Archive for August, 2012


Review by C.J. Bunce

Any Midwesterner will find the quaint farm community in writer Tim Seeley and artist Mike Norton’s new Image Comics “rural noir” series Revival very familiar.  Even if you live in the city, you drive past these communities going to and fro, dotted with barns and sheep and silos.  What goes on there?  Are you sure you want to know?

In the Pacific Northwest David Lynch showed us a local community in the woods (set near Snoqualmie, Washington) in his TV series Twin Peaks.  In the Syfy Channel TV series Haven, we meet a New England small-town community courtesy of Steven King.  M. Night Shyamalan has written the book over and over on these towns, a la Pennsylvania flavor, whether it’s with Signs, and its nondescript blot on the map town, or Lady in the Water and its tacky apartment complex community, or The Happening with strange goings-on in Harrisburg, Penn., or The Village, whose time and place is part of the village’s (and the movie’s) secret.  Of course these all have something less than quaint in common, something filled with secrets and the supernatural, something powerful and dark.  Yet these places manage to seem familiar, and part of you wouldn’t mind setting up residence in, say, Twin Peaks, Wash. or Haven, Maine.  Remember the good coffee and donuts at the diner in Twin Peaks?  Something is luring you closer.  And now you can add the Wisconsin version of this town to the mix.  The town of the Revival.

A certain “happening” or “event” has taken place in Wausau, Wisconsin, and its drawn the attention of the entire world.  You can’t die in Wausau, plain and simple.  But what is the cause?  An old woman is reciting verses from the Bible, speaking of purgatory and rapture.  And then, like a scene from Shyamalan’s Signs, a little boy playing on his farm encounters an all-out alien–straight out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind–walking by, mimicking, and learning the boy’s language like E.T. himself.

A sheriff and his daughter Dana are investigating this upheaval, this “things like this never happen in my town” incident, as if it were an act of bio-terrorists, including involvement of the C.D.C.  Dana is our very likable police officer, a fixture in her community.  Familiar to all of us.  She is our tour guide on our travels through this world on the edge of its own Twilight Zone.  These are simple folk, and otherwise, things are normal in Wausau.

Dana finds her sister with her car parked at a bridge standing near the edge and offers to take her on to school, but she instead accompanies her to her next case.  The disturbing old woman staring away from us in a barn…  and the end comes too soon for our apparent heroine, Dana.  And her sister is next.  Or so one might think.  After all, we’re in Wausau.  And the Revival has begun.

G.I. Joe, Hack/Slash, and Forgotten Realms writer Seeley’s story is compelling and subtle and creepy.  Battlepug and Green Arrow/Black Canary Eisner-winning artist Norton’s pencil work drops us into the pastoral realm, allowing us to get sufficiently comfortable before dropping a bomb on us, or in this case, a scythe.  Creepy but not so much disturbing, as say, the similar vein of Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising.  Thankfully.  But you really get the feel of Steven King, David Lynch, and M. Night Shyamalan here.  And I’ll be back for more with Issue #2.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find another character like Boba Fett.  As merely one among innumerable creations of George Lucas, his own Man with No Name cultivated his own mystique and fans elevated him to cult status.  Those who grew up with Star Wars as I did first met Boba Fett on the front cover of an action figure package, an image of a freebie toy you could mail in to receive for saving the little proofs of purchase off the back of the packages.  If you ordered early, like the kid up my street did, you might get not only one but two rocket firing action figures and you could sit across from each other and fire away.  The most fun action figure ever made, Kenner quickly decided to glue in the rocket for safety concerns.

Boba also appeared on a holiday Star Wars special many prefer to forget (not me).  One of several of Lucas’s BF characters (like Bob Falfa in American Graffiti and Bib Fortuna in Return of the Jedi), there is no reason kids should have flocked to him like we did.  His appearance in The Empire Strikes Back was for mere minutes of film.  He was left to a cruddy death scene in Return of the Jedi, one of the reasons I saw Return of the Jedi in the theater once vs. having seen Star Wars in its original theater run ten times.

Boba Fett was so popular Lucas brought his image and armor back in his prequels in the form of his father, Jango Fett, even establishing that every Stormtrooper in the Empire was a clone of his father, and the early clone troopers became an early in-universe variant of Boba’s Mandalorian armor.  This wouldn’t have happened but for this unique status fans brought to this character.  Regardless of why we like him and think he is the epitome of all things cool, it’s hard to deny his incredible worn and damaged armor is a key part of his appeal.  Created by Joe Johnston it stands out among the best creations of any sci-fi character in any franchise.

So it is a superb pick for the subject of this year’s big charity event at Star Wars Celebration VI.  Working with the Make a Wish Foundation, the As You Wish Helmet Project is a charity event that invites designers and other artists to take a plain vanilla Boba Fett or Clone Trooper helmet, supplied by an entrepreneurial costume creation house called  The Dented Helmet, and turn the helmets into something unique.

More than 40 artists have signed up and are providing the finishing touches on their creations this week.  The final results will be displayed in the Dented Helmet booth at Star Wars Celebration VI beginning this Thursday, August 23, 2012 to Sunday, August 26, 2012, in Orlando, Florida.  After the Celebration is over, the Make-A-Wish Foundation will auction off all of the helmets on eBay, with 100% of the proceeds going to the charity.

Although it’s not a contest, you can’t help but recognize how the artists put all their passion into these creations, which are being previewed as they are finished on Facebook.  And with that, we’ve included several helmets above that will hopefully fetch some good bids for a good cause, including one that was re-created by original designer Johnston, shown above at the top of this article.  My favorite is the creation of my friend Tom Spina, who provided a stunning, inspired mash-up of the original Total Recall and our favorite bounty hunter, complete with life-like Arnold Schwarzenegger life-mask.  Like Spina’s creations in this year’s Super Bowl ad where he re-created the famous Star Wars cantina scene, here again he went all out and the result is as cool as Fett himself.

Mark your calendar for this auction.  It’s not every day that a Joe Johnston Boba Fett helmet is available to the public and even though it’s not screen-used, you know you want one.  With creations from Spina, WETA Workshop, ANOVOS, Sideshow Collectibles and dozens of other artists, this event will be sure to turn heads.  Check out the links above for images of other inspired works of sci-fi art.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

By C.J. Bunce

Journalists in real-life tend to get a bad rap from folks who don’t understand how critical the Fourth Estate is in keeping the masses informed, upholding the First Amendment, and ensuring and fostering an open marketplace of ideas.  Journalists in fiction have been portrayed as good or bad, reflecting the realities of any profession.  Archetypes dating back from the days of yellow journalism survive to this day, in part because of the general nature of journalism and its origins as an apprentice-learned field.  We emulate the past leaders of our professions to some extent.  Journalists are practically unregulated.  Regulations resulting from the 1934 U.S. Communications Act that protected the public and set boundaries for the profession have changed over the years, loosening restrictions on reporters (at least in the States) yet the news business draws the same personalities–driven people who get a thrill from searching for a needle in a haystack, who won’t give up until they can quote chapter and verse about that needle.

In mirroring reality over the years, Hollywood has shown us as time marches on what real journalists look like, what they do in their profession that we like and don’t like.  You can see a shift from yellow journalism’s search for the biggest headline to journalists attempting to change the world, breaking barriers, asking questions, digging deeper, and often crossing the line to get the truth behind a story.

As Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda headline The Newsroom, a new journalism-inspired TV series this airing this summer on HBO, let’s look at where Hollywood has done a good job (or not) in its depiction of newsrooms and their occupants.

I know a lot of journalism educators have their students watch some of these shows as part of understanding the history and nature of the craft of investigative reporting (mine did) and I often wonder just how much that has served to get students and future professionals in the mindset of the classic feet-on-the-street reporters.  Case in point: It Happened One Night (1934)  Clark Gable plays a reporter, cocky and sure-footed, yet a bit of a slacker who is not making the cut with his editor.  He pursues a spoiled heiress who runs away from home, played by Claudette Colbert, to get a big headline for his paper, and becomes romantically involved with her by picture’s end.  His reporter is the type depicted in film for the next several decades.  Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 film State Fair starred Dana Andrews as a reporter covering the Iowa State Fair for The Des Moines Register.  Andrews’ confident character showed reporters as people to admire, and also illustrated that reporters are people, too, as he becomes involved with someone he meets (Jeanne Crain) while covering his story (like Gable’s character in It Happened One Night).  Even Dustin Hoffman’s take on Carl Bernstein in 1976’s All the President’s Men seems to emulate this strident reporter attitude, adding a bit of renegade to the mix.  Randy Quaid in the Ron Howard newspaper film The Paper is another variant on this guy–sleeping in the newsroom, seemingly some kind of drifter yet street smart, knows all the right people especially if part of the city’s underbelly, and just the guy you want when you need a partner on a big story.  Although The Paper seemed more of a caricature of journalism–complete with Michael Keaton shouting “Stop the presses!”–it definitely is a lighter entry in the catalog of journalism films.

The newsroom is the center of the biggest film ever made, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1939).  Charles Foster Kane’s classic line:  “I think it’d be fun to run a newspaper” connects with anyone running a journal, newspaper, or magazine.  And as loud and off-the-wall as journalists are depicted here, Welles got the film absolutely right, basing the entire story on the life and times of media baron William Randolph Hearst.  In pursuing the mysterious “Rosebud,” the journalist who bookends the story adds a double layer of truth with reporter as storyteller.  The excesses of yellow journalism and the abuse of the medium permeated many mainstream movies of that era, including Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (1941). Not entirely a newspaper movie, it does focus on an over-eager reporter played by Barbara Stanwyck who, like Kane, creates news where there is none for the sake of headlines.

Reporters as valuable, even crucial and noble members of society elevated the Fourth Estate to something of a venerable realm with movies like Call Northside 777 (1948).  There Jimmy Stewart picks up a dead case of a man convicted of a crime that only his mother believes he didn’t commit.  Based on a true story, Stewart’s reporter leaves no stone unturned in early Chicago, ultimately risking his own life to get the man out of jail (the film also reveals the first use of the lie detector machine as an investigative tool).  The height of the importance of newspapermen, of course, came with the Washington Post bringing down a presidency, as documented perfectly in All the President’s Men (1976), a film whose newsroom could not better reflect a real-life, working newspaper office.  Jason Robards, Jr. played Ben Bradlee as only a real editor could be played and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played young aspiring journalists Woodward and Bernstein in a mystery movie that could prompt anyone to enter the field.

The year 1976 also highlighted the more modern arm of journalism, broadcast journalism, in the popular film Network, which caused  viewers to repeat forever the phrase “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”  But here, it seems dated now, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, and Peter Finch just seem to have shed a light on the problems of any business in crisis, and despite its focus it does not make my recommendation list that well-document the journalist experience.  However, where Network shone a dark light on broadcast journalism, the timely China Syndrome reflected the value of reporters in society.  Jane Fonda’s bright and cheery fluff reporter who wants to report hard news is as real and inspiring as it gets, and Michael Douglas’s role as photographer who pushes the envelope to get a story rounds out a great reporting team.

Genre movies based on comic books have revealed to most of us our view of the editor and reporter in a big city newsroom, and the result doesn’t miss the mark so much.  Jackie Cooper as The Daily Planet’s Perry White in Superman (1978) and later, Lane Smith’s work in the same role in the Lois & Clark (1993) TV series revealed a tough-as-nails editor every bit as real as Ben Bradlee at the real Washington Post, although Smith’s take brought Cooper’s 1950s-1970s era version into a version more familiar to 1990s newsrooms.  A more cartoonish but similar role was played well by J.K Simmons as Peter Parker’s editor J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-man (2002).

Modern Hollywood, and perhaps modern audiences, latch onto the journalists as sleuths.  That thrill and danger that may not be the stuff of daily working journalists certainly happens in real life from time to time and more modern films exemplify that.  In Pelican Brief (1993) Denzel Washington gives a textbook performance as an investigative reporter.  In The Insider (1999) Russell Crowe and Al Pacino reveal journalists as watchdogs, taking on big tobacco and the media themselves as politics prevents the long-time respected TV news show 60 Minutes from telling the story the reporters want to tell.  Good Night and Good Luck took us back to the same CBS newsroom 40 years prior, as Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his team (including a memorable performance by Robert Downey, Jr.) take on McCarthyism in the 1950s.  Veronica Guerin (2003) revealed the true story of a reporter played by Cate Blanchett whose pursuit of the story shows the extent reporters will go through for their cause–the pursuit of truth.  There is simply no more exciting and gritty film about newspaper reporting than David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), following Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal in pursuit of the Zodiac killer in 1970s San Francisco.

Most recently British television has reminded us that classic news stories still make compelling entertainment.  You can probably ignore the U.S. remake of the same name starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, but the British original TV series State of Play (2003) follows newshounds John Simm and Kelly MacDonald as they work for a brilliant newsroom manager played by genre actor Bill Nighy in their pursuit of the truth behind the death of a young political worker who may or may not have gotten too close to an up-and-coming politician.  Like Robards, Cooper, and Smith mentioned above, Nighy crystallizes for us the role of the newsroom editor/manager.  Then last year the BBC’s The Hour (2011) took us back to 1950s fledgeling broadcast journalism, including the pressures of England’s complex government and politics and the impact of censorship laws on the media.  Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw star not as news anchors but producers behind the scenes in a refreshing new look at the business of news.

As media evolve into multimedia, Hollywood will no doubt keep pace with more fascinating storytelling, and we’ll be on the lookout for the next great journalism films.

I really like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor.  He’s in a rare group of current actors like Tom Cruise, who, no matter what he does outside acting, so long as he keeps making good movies I’ll keep showing up to watch him.

In many ways Arnold is like his Expendables and now Expendables 2 brethren, especially Sylvester Stallone, whose self-made rise to fame was a lot like Arnold’s, and Bruce Willis, who seems to churn out movies of all types like nobody else.  But Arnold is also one of those bigger-than-life/megastar/film legend/superstars who could arguably be lumped in with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.  These three have a more distinctive, almost superhuman aura.  And just as Wayne and Eastwood did, it looks like Arnold is entering a distinct “third act” of his career.  You can look back and see Wayne in his B-movie days before Stagecoach, where Clint was making TV shows like Maverick and Rawhide, and Arnie was getting his sea-legs as Conan the Barbarian.  Then with their second acts they all made it to the bigtime, Wayne with John Ford Westerns and war movies, Clint with spaghetti Westerns and then Dirty Harry, and Arnold with his blockbuster action films: Predator, Terminator 1&2, and True Lies.

So what’s next?  Wayne got gruff in his elder years as highlighted in his Rooster Cogburn role.  As did Clint, even going back ten years he began this new life persona as old man, but always a modern take on what it means to be an old man.  His character as a geezer in Gran Torino is nothing like Dirty Harry or The Man with No Name, but it’s still one of his best performances.

So what about Arnold?  After his hiatus as California’s Governator, he slips back into movies this month with his bit part in Expendables 2.  But his first film returning in a leading role is due out after the holidays: The Last Stand.  Arnie’s stilted acting shown in the first trailer for the film put aside, I see some things I may like in this new action flick.

First, I loved The Rock/Dwayne Johnson in his remake of Walking Tall, co-starring Johnny Knoxville.  I didn’t think that film could be remade and I loved the result.  The plot of this film seems strangely similar.  And that’s Johnny Knoxville again… in apparently the same role!  Although–Knoxville looks a bit more psychotic than normal here.  And that’s saying a lot for the guy from Jackass and MIB 2.

Next, I really liked Sylvester Stallone’s performance as a worn down police officer caught in the middle of a culture of bad cops in the universally praised film Cop Land.  This movie, from the preview, feels like it could be a similar work for Arnold–a grizzled lawman needing to step up and take a stand, maybe the last stand, as the movie’s title would indicate.

It also reminds me a bit of Chris Cooper in Lone Star.

They are certainly not standout roles for John Wayne, but he played a cop twice toward the end of his career, in McQ and Brannigan.  And despite the dated look, both are darned good movies.  This type of role may be a good way for everyone to get back liking–and cheering for–our returning megastar.

And finally there is that Clint Eastwood gruff, cracked speech thing.  Call it tough as nails, call it dry, it is partly why we see Clint as the tough guy we see him as today.  Is this the future of the once young and pumped-up Arnold on the big screen, moving from his classic “Ah-nold” accent to a raspy smoker-like delivery?

Check out the trailer:

The Last Stand, directed by South Korean director Jee-woon Kim, hits theaters January 18, 2013.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Following on the coattails of DC Comics’ reboot of its entire line last year, Marvel Comics is following suit with a relaunch of its own, called Marvel NOW!  Marvel execs have taken great pains to diffeentiate their line from DC’s re-vamp last year.  First, they claim this is not a reboot.  They also revealed that they are going to be nicer to comic book buyers, by rolling out the new changes week by week, allowing several opportunities for readers to jump on the new storylines.  Marvel NOW! will also restart only “flagship” titles (and Deadpool?), and other titles will continue their storylines.  Either way, it’s another excuse to re-start all the major series and shuffle some others, including merging teams and creating some new titles altogether.

The design of the covers and cover art really looks sharp–I really like the Fantastic Four and Iron Man covers.

So what are the new titles and the creative teams behind them?  Here are all the details, including cover art for the new first issues:

October release:

Uncanny Avengers #1 will be written by Rick Remender with art by John Cassaday.  At least five covers expected to be available.  Here’s Marvel’s detail on the title:  THIS IS IT!  The greatest era of the Marvel Universe starts here!  From the ashes of AvX an all-new, all-different Avengers assemble!  Captain America begins his quest to create a sanctioned Avengers unit  comprised of Avengers and X-Men, humans and mutants working together – so why is Professor Xavier’s dream more at risk than ever?  The first attack of the most loathsome villain in history will quake the Marvel Universe forever!  The funeral of one of Marvel’s greatest heroes!  $3.99

November releases:

Iron Man #1 will be written by Kieron Gillen with art by Greg Land.  Keep a look out for at least six variant covers.  Here is the Marvel explanation: Tony Stark—Iron Man: Technological visionary, wealthy playboy, unparalleled  engineer, and armored Avenger.  His greatest invention becomes his  greatest mistake. Iron Man must act fast…and Tony Stark must build faster!  The lethal techno virus Extremis is out in the wild and out for  grabs to the highest bidder! It’s up to Tony Stark to contain it and  that means creating a new suit of armor…NOW!  $3.99

Thor:  God of Thunder #1 will be written by Jason Aaron with art by Esad Ribic.  Six covers available.  Marvel’s blurb:  Throughout the ages, the gods of the Marvel Universe have been vanishing, their mortal worshippers left in chaos.  NOW! the Mighty Thor follows a trail of blood that threatens to consume his past, present and future selves.  The only hope for these ravaged worlds lies with the God of Thunder unraveling the gruesome mystery of the God Butcher!  $3.99

Captain America #1 will be written by Rick Remender with art by John Romita, Jr.  Six available covers.  The details: Thrust into a bizarre, inhospitable world far from home, the all-new, high-adventure, mind-melting, tough-as-nails, sci-fi, pulp-fantasy era of Captain America is NOW!  With no country and no allies, what’s left for the Sentinel of Liberty to protect?  The Saga of Dimension Z begins here!  $3.99

Indestructible Hulk #1 will be written by Mark Waid with art by Leinil Francis Yu.  Six covers expected.  The detail:  Hulk – Indestructible force more weapon than man.  Banner – smartest man alive.  Combined they are the Strongest, Smartest Weapon on the planet!  And NOW! the INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK is an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.!  $3.99

Fantastic Four #1 will be written by Matt Fraction with art by Mark Bagley.  Seven covers available.  Marvel’s description: Four adults. Two kids. One “car.”  NOW! begins a journey through all of infinite time and space.  $2.99

FF #1 will be written by Matt Fraction with art by Mike Allred.  Five available covers.   Marvel’s details:  We have seen the future and it will be fantastic!  In the absence of the Fantastic Four, a substitute Four, hand-picked by the real deal–Ant-Man, Medusa, She-Hulk and Miss Thing–stand ready to guard the Earth and the nascent Future Foundation for four minutes… NOW! what could possibly go wrong?  $2.99

Deadpool #1 will be written by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn with art by Tony Moore.  Six covers expected.   Marvel’s description:  Dead former United States presidents, from George Washington to Gerald Ford have been resurrected, and that’s BAD.  The Marvel heroes can’t be the ones to stop them, someone is needed with the reputation, skills and plausible deniability to take out these com-monsters in chiefs…NOW! is the time for Deadpool… In Wade We Trust!  $2.99

X-Men: Legacy #1 will be written by Simon Spurrier with art by Tan Eng Huat.   Five covers expected.  The details: Legion, the most powerful and unstable mutant in the world and son to Professor Charles Xavier, has killed gods and reshaped the face of the universe.  NOW! in the aftermath of Avengers vs. X-Men, Legion will finally attempt to conquer his demons and embrace his father’s legacy!  $3.99

All New X-men #1 will be written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Stuart Immonen.   Five covers expected to be available.  What’s it about?  It’s a blast from the past as the original five students of Professor X – Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel and Beast – are plucked from the  past and brought to the present.  But what they find, the state that their future selves are in and the state of Xavier’s dream, is far from the future they dreamed of.  And how will the X-Men of the present deal with their past coming crashing forward?  $3.99

A+X #1 will be written by various writers and artists as it will be a new anthology series for Marvel, following on the heels of Avengers v. X-Men coming out earlier than the above titles.  Each issue of the series will feature two team-up stories each focusing on a different Avenger and X-Man working side-by-side.  The first installment has a Hulk/Wolverine story by Jeph Loeb and Dale Keown and a Cable/Captain America tale by Dan Slott and Ron Garney.  $3.99

December releases (preliminary info):

Avengers will be written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Jerome Opeña.  It will be published twice per month.

New Avengers will be written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Steve Epting.

Point One will be a special issue featuring Ant-Man, Hulking and Wiccan, Nick Fury, Starlord, Cable and Nova.  Several creators will be working on this issue:  Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Jeph Loeb, Kieron Gillen, Nick Spencer, Dennis Hopeless, Mike Allred, Ed McGuinness, Steve McNiven, Jamie McKelvie and Salvadore Larroca.

More to come as Marvel Comics releases more information about its new line.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Everyone here at borg.com is pretty excited this week to hear that Elizabeth C. Bunce (who reviewed The Closer, Major Crimes, and Grimm here this week) is featured on Oprah Winfrey’s 2012 Kids Reading List for her second novel, StarCrossed, a high fantasy adventure about a thief on the run who stumbles into a Renaissance era revolution.  Oprah.com revealed its newest annual list this month, and StarCrossed is one of 25 books recommended for teen readers.  Other selections include The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, 2009 Newbery winner The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and 2012 Eisner winner Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.  Elizabeth is one of only a handful of writers to have two books on Oprah’s Kids Reading List.  Her first novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, the national award-winning retelling of Rumplestiltskin set in a haunted woollen mill, was included on the first such list in 2009.

StarCrossed is the first installment in Elizabeth’s Thief Errant series.  Her 2011 release Liar’s Moon is the fantasy noir sequel to StarCrossed, featuring the continuing adventures of intrepid thief Digger as she returns to her home city at the brink of war.  Good news abounds, as Elizabeth also learned this week that Liar’s Moon will receive the Kansas Notable Book medal from the State of Kansas later this year.  This is Elizabeth’s third book to receive this recognition.  Her books have been recognized by the American Library Association, the Smithsonian Institution, the Chicago Public Library, Cybils, all major book review publications, and several other states.  Elizabeth is currently working on her fourth novel.

If you haven’t seen Elizabeth’s books yet, here are book trailers for her first three novels:

A Curse Dark as Gold

StarCrossed

Liar’s Moon

So if you like to read fantasy, don’t take our word for it, check out the thousands of online reviews for her books, such as those found at book review websites like goodreads.com, where you’ll find 7,500 ratings by readers of Elizabeth’s novels.  A Curse Dark as Gold, StarCrossed, and Liar’s Moon are available at a library near you, and discounted hardcover, paperback, eBook, and even an audiobook version (for A Curse Dark as Gold) of her books are available at Barnes & Noble, Powell’s City of Books, Amazon.com, neighborhood bookstores, and other online retailers.

C.J. Bunce*
Editor
borg.com

*proud DH

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Season One of borg.com favorite Grimm ended on a high-stakes cliffhanger, with Juliette in a coma, evil Adalind missing, and surprise-of-surprises, Nick’s mom alive and kicking Wesen butt.

Thankfully, NBC didn’t make us wait long for the outcome to all this suspenseful buildup, and Monday night’s Season Two pilot jumped right in with both feet, ratcheting up the tension and stakes with more twisty mysteries, otherworldly conspiracies, and good old-fashioned drama.  What it didn’t do was wrap up any of those storylines–Juliette is still in a coma, Adalind is still missing, and Nick’s mom is a back-from-the-faked-her-own-death UberGrimm–presaging a season full of complex mystery and perhaps more questions raised than answered.

Its attention soundly focused on building the series mythos, “Bad Teeth” follows a French Wesen assassin, or Mauvais Dentes, sent to Portland to presumably dispatch Nick (David Giuntoli)–and anyone standing in his way, including cargo ship stowaways, crewmen, harbormasters, security guards, and FBI agents.  A brief appearance by veteran character actor James Frain (Leverage, Burn Notice, The Closer, etc.) hints at the involvement of the Verrat, one of the ancient secret societies of the Grimmverse introduced last season.  Frain, who is always solid, was especially fun in his one short scene–and we hope to see him again this season.  He’d make a great ongoing villain, and it would be nice to see him in a regular role, instead of just popping up for guest appearances.

Meanwhile, Nick’s reunion with his mother is equal parts tender and educational. Kelly (Kelly? Really?) Burkhardt, in a fun, Chuck-style stunt casting move, is played by longtime favorite Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Abyss, Without a Trace).  They navigate the secrets of Nick’s past and her disappearance/supposed murder, explore Aunt Marie’s trailer, and decipher some of the mystery of the Verrat, the Mauvais Dentes, and the fabled Seven Royal Families in charge of it all.

Meanwhile-meanwhile, as Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) and Rosalee (Bree Turner) work on an antidote to Juliette’s (Bitsie Tulloch) magically-induced coma, the backstage machinations of shady police captain Renard continue.  All last season we watched Renard (Sasha Roiz) lurking in the background, conspiring with Hexenbiest Adalind Schade (Claire Coffee), and menacing Nick’s early efforts to harness his Grimm abilities.  The Season Two Renard seems less altogether evil, and more nuanced and complex–a welcome and fascinating development. In fact, it is Renard who seems most dedicated to waking Juliette, although for his own yet-to-be-revealed motives.

If there were missteps in the episode, they’re the same ones to haunt the series thus far.  Primarily?  The consistently underutilized Juliette could hardly be more marginalized–not merely sidelined, but comatose!  Her storyline is compelling, but she’s not doing anything.  The late-season additions of Rosalee and Nick’s mom have helped bolster the female power structure of the show, but we definitely hope to see Juliette recover and take a truly active role in the series.  If she must be kept out of Nick’s secret life, fine–but let’s see more of the smart veterinarian (who, seriously, could be a terrific asset to Wesen investigations).  And how about more scenes showing off one of our favorite cities–the filming location, Portland, Oregon?

It definitely appears as though NBC is investing more in Grimm this season–moving it to a new timeslot (Mondays at 9/8), getting a jumpstart on the fall season, launching innovative multimedia promotions, including a full-on marketing effort at this year’s Comic-Con, and adding a whole new opening to the series.  We love this, because we love Grimm, and it seemed to lag behind similar series Lost Girl (SyFy) and Once Upon a Time (ABC) last season.  Exciting new developments abound, both behind the scenes and onscreen.  We can’t wait for next Monday’s new episode!

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Monday night, TNT closed the books on one of the most popular series in its history, and began a new chapter that seems well poised to carry on the tradition of great ensemble casting and storytelling viewers have come to love.

In the series finale of The Closer, we saw the conclusion of seven years of great drama, including the wrap up of storylines sometimes two to three seasons in the making, as well as a neatly-handled setup for the new Major Crimes spinoff.  All our questions were answered, in a complex, slightly bizarre, altogether satisfying final installment featuring Chief Brenda Lee Johnson’s recurring nemesis, evil defense-attorney-slash-rapist Philip Stroh.  Johnson’s relentless pursuit of Stroh, despite an infuriating lack of physical evidence, ultimately drives her to extreme lengths–attacking Stroh and planting evidence (featuring a truly brilliant scene with the excellent but underutilized Coroner Dr. Morales (played artfully by Jonathan Del Arco, who once played our favorite borg, Hugh, on Star Trek: The Next Generation).  It’s all a bit edgy and far-fetched, but Sedgwick pulls it off, bolstered by a history of increasing histrionics over the past two seasons.  Her behavior also provides a neat exit from the series: she’ll leave the LAPD for a new job as chief of investigations for the DA’s office, taking disgraced Detective Gabriel along with her.  (Which conveniently also explains Fritz’s carryover into the new series.)

A couple of logical gaffes didn’t distract from the show’s overall impact.  When did serial rapist Stroh change his (painstakingly well-established through at least two previous episodes) M.O. and become a serial murderer instead?  And young newcomer Graham Patrick Martin pulled off a terrific performance as protected witness Rusty Beck, a teenage hustler as adept at making deals as the Department of Major Crimes–a strong showing despite some improbable moments designed to wrangle his storyline into the new series.

The very best moment in the entire episode comes during the action-packed climax–an over-the-top violent confrontation with Stroh in Johnson’s home (with only Rusty as a witness).  No spoilers, but suffice it to say that the writers concocted brilliant ends for every beloved member of the series–including Brenda’s ubiquitous black bag.

All in all, the finale felt logical, well-paced, and not overly sentimental.  With various threads wrapped up in the last several episodes, writers weren’t forced to cram too much into the finale, keeping the focus on taut storytelling and entertaining performances.  The best thing to say is the best that can be said for any series finale: It felt like a darn good episode of the show.

Despite seamlessly picking up where The Closer left off, series producers wisely gave Major Crimes its own original plotline for the pilot, giving the new show a chance to stretch its legs and introduce some of the changes viewers can expect to see, including a greater focus on action and Law & Order-style justice system manipulation.  The challenge for the new series will be to strike a balance between old and new–giving viewers enough of what we love from The Closer, while becoming more than just The Closer Minus Brenda.  I think most viewers would welcome the latter, frankly–but that’s not fair to the new series, which deserves a chance to develop in its own direction.

The cast dynamic will feel familiar to longtime Closer viewers, as the first episode centers around powerplays between Detective Provenza (G.W. Bailey) and new boss Captain Raydor (Mary McDonnell).  The two have worked together now for at least the last two seasons, so this aspect felt slightly forced and perfunctory, but no more awkward than average TV pilot growing pains.  Also slightly improbable, yet surprisingly well done, was the integration of Graham Patrick Martin’s character of Rusty, the underage witness introduced in The Closer finale.  In return for his testimony against Stroh, Rusty demands that the LAPD find the mother who abandoned him months earlier at the zoo.  Complications with the foster care system land Rusty in Captain Raydor’s custody–a twist that stretches disbelief.  It’s an interesting move, though, and it’s easy to imagine that the Rusty-Raydor relationship will mirror the zany emotional melodrama of Fritz and Brenda.

With so many familiar faces returning for Major Crimes, and the show in its predecessor’s timeslot, everything should be in place to make the new series a success.  Changes are inevitable, and maybe even exciting–with the focus off Chief Johnson, the series is free to explore new directions with the characters and storylines.  It will be interesting to see what this favorite, seasoned crew serves up with their new project!

Review by C.J. Bunce

My wife, Elizabeth C. Bunce, and I stumbled across a very good Dark Horse Comics anthology series several years ago all beginning with “The Dark Horse Book of…”  These nicely presented hardcover editions included a Hellboy story, other ghost or horror stories by the best writers and artists at Dark Horse, and ended with a story about a group of dogs and an orphaned cat.  The collections were each brilliantly drawn, brightly (or darkly) colored, and included exactly the right kind of tale for fans of ghost stories over gore.  The anthologies included contributions from the likes of Mike Richardson himself, P. Craig Russell, Keith Giffen, Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, Eric Powell, Brian Horton, Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson.  Each anthology had a separate nice-and-creepy theme, including The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings, The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft, The Dark Horse Book of The Dead, and The Dark Horse Book of Monsters.

My favorite story in each anthology was by writer Evan Dorkin and artist Jill Thompson, focusing on the dogs and the cat.  The dogs, Ace, Rex, Jack, Whitey, and Pugsley, and the orphaned cat (who they call Orphan).  These qualify as quiet stories, in that they were snuggly hidden in the back of these anthologies and meekly waited in the shadows of the louder and more mainstream stories in the front of these books.  But Evan Dorkin knows how to convey compelling story via animals like few others have mastered.  Likewise, Jill Thompson’s characters are expressive and animated, and leave readers begging for more.  Her watercolor style reminds me of Mike Grell’s work on Green Arrow, Warlord, and Jon Sable, and she probably has a more accessible style than someone like Alex Nino, whose God the Dyslexic Dog series is one of my favorites.

In The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings, their 2003 story “Stray” focuses on a the group exorcising a doghouse that has become possessed in a somber and gulp-worthy series opener.  This of course was not initially intended as a series, yet Dorkin and Thompson continued their contributions to future books.  In The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft, the band of animal friends encounter a witch cat in the 2004 story “The Unfamiliar.”  In 2005’s The Dark Horse Book of The Dead story “Let Sleeping Dogs Die,” the merry band confronts the witch cat again, this time allowing her the chance to become part of the team.  In 2006’s The Dark Horse Book of Monsters, the animals encounter a werewolf in “A Dog and his Boy.”  Each of these stories is endearing and clever in a way you’d only find in the Dark Horse universe.

So last week at the comic book store I stumbled on a new Dark Horse one-shot Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch.  I did a quick flip-through and knew it looked good and familiar and so I added it to the pull-list stack.  It didn’t click until I started reading the three new stories to realize what I had:  more great Dorkin and Thompson, and the animal pack has a name now as the Beasts of Burden.  This new one-shot is actually composed of three stories from Dark Horse Presents issues #4, 6 and 8.  Two other compilations exist that I have yet to get my hands on, a Beasts of Burden four-issue mini-series and a crossover one-shot in 2010 with Hellboy called Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice.  Another edition, Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites (2010) collects the stories Stray, The Unfamiliar, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, A Dog and His Boy, and issues #1-4 of the mini-series.

In Neighborhood Watch, the story “Food Run” follows our group protecting the neighborhood from a golem-like green goblin.  In “Story Time,” an old sheepdog called Wise Dog recounts the epic story to three local pups about a brave dog in battle with a “Weeping Angels” twist.  In “The View from the Hill,” Orphan has encountered a lost herd of sheep and although we hear no “bah-ram-ewe” uttered, Dorkin and Thompson enter the realm not of Babe but of the X-Files.  Will little Jack ever be the same?

Last year there were rumors that Beasts of Burden may have been optioned for an animated movie.  So long as Jill Thompson is illustrating and Evan Dorkin is writing this could be a great idea–a dark, but not too dark, animated animal tale to take on the same old animated offerings we get each year.  But the real challenge will be getting the human voices to match the inner thoughts of Dorkin’s dogs and cats as well as he writes it.

If you were asked to determine what single piece of film should be put in a time machine to preserve what it means to be human for future generations, or to send a synopsis along with a new Voyager space probe to a distant world so they could learn about us, what would you select?  For me, there is one documentary series that rivals all other documentaries and non-documentaries alike, that required so much thought, cooperation, and coordination over the years that it is amazing it was even possible.  That series is Michael Apted’s Up Series.  At a basic level, this true life tale of class and social inequality may very well be the closest we ever get to time travel.

Roger Ebert has called the series “an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium.  No other art form can capture so well the look in an eye, the feeling in an expression, the thoughts that go unspoken between the words.  To look at these films, as I have every seven years, is to meditate on the astonishing fact that man is the only animal that knows it lives in time.”  It’s also on his list of the 10 best films of all time.

In May, British TV released 56 Up, the eighth installment of the Up Series, the reflections on the 56th year of the life of a group of 14 British citizens first chronicled in 1964 in Granada Television’s film for the BBC titled Seven Up! directed by Paul Almond.  A researcher who helped select the original 20 seven-year-olds for the project, Michael Apted, came back every seven years thereafter to interview as many of the original students who were available and interested in participating. The premise of the film was taken from the Jesuit saying “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”

The series is probably the most important film ever made, simply because it is a camera’s eye on real-life people discussing every day life over the entire course of their lives.  Fans worldwide have eagerly awaited each episode, and it is truly the first reality series ever made, and with that has come the good and the bad.  The good is allowing the participants themselves to see how they have changed over the years and allowing us to share in that.  The bad is the antics of fans of any subject, made up of ongoing questions:  Who will participate next time?  Who has prospered?  Who has had hard luck?

The scrutiny has apparently affected the participants in many ways.  One installment suggests the negative light in which one man’s wife was viewed in a prior installment may have led to a divorce.  Members have dropped out, and come back again later as their perspectives on the series changed, one man helped another who was in trouble, another shot from homeless person to a surprising role in politics.  Apted has commented in recent years that he wished they had included more women, and that they initial intentionally pulled participants from the extremes of society.

Worldwide, those who watch the series find they much watch all prior installments–it is very addictive.  You also note commonality, such as participants experiencing bouts of family death all in the same year span of their lives (just as would happen with others throughout society).  You also find yourself cheering for the success of each person, or maybe the person you most relate to, in subsequent installments.  The participants have been a mix of commoners to a taxi driver to professors and politicians, consisting of Bruce Balden, Jackie Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk and Tony Walker.

If you’re a Netflix subscriber, you can stream the series now up to 49 Up.  And it’s available at Amazon.com.  It’s engrossing, engaging, and addictive.  Once you start, plan on watching it all.

As for 56 Up, Americans will have to wait a bit longer, although it is expected that niche arthouse theaters will be showing 56 Up on the big screen across the country by year end.  We can’t wait!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
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