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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fitting into the CW television series’ fourth season, the first book in Amulet Books’ series of novels based on the DC Comics famous speedster, The Flash: Hocus Pocus, takes readers through an all-new middle-grade adventure mystery.  Barry Allen works with Team Flash, Cisco Ramon, Caitlin Snow, and H.R. Wells fka Dr. Wells (aka Reverse-Flash, Eobard Thawne, H. Lothario Wells, H. Wells, Harrison H.P. Wells, Harrison Wells, Harrison Wolfgang Wells, etc.), plus Joe, Iris, Wally “Kid Flash” West, and Captain Singh to try to find the cause of a recent series of deaths in Central City.  But while Cisco and Caitlin try to take a break from work at S.T.A.R. Labs at an old amusement park, a new villain rises calling himself Hocus Pocus (Cisco hates it when villains name themselves).

This mad magician takes control of Barry as he tries to save his job, protect Wally, save the city and have more time for he and Iris to move on with their lives together.  But this magician has found a way to control and direct anyone’s movements, and once Hocus Pocus can control Barry he can control anything, even kill a stadium full of innocent baseball fans.  Along the way Barry finds himself in front of the storefront of a psychic reader, the strange Madame Xanadu, who seems to have foreseen cryptic steps ahead in Barry’s future.  But Barry isn’t a believer.  Can he use science to find his answers, or will he need to meld both science and magic to take down this murderous magician?

 

Author Barry Lyga, who also penned the two follow-on books in the series, The Flash: Johnny Quick, and The Flash: The Tornado Twins, knows his characters well, creating a good story full of pop culture references, quips, and science–enough real science to prompt middle-grade readers to investigate some of the concepts used to solve this mystery on their own.   View full article »

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You can approach a new chronicle of an artist and her design and creation of a 2,500 square foot mural encompassing all the known bird families in many ways.  For one, science illustrator and museum artist Jane Kim thoroughly researched each of the 243 families of birds before adding a drop of paint to a hallway over the visitor center at the highly regarded Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, and so her new book The Wall of Birds is an educational tool for anyone who has the bug to learn more about the diversity of these remarkable creatures.  Kim, tapped to design and complete a mural of all the families of the world’s birds in full 1:1 scale, decided to include an evolutionary thread through her design, and so five extinct bird families appear to haunt her wall in ghostly muted tones, along with a stairway that recounts the evolutionary steps toward modern birds over 375 million years, complete with a surprise crocodile (crocs share a common ancestor with birds 240 million years ago).  If you’ve visited any natural history museum you’ve probably encountered beautiful painted murals to support the displays that stand as centerpieces, but with Kim’s Wall of Birds a common space was transformed with maximum effect into a centerpiece itself.

Completed in January 2016 after 12 months of research and 17 months of on site painting, Kim now takes her art a step further by presenting her process, development of ideas, and execution of the final work in a full-color 232-page volume.  Co-written with Kim’s husband Thayer Walker, The Wall of Birds: One Planet, 240 Families, 375 Million Years, available in hardcover for pre-order now here at Amazon and available next week, is the kind of view into the mind of an artist that readers, fans, and enthusiasts of any subject long for.  How often have you wondered why a costume designer used these colors and fabrics to represent an alien being?  How often have you wondered why you can recognize your favorite comic book artist in an instant through some stylistic choice?  Kim details her process from idea to layout, stencils, color layering, detail work, scientific review by ornithologists, revision, and final presentation.  She even created her own “aviary Pantone” color palette with 51 created latex interior house paints finished with 13 acrylic paint colors.

Kim recounts the most difficult birds she worked on for several days to simpler projects, like the “little brown jobs” that dot our bird-covered planet, which were completed in less than a day.  Since all the birds were life-sized and her mural included each bird featured adjacent to one of its geographical habitats, she used a movable lift to be able to paint high and low on her giant wall canvas.  Some of the difficult projects were the larger birds, but not always, as the smallest birds had to incorporate their colors, plumage, wings, beaks, and legs in a much smaller space to work with.  The artist also recounts the planning required to make the work not only scientifically accurate, but also reflect a work of fine art and be aesthetically pleasing.  Some larger birds, like the Great Gray Owl, required Kim to paint feather-by-feather the bird’s enormous wings, often working overnight in the lab alone.  Take a look at some preview pages from the book courtesy of publisher Harper Design:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Family of Humming-birds, completed in six volumes in 1887, was the culmination of a fifty-year career of John Gould, one of the earliest and most renowned ornithologists.  A publication of 418 hand-colored illustrations representing all the known species of hummingbirds of the day, it was considered the definitive scientific reference of the era on the subject.  The volume also reflected one of the most attractive species of animal that would appeal to some of the world’s most elite collectors, scientists, and educators.   With 39 pages of introductory information written by Joel and Laura Oppenheimer, Rizzoli Electa is reprinting the entirety of Gould’s six volumes of prints in the new publication The Family of Hummingbirds: The Complete Prints of John Gould, to be released at the end of this month.

When the HMS Beagle naturalist Charles Darwin returned to England in 1836 from the Galapagos with crates of samples of animal life for scientific study, under special dispensation from the Crown he was allowed to determine which scientists received what families of animals for study, instead of depositing them all with the British Museum as was common practice.  For the bird collection, he selected John Gould, a rising star of both avian study, taxidermy, and illustration.  Darwin’s theory of the transmutation of species and later his theory on natural selection in part came from findings shared by Gould.  The third volume of Darwin’s findings from his exploration included 50 illustrations by Gould’s wife Elizabeth and text written by Gould.  Nearly 20 years before Darwin’s landmark text On the Origin of Species, this earlier work provided some of the ground work for the theory of evolution, despite Gould not publicly endorsing Darwin’s theories.  After his wife passed away on their expedition to chronicle birds and mammals in Australia, Mr. Gould would continue publishing folios on the birds of the world, ultimately amassing several publications covering birds, as well as other animals, across the globe.

 

Nearest to Gould’s heart was the fascinating hummingbird, which he referred to as “this family of living gems.”  According to the foreword in The Family of Hummingbirds: The Complete Prints of John Gould provided by naturalist and historian Robert McCracken Peck, Family of Humming-birds “represented a family of birds of remarkable grace and beauty that lived in exotic habitats unlikely to be seen even by collectors wealthy enough to afford the book Gould devoted to them.”  Artist H.C Richter would expand upon John Gould’s sketches and ideas for plates–Gould would first draw a male and female of each species with a plant native to its habitat, ultimately creating all 360 plates in the book’s first five volumes, released piecemeal via subscriptions ultimately with the recipients to have the completed work formally bound.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When Lando Calrissian showed up on the doorstep of Han Solo and Leia with a toddler Ben in tow, Han knew the outcome couldn’t be anything good.  In Daniel José Older‘s novel Star Wars: Last Shot–A Han and Lando Novel, it’s Lando that causes angst for Han, but it also gets him away from a home life where it’s just not happening for the former smuggler and decorated General of the Rebellion.  Someone has set off some assassin droids and if your name was ever on the title for the Millennium Falcon, you’ve been marked.  The mastermind behind the droids is a character inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, a medical student plucked from his good life and plunged into a maddening existence where he begins to merge men with machines.  For Fyzen Gor, droids are the more advanced form and he will stop at nothing until the galaxy knows it.  Enter Han, Chewie, Lando, and Ugnaught, an Ewok tech guru or “slicer,” an attractive Twi-lek who Lando has his eyes on, and a young hotshot pilot, and you have a Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven story plucked from the pages of classic Marvel Comics.

But that’s the present, or at least the present time as it existed a few years after the events of Return of the Jedi, where only part of the story takes place.  Both partners Han and Chewie, and Lando and companion droid L3-37 have each encountered Fyzen Gor and his enigmatic Phylanx device before–once before Lando loses the Falcon to Han during Solo: A Star Wars Story, and once afterward.  Star Wars: Last Shot presents three parallel stories all culminating with the present search and confrontation with Gor to learn the secret of the device.  L3-37’s theme of droid rights is a significant element in this tale, and further expands L3’s influence on the future beyond being merged with the Falcon’s computer.  Despite several key cyborgs in the Star Wars galaxy (not the least of which being Luke and Darth Vader), this novel is Star Wars taking on cyborg themes not usually found in the franchise outside the early comics, themes you’d find wrestled with previously in other sci-fi properties.

The prequels live on.  Adding to the surprise presence of Darth Maul in Solo: A Star Wars Story, writer Older resurrects many bits and pieces from the Star Wars prequels, including a Gungun who makes clear that Jar Jar Binks was not emblematic of the alien race.  We also encounter many names, aliens, and places from past stories, like aliens reflecting the likes of Bossk, Hammerhead, Ewoks, Ugnaughts, and Cloud City from the original trilogy.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Philip K. Dick‘s  The Man in the High Castle won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963, and is widely considered his best work.  Some of his 44 novels and 121 short stories have been adapted to film, including 10 in the past year in the series Electric Dreams (previously reviewed here at borg), and big screen films Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, Paycheck, Next, A Scanner Darkly, and Screamers.  None of those better reflect the depth of Philip K. Dick’s genius than the Amazon television series The Man in the High Castle Season 3 is available this month on Amazon Prime’s streaming service.  In his novel the series is based on Dick delved into the science fiction trope of the alternate history, a parallel world showing a view of a different 1960s after World War II.  Often mislabeled as merely a story where Nazis won the war, the fact is the novel focuses substantially on the shared Japanese victory and the resulting assimilated culture in the United States some 20 years later.  Series director Daniel Percival and a host of other directors and writers expand upon the novel–and the parallel world–into something much bigger, and something much greater.  To call The Man in the High Castle a loose adaptation of the novel is a disservice–the series conjures the spirit of Dick’s unique vision faithfully and one can imagine Dick endorsing the expanded elements were he still with us.  The novel is always the backbone of the series (even in this third season’s fifth episode “The New Colossus” viewers are brought back to a cornerstone scene from the novel).  As with Dick’s book, the series is an inspired, even noble use of science fiction.

Amazon debuted its film studio potential with the pilot for the series in January 2015, followed that November by the first season, developing not only the lead characters in the book–antique dealer Robert Childan (Brennan Brown) and Japanese Pacific States trade minister Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa)–important secondary characters are expanded, too, including struggling jewelry maker Frank Frink (Rupert Evans), his wife (girlfriend in the series) Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos) who would venture off to meet the mysterious title character (Stephen Root), their friend and co-worker Ed McCarthy (D.J. Qualls), Nazi spy Joe Blake aka Joe Cinadella (Luke Kleintank), and the enigmatic Nazi attaché Rudolph Wegener (Carsten Norgaard).  Added to these eight characters by series creator Frank Spotnitz are former U.S. soldier-turned rising Nazi officer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) and his family, Inspector Kido–a cold and ruthless Japanese enforcer (Joel de la Fuente), and Nicole Dörmer (Bella Heathcote), a rising propaganda director.  The characters were fleshed out in 2016 in the show’s second season, with chemistry among the cast, plus high stakes life-and-death risks that raised doubt that viewers’ favorite characters will survive from episode to episode–all reason to keep coming back for more.  With this new season, viewers have now been able to examine the tentacles of a Fascist state as it infiltrates and annihilates both the average worker and the ruling elite–nobody really wins, everyone loses.  Historical parallels to the real world are left for the viewer’s interpretation.

Through Sewell’s Smith we see the inevitable doom awaiting everyone under a Fascist regime–that even the leaders aren’t exempt from application of their code of terror and hatred (Smith as a top official still lost his son for his “inferior” DNA via a genetic anomaly), from Frank Frink we see the struggle to survive for any member of the citizenry who is not of the “preferred” race, through Joe Cinadella (aka Joe Blake) we see how quickly a Nazi can be brainwashed into disregarding life, through Wegener we see the difficulty of defiance and resistance against a giant, stifling regime in power, through Dörmer we see the arrogance and cost of hubris, from Kido we see that torment and terror under an autocratic regime knows no bounds, Childan illustrates the complacency of a detached, disengaged middle class, through Tagomi we see the struggle of a single peacemaker among a field of lunatics, and through Juliana and Ed we see the possibility of hope through commitment and determination–but will they succeed or fail?.

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Universal dropped its next trailer for the third film in M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero trilogy, Glass. They’re all being brought together in today’s trailer by the writer/director of The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village, The Happening, Wayward Pines, and Lady in the Water–Samuel L. Jackson returning as Elijah aka Mr. Glass, the seemingly fragile, self-aware comic book villain of the title, Bruce Willis as the unbreakable hooded vigilante David Dunn, and James McAvoy as Patricia/Dennis/Hedwig/Barry/Jade/Orwell/Heinrich/Norma or just The Beast.

Shyamalan’s psychological horror-thriller Split was a real genre buster–one of those odd movies that really didn’t seem to fit into the genre you thought you were getting from the previews, like Midnight Special.  But we’d learn only at the end we were inside not only the mind of a sociopath, but the mind of a particularly twisted supervillain from the darkest edge of comic book land.  How many more theater seats would have been filled if moviegoers had known Split was the sequel to Shyamalan’s cult-favorite superhero movie Unbreakable?

Glass is arriving just on the heels of last year’s Split.  Unbreakable arrived in theaters way back in 2000.  It all is coming together a bit like J.J. Abrams disjointed, multi-genre Cloverfield movie series.  Take a look at the latest trailer from Universal for Glass:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s the performances of the leading actors that stand out in this weekend’s theatrical release, Colette.  Colette is a biographical story of an avant-garde couple in turn-of-the-twentieth-century France, famed authors who wrote under the pen names Colette (nee Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) and Willy (nee Henry Gauthier-Villars), and the writing of four popular books by Colette that were published under her husband’s name:  Claudine à l’école (1900), Claudine à Paris (1901), Claudine en ménage (1902), and Claudine s’en va (1903).  In the film, directed by Wash Westmoreland, genre favorites Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Imitation Game, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Never Let Me Go, Domino) portrays the younger spouse Colette and Dominic West (Les Miserábles, Tomb Raider, The Hour, The Wire, 300) her very showy and ostentatious libertine husband Willy.  As a tangent for Star Wars fans it’s a Naboo reunion–Knightley was one of Queen Amidala’s handmaidens and her decoy in several scenes, and West one of her royal guards nearly 20 years ago in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

In Colette Knightley and West have great rapport.  It’s a mix of love and conflict that rises to the level of hatred, but along the way their chemistry is quite strong with a carousel of humorous moments throughout their relationship.  It would elevate the writing too much to equate Colette and Willy with Beatrice and Benedick of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, but their back-and-forth repartee is quick and sharp.  They are portrayed to have been a successful (at least financially) if not unorthodox pair.  When Willy courts the much younger Colette in the opening of the movie he has already established fame as a writer (as an early James Patterson-type who took credit for the actual writings of a few employed ghost writers).  But after gambling, over-spending, and other debts catch up to him he turns to Colette to pen the stories she has told him of her youth in pastoral France.  Her work proves to be much more popular than anything he had ever written.  Although he does pout a bit, he spends the large advance for the second book on a country house for Colette.  Not quite Dangerous Liaisons (but close), their equal opportunity games and his spiraling debts ultimately bring their marriage to the breaking point.

Along the way their lifestyle begins to dip even beyond the hedonism and joie de vivre the Belle Epoque, Bohemian, and Decadent movements France was known for, as their marriage branches out to include others: two women (one for both, one for him), played by Eleanor Tomlinson (The Illusionist, Jack the Giant Slayer) and Shannon Tarbet (Inspector Lewis), and ultimately Colette leaves Willy for a third, acting partner Missy, played by Denise Gough (’71, Star Wars: Battlefront, Mass Effect: Andromeda).  Some brief sex scenes and nudity account for the R rating.  Although the film ends with the split of Colette and Willy, Colette would go on to be an early feminist icon, writing many more novels and stories, her best known would be Gigi, the 1944 novel that would become the famous Audrey Hepburn film (Colette specifically selected Hepburn for the role).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fathom Events has done it again, bringing a film classic back to theaters for older fans to enjoy again and new generations to experience on the big screen for the first time.  Although I’d seen the 1968 action thriller Bullitt dozens of times, this was my first viewing on the big screen.  It’s no exaggeration that the ten-minute chase scene the film is known so well for becomes a roller coaster ride in the theater.  I must confess–maybe it was the tint on my own television, or because of the posters showed the Bullitt 1968 Ford Mustang in black, but I never noticed how bright green it was before–the car is unmistakably a vivid green (technically “Dark Highland Green”) when viewed on a 30-foot instead of a 2-feet-high screen–literally an eye-opening difference.

As expected my favorite scenes stood out–Steve McQueen‘s mannerisms in every scene as Frank Bullitt establish that of what was likely the average, real police officer in 1968, far from the angry, distant San Francisco cop Clint Eastwood would make famous three years later.  Bullitt was friendly, considerate, compassionate, even sensitive toward those strangers of San Francisco he encounters throughout the film, like the doctor being bad-mouthed by Robert Vaughn‘s Senator Chalmers not quite out of hearing range, like Bullitt as grateful to a night nurse who brings him a meal in the hospital hallway, when he tips the cabbie played by a young Robert Duvall, and as he hangs out and makes eyes with his girlfriend (Jacqueline Bisset) at what was probably an actual, trendy Haight-Ashbury jazz club.  McQueen is seen waking up, buying groceries, buying a paper–normal life scenes spliced into an action movie with the best-ever car chase.

I’m not sure opening credits were ever carried out as in Bullitt either before or since, with the letters of the credits smoothly coming at the audience almost in 3D, converting into an unusual transition into the next camera shot (backed by a jazzy opening theme).  Yes, that opening is even more effective in the theater, and it ties into director Peter Yates and cinematographer William A. Fraker‘s nearly comic book-inspired camera angles found throughout the movie.  A shot upward from the passenger side of the pursued hitmen’s car.  Two shots where the cameraman looks like he was taken out by the racing classic cars (the Charger actually hit the camera in one edited sequence).  The first-person driver’s seat view of so many modern video games.  Several scenes also fade to and from reflections in windows, blurred crowds from behind planters, like from an Edward Hopper painting.  Do you need a reference for late 1960s clothing?  Yates loiters a bit on several crowd and restaurant scenes where the audience can examine styles from all social classes.  Best of all?  The thousands of classic cars and trucks from the 1960s, 1950s, and 1940s.  Every scene incorporates beautiful imagery as a preserved photo album of the best vintage cars to the left or right of the center of action.

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You’ll believe a car can fly.

Before there was a Fast and the Furious series, before Baby Driver, before Clint was Dirty Harry, before Smokey met the Bandit, or before Max ever got mad, there was Steve McQueen in Bullitt You may try but you’re unlikely to conjure up a film that defines cool more than McQueen does as a San Francisco cop trying to protect a witness in a major case.  For 50 years the Oscar-winning car chase (from editor Frank B. Keller) has topped best action scene lists from film critics and everyone else.  Robert Vaughn was hardly better than as the demanding Senator Chalmers.

The music of the great Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mannix, Starsky and Hutch, Planet of the Apes) perfectly encapsulates the era, complete with a jazz flute interlude.  There’s a reason Hollywood kept returning to Schifrin for action movie scores, like Kelly’s Heroes, Enter the Dragon, Brubaker, Charley Varrick, Cool Hand Luke, THX 1138, and the Dirty Harry and Rush Hour movies–the music is that memorable.  We are lucky to have a dozen great Steve McQueen movies to re-visit, and this is one of the best.  Plus you can only look to James Bond movies for an opening credits montage as cool as you’ll find in Bullitt.

You have two more chances to see Bullitt in the theater for its 50th anniversary re-release.  And that’s today, October 9, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time.  Get tickets now and check theaters availability at the Fathom Events website, www.FathomEvents.com.

Don’t miss it!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

A Curse Dark as Gold cover Elizabeth C Bunce

The trees are turning red and orange, and Halloween is only three weeks away.  If you’re looking for a ghost story to get you into the mood of the season, check out borg.com writer Elizabeth C. Bunce‘s novel A Curse Dark as Gold, available in hardcover, paperback, and E-book editions from Amazon and other booksellers, first reviewed here back in 2011.  The audio book as read by British actress Charlotte Parry, known for her roles in Tony Award winning Broadway plays, is a great way to immerse yourself in this ghost story.

A Curse Dark as Gold is set in the Gold Valley in that far away land where fairy tales reside.  Charlotte Miller is a girl in her late teens whose father dies and leaves her the town of Shearings’ woolen mill, which serves as workplace for most of her community, along with the care of Charlotte’s younger sister Rosie.  Unwanted responsibilities fall into the lap of this young woman from page one.  From a framework standpoint A Curse Dark as Gold is a spin on Rumpelstiltskin-type helper tales of the past, but this story takes on its own life.  Shearing is at once lovely and pastoral, yet dark and creepy doings begin to permeate the corners of the town.  A mysterious uncle arrives and begins to interject himself into the girls’ lives, pecking away at their sanity.  As if sick itself, the mill begins to respond to the death of Charlotte’s father, with boards crashing down, textile machines failing, and the fabric of Shearing seeming to unravel.

A Curse Dark as Gold audio Elizabeth C Bunce told by Charlotte Parry

The story is set at the dawn of an Industrial Revolution.  Water wheels are about to be replaced with steam power and the smoke-filled cities that come along with that new technology.  Charlotte has inherited her father’s acumen as a savvy businessperson, yet real life pressures including competition from big city wool firms and unfair attempts to squeeze Shearing’s mill out of the marketplace cause the mill to lose its workers.  The economic issues are only the beginning of Charlotte’s problems.  A strange neighbor lady is a follower of old world ways, superstitions and magic.  Charlotte is steadfast and stubborn, relying only upon her own intuition as she turns away from everyone near her, including sister Rosie and her new husband.

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