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Archive for June, 2017


Review by C.J. Bunce

Twenty years ago this weekend, the sovereignty of Hong Kong was handed back to China by the United Kingdom as the last act of the old British Empire, without incident.

The anniversary of this transfer of power coincides with the release by Hard Case Crime of one of crime fiction readers’ most eagerly awaited events: the final novel of Donald E. Westlake.  The result surpasses all expectations from one of America’s most celebrated authors:  the adventure of Ian Fleming, the complexity of Michael Crichton, the surprises of Stephen King, the thrills of Peter Benchley, the pulse of John Grisham.  A taut thriller, gripping, heart-pounding, and jaw-dropping, Forever and a Death is Donald E. Westlake saving his best for last.  Forever and a Death is his never-before-published new novel–a James Bond story of sorts–with an intriguing backstory.  Tapped to write the second James Bond film to feature Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Westlake created a compelling story of international intrigue revolving around the return of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997.  Because of the success of GoldenEye, the uncertainty of a smooth transfer of power of Hong Kong, and a distaste by the Chinese market for Bond,  the Broccoli family and the Bond franchise machine amicably parted ways with Westlake.  But he then reworked his story in secret, leaving behind at his death in 2008 a stunning action adventure, only snipping the world famous spy from the story.

The result is one of the most intelligent, loathsome, and shrewd Bond villains you’ll ever meet, Richard Curtis, an enormously wealthy business mogul who has amassed a network of corporations across the globe that will allow him to carry out his every wish.  When he is booted from Hong Kong at the transfer of power, he becomes fixated on a power play to destroy Hong Kong as payback.  As with many wealthy CEOs, Curtis is charismatic and influential.  He has encircled himself with individuals who are beholden to him for their own wealth and they would do anything to maintain his and their own lifestyle.  And that includes murder.  Not as preposterous as many Ian Fleming constructions, the method Westlake creates for Curtis is completely believable: using a series of carefully calculated explosions, a soliton wave will be created that will shake the very foundation of Hong Kong and reduce the entirety of the city–skyscrapers, homes, and millions of lives–to sediment.  Westlake introduces his male protagonist to show us the way, a trusted engineer named George Manville (a partner in action with Bond in the original treatment).  Kept in the dark about the ultimate goal, Manville completes the first test on a small abandoned island near Australia that he believes to be part of a plan to make the island into a lavish resort.  But when an environmental group tries to stimy Curtis’s test, a headstrong activist and diver emerges, a woman named Kim Baldur (who would become, to a small extent, Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies) dives into the ocean and swims for shore to stop the operation.  Unfortunately for her, Manville neglected to incorporate a kill switch to the project, and she is swallowed by the wave and what would have been a superb Honey Ryder-esque Bond girl is left for dead.  And this is only the introduction of the novel.

Artist Paul Mann completing the original artwork for the cover of Forever and a Death (from Illustrated 007).

Westlake peppers his story with completely unique characters, and readers will find they empathize with even the most minor of them as they are subjected to Curtis’s gruesome tactics.  You may need to remind yourself to breathe as well-meaning whistleblowers find themselves in Hong Kong’s underbelly just as Curtis begins to carry out a plan to walk away from his destruction with a haul of gold bars that rest in the bank vaults beneath the city.

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As with Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit franchise, George Lucas and Lucasfilm have rarely let screen-used props and costumes out of their own personal or corporate collections.  From time to time costume components retained by production staff members or third-party contributors to the productions have surfaced at private auction, mainly parts of costumes including Darth Vader and Stormtrooper helmets, various weapons including like blasters and lightsabers, and model ship filming miniatures.  But never before has an entire Star Wars character found its way to auction, and one of the most iconic pieces in the history of film at that.  So when a beautiful, full-sized R2-D2 hit the auction block yesterday, deep-pocket bidders took notice.  In an exciting back and forth of increasing bids in $100,000 increments, it seemed the bids for R2-D2 wouldn’t end.  In less than 3 minutes the hammer stopped at $2.3 million for a total sale price (after factoring a 20% buyer’s fee) of $2.76 million.  This was not only the first private Star Wars sale to eclipse seven figures, it is the highest known price paid in public auction for a piece of Star Wars film history (a Panavision movie camera used by Lucas to film the original Star Wars sold previously for $625,000, the filming miniature model of the Rebel Blockade Runner spaceship from the opening scene of the original Star Wars sold for $465,000, and a miniature filming model of a TIE Fighter sold for more than $400,000).

Like many props in the film industry, this R2-D2, made of aluminum, steel, and fiberglass parts, was pieced together from many parts that had been used, retired, and refurbished throughout the Star Wars films.  According to auction house Profiles in History, who handled the sale yesterday at its offices in Calabasas, California, the anonymous seller sourced the many robotic components together over several years.  And, indeed, Profiles in History has demonstrated via photographic evidence the R2-D2 can be screen-matched via its individual components to screen use in each film of the original trilogy (1977-1983) and the first two prequel films (1999-2002).  After several weeks of publicity for the auction, the ownership of the restored R2 unit and its sale at this auction was not disputed, and so the bidding got underway at approximately noon Pacific time yesterday.

Profiles in History staff taking phone bids during the auction said there was no time to celebrate the success of the R2-D2 during the auction–even after three days of the auction more than 500 lots remained to be bid on following the landmark sale of the droid.  The sale of the R2-D2 prop came only a day after Profiles in History sold the famous floor John Travolta danced on in the climax of Saturday Night Fever for $1.2 million.  A golden prop foot of R2’s pal C-3PO went unsold at the auction, but in December 2008 Profiles in History sold a golden prop head of C-3PO, worn by actor Anthony Daniels, for $120,000.

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Along with the pile-on of comedies coming from CBS All Access this Fall previewed earlier here at borg.com, Fox has its own new comedies entering the mix.  In addition to the Seth McFarlane sci-fi comedy Orville (previewed here), the network is offering a new half-hour paranormal comedy, Ghosted.  Known for his offbeat comedies, Jonathan Krisel, co-creator of FX Network’s Baskets and showrunner on Portlandia, will be directing the pilot and is an executive producer on the series.

In part a spoof on The X-Files, the series stars Craig Robinson (Mr. ROBOT, The Office, Mr. Robinson, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Hot Tub Time Machine series) as Leroy Wright, the skeptic, and Adam Scott (Angie Tribeca, Parks and Recreation, Party of Five, Veronica Mars, Wonderfalls) as Max Allison, the believer, in a show about alien abductions and an underground Men in Black-inspired government agency.  Longmire’s Ally Walker is the captain of the agency.

Check out this preview for Ghosted:

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James Bond fans loved when they could choose between two Bonds.  It only happened once, back in 1983 you had your choice of then-current Bond Roger Moore starring in Octopussy, or the back-from-retirement Bond Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again–the outside of canon Bond film created during a contract dispute.  But as much as we think the current Bond, Daniel Craig, is perfect as Bond, who wouldn’t want to see Pierce Brosnan return one more time?

We’ve no hope to see Brosnan return again as Bond, but we may be getting a taste of just that later this year when Martin Campbell, director of Brosnan in GoldenEye and Craig in Casino Royale, returns to direct Brosnan–this time as antagonist–in the action film/drama The Foreigner.  The Foreigner is even bigger news for Jackie Chan fans, as Chan will star as the film’s hero.  American audiences have been begging for his return for years.  They really haven’t seen Chan since 2010’s remake of The Karate Kid, and in full martial arts mode it’s been ten years–back in 2007’s Rush Hour 3.

Veering away from Chan’s normal, light-hearted summer popcorn movie use of his incredible martial arts skill (along with his notable team of stuntmen) The Foreigner is a serious drama, delving into modern-day terrorism as Chan’s character seeks revenge for his daughter’s death.  Like the similar vibe seen in the Transporter and Taken series, the first trailer for The Foreigner reveals some fine wall-to-wall action.  But a sense of Chan’s clever use of his high octane martial arts style in troubling situations is also obviously peppered into the film.

Here is the first trailer for The Foreigner:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C.J. Bunce

Editor
borg.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out all the full covers above and below:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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