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All good things come to and end, but endings to good things are rarely good.

That’s not always so as it comes to television, as is being proved out in this fifth and final season of Orphan Black.  Three episodes in and Tatiana Maslany, Kristian Bruun, Jordan Gavaris, and Kevin Hanchard continue to deliver the best science fiction series in years, a sci-fi series cloaked as thriller, drama, and dark comedy.

You can’t say enough about Tatiana Maslany, last year’s Emmy winner for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, and poised to be this year’s chief contender for the Best Actress Golden Globe award.  Her series promotes female empowerment more than any show.  The double, triple, quadruple, etc. message of a story about the bond among a small army of clone sisters is found in the singularity of a lead actress performing in every scene while also playing multiple parts in every other scene.  Viewers can’t help but attach emotionally to each of her characters.  Even last week’s exit of a minor character viewers barely got to know drove the show to a shocking halt.

As the series’s long-time protagonist, Maslany’s Sarah Manning, continues her battle to protect her daughter, the other sisters have broken out to reveal a key message of the show: In a future world of manipulated genetics, we’ll see many individuals with common traits but who are very much individuals.  It’s still the environment that determines who the individual becomes.

If you had to pick one standout to represent the best of the series it is Maslany’s take on Alison, a character who would have lived out a normal existence in Bailey Downs had Maslany’s Beth Childs not have driven her into the sestra, turning Alison chemical dependent, then leading her to become a drug dealer, a killer, burying all the bodies in her garage, and who knows what next.  But this weekend’s episode showed just how far Alison has come, with flashbacks to scenes that filled in the blanks of her past and told us ultimately you can’t take the quiet ones for granted as she positions herself as the best manipulator of them all.

But behind Alison was always the giant bundle of energy and over-the-top antics of Kristian Bruun’s Donnie.  Alison’s husband, despite his initial collusion with Dr. Leakey’s people, tried to prove his loyalty to Alison in every appearance.  And Bruun must be the ultimate good sport as the writers put him into bizarre situations again and again.

Will we see Alison again this season, and if she returns, will she return as a warrior, a ninja, something else?  We’re thinking the writers can’t keep a great character away for long.

On a personal note, and speaking of sestra, our own four-legged support team member Jade, who you may have met on her 16th birthday two months ago here, passed away this weekend after a stoic battle with several old age issues.  Jade was one of six sisters and three brothers, and their genetics as coonhound and German Shepherd came through to reflect many similarities especially in their youth.  But each also showed a profound individuality as they grew into their own personalities–as varied as the differences between any people you know, and as varied as the sestra of Orphan Black, a show Jade watched along with us for the past four years (Jade’s favorite character was Helena).  Jade’s family and friends will miss her love and fierce loyalty.

If you haven’t climbed aboard the Orphan Black train now’s the time to binge watch the first four seasons and be part of what is turning out to be a banner, final, season for the series.  New Orphan Black episodes air Saturday nights at 10 p.m. Central following Doctor Who on BBC America.

C.J. Bunce

Editor
borg.com

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Author Simon Ward has crafted a new behind-the-scenes account of a sci-fi film, this time the latest entry and third Ridley Scott-helmed film in his Alien series, Alien: Covenant.  As you would expect, The Art and Making of Alien: Covenant features hundreds of photographs from what is probably the goriest film in the series.  Like another sci-fi/horror mash-up film 10 Cloverfield Lane, it also has its share of surprises, particularly as it leaves viewers in suspense as they learn the kind of horror film unfolding isn’t what they first thought.  Ward’s new book doesn’t reveal all the surprises, but enough to encourage readers to wait until they’ve seen the film to read the book.  Since a book like this is mainly for the diehard Alien fan, this won’t be an issue to most of its readers.

The Art and Making of Alien: Covenant, like Ward’s previous works The Art and Making of Independence Day: Resurgence (reviewed here at borg.com) and Aliens: The Set Photography (reviewed here) is more about the making of the film than a traditional “art of” film resource.  so don’t look for the typical concept art.  You will see plenty of film stills, behind the scenes shots with the actors, and some good visuals of the film’s set design.  Ward also moves step-by-step through the film, pulling in production staff and actors to give insight into the filmmaking process for this unique movie.

Ward interviewed director Ridley Scott, revealing Scott’s thought process behind this film and its place in the series, each key cast member discusses their view of their characters.  Concept artist Steve Burg describes the differences between Alien: Covenant and the last film in the series, Prometheus.  Creatures supervisor Conor O’Sullivan reveals the influences in the new Xenomorph designs.  Director of photography Dariusz Wolski provides a look at scene set-up and his lighting and cinematography choices.

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Theaters in the U.S. and the U.K. will see an opening night triple feature next month leading up to this summer’s blockbuster War for the Planet of the Apes.  AMC and Cinemark have already started selling tickets for their shows beginning this weekend.  The night will begin with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes followed by 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and end with the premiere of the latest film in the popular franchise that has surprised audiences for 50 years.

The first film will be screened in 2D with the later films screened in Real 3D.  It’s nearly eight hours of damned dirty apes, but we’re thinking you’ll be cheering them on in the newest film, the ninth theatrical release in the series and third of the reboot movies.

The granddaddy of American genre franchises offers up its next entry with star Andy Serkis reprising his role as Caesar, with director Matt Reeves and producer Dylan Clark.  The story continues two years after the events in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, also directed by Reeves, the sequel to the first of the reboot series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Dylan Clark was a producer on that film, too).  The film introduces Woody Harrelson as an arrogant military leader bringing mankind’s last stand to the apes.  War for the Planet of the Apes also stars Karin Konoval (The X-Files, Tru Calling, Fringe, Supernatural, Psych, Arrow), Judy Greer (Ant-Man, Tomorrowland, Jurassic World), Chad Rook (Timeless, Supernatural), Ty Olsson (Continuum, Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica) and Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do!, Sahara).

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What artist wouldn’t want to take over an entire month of comic book covers?  We’ve seen it before, as with Ant Lucia and his gorgeous DC Bombshells cover gallery back in June 2014 (if you missed out, check them out here).  Next month illustrator Tom Whalen, known best for his retro Mondo posters, will take over IDW Publishing’s cover art with twelve variant covers created in his unique, Art Deco-inspired style.

Not only does the collection include a cover featuring Flukeman–the most popular Monster of the Week from The X-Files–for Issue #16 of The X-Files monthly, there’s a great image of Mr. Spock featured in Issue #16 of the Star Trek Waypoint series.  The rest would make a great wall collage display for a pop culture kid from the 1980s.

There’s Shredder on the cover of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Universe, Issue #12, Raphael on the cover of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Issue #72, Optimus Prime on the cover of Issue #9 of Optimus Prime, Megatron on the cover of Transformers: Lost Light, Issue #6, Baron Karza on the cover of Micronauts: Wrath of Karza, Issue #4, ROM on the cover of ROM, Issue #13, Matt Trakker on the cover of M.A.S.K., Issue #9, Snake Eyes on the cover of G.I. Joe, Issue #6, Judge Dredd on the cover of Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth Issue #4, and Doc Brown on the cover of Back to the Future, Issue #22.

Check out all the full covers above and below:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A great imagination is a rare thing.  Science fiction has always been, at its core, an avenue for writers to express the endless breadth of their imaginations.  In Bradley W. Schenck’s new novel from Tor Books, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, Schenck creates a story within a world we’ve never seen before, a world only hinted at in early 20th century pop culture, early pulp novels, and film.  For fans of classic sci-fi and all things retro, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom deftly handles science fiction futurism like rarely seen before.  With the same awe and amazement that readers flocked to the future worlds created by Philip K. Dick in his myriad short stories, readers will be glued to the visuals Schenck introduces here.  Painted with shiny blue enamel and chrome, his details are filled with answers to questions from yesteryear.  Answers to questions about the handling of the day-to-day, the mundane, and the ordinary, in an uncertain world of tomorrow where nothing could possibly be mundane or ordinary.  After all they have ray guns and rockets and use slide rules like we use smart phones.

We’re introduced to Retropolis, its immense size and cities inspired by an Art Deco-era mindset and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, yet a world not at all dark or dreary.  This world is new, big, and bright, as detailed, and as big as the original world audiences discovered in Tron in 1982, but far more developed than the future world we met earlier in Logan’s Run.  Closer to anything else, this is Walt Disney’s vision of Tomorrowland.  The hero is everyman, like Korben Dallas, a Plumber-Adventurer, with all the dash and dazzle of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, whose nemesis is a Bondian villain pulled right out of Moonraker, with an equally vile plan to destroy the world as we know it–or at least as our grandparents might have dreamed it.

Like Metropolis, Schenck delves into the trials of human nature at the personal level in an industrialized world, as he follows a crew of switchboard operators whose jobs appear to have been displaced by robots.  But even the robots of Retropolis are like nothing you’ve seen before.  They are several steps before Replicants, but they are People in an early climb up the ladder toward autonomy.  It’s a 1930s vision, with a 1950s shine, bogged down with 21st century problems.  But don’t think this is a political book–the plight of the humans and the robots merely give credibility and gravity to this exciting and fun reality as a small band of average Retropolitans attempt to save the world from certain doom.  And there’s more–Schenck is not only the author of the novel, but the artist supplying futuristic illustrations of his world, complete with end pages featuring a useful guide to each of the story’s main characters.  With so many books written to drive you to the happening at the end, it’s the whirlwind fun of the ride that will prompt you to slow down and enjoy every word–and not want to finish the book so quickly.  It’s great fun.  Even each chapter has a classic, grand, Saturday morning serial title.

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This week Atari teased it will be soon releasing a competitor in the home video game industry, a gaming console called Atari Box, the first hardware system from Atari in more than 20 years.  Atari has been licensing franchises, including making deals for tie-ins like the Blade Runner sequel Blade Runner 2049.  If you played the granddaddy of all video systems, the Atari 2600, then you may also remember the comic books the company introduced, Atari Force. Atari also released three comic books with the Swordquest video game series, and the stories included clues that contributed to the fun of the gameplay.  The comic books were written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, and illustrated by George Pérez and Dick Giordano.  The books not only helped guide players through the adventure, they provided information to help solve a puzzle required to win an unprecedented contest, a contest with a series of prizes offered whose total value was $150,000.  The gimmick was great–you had to buy all four tie-in games to be able to have a chance at winning: Earthworld, Airworld, Fireworld, and Waterworld.  A few of those prizes were awarded, for “The Talisman of Ultimate Truth” for the champion of Earthworld, and “The Chalice of Light” for the champion of Fireworld.  But a cataclysm of events occurred–this was 1983–including the release of the infamous E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial video game and other events that ultimately tanked Atari.  (The final prizes: a crown, philosopher’s stone, and sword, valued at $100,000, were never awarded, and are said to have reverted to the Franklin Mint and were destroyed, including the key item, “The Sword of Ultimate Sorcery,” valued at $50,000).  The prizes were the real thing, including real gold, with real gemstones.  Only the chalice is said to still exist.

Today, Dynamite Comics writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, and the artist known as Ghostwriter X have put together a new series called SwordQuest, which continues not the adventure found in the gameplay of the classic video game, but a re-imagined set of real world events surrounding the legendary contest that never concluded.  Check out a preview after the break below.  In 1984, Peter Case was on his way to being crowned champion of SwordQuest, set to win the last of four contests and lay claim to a golden sword worth over $50,000!  But when the game was discontinued, Peter found himself without a game to finish.  Now, over thirty years later, Peter’s stuck in the game of life, and he’s losing fast.  But when he learns that all the prizes meant for the SwordQuest contest of his youth are on display in the World Arcade Museum, he finds an unknown determination that sees him put together a team of like-minded losers for the ultimate heist job — a real-life sword quest!

  

Issue #1 is a great read, introducing the characters, Ghostwriter X’s cool mix of modern and retro artistry, and a glimpse at the fun ahead.  Strangely enough–and unrelated to the new series–a real person carried out his own quest in real life based on a similar contest: Twenty years after the Swordquest contest–in 2003–Peter Jackson offered screen-used props from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, as prizes for a contest called “Win the Sword of Aragorn,” a sweepstakes giving away eight items: Frodo’s Sting sword, the swords of Gandalf, Eowyn, Théoden, and Faramir, The Axe of Gimli, The Bow of Legolas, and, of course, Strider, the Sword of Aragorn.  A fan named Troika Brodsky entered but did not win.  So he instead tracked down and found the winners of four items and bought them from the winners–Frodo, Aragorn, and Eowyn’s swords, and Gimli’s axe.  Brodsky amassed the greatest, and only, private comprehensive collection from Jackson’s original trilogy.  When Brodsky decided to discontinue collecting ten years later, he sold them at an incredible auction–the best fantasy auction to date–which we covered here at borg.com.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The American mid-century modern design movement began in the 1930s and grew into the 1960s as a unique style of art, architecture, and graphic design.  Mid-century advertising is its own nostalgic niche, and a new book released this week provides a refreshing reboot to the artistic stylings as represented in pop culture, toys, and toy promotions.  Toybox Time Machine: A Catalog of the Coolest Toys Never Made could be a catalog of the actual toys of the past.  But it’s not.  It could be a chronicle of box art and packaging of your favorite action figures and trading cards.  But it isn’t.

Instead, commercial illustrator Marty Baumann, a creator behind the visuals in Toy Story 3, Zootopia, Big Hero 6, and Disney/Pixar’s Cars and Planes franchises took inspiration from the Christmas catalogs, store displays, television ads, and comic books of his youth to create ideas for new toys and new toy companies–toys that might have been.  And he’s put them together into an encyclopedia full of fun that will tug at your memory.  We’ve no doubt you could show this book to someone who will tell you specifically that they remember one or more of the toys in this catalog.  That’s the power of nostalgia and Baumann’s sense of mid-century design.

  

You’ll see ads that might have been created for View Master or Ben Cooper Halloween costumes, designs for toys that could have been Marx Toys action figures, G.I. Joes, Barbie dolls, Guillows balsa model kits, and those cheap plastic toys you could only order from the tiny ads in comic books.  The commonality is the bright, loud, color palette of the era, plus trading cards, battery-operated gadgets, and anything you can display in 3D.  And much of the reflection in design is not secretive but obvious, like an ad for a codebook for The Man Called… C.O.U.S.I.N.  You remember that classic series, right?  Of course you do.

Check out this preview of Toybox Time Machine: A Catalog of the Coolest Toys Never Made, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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If you could only study one filmmaker for the rest of your life you could hardly select anyone with a better catalog of films than Sir Alfred Hitchcock.  Known as the master of suspense, his broad range of films encompass much more.  Next month Turner Classic Movies is delving deep into the works of Hitchcock as it presents TCM Spotlight: 50 years of Hitchcock, exploring 44 of the films he directed.

You already know his most popular films: Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Birds, Strangers on a Train, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, Rope, Dial “M” for Murder, To Catch a Thief, Rebecca, The Birds, The Paradine Case, Lifeboat, The Wrong Man, The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Jamaica Inn, and Shadow of a Doubt.  But have you seen The Ring, Foreign Correspondent, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Blackmail, Murder! (aka Mary), The Skin Game, Saboteur, Suspicion, Stage Fright, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, and Family Plot?  TCM is airing all of these, and more.

   

TCM isn’t leaving much out.  But you’ll need to track down eight of the earliest of Hitchcock’s works on your own: His directorial debut The Pleasure Garden (1925), the Jack the Ripper inspired The Lodger from 1927, the 1928 romance Easy Virtue, the Irish civil war story Juno and the Paycock (1930), the 1930 musical Elstree Calling, the musical Waltzes from Vienna (1934), the Peter Lorre/John Gielgud mistaken identity film Secret Agent (1936), and the 1937 crime thriller Young and Innocent.  The line-up also does not include the 1949 Ingrid Bergman/Joseph Cotton historical thriller Under Capricorn and the 1955 Cary Grant/Grace Kelly hit To Catch a Thief.  Hitchcock directed another full-length film, the 1926 film The Mountain Eagle–a lost film considered by many to be the most sought after missing film of all time. 

And TCM isn’t going to stop with only a screening of 44 of Hitchcock’s films.

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Stranger Things took the world by storm last year, bringing its mix of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and nostalgia to the small screen.  Stranger Things is not only Netflix’s best show, its second season is the most eagerly awaited series this year.  Now a household name, star Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) signed on for the second season along with Winona Ryder, and fan favorite Sean Astin will star as a new character aptly named Bob Newby.  The other kid stars are back:  Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), sporting Ghostbusters outfits at their grade school on Halloween Day 1984–a great choice for the season opener since we’ll be watching the episode premiere on Halloween day.

And like the many throwback movies the series pulls from, Stranger Things is getting its own line of action figures.  Funko has produced the first line of figures rapidly considering so many shows don’t get tie-in toys at all.  Six figures have been finalized for the first wave from the series.  Fan demand for everyone’s favorite ill-fated friend Barb will no doubt necessitate at least a second wave.

Best of all, there’s something doubly nostalgic about these figures.  They are from Funko’s ReAction line, which itself bridges the classic 1970s and 1980s Kenner style action figures with modern TV series and movies.  It’s easy to imagine the kids in the world of Stranger Things would appreciate seeing themselves as action figures that look like their own Star Wars figures.

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It’s the latest sensation.  This generation’s Beanie Babies.  Like last year’s Pokémon Go, collectors just “gotta catch ’em all.”  And Funko, the toy company that makes them exclusively, has licensed seemingly any and every property on Earth for their POP! line of bobblehead dolls.  Almost.  Funko is always reaching for the next great franchise, the next cool character, the next thing for fanboys and fangirls to go nuts for.

Really.  They’ve secured the licenses for nearly everything.  Challenge us on that?  How about Tupac Shakur?  They made him into a vinyl POP! figure.  Michael Jackson?  Yep, in multiple outfits.  Invisible Bilbo Baggins.  The creature from Sharknado.  Duck Dynasty?  They made ’em.  How about 1970s Elvis?  Yep.  Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, The Muppets, and Game of Thrones?  Of course.  The Golden Girls?  Nah…. yep!  They made those, too.  Piglet from Winnie the Pooh and Butters from South Park.  The Elf on the Shelf?  The cast of Friends?  They’re just toying with us now.

       

But it doesn’t stop there.  There’s Bob’s Big Boy and Bob’s Burgers.  Parks and Recreation.  BBC’s Sherlock.  The cast from Lost.  Universal Monsters.  My Little Pony.  NFL football.  The Gilmore Girls.  The A-Team.  Pewdiepie from YouTube???  Gremlins.  The Walking Dead.  Power Rangers.  The Exorcist.  It goes on and on…

Is there no end to the properties that the Funko toy company will rematerialize into bobbleheads?  They’ve got Santa Claus, Homer Simpson, David Bowie in Labyrinth, Breaking Bad, and the kids from Twilight.  And the band members from Metallica.  Thankfully they don’t yet have The Twilight Zone or we’d have to witness a frightening POP! of Billy Mumy’s victim Dan as the jack-in-the-box from “It’s a Good Life.”  [[shudder]]

       

But this week’s release tops them all.  Truly there is now one Funko POP! to rule them all.  The real Top POP!  But who could it be?  Who is the big surprise?  Drumroll, please…. The One POP! to Rule Them All is…

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