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Just shy of her 47th birthday, Koko the gorilla passed away Tuesday in her sleep at the Gorilla Foundation’s preserve in Woodside, California, in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Koko represents a giant leap in the future of humanity’s relationship with the animal kingdom–she could sign more than a thousand of words of American Sign Language and understood 2,000 words of spoken English, she liked to rhyme words, she could read and paint (painting not only real objects but expressions of her thoughts and emotions, even naming her paintings), and could play a musical instrument–the recorder.  She proved years of human scientists wrong, conveying clearly to the world that she had complex thoughts and feelings, sharing compassion, laughter, love, and care for others.  And she became famous for all she showed the world, and had well-known friendships with the likes of Mr. Rogers and Robin Williams.

Born on the Fourth of July in 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo, the western lowland gorilla was named Hanabi-ko, which is Japanese for “fireworks child.”  Koko’s ability to communicate with humans via American Sign Language put her twice on the cover of National Geographic, one photo featuring her own selfie (long before selfie was a term).  That was thanks to her long-time friend and researcher Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson, who began teaching Koko in 1974 when she was three years old.  Over the course of her incredible life she proved that gorillas could communicate about objects that weren’t present, had the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror, and further, they could convey personal memories.  Koko invented new sign-language words for things she didn’t know the word for, she knew the meaning of what she was communicating, and she was even a teacher–another primate learned sign language by watching videos of Koko signing.

Her relationship with her first cat was covered by the mainstream press.  For her twelfth Christmas she wanted a pet cat, and for her following birthday she was allowed to select one from a litter of abandoned kittens, which she named All Ball, reflecting the roundness of the cat and her own fondness for alliteration.  All Ball died when she sneaked out of her room and was hit by a car that year, and Koko reacted like any human would, with profound grief, which she conveyed in words via signing.  Koko adopted several more cats over the next 30 years, adopting two most recently in 2015 that she named Miss Black and Miss Grey.  Koko was preceded in death by her friend Michael, her gorilla friend who also could sign, who passed away in 2000.  She was living with her friend Ndume, a male gorilla, when she passed away.

Koko was the inspiration for the signing gorilla character Amy in Michael Crichton’s novel Congo She was the subject of many documentaries, including most recently the BBC’s 2016 show Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks And she inspired many famous children’s books: Koko’s Kitten, Koko’s Story, Koko-Love!, and Little Beauty She was featured with Mr. Rogers on his popular show in his 1998 season.  Donations may be made to the Gorilla Foundation at their website, koko.org.

We honor and mourn Koko, who was revered and loved by many, and whose life and soul was as important and as significant as any other life that ever traversed this planet.  We talk a lot here at borg.com about Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes, a dark future between humans and animals the writer envisioned 55 years ago.  So long as humans don’t destroy the planet first, thanks to Koko we know a better understanding may be able to be reached and even bigger steps may be possible one day to further the progress of communication on Earth and the path she started.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

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We know Sylvester Stallone more for his action movies than any acting prowess.  Yet he is Oscar material.  Rocky, the movie and role that made him a household name, earned him Academy Award nominations for both acting and his screenplay.  The latest Rocky movie, Creed, was his seventh film as boxer–now retired boxer–Rocky Balboa.  His performance in that film and the first trailer for the eighth film in the franchise, Creed II, proves he still has the acting chops, and can give as emotional a performance as ever, and maybe one that could garner him another Oscar nod for the same role he created more than 40 years ago in 1976.  And after his success in Black Panther, everyone is watching the career of star Michael B. Jordan, too.  Has there been a bad Rocky movie?  The first garnered ten Oscar nominations and three wins, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing.  Stallone wrote each of Rocky II, III, IV, V, and Rocky Balboa in 2006.  That changed with Creed, and the film proved the change-up was just fine with contributions from writers Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington (check out our borg.com review here).

Like the first Creed film, Creed II looks more like a character-driven drama than just another boxing movie.  This time Creed director Ryan Coogler hands the directing duties over to Steven Caple, Jr. with a script by Luke Cage’s Cheo Hodari Coker.  Will this be as good as the last film without Black Panther director Coogler at the helm?  An intriguing plus for this film is the re-emergence of the name Drago.  The original Drago played by Dolph Lundgren killed Adonis Creed’s father Apollo in Rocky IV.   Now his son, played by Florian Munteanu, seems to be back for a repeat performance.

The Rocky universe has turned into a “Who’s Who of the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” with Black Panther co-lead Michael B. Jordan (Killmonger) back as Creed, Thor: Ragnarok co-star Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie) as his new wife, and Guardians of the Galaxy II’s Stallone (Stakar Ogord) back as Rocky.  Check out the first official poster for the film (above), and here’s the first trailer for Creed II:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When he first wrote a Deadpool tie-in novel back in 2015, writer Stefan Petrucha was still a year from the arrival of the movie Deadpool in theaters.  But he would have known Ryan Reynolds was cast in the title role.  Either Petrucha had a good idea forecasting Reynolds voice and view of the role, or both the filmmakers and Petrucha had a complete take on the famous “merc with a mouth” from the comic books.  Either way for most of the Marvel novel Deadpool: Paws, the author gets Wade Wilson–the cancer-battling Weapon X experiment who becomes the wisecracking anti-hero known as Deadpool–exactly right.  In fact there is only one scene in the novel that would have you step out of the voice of Ryan Reynolds’ incarnation of the character–when Petrucha has Wilson bad-mouthing Canada.

As part of Marvel and Titan Books’ release of a series of tie-in novels of the Marvel Universe (including Civil War, reviewed here at borg.com last month), they have issued a new paperback edition of Deadpool: Paws Deadpool: Paws combines all the cringeworthy ideas you’d expect from a Deadpool tale.  It’s a blend of Ace Venture: Pet Detective, John Carpenter’s The Thing, John Wick, and a twisted look at Dick and Jane, and, if you are a fan of Deadpool 2, take note:  You’ll find that same balance of over-the-top humor, in-your-face-action, and inappropriately placed melodrama right here.

Whenever an author takes on the job of writing a tie-in story for a well-known character, and especially when the writer crafts the story in first person, readers will know quickly with even a misfire of one phrase or sentence whether the author knows what he or she is doing.  If you read a lot of tie-ins you can catch the mistakes simply in dialogue.  But Petrucha (who has written tie-in series from Nancy Drew: Girl Detective to The X-Files) mastered Deadpool’s audacity, raunch, snark, sass, whine, inner-monologue, repeated breaking of the fourth wall, and strange charisma, in every action and retort.  He also throws in as many well-placed pop culture references as you’d find in an entire season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Today a new young heroine arrives in the pages of a graphic novel called Scoop.  In Volume 1 with the first story arc titled “Breaking News,” we meet Sophie Cooper, a 14-year-old Cuban-American high school student in Miami.  It’s not the red hair and freckles that make her an outsider, it’s her dad.  He’s under investigation by a local bank for money laundering–under house arrest he’s trapped in his own home with an ankle monitor, while Sophie’s mother serves as a lawyer in the mayor’s office.  Sophie is ostracized by her peers at school and decides to take an internship with a local TV station in the hopes that she can learn something to help prove her dad is not what everyone says he is.  Sophie can’t help but make friends along the way, including a has-been TV anchor at the least popular station in town, who proves to be more valuable than she could have imagined.  While investigating a lead they encounter a strange otherworldly force that wrecks his car, and an undersea creature who helps her escape a pursuer who thinks she is getting too close to the truth.

“Scoop” becomes Sophie Cooper’s clever handle, her nickname (the first letter of her first name and first four letters of her last name), assigned to her by the news station.  Scoop has the framework to become the next Liv Moore from iZombie or Veronica Mars.  Sophie gravitates more toward the Veronica Mars angle–your basic teen crime detective–since this first volume primarily introduces the main characters, but writer Richard Hamilton and artist Joseph Cooper plant the seeds for a supernatural, X-Files-inspired future for the teen sleuth.

The imagery features a dose of Burn Notice style from the investigation plot, Miami setting, and locals that pop up in the series’ first 96 pages.  Also like iZombie, this is a story and characters not springing from a major comic book universe, so anyone can climb onboard from page one.  Sophie Cooper is exactly the kind of character you might see show up in a year or two on the CW Network, engaging and bright, with her precocious younger brother as an assistant she can tap into the latest technology to hone her investigative skills.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new print edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden is coming to bookstores next month, and its artistry and design could stand as the definitive version–a storybook that could be a new favorite for the next generation of readers.  Originally published in serial form for both adults and children in 1910, Burnett’s classic book of children forced to grow up in difficult times and the value of friendship to their growth was initially not so well-received.  Burnett would be better known for her novels Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Little Princess even years past her death, but over time The Secret Garden flourished to become a beloved favorite, frequently ranked high on British and American reading lists, including those of School Library Journal, the U.S. National Education Association, and the BBC.  The novel made its way into the public domain, and has been the subject of countless print editions, as well as plays, musicals, television features, and theatrical films.  Actors Dean Stockwell, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Glynis Johns, and Honor Blackman have all found roles in various adaptations of the book.  And soon another big-screen adaptation is coming your way from StudioCanal starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters.

Design studio MinaLima has partnered with Harper Design to release a truly beautiful version of The Secret Garden incorporating three-dimensional elements and hundreds of pieces of colorful line art and decorations.  A garden’s worth of vibrant flowers hug the footer numbers at the bottom of each page, colorful end papers adorn each new chapter, the off-white pages have an antiqued appearance, each chapter finds an old-fashioned stylized introductory letter, and pop-up images emphasize story elements.  It even includes a traditional paper doll, and cleverly folded paper gardens.  The 384-page hardcover features a gilded, textured cover, and tucked throughout the book are symbols and images found in Burnett’s sumptuous text.  The fifth in a series of children’s classics illustrated by MinaLima, including Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, The Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales, The Secret Garden is the pinnacle of these accurately self-described “lavishly illustrated” editions, finding a story that doesn’t require illustrations, but is enhanced so well by MinaLima’s application of them.  At two points in the story, letters are received via post by key characters, and instead of merely printing them in text as found in the original novel, the illustrators include two actual letters, designed as replicas, neatly folded just as you would have found real letters in the late 19th century, ready for readers to pull out and read as they move through the story.  That tactile experience will move readers young and old.

The style of artwork is suited to the story, combining British and Indian influences the young lead character Mary Lennox would have been familiar with, plus ink color choices and wallpapers similarly found in her era.  In this tale, Mary, an initially angry, “quite contrary” daughter of a British couple living in India that dies of cholera, finds herself nearly abandoned at a widowed uncle’s giant mansion back in England.  There she discovers the widower’s abandoned garden, and her relationships with three young people, an older girl and two boys, allow her to grow and move beyond her past.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of the original Star Wars trilogy and the new film Solo: A Star Wars Story should take note of the fourth installment of Abrams Books’ Star Wars artbook series.  The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Phil Szostak not only looks behind the scenes of the production of the second of the modern anthology movies and fourth of the modern sequels, it reveals the finest and the most evocative Star Wars-styled concept art created since The Empire Strikes Back.  Taking a different path from the episodic sequels, the creators that imagined the look for Solo took their inspiration directly from the work of Ralph McQuarrie (original trilogy production illustrator and concept artist), Joe Johnston (original trilogy ILM art director), Harry Lange (original trilogy art director and set decorator), and Colin Cantwell (the first Star Wars spacecraft designer), concept artists behind the original Star Wars movie.  Including artwork both used for the final creation of sets, effects, and costumes, as well as imagery that didn’t make it to the final cut, The Art of Solo provides visuals fans back to the 1970s have only dreamed about.

Solo is also the first movie of the post-Disney period of Star Wars to draw back to the actual input from George Lucas for more than merely sketches and early descriptions of his earliest ideas from 1973.  Lucas was involved from the beginning, planning a Han Solo movie since before the Lucasfilm sale, and so this sequel has inspiration and concept direction from the creator of the franchise himself.  Lucasfilm/ILM lead concept designer James Clyne, production designer Neil Lamont, costume designers Glyn Dillon and David Crossman, Neal Scanlan‘s creature department, and Rob Bredow and Pat Tubach‘s visual effects team were aware of the unique challenge facing this film–creating something faithful to the original trilogy and beloved characters while also taking the look and feel of the space fantasy into new territory.  The result is a film full of different worlds that still feels “Star Wars-y,” as the designers call it.  For this film, that meant a Western homage mirroring the American journey of settlers from the East Coast to the West Coast, and also importing story elements found in Akira Kurosawa’s Westerns, among many other classic films.

Many of the portraits and landscape paintings are poster-worthy.  Earthbound physical locations were tracked down to define new worlds Corellia, Mimban, Vandor, Kessel, and Savareen, along with CGI renderings, all to look like they belong in the Star Wars galaxy.  As Star Wars was created in the 1970s–taking place ten years prior to the original Star Wars–the artists looked for styles and ideas from the 1960s via movies, bands, computers and technology, and other cultural influences for costumes and set decorations.  So before Emilia Clarke was cast as Qi’ra, images of the character needed to establish her locations and costumes included drawings that look very much like Grace Kelly.  Incorporating images of younger versions of both Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams were obvious choices for creating their first looks, like the duo at the gambling table where Lando would lose the Falcon to Solo.  But soon Alden Ehrenreich’s image became the face of Han Solo.  All along, Chewbacca was Chewbacca, only the crew aimed to convey a different view of the Wookiee, where having all his hairs styled in place was no longer important–this was the young, wind-blown companion from the past, the one quicker to tear someone’s arms off.

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Everybody who has ever loved a car can see something of themselves in the trailer for the latest film in the Hasbro Transformers movie series.  If you’ve ever seen an old car on its last wheel and thought there was something more to be brought back, then the young Oscar-nominated actor Hailee Steinfeld is you in the first trailer for this year’s Christmas release of BumbleBee.  In the same way that R2-D2 and BB-8, or Number Five, or WALL-E, or CHAPPiE, or Marvin, or Iron Giant, were made lovable in their iconic sci-fi films, Paramount and Hasbro are turning back the clock, scrapping the Michael Bay model that audiences have been tiring of, based on box office trending in the franchise.  Less action, more heart.

It’s a car, but it might as well be alive.  And better yet, BumbleBee–that classic toy yellow Volkswagen Beetle turned Optimus Prime-protector–is returning to its VW roots as this film shows him back in 1987, instead of the Camaro incarnation we saw in the movies.  Whether he is your favorite Transformer or whether that honor falls to Optimus Prime, this new film may be just the thing to jumpstart the franchise.

Steven Spielberg is again executive producer.  This entry looks more like a Spielberg picture than more recent sequels.  In case you missed it, here’s the trailer for BumbleBee:

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Heroes is the subject and title of a new gallery show featuring artwork of nationally-recognized artist Ande Parks.  Parks, a professional comic book inker and artist, as well as a comic book writer and novelist, created ink drawings and watercolor works for the exhibit, which showcases some of his own personal heroes, both real and imaginary.  Celebrated for three decades as an inker of superheroes for all the major comic book publishers–he was nominated for the prestigious Harvey Award for his work–Parks has established his own grand, heroic style.  An artist reception for the show is tonight at 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Lumberyard Arts Center in Baldwin City, Kansas.

Expect to see from the imaginary side works featuring Green Arrow (Parks created a groundbreaking run of the famous longbow hunter series with actor/director/writer Kevin Smith and artist Phil Hester beginning with the story Quiver), Uncle Slam (an “out-of-touch patriotic superhero” who, along with sidekick Fire Dog, were both created by Parks in the pages of Action Planet Comics), and Batgirl (Parks and Hester worked with writer Devin Grayson on bat-family tales in the Nightwing series).  Works from Parks’ real life heroes will include icons like Truman Capote (Parks wrote the graphic novel Capote in Kansas, chronicling Capote’s days in Kansas writing In Cold Blood).

We’re speculating the show may (or may not) include characters Parks is also known for, like El Diablo (Parks worked on the origin of the character in The Haunted Horseman with Hester and writer Jai Nitz), Ant-Man (Parks and Hester created a zany series featuring the irredeemable superhero a decade ago with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman), and Kato, Lone Ranger and Zorro (Parks has written comic book series featuring all these classic characters), and maybe even J. Edgar Hoover?  (Parks wrote the historical graphic novel Union Station with artist Eduardo Barreto, featuring a massacre in Kansas City that influenced the FBI director).

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The second trailer for The Predator is out, and this time we get some clips of the latest incarnation of the classic intergalactic headhunter in action.  20th Century Fox released the first full movie trailer for the autumn release of The Predator in May, and the studio’s buzz for the alien’s return is now gearing up.  Cinematographer Larry Fong (Watchmen, Super 8, Kong: Skull Island) has said audiences shouldn’t expect a CGI-heavy film (like those recently flooding cinemas), but more old-school practical effects including a live-action Predator as seen in the original film.  From this new trailer, it looks like that means not just one–but at least two–Predators.

Although we initially surmised that the film would disregard the 21st century sequels, it looks like director Shane Black (who played the joking marine in the original Predator) is merely setting the film between 1990’s Predator 2 and 2010’s Predators.  The role of Jake Busey places the new film 30 years after the first sequel.  He plays the son of the character played by his dad, actor Gary Busey, in Predator 2.  The new trailer shows more of Boyd Holbrook, who played the cyborg villain of last year’s Oscar-nominated film Logan, and Sterling K. Brown, who played the king’s brother in Black Panther and the defendant in Marshall.

Other actors appearing in the movie include Lochlyn Munro (Riverdale), Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck, Dexter, The Handmaid’s Tale), Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse, Iron Man 2), Keegan-Michael Key (Tomorrowland), Thomas Jane (Buffy the Vampire SlayerCrow: City of Angels), Trevante Rhodes (Westworld), and Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica).

Now check out this new trailer for The Predator:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In all the flurry of late spring and early summer movie releases, don’t forget to see that X-Men movie sequel that drifted into theaters with less fanfare than the original two years ago.  That’s Deadpool 2, still in theaters nationwide in its fourth week, but probably phasing out soon.  So get to the theater before it’s gone.  More Ryan Reynolds sass and wisecracking, less of the supporting cast from the original, but more new characters fans of Marvel Comics and Marvel Comics-at-the-movies will want to see more of, Deadpool 2 has one big surprise you won’t glean from the trailers:  It’s a classic X-Men comic book story.

Take away the R-Rated humor and the jokes and you’ll find the backbone is a plot bringing the entirety of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise full circle.  The themes of that very first story from the first film in 2000, the movie called X-Men, return.  In X-Men we met young teenager Rogue (Anna Paquin), struggling with her abilities and the burden they place on her.  Despite the superhero vs. superhero storyline, the real villain was Senator Kelly, trying to pass a federal Mutant Registration Act (similar in plot development as the legislation that divides the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War).  Here we meet an out-of-control and mistreated mutant from New Zealand called Firefist (Julian Dennison), and the villain is another Senator Kelly-type trying to do-away with the mutants, played by familiar British actor Eddie Marsan.  Coming back to this theme 18 years later is a smart move–even in a flurry of humor we’re reminded that the stories were sourced in an effort to address teen readers trying to fit into the world.

New characters Cable (Josh Brolin) and Domino (Zazie Beetz) are perfect transformations from comic to screen.  Cable is an expertly realized cyborg, not just a fill-in character but a fully developed new player in Marvel Studios’ arsenal.  Domino is a reminder that members of Marvel’s B-team line-up can steal the show (like Evan Peters’ Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past) when written well.  Any kid or kid at heart will appreciate a battle scene between Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Juggernaut (Ryan Reynolds) complete with its own humorous operatic accompaniment.  Time travel plays a key element in the story and Brolin’s cyborg is every bit as compelling as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s from the Terminator series, and the writers and director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, John Wick) tap into that with dropped references every chance they get.

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