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Archive for April, 2018


Review by C.J. Bunce

King Kong.  Mighty Joe Young.  George of the Jungle.  And all the derivative films made since.  Add to that mega-sized monster movies like Godzilla and you’ll find their latest incarnation in this month’s release of Rampage.  The evolution of the technology of putting a giant ape on film is all about CGI and motion capture now, and you’ll learn all about it in the new book The Art and Making of Rampage, by Ellen Wolff.

In Rampage, a genetic experiment goes wrong, unleashing three giant, mutant predators.  Dwayne Johnson stars as a primatologist whose once-gentle friend George, a highly intelligent silverback gorilla, is exposed to the experiment.  Johnson’s character joins with a geneticist played by the James Bond films’ Naomie Harris to find an antidote to try to save both George and the world from the giant mutants.

From its roots in the 1980s Midway arcade game (Warner Bros. owns the Midway game titles) to the corresponding giant-sized personality of the film’s star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Rampage is all about bigger and better.  The recurring theme is “go big, or go BIGGER, or go home.”  Readers of The Art and Making of Rampage, a full-color hardcover volume, will get the entire behind-the-scenes tour.  From concept to screen readers will follow the “band getting back together” as Johnson reunites for the third time with director Brad Peyton and producers Beau Flynn and Hiram Garcia, who he worked with on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas.  With bits of Jurassic Park, Project X, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Pacific Rim, Rampage is full of action sequences, all detailed in the book.

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Although we’ve seen the end of Star Wars Rebels with its finale airing just last month, DisneyXD is revving up its Star Wars animated universe again this Fall with an all-new adventure.  Star Wars Resistance will look backward in time once again, but instead of looking to the period before Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as with Star Wars Rebels, this time we’ll see an as-yet unseen period before the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  This time the show will also have a new look–Star Wars Resistance will be inspired by anime series, and it will also air on the Disney Channel in addition to DisneyXD.

Familiar Lucasfilm Animation creator Dave Filoni will be leading the series, which will feature a new Resistance pilot named Kazuda Xiono, who will be spying on the First Order with the help of BB-8 and Poe Dameron.  In addition to Oscar Isaac returning as the voice of Poe, Gwendoline Christie will voice Captain Phasma.  Actors set to co-star in the series in as-yet undisclosed roles include Bobby Moynihan (Saturday Night Live), Christopher Sean (Hawaii Five-0), Suzie McGrath (Law & Order: UK), Scott Lawrence (Legion, Star Trek Into Darkness), Myrna Velasco (Elena of Avalor), Josh Brener (Star Wars Rebels), Donald Faison (Scrubs), Jim Rash (Community), and Rachel Butera (Family Guy).

The only official art released for the series so far is the logo above featuring BB-8 and a yellow-trimmed X-Wing Fighter.

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It’s hard to believe we first Kelly, Sabrina, and Jill forty-two years ago.  And don’t forget Bosley and Charlie.  Charlie’s Angels, replaying all these years later on cable channels, remains great nostalgic fun for fans of the early all-women team-up series.  Jaclyn Smith’s Kelly, Kate Jackson’s Sabrina (long before she was Mrs. King), and the first of the circulating #3 position: Farrah Fawcett-Majors’s Jill Munroe.  Although the series ran from 1976-1981, Jill was a member of the team in the first season only.  Dynamite Comics is returning to that first season in its new series Charlie’s Angels.  Written by John Layman with art by Joe Eisma, get ready for a 1970s throwback in the vein of Dynamite’s The Six Million Dollar Man Season Six and Wonder Woman ’77/The Bionic Woman series.

Here is the marketing release information from Dynamite:

The Angels are back, baby!  The original Angels, Jill, Kelly and Sabrina!  Travel back to the swingin’ 70s, and revisit the butt-kicking, crime-fighting, mold-breaking lady detectives who took 70s TV by storm, ready to do the same to comics 40 years later!  Break out your bell-bottoms, feather your hair, and jump back to an era of peanut-farmer presidents, gargantuan gas-guzzlers and foxy female detectives… for a globe-trotting adventure that’s simply too big and epic for the 70s-era boob tube.  Written by elderly Eisner winner and solicitation-writing former-superstar John Layman, and with art by his scrappy but lovable youngster pal, Joe Eisma.  This is one comic you DON’T DARE TO MISS!!!!

Look for ten covers for Issue #1 of the series, including the main cover with logos and an incentive cover without logos (above) by David Finch and Jimmy Reyes, two covers by Joe Eisma, three character design variants, two pencil-only variants, and a blank sketch cover:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Ten years in the making.  Eighteen movies leading up to this weekend in the gigantic new blockbuster, Avengers: Infinity War.  Never before have superhero fans seen so many superheroes on-screen at once:  Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Spider-man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Falcon (Anthony Mackey), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Wong (Benedict Wong), Shuri (Letitia Wright), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt).

So many movies, especially superhero movies, depend greatly on the success of the villains.  Spider-man: Homecoming is great in part because of Michael Keaton’s Vulture.  Black Panther is great in part because of Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger.  And Thor: Ragnarok was great in part because of a load of solid villains: the CGI-created Surtur, Cate Blanchett’s Hela, and Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster (and even a great supporting tier of antagonists including Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and Karl Urban’s Skurge).  So now, at last, Josh Brolin moves past his cameos in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron to give us a big dose of one of comic books’ best-known villains, Thanos.

Marvel Studios promised to tie everything together, including every magical talisman holding the six Infinity Stones, of which filmgoers have encountered five so far: The blue Space Stone (seen held in the Tesseract in Captain America: The First Avenger), the yellow Mind Stone (seen in the Scepter in The Avengers), the red Reality Stone (seen held in the Aether in Thor: The Dark World), the purple Power Stone (seen in the Orb in Guardians of the Galaxy), and the green Time Stone (seen in the Eye of Agamotto in Doctor Strange).  

So did directors Anthony and Joe Russo deliver as promised? Continue reading

With the exception of the vast expanded universe of Star Wars and Star Trek, probably no other sci-fi property has branched out in as many exciting ways as the Alien universe.  Every new tie-in novel consistently has been packed with suspense and innovative takes on Weyland-Yutani and its influence years before, during, and after the events of Ridley Scott’s original Alien movie.  Each year fans of Alien celebrate April 26 as Alien Day, reflecting not a specific day in the history of the franchise, but the designation of the moon in the film Aliens: LV426.

No book or film has portrayed the people behind the Weyland-Yutani Corporation as more vile and despicable as author Alex White has envisioned them in his new novel released for Alien Day 2018, Alien: The Cold Forge, a sequel to the second film in the franchise, James Cameron’s Aliens.  The Company is proceeding to fulfill one of its initial ideas, to weaponize the Xenomorphs for military use.  Alien: The Cold Forge is Aliens as if written by Michael Crichton, a blend of Congo and Jurassic Park with aspects of the modern Planet of the Apes trilogy tie-ins and Project X.  Never before in the Alien stories will readers want to see a corporate rep get his just desserts as the brutal, psychopathic corporate exec Dorian Sudler, embarking on a resource slashing audit of the experimental science station RB-323.  A dying woman must carry out her own secret gene research project among the layers of secret projects within Weyland-Yutani–if she is to survive.  Exciting?  Yes.  Suspenseful?  Definitely.  Readers will also learn the true name of the Xenomorphs, and encounter an entirely new use of the Weyland-Yutani borgs (like Bishop and David) that we haven’t seen before.  Order your copy of Alien: The Cold Forge now, here at Amazon.

Coming later this year is Alien Covenant: David’s Drawings by Dane Hallett & Matt Hatton.  This boxed edition contains two books, providing readers an insight into the most intriguing character from the Alien prequels.  The in-universe sketchbook contains more than 200 illustrations from the set and will take you inside the mind of David.  Plus Developing the Art of an Android provides an interview with Hallett and Hatton, the artists behind the sketchwork.

In the vein of fun tie-in books like A Die Hard Christmas, get ready for Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo by Rory Lucey.  In space, no one can hear you meow.  Aboard the USCSS Nostromo, Jonesy leads a simple life enjoying The Company cat food and chasing space rodents.  Until one day his cryostasis catnap is rudely interrupted.  The humans have a new pet and it’s definitely not house trained.  This full-color illustrated book offers a cat’s eye view of all the action from the movie Alien.

While you’re at it, check out these Alien tie-ins previously reviewed here at borg.com:

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Twice before comic book creators have tried to resurrect the popular 1967-68 Patrick McGoohan television series.  The first was created by comic book giants Jack Kirby and Gil Kane in the 1970s.  In an odd twist as strange as the series itself, the Kirby/Kane comics never made it to publication.  Lucky for fans of these creators and fans of the show, the 1970s story will be available later this year as The Prisoner: The Original Art Edition, including Kirby’s first issue, 18 pages of Kane’s artwork, and a contemporary follow-up story by Steve Engelhart that would have continued the series.  It’s available for pre-order now here at Amazon or from your local comic book store.  A second attempt at a comeback came in 1988-89 with the prestige format DC Comics mini-series The Prisoner: Shattered Visage With powerful artwork full of symbolism from Mister X creator Dean Motter and co-written with Mark Askwith, the series raised more questions, and was reprinted in a trade edition that is still available (here).

Today a new beginning is coming to comic book shops with Titan Comics next continuation of the series, 50 years after the series wrapped.  Written by Peter Milligan (X-Statix, The Mummy) and illustrated by Colin Lorimer (The Hunt, Harvest), with colors by Joana LaFluente and lettering by Simon Bowland, The Prisoner: The Uncertainty Machine introduces a new Number Six to the Village.  It’s a cool, stylish re-introduction to the strange world from the original TV series.  Milligan engages readers from the initial action sequence, and Lorimer’s re-creation of the Village is a perfect homage for fans of the original and the real-life location in Wales where the show was filmed, Portmeirion.  This Number Six’s partner was taken while both were on assignment with MI5.  Can Number Six confront Number One, rescue his partner and find his way to become the second agent to ever leave the Village, and the first to leave with his mind intact?

  

Here is a preview of Issue #1 of The Prisoner: The Uncertainty Machine, courtesy of the publisher, with six covers and two exclusives (one from Diamond/Vice Press/Chris Weston, and one from Big Finish), including a Kirby original (also seen in the forthcoming The Prisoner: The Original Art Edition), and a Michael Allred cover.  We also added a first look at later covers from the series:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Hayao Miyazaki’s Whisper of the Heart may be the anime master’s most heart-warming story.  Based on the 1989 manga by artist Aoi Hiiragi, Whisper of the Heart is a 1995 romance and drama about a teenage girl who wants to be a writer, and with the determination and self-discipline necessary, she is successful at completing her first novel.  The story within a story that she writes is about an ornamental cat in a store window that she names The Baron.  In a fun twist, Hiiragi wrote the girl’s story into another manga, titled The Cat’s Repayment, and that story was adapted into Studio Ghibli’s 2002 anime film The Cat Returns.  “The Cat” returned to theaters this week as part of the Fathom Events series and Studio Ghibli Fest 2018, and has its final screening at theaters nationwide Wednesday evening, April 25, 2018, at 7 p.m. local time.  Find theater information and order tickets here.

This month’s release of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs was inspired by the anime films of Studio Ghibli, and you can see the influences from The Cat Returns in particular.  The Cat Returns is a much lighter film with none of the violence of Isle of Dogs.  It has rightly been referred to as “delightful,” “sweet,” and “cute.”  Its appeal for cat fans is the sincerity and authenticity of director Hiroyuki Morita (Akira, Perfect Blue, My Neighbors the Yamadas), and his use of real cats for some of the cat dialogue.  The story centers on a high school student named Haru.  When Haru rescues a cat in the road from an oncoming truck, the cat stands upright and speaks to thank her, and she soon learns he is a cat prince whose father the Cat King grants her the blessing of total happiness.  She finds she could always hear and communicate with cats, but lost that sense years ago.  Cats from the kingdom pile on the gifts, not realizing people don’t like mice and catnip as much as cats, and when the gifts and rewards get too great and the Cat King goes overboard, she is helped by a well-dressed cat at the Cat Business Office–The Baron.

Haru meets a rather skeptical, rotund, white cat along the way named Muta, who is possibly the finest, most realistic cat ever translated to film.  Soon the Cat King determines Haru should marry his son, and Haru, The Baron, and Muta embark on an escape from the palace through a labyrinthine maze.  Studio Ghibli, with creators Miyazaki and Morita, have visually presented the most believable cats in their numerous productions over the decades.  In The Cat Returns the characters are not so much photo-real as in Miyazaki’s directorial efforts (here he serves as executive producer), yet the charming story is truly everything any cat lover will love.  It is also filled with good humor, an engaging fantasy story, and lots of silliness that both kids and adults will appreciate.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Arsenic and Old Lace?  Truth is often stranger, darker, and more insidious than fiction.  Where the classic horror comedy dramaticized the historic use of arsenic as poison via elderberry wine, a routine use of the substance killed an incalculable number of people, probably at least in the tens of thousands, over the course of a little more than a century.  Imagine everything around you right now that is printed in the color green is printed with an ink which, if you brush against it, inhale it, touch it, or ingest even a minute amount of it, would kill you violently?  A recent scholarly account weaves together a tale of 18th-19th century science and psychology, beauty, style, and design, products liability and corporate greed, political cartoonists and iconic leaders of art history, and a scholarly account of an artform and staple of the arts and crafts movement in the most unlikely of collisions with day-to-day life.  Lucinda Dickens Hawksley’s Bitten By Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home is a book about wallpaper.  And it could be the most surprising and intriguing book you read this year.

At one level Bitten by Witch Fever could be a useful tool–included in its pages are facsimiles, and thankfully only facsimiles, of 275 color wallpapers from the 19th century.  It’s almost unprecedented and an ideal sourcebook for the period, for local or commercial set decorators, or for any artists and designers attempting to recreate in any medium the average household of the day or the most opulent business setting.  Yet each of the papers represented was tested by current scientists to include arsenic.  Predominantly tied to greens of a century of wallpaper style and taste, ultimately arsenic would be worked by designers into a broad spectrum of the color palette.  But mankind has known the harm of arsenic going back to ancient times, right?  It’s the complexity of the “Why?” that art and social historian (and Charles Dickens’ great-great-great granddaughter) Hawksley wrestles with in revisiting the use of arsenic in all its forms: as domestic poison, as health tonic, as pigment enhancer, and as murder weapon, and its rise in production with the rise of fashion of decorative wallpaper.  But why “witch fever”?  That reference in the title was from a comment by apologist William Morris–the arts and crafts movement innovator artiste–who also inherited from his father one of the few mines that produced arsenic.  To brush off arsenic safety scaremongers, he had responded, “As to the arsenic scare a greater folly it is hardly possible to imagine: the doctors were bitten as people were bitten by the witch fever.”  In part, the realities were fuzzy: many people lived with wallpaper with no ill effects, and yet others sleeping in a closed room with wall-to-wall arsenic coated papers would become violently ill.  Hawksley identifies cases of alleged crimes, court cases, alleged murders, and attempts to halt arsenic use.  Throughout the 19th century political cartoonists drew cartoons mocking the public’s continuing use of the poison in daily life.  Many of these cartoons are also included in the book.

The horrors were real:  young siblings die after pulling wallpaper off their walls and licking off the strange flavor.  From an ancient Greek physician using arsenic as an antiseptic to Nero using arsenic to murder Britannicus, to Napoleon rumored to have died in exile from arsenic poisoning, to the death of a Swedish king and the Borgias, the history of the substance crosses borders and social strata.  A few countries were quick to ban its commercial use, while factories where it was used were slow to address safety issues for workers.  In 1775 chemist Carl Scheele’s new green was so vibrant that the real fever was very much public fascination with new, beautiful colors.  It was used on walls, but also in flypaper, flocked papers, rodent and insect poison, asthma and eczema cream, as a Victorian aphrodisiac, face creams and soaps, artificial decorative fruits and vegetables, dress fabrics, mail labels, playing cards, all sorts of product packaging, and (gulp) cake icing coloring, candy, and lickable postage stamps.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For those who just can’t wait for the home video release of Ready Player One to see what Easter eggs you may have missed, you have a way to find some of them now in Insight Editions’ new book The Art of Ready Player One If you missed it, check out our review of the movie here.  Like the film, the book, too, is a throwback to the 1980s, revealing not only what ideas made it to the screen, but also imaginative visual steps in the creative process along the way.  The best of these include concept art of each key character avatar in its various forms and large images of key environments.

Writer Gina McIntyre pulls together interviews with director Steven Spielberg, novel and screenwriter Ernest Cline, co-screenwriter Zak Penn, production designer Adam Stockhausen, costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone, and other members of the cast and crew to look behind the scenes at the adaptation of Cline’s novel from negotiation of a deal with Spielberg to his initial ideas, development, production, and every step in between to final cut.  Expect The Art of Ready Player One to be heavy on concept art with less screen images.  While it leaves out many spoilers, it also delves into some important surprise scenes and sets, so beware if you’re flipping through the book before you see the film.  Since the film was largely a CGI-created spectacle inside a virtual reality world, readers will also learn more about the latest in performance capture/motion capture effects, including interviews with the young actor leads.

A showcase of the artwork that transformed into costumes, props, film, and CGI images and a look into Spielberg’s creative vision, readers will find rationale for changes from the novel to the film.  The Art of Ready Player One features the work of creators Dan Baker, Alex Jaeger, Kyle Brown, Stephen Tappin, Neil Floyd, Kirsten Franson, Ulrich Zeidler, Jama Jurabaev, Dominic Lavery, Hugh Sicotte, Sam Rowan, Bianca Draghici, Chris Muller, Christian Alzmann, Greg Hill, Adam Baines, Chase Friedman, Aaron Sims, Cooper Surrett, Michael Pecchia, Steffan Reichstad, Stephen Zavala, and more.  Their concept art is often more highly detailed than seen in similar phases of other films.  Most of the images look like final stage, fully rendered storyboards than the initial ideas they actually represent.

Here are some images from The Art of Ready Player One courtesy of the publisher:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When next surfing your next adventure on Netflix, fans of seafaring stories will want to make sure they save some time for the 2005 television mini-series To the Ends of the Earth, one of the best accounts of the brutal, nasty, ignoble, and vile side of life in the early 19th century.  In what would be a relatively simple flight across continents today on a jet plane was a life-risking venture on the high seas in 1812, as a young British aristocrat named Edmund Talbot travels by a converted ex-warship to Australia, and learns more about social positions, decency, military discipline, and character than he contemplated when he booked his voyage into politics around the globe.  As with the recently reviewed series The Terror, To the Ends of the Earth is a grimy, authentic look at life below deck for the several tiers of passengers (a mirror of British society) in a classic man-of-war.   But where the production for The Terror looks gorgeously historic, it’s the stench that seems to permeate this tale in a way unmatched by The Terror, the A&E Horatio Hornblower series, Master and Commander: To the Far Side of the World, or Kenneth Brannagh’s Shackleton. 

Sometimes just plain gross, but never in a gratuitous way, To the Ends of the Earth is a smartly written story in the same serial delivery as the Hornblower series, this one three 90-minute chapters for a total of 4.5 hours.  Based on a trilogy of novels from the 1980s by Nobel Prize-winning Lord of the Flies author William Golding, for fans of modern film and modern takes on Sherlock Holmes, the series is a great, early pairing of the BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the big screen Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadow’s Moriarty, Jared Harris.  Although his fictional story is less popular an his voyage less memorable, Harris elevates his layered Captain Anderson to a naval leader comparable to Forester’s Pellew and Foster and O’Brian’s Aubrey (and a comparison of his captain then to his The Terror captain 15 years later is also worth the watch).  A younger Cumberbatch also shows his acting chops and foreshadows his later rise in filmdom, carrying each scene for nearly the entirety of the series’ 4.5 hours as the show’s tour guide, Talbot.

Flies.  Rotted food.  The stench of the wounded and the dying in close quarters.  The constant rocking of the ship, inability to walk, or sit, or drink, or sleep without getting sick, wet clothes, rashes, injuries, preparing for battle, losing men overboard–this film stinks (well, almost) like no other, and thankfully without the addition of Smell-o-vision.  Add to that being lost, the uncertainty of ever landing anywhere, distrust, embarrassment, mutinous types, savvy sailors and poor sailors, alcohol, drugs, sex, and no doctor or surgeon in sight for six months.  Oh, the good ol’ days, right?  We must take the books’ author and the studio’s word for it as to true authenticity, but the costumes and treatment of the human condition seems completely spot-on.  Thomas Hobbes’ life outside society as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” has hardly been more plainly laid out.

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