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Review by C.J. Bunce

For a film inside the giant, magical world of Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald seemed to come and go from theaters with little fanfare.  J.K. Rowling‘s newest world is a bleak one full of darkness, and without her trademark happier, lovable, wonderful bits to echo the Harry Potter universe that draws its fans to this new series.  The spin-off series may suffer from prequel-itis.  Does it indicate that, like George Lucas and his prequels, the bestselling living author might benefit from letting someone else step in to edit these screenplays into a more accessible story for her fans?  The original screenplay to Grindelwald clocks in at a whopping 304 pages, nearly three times the standard, and it may have been simply too difficult for the production to whittle it all down into a cohesive story.  Regardless of what you think of the finished film, it is difficult to deny the amazing level of work that went into the production design.  We’re featuring some great behind-the-scenes books that spotlight the artistry behind the film over the next few days, beginning today with The Art of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, by concept artist Dermot Power, who also penned the predecessor book The Art of the Film: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The Art of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald showcases the work of fifty-five artists, with notations provided by each creator, including what they were commissioned to draw, what inspired the look, and where the piece belonged in the story.  Art Nouveau inspired much of the film, coupled with a very steampunk industrial look that did not appear in the Harry Potter films.  Highlights include blueprints for stage sets, concept art that influenced the various Paris scenes, the design for Grindelwald’s vial, circus images that didn’t make it into the film, and Newt’s half-flooded basement zoo.

Best of all, Power’s new book gets to the heart of what is missing on the big screen from both Fantastic Beasts films: more images of the elaborate, intricately stylized, fantastic animal creations.  Unlike many “art of” books, the author pulls out far more fully rendered drawings, paintings, sculptures, instruments, 3D set builds, character designs, and visual effects try-ons–concept artwork that didn’t make it into the final film.  He also provides clearer images of the creatures that did make it into the film but were lost in the shadows because of the dimly lit cinematography used in the film, like the ethereal half-animal, half-vegetable Kelpie.

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In addition to Star Trek: The Art of John Eaves, reviewed here last month at borg.com, we have three additional, affordably priced gift ideas for your favorite Star Trek fan this holiday season, two books, and an attractive light-up, replica desk prop.  First up–Chip Carter is back with an update to his 2011 big book of Star Trek trivia in the expanded and updated Obsessed With Star Trek Carter added 200 new questions to cover the Kelvin timeline (the three reboot films) for this edition for a 2,700 question volume (sorry, no questions yet from Star Trek Discovery).  Questions are divided into sections covering each series through Enterprise, with a section on the movies through Star Trek Nemesis.  Readers will find a section each on cast, crew, and characters, aliens, ships and technology, and a section on concepts inside the Trek universe across the series.  As with the original, the book is entirely multiple choice questions, so use it how you will–incorporate it into a trivia game or just challenge yourself.  Those familiar with the last edition will note this version does not have the built-in digital game component, bringing its price down significantly compared to the previous edition.  Obsessed With Star Trek, the new edition, is available now from Titan Books here at Amazon.

Star Trek: The Next Generation fans will want to check out a replica display item from a fan-favorite episode, available from Running Press.  It’s Patrick Stewart’s Locutus prosthetic headpiece from the two-part story The Best of Both Worlds.  Unlike the original, the headpiece (referred to as a mask on the product) is made of die-cast metal and designed based on the look of Locutus in the second episode of the story.  It’s smaller than true-scale, close to 1:4 scale (3.5″ x 3.5″ x 5.5″) with LED laser light and audio featuring Locutus’s key dialogue, including his familiar line “resistance is futile.”  A die-cast metal base with removable plastic display cover (also included) makes for a nice office display.  The Locutus of Borg Collectible Mask includes a 48-page mini-hardcover book with photographs and remarks about the character also written by Chip Carter.  It’s available now at more than half off the release price here at Amazon.

Finally, the folks at Titan and its publication Star Trek Magazine have pulled together several previously published articles focused specifically on Star Trek the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation for the new compilation book Star Trek: Epic Episodes This latest release includes cast and crew interviews, plus hundreds of color photographs from the shows as well as behind-the-scenes images.

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Audiences don’t know what exactly Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye was up to during the events of Avengers: Infinity War, but the first trailer for the next installment in the Marvel Studios saga shows that he–not surprisingly–is making his return.  The big news is Marvel taking a reference from one of the last lines of Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange for the title of the April 2019 release, revealing Avengers: Endgame as the title of the final chapter of Phase III of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  And despite the loss of Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang aka Ant-Man at the post-credits scene in Ant-Man and The Wasp, somehow he’s back, too, as revealed in the trailer.

Marvel isn’t showing much–a good thing–about the next film, but they begin by teasing the death of Iron Man.  The big question for fans of the franchise will be “who lives and who dies?” at the end of Avengers: Endgame, since the studio already released information about future film releases with the cast of Spider-Man back next summer in Spider-Man: Far From Home and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 planned for 2020.

This comes on the heels of the television version of the Marvel universe closing its doors at Netflix, as Disney/Marvel announced it is pulling the plug on fan-favorite series Luke Cage and Daredevil, plus Iron Fist and more expected to be announced after the release of final seasons of Jessica Jones and The Punisher, which were already in production when the announcements started to roll out.

Check out this first trailer for Avengers: Endgame:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If Turner Classic Movies says that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then the discussion is over finally, right?

It’s that time of year again and Turner Classic Movies is back showing some of the best Christmas movies from across the decades.  This year host Ben Mankiewicz is interviewing author Jeremy Arnold before and after the screening of movies Arnold has selected to feature in his new book, TCM: Christmas in the Movies–30 Classics to Celebrate the Season.  And yes, Arnold’s list includes Die Hard.  So as the British say, “end of.”  Most readers and movie fans will likely agree with at least twenty of the selections discussed in the book, and the rest are there ready for some good discussions with friends over some egg nog this holiday season.

It’s also likely this bucket list of movies has several films that even avid movie watchers may have missed.  I set up my DVR to pick up a few in the book I hadn’t seen yet and was surprised at how superb a selection Holiday Affair is.  It stars Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum, Wendell Corey, Henry Morgan, plus young Gordon Gebert in what must be the best-ever performance by a child actor in a Christmas movie.  This is exactly the kind of value you get with a book like Christmas in the Movies–this movie will now be added to my own favorite Christmas movie list.  For each entry Arnold discusses the actors, plot, audience reception and the impact of the film, and why it’s a good Christmas season film for audiences today.

Along with Die Hard, which is smartly defended by Arnold, you’ll find the usual suspects like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Elf, plus some lesser known gems, like Remember the Night, the first of four films that would pair Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, plus Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten in I’ll Be Seeing You, and Humphrey Bogart in We’re No AngelsArnold picks up genre films Gremlins and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and even a few Westerns, including 3 Godfathers starring John Wayne.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Two new book releases will get you (or your favorite writer) back on track, whether you’re trying to write a novel or communicate any other way.  “Words have meaning” is the theme of That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means, a look at the most incorrectly used words in the English language–and how to turn around your usage if you’re doing it wrong.  The second book is a new look at a classic work on writing, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need, a step by step approach to address the writing process if your goal is to write the next Great American Novel.

It’s not just a good paraphrased line from Inigo Montoya.  For That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means, sister and brother writers Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras (authors of You’re Saying It Wrong) researched surveys, dictionaries, language usage panels, and language experts to identify the 150 most commonly confused, abused, questioned, and misused words and phrases in the English language.  It’s a small but jam-packed book that should go next to your copies of Strunk & White, The Chicago Manual of Style, and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage It also will help anyone preparing for their SATs, as words on this list have been commonly used in past tests.  The handy pocket-size also might make this a good choice for stocking stuffer.

Each word or phrase is listed by its frequent mistaken usage followed by quotes by celebrities, periodicals, or online articles getting it all wrong.  Even the most critical writer will agree with the authors’ selections of the way you should or shouldn’t use the term, although you might disagree with one or two along the way and purists may think a few times the writers have caved to modern usage choices.  The authors will reinforce, remind, or educate readers about many traps.  Can anything ever reach a crescendo?  No.  Is “contiguous United States” almost always used incorrectly by nearly everyone?  Yes.  If you regularly use words or phrases (or non-words in some cases) like chronic, begs the question, cliché, alright, in regards to, just desserts, from whence, peruse, verbal, verbiage, and utilize, and you’re not sure of what you’re doing, you probably need this book.   The Petras’ book should be required reading in every high school senior English or first year college English class.

An excerpt from That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means.

Writers of screenplays and novels may have already heard about one of the handful of books on writing for film, Blake Snyder’s 2005 book Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, one way to approach writing for movies.  In Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, author Jessica Brody takes Snyder’s original book and tweaks it for novel writing, arguing the same basic rules for storytelling apply for novels and film.  If you’ve read the original you’ll be familiar with the approach taken here: the best stories include 15 basic “beats” or plot points.  The theory is that if your novel includes these beats and applies them correctly and in the right places, you’re more likely to have a story that agents, publishers, and readers will take note of.

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Wizards of the Coast has two new books available just in time for Christmas gameplay.  Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica is the first time Dungeons & Dragons has formally issued a crossover with the realms of Magic: The Gathering Ravnica, first introduced in 2005 in Magic: The Gathering’s Ravnica: City of Guilds and again in 2012 in Return to Ravnica, is a vast plane and a diverse cityscape, where ten guilds battle for power, wealth, and influence.

The sourcebook includes detailed chapters on the ten guilds:  Azorius Senate, Boros Legion, Cult of Rakdos, Golgari Swarm, Gruul Clans, House Dimir, Izzet League, Orzhov Syndicate, Selesnya Conclave, Simic Combine, and sections on Creating Adventures, Treasures, and Friends and Foes.  Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica includes a key focus on the Tenth District of the city, which includes adventure opportunities for all ten guilds.  It boasts six new playable species, plus a new cleric domain, a new druid circle, backgrounds, and an expansive bestiary.

The second year-end release, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage serves as part two of the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist adventure (reviewed here).  The Waterdeep saga continues where Dragon Heist ended, taking characters beyond the fifth level all the way to 20th level should they explore the entirety of Halaster’s home.  Players will find a tavern called the Yawning Portal in the city of Waterdeep, named after a pit in its common room.  Not explored in Tales from the Yawning Portal, at the bottom of the pit is a dungeon known as Undermountain, the domain of the mad wizard Halaster Blackcloak.  It is here where monsters, traps, and mysteries abound in 23 dungeons, along with the refuge of Skullport.  You’ll also find Stardock, the asteroid that orbits Toril, and new magical items like the Dodecahedron of Doom, plus Halaster and eleven other monsters not included in the Monster Manual.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not every day the creator of a character has the opportunity to return to re-write that character’s origin story.  Paul Dini has done that in a new novel co-written by Pat Cadigan called Harley Quinn: Mad Love, based on his one-shot graphic novel from 1994.  Those who know Harley Quinn from cosplay, the Suicide Squad, or her popular costumes as merely The Joker’s sidekick will find a much darker story of life inside a mental asylum–DC’s Arkham Asylum–which has all the elements of 1950s true-life horror stories.  Mad Love presents a young woman on her path to become more dangerously violent–this is Harley less humorous and quirky than the animated series version of the character.

Fans know this already, but for those who don’t:  Harley Quinn is a character created in 1992 by Dini and Bruce Timm, with a name that is a shortened version of the created names “Harleen” and “Quinzel” (derived from the word harlequin), to add a female character to Batman tales named consistently with the names of a long line of popular DC villains.  Mad Love is a character origin dissimilar to standard comic book origin fare, and something different from the goofy sidekick and romantic partner of The Joker readers will find in more recent stories.  As a child, Harleen likes her father, who works long hours, and resents her brothers and mother.  Her father turns to crime, distancing her from her family.  She picks up gymnastics along the way, and is successful enough to make the Olympics, but doesn’t.  Instead she takes to trying to use her knowledge of psychiatry from college to do some good.  Unfortunately she chooses Arkham Asylum as her starting point.  Her intelligent but distracted mentor trusts her, but once Quinzel starts breaking the rules of psychiatry, it’s a slippery slope, culminating in a career-ending decision.

Mad Love reveals a thinly crafted background for a popular character’s origin story.  Here she is shown as single-layered: weak, easily manipulated by everyone she encounters, and she can’t get past thinking like a child, despite going to college, despite getting a degree in psychiatry.  She shows the reader how little she learned when she tries too early in her career to take on The Joker as a patient.  As the ultimate villainous mastermind of this DC universe, The Joker finds it easy to twist her into a tool of his escape.  Yet all along she acts the part of doting girlfriend, never realizing she was never his girlfriend in the first place–she is defined by her poor choices.  The Joker even let’s her know, but she likes him anyway.

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Marvel Studios just released the second trailer for Captain Marvel, the final solo film before the Marvel Cinematic Universe formally winds up its first decade of films based on the Marvel Comics superheroes (called Phase III) with its second part of the Avengers: Infinity War storyline coming in May 2019.  The new trailer arrives with a new movie poster featuring star Brie Larson (below).

Not many comic book events topped Infinity War discussions in 2018, with audiences left asking, “Wait–where did everyone go?” and “Are they coming back?”  Before we learn the answers to those questions, for those who stayed after the credits, you’ll recall Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury sent a last-minute pager message to someone with a strange new symbol, right before he disappeared into dust.  That was the symbol for Marvel’s Captain Marvel.

A big roster of acting talent will appear in this movie–Jackson joins Brie, and in this trailer we first see Annette Bening educating Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel, on her past.  The film also stars Lee Pace as Ronan, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, and Djimon Hounsou as Korath, with Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Talos, Gemma Chan (Humans) as Minn-Erva, and Jude Law (Gattaca, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows).

Check out the new trailer:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new encyclopedic view of Firefly rounds out a big year for Firefly fans.  First there was the release of two in-universe books, The Serenity Handbook followed by the Hidden Universe Travel Guide, then more recently we saw the first novel in the series, Big Damn Hero Rounding out a year of great books for Browncoats is Firefly Encyclopedia, by Monica Valentinelli.  Fans of past books for Firefly and the Firefly Loot Crate magazine will be familiar with the tone and design of this series overview.  From the cover to the layout of Polaroid-inspired snips, the book is part scrapbook, part in-depth look into the story in an in-universe style, part behind the scenes photographic essay.  You’re likely to find new images of the ship and crew, even if you’ve amassed all the previous Firefly books.

If this isn’t the biggest assemblage of ships, weapons, props, and sets, it comes close, plus the large photographs makes this the best designed look at the production so far.  The concept artwork for several characters is something we haven’t seen before, and here many designs for each character are showcased.  And at long last, fans have a Chinese-English translator tailored to the extensive use of the Chinese language in the series.

Part one of Firefly Encyclopedia presents the Firefly story, the complete in-world tale seen in the series, as you may find in an encyclopedia.  Next is a look at the characters, each crew member–both in-universe and the actors behind the character, followed by a brief look at secondary characters.  The next section is a geography of the ‘verse, comparative looks at planets, tables, astronomy, and ships along with an interview with artist Ben Mund.  A table looks at the technobabble of the show, followed by a treatment of futuristic medicine in the series.  A wider chapter looks at even more costume designs.  A final chapter digs into the scripts for the series, including analysis and commentary.

Here is a brief view inside the Firefly Encyclopedia:

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The sale of a rare, screen-used television prop continued the upward trend in values of Star Trek props at an auction this weekend held in California and online.  Auction house Prop Store offered nearly 400 props, costumes, set pieces, models, and other memorabilia from the collection of television prop private collector James Comisar.  Many of the lots did not receive bids that met the reserve price set by the seller, but a key, rare, Klingon disruptor from the 1960s Star Trek series sold strong, at $40,000 plus buyer’s premium, for a total sale price of $48,800.  One of the pieces that did not git a bidder to meet the reserve price was the tunic worn by William Shatner as Captain Kirk in one of television and pop culture’s most significant milestones, the first interracial kiss, between Shatner’s Kirk and Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” which aired 50 years ago.  That tunic had a minimum reserve price set at $40,000, but only received $20,000 in bids.

Referred to in the series as “phaser” and “disruptor,” and used as a weapon by both Klingons and Romulans in the series, the Klingon disruptor hand prop that sold this weekend joins a small list of significant pieces sold at public auction, but it isn’t the highest price paid for a Star Trek hand prop.  That was $231,000, for the 2013 sale of a phaser rifle famously held in marketing images by William Shatner as Captain Kirk for the original Star Trek series, produced specifically for the retooled pilot episode, but never used afterward in the series.

The Klingon disruptor, also used by Romulans in the series, which sold this weekend at Prop Store’s auction.

Other key sales past sales of Star Trek hand props include the 2011 sale of an original series Starfleet phaser for $78,000, and a 2001 sale of a Starfleet phaser from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where the winning bidder paid $57,500.

Find out more about the Klingon disruptor at this detailed look at the prop here.

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