittemore’s latest novel in her CW Arrowverse tie-in series, Supergirl: Master of Illusion.  Readers will catch up with Kara as she teams up with J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter, sister Alex, James Olsen, CatCo tech genius Winn Schott, and her boyfriend Mon-El against her next foe, vintage DC Comics supervillain Felix Faust, an illusionist, manipulator, and hypnotist.  He’s out to gather some ancient artifacts to unleash a trio of demons on the world, and he has plenty to distract the protectors of National City.  As Kara assembles her team to help, she meets up with another oldie-but-a-goodie, the multi-talented Princess Tlaca and Justice League Dark favorite Madame Xanadu.

Kara’s self-effacing inner monologue said out loud (“did she really just say that?”) makes her the most accessible protagonist of any of the recent slate of superhero novel adaptations of comics, TV series, and movies.  Nice, kind, and never snarky (and always seeming to be hunting down her next snack), she accomplishes all she needs without acting like an all-powerful, infallible god like Superman and Wonder Woman, or her all-powerful counterpart named Danvers from that other comic book universe, Marvel Comics’s Captain Marvel.  Supergirl doesn’t forget the “girl” in Supergirl–she’s cute but not cutesy, and she’s smart and has her own skills, but a key component of her character is her lack of confidence.  She’s learning, but she makes mistakes along the way, like every young woman (or man) or girl (or boy), and that’s a great way to get readers on her side.

Felix Faust seems like a good guy at first, helping Kara get her way out of a fix as she’s schmoozing the local city elite at a gala event.  But his real agenda soon becomes clear.  How does the mysterious princess from the ancient Aztec civilization fit in?  It’s up to Kara to maintain her alter ego as a journalist, get a story and keep her job, and save National City before it’s too late.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The next tropical paradise action series has two things going for it:  star Poppy Montgomery and a tropical island setting.  Unfortunately that’s probably not enough reason to come back for more.  The new series, Reef Break, will air Thursdays on ABC, with the first season of 13 episodes filmed.  The pilot aired last night, and unless the network made significant changes, viewers can expect a series you’ve seen before with rough writing and rudimentary stumbles.  The show follows Australian native actress Montgomery back on her home turf as Cat Chambers, a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners, confident ruffian with a history (aka baggage), who returns after several years away to the tropical island town of Reef Break.  Filmed and written attempting to conjure a “tropical noir” vibe, it’s crime drama in the vein of Castle–it looks like it wants to be the next Castle with a Hawaii Five-O backdrop, but it has a long way to go.

Audiences have hardly seen a TV season go by–going back to her debut in 1994 on Silk Stalkings–where Montgomery wasn’t either firmly planted atop an acclaimed series (seven seasons on Without a Trace as the high point) or featured as an eye-catching supporting character She’s more than up to the task for this role, which is a showcase of her acting showing both her smarts, saving lives, solving cases, and otherwise being the smartest person in the room, and her physicality, surfing the waves, pulling a gun on the bad guys, and getting punched in the face by the daughter of a man she killed in the show’s backstory.  Montgomery looks like she’s having fun, and for some of her diehard fans that might be enough.  But the material also seems to be light faire for someone of her caliber.  She has presence and even swagger, but the story and dialogue are sub-par, and she’s using a Southern drawl that doesn’t seem like it fits the role (she’s filming in Australia, let’s hear that accent!).  The worst feature is reliance for emotion on an over-stuffed pop song soundtrack.  The opening scene alone incorporates iffy covers of three different overplayed radio songs.

A lot, probably too much, is going on here for a pilot, so it’s a surprise a network picked it up.  Cat Chambers is an ex-thief and now a fixer with the skill set of a British spy or FBI agent, and she knows everyone, and everyone knows her, in this island community.  Already the governor is ready to offer this almost ex-con (arrested, never convicted) a job–for anyone familiar with storytelling he’s set-up as the series recurring bad guy.  The appeal is for fans of Magnum P.I., which had instant chemistry in its reboot with the benefit of nostalgia in addition to the tropical setting, or counterpart series Hawaii Five-OReef Break is also not as clever or quirky as Death in Paradise Part of the pilot fail is a clunky introduction of all the characters, and an ending that shows all the characters are all too coincidentally connected.  It’s goofy and escapist, but so far more goofy than escapist, and doesn’t compare to that instantly slick and sharp (and now canceled) CBS crime series Whiskey Cavalier.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Author Greg Keyes is back again after his smartly written novels War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm with the newly released novelization of Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  Keyes takes what is a convoluted and overstuffed story on film and fleshes out the details of character motivations and plot points, revealing the film really had enough content to be released over two movies.  Keyes’ novel is based on the screenplay by Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields, and a story by those men along with Max Borenstein.  Of course a story credit goes to the many Japanese creators’ works over the past 65 years that the film’s kaiju monsters were mined from.  If you can get past the family of humans that the plot of the latest film revolves around, there is a good story of monsters rising from the ashes that should appeal to any Godzilla fan.

Each chapter begins by pulling the reader into the in-universe historicity of the giant antagonists by quoting myths, historical works, hymns, native poems, and notable stories that make reference to large creatures, ancient gods, and the end of days.  It’s a clever tool, citing works including Yeats’ The Second Coming, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Bacon’s Novum Organum, The Popul Vuh, Tennyson’s The Kraken, Hesiod, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and Job.  It all provides some minimal justification for the constant character references to the monsters as Earth’s ancient gods, as opposed to any attempted sourcing in the scientific record with something like dinosaurs or some kind of Michael Crichton-esque twisted re-creation.

In his novelization Keyes follows the film substantially verbatim, adding some improvements along the way, like specific references to Kong at Skull Island, which merits only an end-credit montage sequence in the film.  This is good preparation for the next film in the series coming next year, Godzilla vs. Kong.  He also provides information that is glossed over in the movie–who are the people affected by the monsters that don’t get the spotlight, those outside Godzilla, Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan?  We learned in the film there were at least seventeen Titans creatures guarded by gated, Monarch outposts, many via names on monitors audiences could blink and miss.

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It’s like Quentin Tarentino bought the rights to direct a Clue remake and merged it with another Kill Bill sequel and Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game.  Whichever way it ends up, the creators of the late summer release Ready or Not know how to make a great movie trailer.  Disney’s new production arm Fox Searchlight, known for independent, horror, and comedy films, looks to have produced a clever idea: a horror film with quirky dark Tim Burton-esque black comedy in a traditional mystery setting.  Make that two trailers, both a good greenband trailer and a good redband trailer.  Check out both trailers below.

Australian actress Samara Weaving (Ash vs Evil Dead, Picnic at Hanging Rock) plays bride Grace, whose new husband, played by Mark O’Brien (Arrival, Warehouse 13), belongs to a family with an eccentric tradition.  The bride must draw a card and survive the game on the card to pass the test and join the family.  She chooses “Hide and Seek” and the family grabs their weapon of choice and proceed to try to kill her.  In the backdrop is this great mansion, backed with production design by Andrew M. Stearn (Chicago, The Handmaid’s Tale, Killjoys), and costumes by Avery Plewes (The Umbrella Academy, Star Trek Discovery).  There’s not much not to like here, except the splattery blood and gore and language that won’t be for every audience.  For everyone else this looks like plenty of goofy fun.

Some high points not to overlook are the Canada actors TV watchers should be familiar with, especially Orphan Black’s standout funnyman Donnie (Kristian Bruun) and Wynonna Earp herself, Melanie Scrofano.  Other familiar faces include Andie MacDowell (Groundhog Day), Henry Czerny (Clear and Present Danger), Adam Brody (Shazam!), Elyse Levesque (Stargate Universe, Orphan Black), Hanneke Talbot (iZombie, Star Trek Discovery), and John Ralston (Haven, Reign).  Ready or Not is directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, with a screenplay by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy.

Here are both the PG-13 and the R versions of the trailers for Ready or Not:

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This past February we reported writer/artist Stan Sakai would be bringing his world of the swordsrabbit Miyamoto Usagi to IDW Publishing with stories old and new.  That begins tomorrow with the first issue of the new three-part, full-color series–yep, the black and white comic will be in full color for the first time, written, drawn, and lettered by comics legend Sakai with colors by Tom Luth (Groo the Wanderer).  Readers will catch up with Usagi caught-up in his own new drama set during the Edo period of 17th century Japan.  The first story, titled “Bunraku,” a word for Japanese puppetry, captures many elements that make the world of Usagi Yojimbo unique: adventure filled with culture, folklore, and history.  IDW also plans to bring all 35 years of Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo stories into new collected editions.  So Issue #1 of Usagi Yojimbo: Bunraku is only the beginning.

First published in 1984, Usagi Yojimbo garnered five Eisner Awards for Sakai, the 2014 Inkwell Award, 2007 Harvey Award, 2002 National Cartoonists Society Comic Book Division Awards, and the Cultural Ambassador Award from the Japanese American Museum.  Haven’t checked out Usagi Yojimbo yet?  The humor is similar to Mike Norton’s Battlepug, or Mike Wieringo’s Tellos, full of action, classic Conan, Tarzan, John Carter-level adventure, with the epic feel of Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki.  Note: Another book is now available for pre-order from Sakai’s earlier publisher.  Last week Dark Horse Comics announced Usagi Yojimbo: 35 Years of Covers, a complete hardcover collection of Sakai’s greatest covers (you can pre-order it now here at Amazon).

Usagi Yojimbo #1 will be released in a main cover by Sakai, plus variants by Daniel Warren Johnson–1:10 retailer incentive, Kevin Eastman–1:50 retailer incentive, comics legend Walt Simonson–1:25 retailer incentive, and a two-part Sakai cover that connects with Ragnarok: The Breaking of Helheim, Issue #1, plus store exclusives from Buzz (500, Legends), Maria Caligari (500, AOD Collectables), J. Scott Campbell (color or B&W, Comics & Ponies), Mike Choi (logo–600, virgin–200, Collector’s Paradise, Knowhere), Chris Johnson (1,000, Brave New World), Alex Kotkin (Excelsior), Linh Nguyen (Incredible Con), Ian Nichols (w/Tick, 500, New England), Tessa Rose (1,000, Jak’s), blank cover from Sakai for use with watercolors, another Sakai cover (500, Other Realms), Julie Sakai (500, Dogū), Mike Vasquez (500, Frankie’s Comics), and the great Charles Vess (color–750, B&W–500, HeroesCon).

Here’s a preview of Usagi Yojimbo–Bunraku, Issue #1, plus previews of the covers for Issues #2 and #3, and all 24 variants for Issue #1, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This weekend one of the greatest American film classics celebrated its 30th anniversary across the U.S.  Thirty years later and Phil Alden Robinson′s Field of Dreams still holds up.  But thirty years is a long time, and my umpteenth viewing for Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies theatrical release for Father’s Day netted even more new thoughts about one of my all-time favorite movies.  I can’t think of a better Father’s Day movie, but if you missed it in the theater this weekend, you have one more day and two showings to catch it before it goes back in the vaults until its next anniversary.  Find out more about tomorrow’s two screenings and find your local participating theater at the Fathom Events website for the anniversary event here.  TCM host Ben Mankiewicz adds some film trivia before and after the screening–he’s a great host for these anniversary events.

Not even two minutes pass before Kevin Costner′s Ray Kinsella hears the ghostly words from afar that set the story into motion: If you build it, he will come.  From there, Robinson’s tightly written, major re-work of the W.P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe is non-stop magic (check out my retro review of the novel here at borg earlier this year where I compare it to the film).  It’s accompanied by James Horner′s sweeping, emotional score that will jerk you around from ghost story surprise to epic cross-country adventure and back to quiet, pastoral personal drama.  You can go back and scratch your head over the actual films that won Academy Awards over Field of Dreams for 1989–it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score.  You’ll find Field of Dreams is the only film that stuck with audiences three decades later, airing almost weekly now on cable channels, confirming its place in the Library of Congress’s film recognition and at the top of the American Film Institute’s rankings more than once.

It’s the rare film like Field of Dreams that begs for there to be an Academy Award for best casting.  Margery Simkin, the casting director for films from Beverly Hills Cop to Top Gun to Star Trek Discovery deserves a salute for getting every role just right.  Kevin Costner never veers from pure immersion into this new farmer wanting to follow his gut instincts.  Amy Madigan plays the perfect supportive partner and wife to Ray.  Gaby Hoffman is smart for her age as Ray’s daughter and a true credit to the film.  Director/writer Phil Alden Robinson should share in the brilliant updating the novel character from real-life J.D. Salinger to the fictional Terence Mann–audiences know James Earl Jones so well from Star Wars, yet here we get the benefit of his powerfully emotional eyes and that broad smile and laugh.  I always look forward to Ray Liotta′s steely stare, his knowing calmness, and his snarky laugh-out-loud dismissal of Ty Cobb.  Keeping with the novel and my take from past viewings, Archie Graham brings the magic home as the crucial piece of the puzzle driving the story to its end, played young and eager in a 1920s mindset by the great Frank Whaley and in his later years as a wise small-town doctor by film legend Burt Lancaster.  The quaint beauty of Dubuque, Iowa, made for the perfect backdrop to film Graham’s hometown of Chisholm, Minnesota, for these scenes.

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We’ve been speculating about a new animated Star Trek for years (like back here at borg), and it’s sort of like the folks at CBS and Paramount listened to us.  Ideas of an animated Star Trek have finally taken hold of late, first with Ira Steven Behr’s Deep Space Nine documentary, and even more recently with announcements of three shows in development for 2020 or 2021: two animated shorts, an animated comedy series by Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan about the lower decks crew of a Starfleet ship, and a Nickelodeon series aimed at kids.  Is there an interest in animated Treks?  We loved that replica costume company Anovos was offering pre-orders for a cool, purple–and screen-accurate–cartoon-style Klingon uniform. Unfortunately Anovos reported production was canceled for insufficient interest.  But Behr’s documentary amped up the buzz for the potential of the medium, especially as a way to bring back actors who may not want to appear in front of the camera anymore, via voice work.  Audio genius company Big Finish has made a big business of resurrecting most of its 50 year history of Doctor Who actors (and their companions) via new audio stories, even without the animated visuals.  Want more William Shatner as Captain Kirk?  This is the way to do it.

Just two months ago we reviewed here at borg television historian and researcher Marc Cushman’s latest brilliant deep dive into vintage television in his book These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, Volume 1 (1970-75) It is a highly recommended, monumental 764-page treatise on Roddenberry, his development of the animated series, and a guide to each episode with exhaustive behind the scenes crew information.  If the future of Star Trek is, indeed, animated, it makes sense another book is coming your way, this time a full color pictorial look at the classic animated series called Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series, and you can check out some preview pages below.

The animated voyages often represented the lighter side of Star Trek that was picked up on by Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer in their story for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, incorporating more bits of humor that would become an integral part of what makes Star Trek… Star Trek from then on.  One of the biggest curiosities of post-Animated Trek is not including the unique alien bridge officers Arex and M’Ress as characters in the movies and series since.  Both have only had appearances in DC Comics’ Star Trek monthly and various novels.  Years ago Gene Roddenberry acknowledged the costs–of requirements like heavy prosthetic and makeup–required of bringing these characters to live-action versions were too burdensome for television production, yet similarly styled characters have cropped up in Star Trek IV and V and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  With the kind of makeup work done by Oscar-nominated creator Joel Harlow in Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Beyond and Emmy-winner James MacKinnon for Doug Jones in Star Trek Discovery, a live-action Arex and M’Ress could happen.

Take a look at this preview for Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series, available for pre-order now here at Amazon:

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The first season of FX’s fringe superhero series Legion was an unexpected hit, but the sophomore season didn’t quite have the same mix of edgy, weird, and dark humor.  The series, based on the comic book by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz, returns a little more than a week away for its third and final season, and FX has revealed the first look at what lies ahead.  FX has also released a summary to catch up anyone who missed last season:

Legion follows lead character David Haller (Dan Stevens), a man who believed himself to be schizophrenic, only to discover that he is the most powerful mutant the world has ever seen.  From childhood, David shuffled from one psychiatric institution to the next until, in his early 30s, he met and fell in love with a beautiful and troubled fellow patient named Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller).  After Syd and David shared a startling encounter, he was forced to confront the shocking reality that the voices he hears and the visions he sees are actually real. 

With the help of Syd and a team of specialists who also possess unique and extraordinary gifts – Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder) and Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin) – David unlocked a deeply suppressed truth: he had been haunted his entire life by a malicious parasite of unimaginable power.  Known as The Shadow King, this malevolent creature appeared in the form of David’s friend Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), but was actually an ancient being named Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban).  During an epic showdown, David managed to push Farouk out of his body and gain control of his mind.  With Farouk on the loose, the team formed an unlikely alliance with their former enemy, Clark DeBussy (Hamish Linklater), and his well-funded government organization, Division 3.  Unfortunately, the hunt for Farouk reawakened the dark voices in David’s head, and with them, a lust for power.  At odds with everyone he once considered a friend, David enlists the help of a young mutant named Switch (Lauren Tsai) whose secret ability is key to his plans to repair the damage he caused.

That’s the story so far.

We were supposed to see even more X-Men this year.  Fox’s last hoorah, The New Mutants movie based on Chris Claremont’s comic book series was slated for release in theaters later this year, but it’s been pushed again, this time to April 3, 2020.  Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg is a producer on this series.

Take a look at this preview for Season 3–the final season–of Legion:

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