Archive for December, 2011


By Elizabeth C. Bunce

I’m a big fan of retellings–fairy tales with a twist, new angles on old myths, the reinvention of familiar stories–and I’ve written my share of them as well.  So I was very excited to read Lee Bermejo’s (Joker) new Batman: Noelespecially after a look at the teaser pages in several of the #2 issues of DC Comics New 52 a few weeks ago hinted that it might be a Batman twist on everybody’s favorite reworked Christmas story, A Christmas Carol.

First, the art in Noel is gorgeous, and particularly evocative are Bermejo’s wintery cityscapes.  Gotham (at least the way Lee Bermejo draws it) is a natural fit for Christmastime in the City, and the whole book has a bittersweet air of urban nostalgia–It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, with a haunting, decayed edge.  It’s a perfect fit for an update of Dickens’s Victorian London.  Colorist Barbara Ciardo’s muted, misty colors only enhance the gothic mood of the art and are equally beautiful.  Likewise, Bermejo’s rendering of classic characters is lush and satisfying–particularly noteworthy here are his images of Robin and Catwoman.  It’s a physically beautiful book, and it’s a pleasure just to look at it.

Less satisfying for me was the story.  Granted, with a property as familiar as A Christmas Carol, reinventing it–and doing it really well–is a tremendous challenge.  And, in a lot of ways, Bermejo succeeds.  The Batman-Scrooge mashup is surprising at first, but in that take-notice way, and, in Bermejo’s hands, turns out to seem quite natural.  Seeing our hero Batman/Bruce Wayne cast as the villain in need of redemption is an inventive twist on the theme.  The Batman mythos is so rich and already steeped in backstory, and Bermejo has a lot to work with here, and, on the whole, does it pretty well.  Casting canon standbys as Dickens’s classic spirits is part of the fun of a retelling like this, and Bermejo clearly enjoyed playing with this aspect of the tale (especially clever is his choice for Spirit of Christmas Present).  It’s clear Bermejo understands both his source material and his current Batman toolbox, and has no trouble blending them.

So what doesn’t work?  Well, for me, the book is almost killed by the heavy-handed narration, which matches neither the subtlety or inventiveness of the rest of the book.  It’s as if Bermejo was concerned that we wouldn’t get it, unless he reminded us on every page that Batman = Scrooge (and, even worse, “Scroogey”).  I’m typically a fan of this sort of conceit, and the Dear Reader touch certainly evokes the Victorian classic, not to mention the legacy of hard-boiled detective noir of the Dark Knight himself.  But in Noel it just detracts from a story we already know, and from the artful execution of the retelling.

Still, a second flip through the book was just as enjoyable as the first journey, and Bermejo gets high marks for ambition.  Although I didn’t love it like I wanted to, Noel is a clever and worthy addition to the Christmas Carol tradition, and a great gift for the Batman fan on your list who already has Hush: Unwrapped.

The new Batman film Dark Knight Rises will be opening in theaters July 20, 2012, just after the end of next year’s Comic-Con.  But right now thaters are showing the new full trailer with Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, and below is a link to that full trailer on You Tube.

It includes more (but not a lot) views of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, and strongly hints at an end in this film to the caped crusader.  Maybe this will finally set up the franchise for what we all want… finally a Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns film adaptation?

The trailer also shows the hideous Bane played by the equally rough looking Tom Hardy (Star Trek Nemesis).  I think Bane is the weakest of all Batman villains, but so far this round of Batman films has proven to be pretty good so I’ll reserve judgment until I actually see it.

Happily, Christian Bale’s new batsuit is as cool as ever.  Enjoy the trailer!

 

Review by C.J. Bunce

Guy Ritchie’s 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes partnered Robert Downey, Jr.’s Holmes with Jude Law’s Dr. Watson, and the result was a superb, entertaining action caper.  This weekend Ritchie’s sequel, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, although not as great as the 2009 film, is a satisfying follow-up and equally entertaining.

In addition to Downey and Law, Rachel McAdams returns as thief and on-and-off-again love interest to Holmes, Irene Adler.  Reprising their supporting roles are Kelly Reilly, as Dr. Watson’s fiancée Mary, as well as Geraldine James as Holmes’s landlady, Mrs. Hudson, and Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lastrade.

Also returning is plenty of Holmes’s slow motion fight scenes, both real-time and shown in flashback, to sort of rub our noses in the fact that no one, not even the viewer, can keep up with the preparation and advance planning done by our hero detective.  There may very well be even more of these scenes, even longer than in the 2009 film, because I found myself comparing Holmes and Watson to contemporary variations on the duo in each of the slow-mo battles.*

As foreshadowed in the first film, Holmes now takes on nemesis Professor Moriarty, who is set up as an incredibly brilliant villain mastermind, teaching at university while also orchestrating arms deals and terrorist attacks as part of a business case to become even more wealthy, regardless of whether he starts a war to take down all of Europe in the process.  Moriarty is played well here by Jared Harris (The Riches, Madmen, Fringe, Far and Away, Last of the Mohicans, Lost in Space, The Other Boleyn Girl, Without a Trace, Lady in the Water), who gets to show some good acting chops possibly courtesy of shared acting genes from his father, legendary thespian Richard Harris (the first Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, as well as King Arthur in Camelot, Richard the Lionheart in Robin and Marian, and key roles in Patriot Games, Unforgiven, and The Guns of Navarone).  Harris plays Moriarty probably too subtly here, he hints at a dark side akin to Will Patton’s General Bethlehem in The Postman, but most of this is through the story build-up and not through his character onscreen.  We’re left wanting a bit for some more evil and brilliance to counter-balance that of Downey’s Holmes, who again here is perfect in nearly every scene.

Noomi Rapace (the lead in the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels), unlike typical casting of Hollywood model types, is well-cast as a gypsy woman, but unfortunately she only gets a few good scenes, both of them running from first Russian then German mercenaries and the resulting fight scenes and bullet dodging.

Game of Shadows, as a sequel, reminded me of a sequel like the non-stop action-filled Die Hard 3, and happily not like sequels that hit with a thud such as Downey’s Iron Man 2.

Key creative and impactful scenes include McAdams’s character encountering the full weight of Moriarty’s Godfather-like influence, Watson and his new wife’s train ride to their honeymoon, lots and lots of cannons, and Holmes’s fascination with what he calls “urban camouflage.”  There is a bit to say that doesn’t work in this sequel, the story skips around a lot, the plot itself is lacking and seems to be a bunch of stitched together scenes and you may question why they move on to the next location and think “maybe on re-viewing it will make more sense.”

But of all the positive in the film, nothing matches the introduction of a new character, Holmes’s smarter brother Mycroft Holmes, played beautifully and brilliantly by comedian and actor Stephen Fry.  Fry is an actor that seems to only get better and more brilliant every time he appears in a new film.  Known early on as part of a comedy troupe with Hugh Laurie (House, M.D.), he also had key roles in Peter’s Friends, V for Vendetta, Gosford Park, A Civil Action, I.Q., and A Fish Called Wanda, and he will be appearing next year as the Master of Laketown in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  As the “other Holmes,” Fry gets some funny, key scenes and hopefully will have even more screentime in future sequels.

*These included:  Hugh Laurie’s House and Robert Sean Leonard’s Wilson in Holmes/Watson roles on House, M.D., against their own Moriarty, Forman; on the TV show Psych, James Roday and Dule Hill’s Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster, particularly with Shawn’s observation skills; Jeffrey Donovan’s Michael Westen and his sleuthing spy work voice-overs on Burn Notice, the current equally superb BBC series Sherlock, and Batman’s detective stories, which are often written mentioning the original, classic detective’s influence on Bruce Wayne.

Review by C.J. Bunce

Renaissance gal Zooey Deschanel seems to be at the top of her game in many respects.  She has headlined major motion pictures, such as Jon Favreau’s Elf and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, she’s the star of the funniest sitcom on TV this year, The New Girl, and she has cut several albums with Portland singer-songwriter M. Ward in her group She & Him.  With their new album, A Very She & Him Christmas, you won’t be alone if you think you’re listening to old vinyl LPs of excerpts from the 1950s and 1960s, of tunes and voicings evoking The Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, The Carpenters, Patsy Cline and Dusty Springfield, backed up by a solid Willie Nelson-inspired guitar.  It’s not every day you listen to an album four times in a row, trying to determine who sang that song before, who this singer seems to sound just like, and wondering if you’ve just heard this album somewhere before.

With Christmas albums, either you want something new, or more likely, you’re after that feel of the familiar, nostalgic tune that you’ve heard so many times over the years that you have the lyrics committed to memory.  With A Very She & Him Christmas, you get not only nostalgia, you get some 1950s rock, some Hawaiian vibes, some beach music, some lounge/1960s mod, most soulful, a few cheery, and all ultimately sentimental and sweetly sung.   Look for some nice acoustic walking guitar lines, as well as some cool reverb electric guitar a la Del Shannon’s Runaway.  Don’t look for a lot of Deschanel’s typical layered alto, leathery smooth voice.  It still is a sophisticated sound, but more adherence is given to classic renditions of these mostly familiar songs than improvising or toying with the classics.

Expect little of the often labeled “cutesy Zooey Deschanel”–here instead is a more mature Dusty Springfield style of emoting, some Patsy Cline-inspired sounds mixed with some Karen Carpenter-esque aching loneliness and all with a Mama Cass Eliot level of a Deschanel’s full volumed voice.

This is a great addition to your Christmas CD collection or iPod.  The album cover says it all, with its That Thing You Do retro feel.  Some highlights of the recordings on A Very She & Him Christmas include:

1. The Christmas Waltz.  A lazy and quirky version of a classic that feels like Deschanel is stuck inside on a wintry day, passing away the hours, looking out on the world she is missing.

2.  Christmas Day.  A hip and up-tempo ice 1950s electric guitar, breezy, California Christmas.  An unfamiliar but nice tune, that feels a bit like it could have been written by George Harrison while singing with the Travelling Wilburys.

3. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  Melancholy and melancholy.  Almost a creepy dark , soulful vibe.  Will have you wondering if you left a Carpenters album in the stereo.

4.  I’ll be Home for Christmas.  Tinny and tinselly classic rock version of a usually bland and dreary, sentimental song.  Still soulful, this version’s background skips along with some actual hopefulness.

5.  Christmas Wish.  This song has the feel of a California beach Christmas tune.  Very Beach Boys influenced, almost feels like this should be on the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album.  reminiscent of the old Coca-Cola commercial sound “I’d like to teach the world to sing.”

6.  Sleigh Ride.  A great up-tempo, cheery tune you’d expect on a Zooey Deschanel album.  She sings on the back beat of the normal tune, more than just playing with the syncopation of the tune.   At first gives you a bit of a start.  And she does this holding of notes on consonants that is unusual but kind of cool.  Ultimately the playfulness of the back and forth between Deschanel and Ward make this a highlight of the album.

7.  Rockin’ Around the Christmas.  The best song on the album.  Upbeat 1950s, great use of background singers.  Sounds as if you pulled a vinyl Christmas album out of a vinyl retro shop and spun it on the 50-year-old stereo you’ve kept in the attic.  And not just any album… a Patsy Cline Christmas album.  You’d swear it was Cline on the last line of the song.

8.  Silver Bells.  A cool idea, Silver Bells, only Hawaiian style, backed with Deschanel playing ukelele.  A lot less of the full sound we’ve heard before from Deshanel as far as voice goes.  But that’s a good thing here because instead she mirrors the nostalgic singing style of Rosemary Clooney.

9.  Baby, It’s Cold Outside.  Tons more playful than her brief version from the movie Elf, Deschanel and Ward really balance each other equally in a classic rendition of the song.

10.  Blue Christmas.  Probably the best version of this song I have ever heard, and it’s pretty much my least favorite Christmas song, so that’s saying something.  Deschanel is more expressive and soulful than on the other songs on the album.  It also has a little Country pop ballad twist, which is a nice interpretation of this song since Country often equates to “blue” lyrics.  You get the feel she is singing to a few folks from atop a stool with her guitar in some off the highway, Alabama roadhouse bar.

11.  Little Saint Nick.  Another fun, California Christmas song.  Nice use of background voices.  Sang sweetly, again with a touch of that ukelele played by Deschanel.

12.  The Christmas Song.  A drifting, willowy, mature, satiny version of the classic.  Another album highlight.

Tonight, Jimmy Fallon will host the 36th season holiday episode of Saturday Night Live.  It is Fallon’s first time hosting the show, although viewers will know him from his years on the show as host of Weekend Update and as the current host of the NBC Late Show.  Hopefully he will use the opportunity to revisit his skit from over a decade ago, foreshadowing that he would be hosting the show in December 2011.

Over the years annual comedic casts have changed, with Not Ready for Prime Time Players sometimes brilliantly funny and sometimes not so much.  Traditional fans look back to the first two seasons to the best cast ever, where superstars Jim Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and even frequent guest Steve Martin, were all propelled to become household names.  Later casts included Second City greats such as Christopher Guest and Martin Short.  Some of the biggest names in Hollywood were once members of the SNL cast: Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, and Will Ferrell included.  And in all this time we lost a few guys whose careers themselves pretty much peaked on SNL:  John Belushi, Phil Hartman, and Chris Farley.

It’s difficult not to make a favorites list of SNL not top heavy in favor of the classic skits from the first seasons of SNL, but we made an effort to spread out some great skits across the decades, and we left out skits with Alec Baldwin that we inclued in our review earlier this week.

John Belushi – Little Chocolate Donuts

Dan Aykroyd – Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute

Full Cast – Jaws II Land Shark

Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd – Czech Brothers

Full Cast – Coneheads on Family Feud

Bill Murray – Lounge Singer

Eddie Murphy – Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood

Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo – Buckwheat

Martin Short and Harry Shearer – Men’s Synchronized Swimming

Mike Myers, Michael McKean and Cast – Nut-rific Ad

Mike Myers, Dana Carvey – Wayne’s World

Chris Farley interviews Paul McCartney

Chris Farley – Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker

Full Cast with Patrick Stewart – “Love Boat, the Next Generation”

Adam Sandler – Hanukkah Song

Tracy Morgan and Jimmy Fallon – Brian Fellow’s Safari Planet

Will Farrell with Christopher Walken – Blue Oyster Cult Recording Studio

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Like the gift ideas we posted two days ago here for Star Wars, Batman is the subject of several new or recent offerings available at retail stores and online.  We think the following items will rank high on every Bat-fan’s want list:

At the high end of the spectrum is the slick and flashy Batman Chess Set from the Noble Collection.  The Batman symbol illuminates 50 LED lights encircling the clear playing surface that lights the board and the Gotham cityscape underneath and projects a Bat-Signal to the sky.  The board features villains Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and the Penguin and heroes Batman, Robin, Batgirl and Commissioner Gordon (we think Gordon’s sculpt is the coolest).  The gameboard measures 20 inches in length on each side.  Playing pieces are made of pewter and diecast metal.  The stylish set lists for $595.00.  There’s still time to order to arrive for Christmas.  More info is available at the Noble Collection website.

Next up reminds me of a similar set I had as a kid, the Batman Batmobile Gotham City Dual Slot Car racing Set by Auto World.  It includes 28 feet of track that can be reconfigured five ways.  It includes two cars for two racers.  There is a also a 49 foot long track version called Joker’s Challenge and a smaller version called Ridler’s Revenge.  I remember spending hours racing Trans Ams around and around.  This would be a good gift for your nephew, knowing you may end up at the family celebration racing your nephew’s dad instead.  You can find these easily for $150.00.

Listing for $100.00 but for sale as low as $63.00 is The Batman Files by Matthew Manning.  The Batman Files is a dossier of Batman as if Batman operated in the real world.  As reader, you get immersed in the midn of the world’s greatest detective.  This deluxe edition features in-depth computer files, news articles, crime scene photos, blueprints, schematics, and actual maps of Gotham City.

Next up is a beautiful hardbound edition of a new tale called Batman: NoelWe haven’t reviewed this yet here, but we’ve read it and liked it, enough to recommend it as a new classic Christmas tale.  It’s not a perfect story by any means, but its take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is original and Lee Bermejo’s paintings are drawn in a nice classic style.  Batman: Noel sells for $22.99, but it’s about half that price at Amazon.com.

A few weeks ago we reviewed the stellar Batman: Hush Unwrapped, Deluxe Edition, a reprint of Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb’s masterwork of the dark knight detective, only in this version you get to see the original comic pencil work of Jim Lee, before inked and before colors were added.  Check out our review here, then see for yourself why this is a brilliant work worth hours of studying one of the best Batman artists in years.

For stocking stuffers, pick up one or two copies of the DC Comics New 52 issues, mainy in reprint form now, like Batman, Dark Knight, or Detective Comics.  Each of issues 1 through 4 is available for $2.99.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

In the Entertainment Memorabilia auction community, today is day one of the biggest auction weekend in years.  Following up on their second auction of Debbie Reynolds’ collection costumes, props and camera equipment from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Profiles in History pulled out all the stops and has accumulated props and costumes from sci-fi, fantasy, action TV and films, and an entire day devoted to original animation art.  It begins with the Icons of Hollywood Auction today and tomorrow, December 15-16, 2011, and continues Sunday, December 17, 2011, with the Icons of Animation Auction.

As reported here December 6, 2011, one item on the block is a special effects arm used for Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Summers as the original Bionic Woman.  But that just scratches the surface of great stuff available.  And based on recent auctions, there is no global economy problem, as props and costumes are breaking past records.  On eBay recently a Matt Smith Doctor Who costume sold for $75,000.  With a franchise as popular as Star Trek, and as old and with a similar fan following, this kind of price reflects fan loyalty and what really loyal fans are willing to shell out to hold a piece of TV or silver screen magic in their hands.

The auction starts today with original studio marketing photographs of various actors and actresses over the past 100 years, as well as lobby cards, posters and one of a kind costume sketches by the likes of Edith Head and other early designers.  Then lots of scripts and logo art from TV and film credits.  Here are some key items from Day One:

  • Billy Mumy shirt for his role as Will Robinson from Lost in Space, with an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000.
  • One of the 1969 Dodge Chargers used as the General Lee in The Dukes of Hazzard has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.
  • Dalek from a 1985 episode of Doctor Who, estimated at $10,000 to $12,000.
  • Mork from Ork costume from Mork and Mindy, estimated at $40,000 to $60,000

Some key items from Day Two:

  • Bela Lugosi screen-worn cape as Count Dracula from Dracula, estimated at $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.
  • Longbow from The Adventures of Robin Hood, estimated at $15,000 to $20,000.
  • Judy Garland gingham dress as Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz, estimated at $200,000 to $300,000.
  • One of four known pairs of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, estimated at $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.
  • Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz, estimated at $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.

  • A variety of items from The Planet of the Apes and Back to the Future franchises.
  • The DeLorean from Back to the Future III that was at Comic-Con this year, estimated at $400,000 to $600,000.

  • Steve McQueen driving suit from LeMans, estimated at $200,000 to $300,000.
  • Steve McQueen U.S. Navy uniform from The Sand Pebbles, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.

  • Gene Wilder Willy Wonka hat from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000.
  • Sean Connery Marko Ramius Russian naval uniform from The Hunt for Red October, estimated at $6,000 to $8,000.

  • The “Red October” submarine model from The Hunt for Red October, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000.
  • Michael Keaton batsuit from Batman Returns, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.
  • Endo-skull from Terminator 2, estimated at $12,000 to $15,000.
  • Bruce Campbell Ash costume from Army of Darkness, estimated at $12,000 to $15,000.

  • Peter Weller Robocop costume from Robocop, estimated at $10,000 to $12,000.
  • James Marsden Cyclops costume from X-Men 2, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.
  • PreCrime stunt jetpack from Minority Report, estimated at $4,000 to $6,000.
  • Bob Newhart Papa Elf costume from Elf, estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.
  • Will Farrell Buddy the Elf costume from Elf, estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.
  • Star Trek Original series wooden hand phaser, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.
  • Patrick Stewart Captain Jean-Luc Picard tunic from Star Trek: The Next Generation, estimated at $4,000 to $6,000.
  • Jonathan Frakes Commander Will Riker tunic from Star Trek: The Next Generation, estimated at $3,000 to $4,000.

  • Collection of six costumes from bridge crew of Star Trek Voyager, estimated at $15,000 to $20,000.
  • Original NASA Gemini spacesuit, estimated at $150,000 to $250,000.
  • Russian spacesuit worn by first Russian woman to walk in space, estimated at $200,000 to $300,000.

On Day Three, every lot is a masterwork of animation history.  Lots include original art from Little Golden Books like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Smokey the Bear and The Night Before Christmas, Charles Schulz art from The Pumpkin Patch and Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, original work from production studios from Hanna Barbera to Walt Disney.  Major highlights include:

  • The earliest known color cel of Mickey Mouse, estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.
  • Cels of the Queen and Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, estimated between $12,000 and $20,000.

  • Giant pan cel from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.
  • Original Dumbo, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp and Cinderella cels, estimated at $4,000 to $8,000.

  • Several cels from Song of the South.
  • Several stunning cels of Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, estimated from $300 to $80,000.

More information is available at the Profiles in History website.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

First of all, if we were going to talk about the best sci-fi gifts ever, we would take a lot more than one article covering that, but it may very well include the Star Wars Death Star Playset for Star Wars 4-inch action figures, which despite a lot of Star Wars toy remakes, has yet to be remade.  Ohh…that giant box, the trash compactor with its own DiaNoga monster ready to gobble up Luke and his friends, a chasm for Luke and Leia to swing across, a Guns of Navarone style cannon ready to explode, and even an elevator…what a great playset!  Oh, but that’s not what we’re talking about today…

Since the Death Star playset, I’m not sure I can think of a cooler Star Wars toy than the 2010 Remote-Controlled Millenium Falcon.  It’s fun for kids and adults (it says it is for 8 years and up), as can be attested to by yours truly and a certain local comic book shop owner I know.  With flight times up to 5 minutes and recharges of only about 20 minutes, you can play with this straight from the box.  Yep, it’s plug & play.  The remote control has a 30 foot range and can hover forwards, backwards and sideways.  Whoever designed this was a genius.  It operates from a centralized rotor system as a helicopter, that allows it to hover over eight feet straight up and the controls allow for stable flights, that, with a little work, can reflect some sweet maneuvers.  The body is styrofoam, which allows for lightweight lift and zero damage to objects in the house.  Outside this will soar, too, although it is designed for indoor flight.  It lists at $50, but I found a stack of these at TJ Maxx for $19.99.  I’ve seen these at $50 still, too, so that TJ Maxx can’t be passed up.

    

The next item was previewed at San Diego Comic-Con this year and actually sold out there.  It’s the Han Solo in Carbonite Ice Cube Tray.  That’s right.  Ice cube tray.   As iconic imagery goes, what’s cooler than your own mini-Han, ready for Boba Fett to transport away… in his glass of iced tea.  I hear this works well with chocolate, too.  You can find these at comic shops and all over the Web for under $10.00.

A couple of books, because everyone needs more books.  First up, The Complete Vader.  I flipped through this new book this weekend and it will hold any Star Wars fan’s attention with great photos and content.  Impressive… most impressive.  It was co-written by one of the creators of the Star Wars Vault, a good thing, and this feels like its own addition to the Vault series, including pull out items and inserts like film cells.  It lists for $60, but you can get it on the Web for $30.

The second book up is The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, which was released last year.  It will take you a year to get through this as it is chock full of everything you want to know about your favorite Star Wars movie.  Lots of great interviews, behind the scenes photos and insight behind the creative process of making a sequel to one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, like adding new characters and locations.  This book is pricy, released at $85.00 you can get it for around $50.00 if you shop around.   It will be worth it for the big Empire fan.

 

How about Star Wars decals for your computer, iPad, car window, etc.?  You can get one for everyone starting at $1.49 each.  Would make a great stocking stuffer.

    

And if you know someone who is still collecting Star Wars action figures, the 2011 Vintage Card Action Figure Series look just like the original packaging from 1978, only they include updated figures and new characters not originally available.  These can be found anywhere–Target, WalMart, Toys R Us–starting at around $7.00 each.

And last, but not least… I’m not sure how good you have to be for Santa to bring you this giant set:  Death Star Trench Run Set.  It includes the full Tie Fighter and X-Wing Fighter as well as two action figures.  “Back when I was a kid” they didn’t include action figures.  If bigger is better, then this set is the best.  The price range on this one varies from $110.00 to $150.00.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

    

Review by C.J. Bunce

Spoilers!

All Star Western #1 was the coolest, most unexpected surprise of DC Comics’ first round of 52 issues.  But to the extent All Star Western #1 was a standout series opener, writer Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Moritat along with colorist Gabriel Bautista set the bar even higher with issues #2 and #3.

First off, the design and format of the book is unique among DC Comics’ New 52.  Chapters have an Old West style separation and font, with catchy titles like “Showdown at House Arkham,” “A practitioner of murder,” and “No news is good.”  The aura of Gothic and Old West can be found at every angle.

The foreground of landscape scenes have a nice, almost ghostly style that evokes the 1800s-1920s, using a lot of brown and sepia tones.  But the silhouette of grand manor houses and leafless trees on the landscape of an almost photo-real, painted horizon backdrop will have readers stopping in their tracks.  Two page spreads with 22 individual panels keep the action scenes moving at full force, and the would-be campy “Pow,” “Crunch,” “Crash,” and “Clop Clop Clop” fill in the necessary sound effects for a Jonah Hex-led shoot ‘em up.  We also get some nice splash pages of Hex, looking tough in his own half-faced way.

Unlike several other New 52 titles that unapologetically are going for the biggest shock they can provide to readers, the cartoonish quality of Jonah Hex’s gore serves to tame down the realism of the violence, creating the right venue for a fine good guy vs. bad guy battle to the end, with guns a’blazin’ and bodies fallin.’

The writers have kept up the momentum of the story with the most unlikely of pairings, the fragile Doctor Arkham against the stout Jonah Hex.  These two continue together to confound each other, but, for once, in issue #2, Arkham has revealed that there is a killer about even within his own timid, early-era psychiatrist reality.

By the end of issue #3 we have a better look at the villainy coming in future issues, a “cult of crime” based on the story of Cain and Abel.  Arkham serves to sleuth out the story while Hex is there to destroy those who get in the way and leave a body count. In issue #3 we also see the duo forming their first potential ally, by saving a city leader named Cromwell.  Yet, no one lives long in early Gotham City.

The story has a vibe reminiscent of a short-lived series published a few years ago starting on Free Comics’ Day called The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty (one of the best titles ever), an eight-issue series from Image Comics, by Gabriel Benson and Mike Hawthorne, that hinted at the potential it was ultimately unable to fulfill—a “Gothic Western” that immersed the reader in the Old West.  All Star Western is far better, but it does show there are limitless Gothic Western stories that can be told, not just with Jonah Hex and not just in Gotham City.

    

As an added feature to All Star Western, these issues #2 and #3 have an ongoing mini-series about the character El Diablo. This add-on bonus is full of quick stories in limited panels, but adds to the Saturday serial mystique of a Western series like this.  If you like the character El Diablo, I’d suggest Jai Nitz’s very cool El Diablo: The Haunted Horseman graphic novel, drawn by Phil Hester and Ande Parks.  And as for another book with a similar Gothic vibe, check out Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, by Brian Augustyn, with a powerhouse art match-up of Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell.

Last month, Saturday Night Live celebrated 36 consecutive years of live television.  It’s a show like no other, and since the beginning back in 1975 producer Lorne Michaels hand selected stand-up comics and comedic actors to be featured in skits that spoofed everything from presidents to commercials, and in doing so, he launched the careers of some of the biggest names in Hollywood over the course of those 36 years.  A lot of SNL recurring characters even made it to the movie theaters, like The Blues Brothers, Coneheads, and Wayne’s World.  And this summer Ben and Jerry’s even named an ice cream flavor after both the subject of a memorable skit, Shweddy Balls, and a former Weekend Update actor, Jimmy Fallon, and his late night TV show.  And Michaels’s hosts also used SNL as a career springboard, with major actors duelling for “most host” status.

This week’s SNL featured the star behind the Shweddy Balls skit, none other than the brilliant and hilarious dramatic and comedic actor, Alec Baldwin.  Unlike Mel Gibson or Charlie Sheen, Baldwin is like Teflon–the guy bounces back from whatever missteps he causes or situations he stumbles into.  But going back to his performance as a jerk on 40 episodes of Knots Landing (where he fell off a roof trying to kill his wife), attitude is just part of the guy’s schtick.  In fact, if I was working on the re-launch of Dallas that is coming back next year, with Larry Hagman again as J.R. Ewing, I would resurrect Baldwin’s Joshua Rush to take over South Fork from J.R. (recall Knots Landing was a Dallas spinoff).

After his big death scene on Knots Landing the next big thing audiences saw was his role as a kindly husband who met an untimely end with Geena Davis in Beetlejuice.  Baldwin is also the only actor able to fill the shoes of Jack Ryan in the Tom Clancy novels.  There’s just no better Jack Ryan portrayal than Baldwin in Hunt for Red October opposite Sean Connery.  From there Baldwin went on to receive critical acclaim in dramatic roles, usually as over the top, larger than life characters, in Glengarry Glen Ross, Mercury Rising, Pearl Harbor, The Aviator, The Departed, The Good Shepherd, and finally his current run back on network TV on 30 Rock.  In The Cooler, he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor, and his other roles have earned him Golden Globes and Emmys, with dozens of nominations.

As for Baldwin’s relationship with SNL, he is one of the few to belong to the Five Timer’s Club, a group of celebrities who has hosted the show more than five times.  As host of 16 episodes, Baldwin has hosted more than any other person, followed by Steve Martin at 15 episodes (if you’re curious about recurring musical guests, two of my faves, Paul Simon and Tom Petty, lead that list).  So what better time than now for 10 skits from Saturday Night Live to remind you why we like Alec Baldwin?  For a bit of a change we’ve pulled most of the list from skits that didn’t make his “Best of SNL” DVD.

First up, if you don’t watch any other skit, just in time for the holidays, check out this first one from an alternate universe December 12, 2011, featuring Jimmy Fallon and Alec Baldwin, filmed over a decade ago:

Alec Baldwin’s Christmas Carol

The rest pretty much speak for themselves:

Alec Baldwin stops by a Diner

Baldwin Hijacks Ben Affleck’s Monologue

An Elf as only Baldwin Could Play

Celebrity Memorabilia Auction

Awesome Infomercial for the Timecrowave

An Uncomfortable Confession with Priest Alec

The Platinum Lounge

As Charles Nelson Reilly, Inside the Actor’s Studio

And of course, Baldwin’s best “keep a straight face” skit (and one of the all-time most listed “best of” skits for all of SNL’s 36 years):

NPR’s Delicious Dish features Pete Schweddy

C.J. Bunce

Editor

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