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Archive for September, 2018


That Miller and Lord cut of Solo you were hoping for?  You already saw it.

I was always sold on his father, Lawrence Kasdan for writing The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and writing and directing Silverado (and his superb work on non-blockbuster films like Continental Divide and Mumford), but Jonathan Kasdan (who co-wrote the screenplay to Solo: A Star Wars Story with his father) has filled in the remaining gap in what is probably the year’s best home video special features package.  That would be the extra features that accompany the home release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, available now.  The included features have key deleted scenes, most of which would have served the movie well were they included in the theatrical release (like Han’s fall from the Imperial Navy), and the least of which is plain fun that every Star Wars fan should love (like a snowball fight between Han and Chewbacca)–eight deleted scenes in all.  The home release also contains insightful featurettes that demonstrate the love for the saga and the vision, skill, and craftmanship that came together to create the film.  But it’s missing an audio commentary.  More on that in a minute.

Director Ron Howard, production designer Neil Lamont, special creature effects designer Neal Scanlan, director of photography Bradford Young, and the Kasdans, along with other members of the crew, provide fantastic insight into the influences and experience of creating the movie.  The best features include Team Chewie, with interviews and footage of Joonas Suotamo in and out of costume, and Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso, where we see the historical art influence on the Sabacc card game scene, and Solo: The Director and Cast Roundtable, a a refreshing and eye-opening look at how Howard and the key actors came together.  Also included are short featurettes Kasdan on Kasdan, Remaking the Millennium Falcon, Escape From Corellia, The Train Heist, Becoming a Droid: L3-37, and Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel RunAcross all these, keep an eye out for Tim Nielsen, supervising sound editor and sound designer for Skywalker Sound, whose creativity is the kind of effort that caused Ben Burtt to get the Oscar for his work on the original Star Wars.  Watch these features and see why Nielsen and his team should be in the running for Oscar for his work on Solo: A Star Wars Story this year.

Director Ron Howard on the Millennium Falcon set of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Director Ron Howard, who replaced Christopher Miller and Phil Lord late in production of the film, bent over backwards to treat the departure of the two prior directors with grace and respect, which means he hasn’t discussed much detail about his work on the film.  We never thought we’d learn “who contributed what” to the film, but that is where Kasdan’s notes come into play.  Released in advance of the home video release this past week, they shed some light on what went on behind the scenes, what could easily be Kasdan’s personal, unrecorded, audio commentary notes–had Lucasfilm included one in the features.  From a certain point of view, the inclusion of so many scenes developed by the initial director duo reflect the theme of the saga: Miller and Lord–seemingly two rebels against Lucasfilm/Disney who had a vision for Star Wars and for whatever reason were sidelined–were able to have much of their vision survive in the final cut of the film.  Howard’s role seems to have been both Fixer and Closer, in addition to giving his personal touch to certain scenes, something addressed well in the features.  Kasdan’s notes (not included with the home release but reproduced below) are the ultimate backstage pass into all the creative minds behind what must have been a difficult film to make (Star Wars plus Star Wars fandom sometimes reflects the Dark Side of the movies all too well).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The Cyclops, the bronze warrior Talos, the large dinosaur Rhedosaurus, a giant gorilla, a barrage of battling skeletons with swords, Raquel Welch as a cavewoman, the horrifying Medusa–whatever the first image that comes to mind, generations of movie audiences have an instant picture that comes to mind when they hear the name Ray Harryhausen.

The 1949 King Kong-inspired film Mighty Joe Young and the 1981 Greek myth-inspired adventure Clash of the Titans represent two ends of a major chapter in the history of movie visual effects and how filmmakers viewed fantasy, sci-fi, and horror films.  Each film represents different generations (each a film my father and I would see in theaters when we were about nine years old), and each bookends the career of famed special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen.  With his trademark Dynamation and later Dynarama stop-motion filmmaking advances, Harryhausen set himself apart from other filmmakers.  The result?  Just like The Beach Boys and The BeeGees have their singular styles among popular music, Harryhausen films are instantly recognizable and identifiable, films that could have only been produced by the mind and the hands of a single visionary.  And hands-on creation was key to Harryhausen’s various film techniques, but it was often expensive and slow, requiring the better part of a year to painstakingly film thousands of images for only a few special effects sequences in a film.  The sixteen films Harryhausen is known for are the focus of Richard Holliss’s deluxe hardcover chronicle, Harryhausen: The Movie Posters, first previewed at San Diego Comic-Con this summer and now available this month to fans everywhere for the first time.

Of the same stylish quality and presentation as another 2018 publication, Clint Eastwood–Icon (reviewed here at borg), Harryhausen: The Movie Posters also sees its auteur from the vantage of the myriad movie posters that advertised his films.  Holliss takes an additional step that students of film should be drawn to, providing a film-by-film account of Harryhausen’s development of each film along with the posters, a view on his groundbreaking techniques including stop-motion animation via miniature models, stop-motion combined with live-action footage, background plates, storyboarding, combining location footage, miniatures, split-screen, and rear projection, using painted backdrops, multi-camera shots, full sound stages, backtracking from stop-motion to actors in costumes when finances warranted, creating steel ball-and-socket armatures under sculpted creatures of foam rubber, paint and latex, using blue-screen shots to combine actors and miniature stop-motion models, incorporating traveling mattes and matte paintings, and in-camera effects like forced perspective, and Harryhausen’s own sodium vapor effects system.

Where we saw in Clint Eastwood–Icon an evolution of the movie poster over time, reflecting changes in art styles and design movements, changes across posters advertising Harryhausen’s movies were more subtle.  The studios seemed to prefer a palette of design concepts that could let audiences know this was a new Harryhausen film, with sweeping fantasy landscapes and key creatures and characters as bold centerpieces drawing-in the eyes of potential audiences.  The posters represented aren’t only those styles seen by audiences entering American movie theaters.  These include many variations that appeared in theaters across the globe, some by artists whose names are lost to time, with decade-appropriate type styles and language to match.  In Harryhausen: The Movie Posters you’ll find artwork from obscure artists to more familiar creators, including Gene Widhoff, Luigi Martinati, Wik, Alfredo Capitani, Gustav Rehberger, Anselmo Ballester, V. Lipniunas, Vonderwerth, Jean Mascii, Charles Rau, G. Meyer, R. Kanz, E.A. Ubis, M. Copizzi, Roger Soubie, Tom Chantrell, Jack Thurston, Bodhem Butenko, Paul Tamin, Enrique Mataix, Raymond Elseviers, Picchioni Franco, Frank McCarthy, Olga Fischerova, Jacek Neugebaur, Brian Bysmouth, Mort Kunstler, Birney Lettick, Miloslav Disman, Roger Huyssen, S. Gorga, Bruno Napoli, and Greg and Tim Hildebrant.

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Odds are, you’re going to find this year to be the best year yet for accessing your favorite Halloween movies in October.  Particularly if you have a DVR and basic cable, you’ll be able to find many staples of the holiday season.  Below we’ve provided hundreds of movies scheduled to air–hundreds to choose from with a mix of classics and brand new shows–our annual compilation of the movies you get with the typical national basic cable packages.  Syfy’s 31 Days of Halloween is back, along with Freeform’s 31 Nights of Halloween.  AMC’s Fear Fest begins October 14, this year swapping out many movies for reruns of The Walking Dead, leads up to the new season premiere of the series (AMC’s listing below will be updated once they publish their final official schedule).  And TCM is back with monster classics and special theme days.

We’ve bolded some of our recommendations and other notable events in October.  A new Halloween movie will be in theaters and you can watch all the past entries in the series on AMC.  TCM honors the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein with several classic spin-offs.  You won’t want to miss Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, too.  A Stephen King movie marathon, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Bela Legosi, Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger, and lots of exorcisms.  Plus lots of animated movies on Freeform, and the Disney channel will be releasing its listings for Monstober later in the month.

All month long on Netflix you can watch horror movies including The Sixth Sense, The Lost Boys, The Boy, Cloverfield, Coraline, Children of the Corn, Cult of Chucky, Van Helsing, plus series like Stranger Things, The Twilight Zone, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Requiem, Bates Motel, and The Frankenstein Chronicles.  On Starz you can find a mix of sci-fi and horror movies including John Carpenter’s The Thing, They Live, and Ghosts of Mars, Young Frankenstein, Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, Underworld: Blood Wars, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Zombieland, Life, Scream, Amityville: The Awakening, Sleepy Hollow, Hollow Man, The Craft, and many more.  If all else fails, you can probably grab your favorite ghost story or other horror classic on Vudu and Amazon Prime, where you can buy or rent recommendations like The Fog (both versions), The Birds, The Shining, Orphan, Let Me In, The Others, The Woman in Black, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Ring, Grimm, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  

So take notes and put your watch list into your DVR now so you don’t miss anything.  (All times listed are Central Time):

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Shane Black has finally delivered what fans of the Predator alien have been after since they first saw Arnold Schwarzenegger take the creature on in the original 1987 film that featured Black in an acting role as one of the marines.  The movie The Predator, in theaters now, delivers exactly as promised.  More Predators.  Bigger and badder alien fight scenes.  Great new sci-fi special effects tech.  A wall-to-wall movie of rude jokes and one-liners.  A squad of maladjusted, badass misfits in the realm of The Dirty Dozen (if every character was played as Telly Savalas’s character), only this time the squad isn’t recruited for a suicide mission to fight the bad guys.  The surprise comes with an actual, serviceable plot that knocks the predecessor sequels out of the ranking (some elements… gasp… it even handles better than the original).

For diehard fans of the franchise who read the prequel novel (a great read we reviewed here earlier at borg) the movie lives up to the introduction provided in the book, which gave plenty of backstory for Sterling K. Brown’s pseudo-military leader Will Traeger–one of the movie’s key villains.  Screenplay writers Shane Black and Fred Dekker include an ambitious, layered story with interesting subplots.  One thread follows a boy played by played by Jacob Tremblay, the autistic son of star Boyd Holbrook’s tough Captain McKenna.  The kid begins to play with what can only be described as “really cool alien tech” his dad sends him in the mail.  Olivia Munn gets to play her most badass character yet, a biologist called in to work with the research group that has caught a Predator, being studied in a lab led by Jake Busey, who plays the son of the character his father Gary Busey played in Predator 2–Jake Busey offers a solid performance as a low-key scientist that could make it back for a future sequel.  Another subplot follows the alien hunters as they each search for some secret objects.  The ensemble ad hoc military unit that takes on the Predator includes a diverse team of actors pulling together a chaotic brand of chemistry: Trevante Rhoades, Thomas Jane, Augusto Aguilera, and Keegan-Michael Key.  Another subplot sets up the next film nicely, a new phase for Predators this film only touches on.

The reason we see more than one kind of Predator is explained in the film, but each has incredible updated props and costumes, and the plot makes great use of both.  It’s all loyal to the original.  The best part of the 1987 film was the absence of the alien throughout the film, appearing sporadically, menacingly, like the shark in Jaws.  We don’t see much more of the alien in this movie, but we get to see what he looks like head to toe in the lab, we get to see how his arm gauntlet and helmet work, and plenty of action scenes as in the original.  One character even gets into the head of a Predator (sort of) to understand its technology and motivations.

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It must be going forward if 20th Century Fox releases an actual trailer for the movie, right?  After the last contract is inked it may very well be that only thirteen “X-Men movies” were ever made, before Disney steps in and recombines the Marvel X-Men adaptations into Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.  For those of us that loved the X-Men movies, this is the winding down of a great era of movies, highlighted by the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, and Ian McKellen as Magneto.  Who will ever forget one of the finest adaptations to film of any superhero from any comic book as Evan Peters became Quicksilver, defending his fellow mutants in the Pentagon?  And the high point of any superhero movie (from Marvel Comics, DC Comics, or anyone else) must be the Academy Award nomination for best screenplay for Logan this year.  Like the competing films in the Avengers films, there were as many high as low points, but some greatness happened throughout X-Men, X-Men 2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, Logan, and Deadpool 2.

Only two more films were in the works when negotiations for control of 20th Century Fox’s film group got closer to a deal this year: Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants.  We previewed The New Mutants trailer way back last October here at borg, announcing an expected release date in April 2018, which came and went (the release date currently reflects a long overdue August 2019 premiere in theaters).  At last, 20th Century Fox has released a trailer for Dark Phoenix.

Dark Phoenix represents one of X-Men fans’ favorite classic X-Men stories.  We have already seen one take on the Dark Phoenix story, as Famke Janssen’s Jane Grey destroyed everyone she cares about in X-Men: The Last Stand, but after the timeline manipulation in X-Men Days of Future Past we learned again the lesson of the Terminator movies: The future’s not set–There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.  

Along with the new official poster, check out this first trailer for Dark Phoenix:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Magnum, p.i. was no doubt one of the best television series to come out of the 1980s, thanks to star Tom Selleck, the late John Hillerman, the beauty of Hawaii and good writing by Donald P. Bellisario.  The series ran for eight seasons and continues to be broadcast in reruns on cable channels any hour of the day, every day.  For years talk of a sequel movie or series sounded pretty exciting, but as the actors got older that became less and less likely, and that was only solidified with the death of John Hillerman last year.  The idea of a reboot may make many flinch, but what really is the harm in taking any past series, film, or franchise forward?  CBS is taking a chance with such a revered show, and Monday night it aired episode one of its new Magnum p.i. (changing only the comma), first previewed here at borg back in May).  So how did they do?

About ten minutes into the pilot for the series and viewers will know the creators of this reboot loved the original series, and that translates to the conscientious, careful effort taken with the update to the characters so many know and love.  In some ways Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad) is even cockier than Selleck’s Thomas Magnum.  He also plays his Magnum as completely genuine, the guy you can see having friends like Rick (now played by Zachary Knighton) and T.C. (now played by Stephen Hill).  At its worst the new Magnum p.i. plays like a sequel to another reboot series, Hawaii Five-O (thanks in part to both an appearance by new series regular Sung Kang, who had a brief stint on Hawaii Five-O, and the show’s location).  But a sequel to Hawaii Five-O would be no bad thing, and it’s the same way the original Magnum, p.i. began.  (Thank goodness this is not another prequel!)  At its best, it has that blend of expensive cars, high-octane chase scenes, and good old-fashioned fun that the Fast and the Furious film series is known for, and that’s thanks to that film series’ director/actor Justin Lin taking the reins and directing this pilot episode.

Along with a likeable supporting team of new actors playing Magnum’s fiercely loyal war buddies, the smartest move taken by the production is not replacing Higgins with a caricature of John Hillerman.  The new Higgins is Ready Player One’s Perdita Weeks as Juliet Higgins–yes, she’s British, complete with the Hillerman poise and accent, but unlike the original Higgins her MI6 background is let loose right away, as she holds her own in hand-to-hand combat against two former Marines with weapons attempting to kill her.  And of course the location is again Honolulu, Oahu, and the surrounding Hawaiian islands we’ll no doubt get to visit again over the next season.  And Mike Post and Pete Carpenter’s memorable theme song.  And the two female Dobermans as the lads, Zeus and Apollo.  And seemingly disposable $250,000 Ferraris–we watched two destroyed in just the first episode.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Not since Donald Glut’s novelization of The Empire Strikes Back.  That is the last novelization in the Star Wars universe that was as fun as Mur Lafferty’s new novelization of Solo: A Star Wars Story–Expanded EditionThat’s saying a lot, because Glut’s exciting prose is what got many of us through the 2.5 year wait period before The Return of the Jedi arrived, in the dark days before VHS.  Lafferty writes with quick, succinct sentences that zip the reader through the action-packed, roller coaster ride of a story.  This is the space fantasy and space Western nostalgia that fans of the original series were hoping for when the prequels and sequels came along.  Electric and classic like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the novelization energizes an already great movie.  Of course screenplay writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan deserve the appropriate praise for the bones of the story, but the novelization provides everything else that couldn’t make it into their 135-minute movie.

Best of all is a three-page epilogue that directly ties Solo: A Star Wars Story together with not just the obvious connections you already know with Han Solo, Chewbacca, and the original trilogy stories.  The novelization introduces an intersection with two other major characters from the Star Wars saga no one could possibly predict.  As good as the gambling scene was between Han and Lando at the end of the movie, it’s a shame this scene did not become part of the film.  No spoilers here, but the book is worth reading for the epilogue alone.  You’ll also find a revealing scene between Qi’ra and L3-37, and a surprising, hilarious exchange onboard the Millennium Falcon between Lando and Chewbacca.

Solo: A Star Wars Story Expanded Edition has an apt subheading, because it is precisely what sets it apart: expanding on every major character’s backstory.  Han and his encounters with Lady Proxima on Corellia and life in the Imperial Navy (including an appearance by comic book characters Tag & Bink) are told in flashback memories.  Chewbacca‘s thoughts are fleshed out, too: how he got to where we meet him in this story, and his passion to help Sagwa and the other Wookiees escape from the muddy spice mine on Kessel.  We learn what happened to Qi’ra right after Han left her behind, as she is sold to another slaveholder and finally falls into the clutches of Dryden Vos and Crimson Dawn.  Lafferty expands on the relationship between Val and Beckett, including their first encounter, too.  And most enlightening is the heavily emotional inner-workings of Lando‘s droid L3-37 and how her mechanics–plus a little coaxium–made the fastest ship in the galaxy all that it would later become.

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You wouldn’t think it would be that much of a challenge.  Transformers movies are about Transformers, right?  And yet, how often have the movies tended to gloss their way over each transformation to or from a car or jet or other vehicle?  The latest trailer for Bumblebee looks like Hasbro and Paramount are scrapping the Michael Bay style and about to deliver the goods.  And not just once or twice.  Great transformations happen all over the new trailer released this morning for the film heading to theaters this December.  Jet and helicopter to cars and then Transformers and you can actually see the components change instead of a magic CGI flash?

At last.

Everybody who has ever loved a car can see something of themselves in the trailer for the latest film in the Transformers movie series.  If you’ve ever seen an old car on its last wheel and thought there was something more to be brought back, then the young Oscar-nominated actor Hailee Steinfeld is you as we meet more of the film’s human star in the second trailerIn the same way that R2-D2 and BB-8, or Number Five, or WALL-E, or CHAPPiE, or Marvin, or Iron Giant were made lovable in their iconic sci-fi films, Paramount and Hasbro are turning back the clock, and at first glance they may finally get it right.  More heart.  More Transformers!

It’s a car, but it might as well be alive.  And better yet, BumbleBee–that classic toy yellow Volkswagen Beetle turned Optimus Prime-protector–is returning to its VW roots as this film shows him back in 1987, instead of the Camaro incarnation we saw in the movies.  And if your favorite Transformer is Optimus Prime, this trailer won’t disappoint.

Check it out:
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This month Abrams Books released The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, an account of Fred (you know him as Mr.) Rogers, his show, and his lifetime of good works, written by Maxwell King, available now here at Amazon.  As part of the roll-out of the book, instructions to make a cardigan sweater like the famous one Mr. Rogers wore on his show is now available to download for a limited time.  From the publisher:  The Good Neighbor, the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers, tells the story of this utterly unique and enduring American icon.  Drawing on original interviews, oral histories, and archival documents, Maxwell King traces Rogers’s personal, professional, and artistic life through decades of work, including a surprising decision to walk away from the show to make television for adults, only to return to the neighborhood with increasingly sophisticated episodes, written in collaboration with experts on childhood development.  An engaging story, rich in detail, The Good Neighbor is the definitive portrait of a beloved figure, cherished by multiple generations.

Abrams Books is releasing another book next month, Amy Herzog’s Ultimate Sweater Book, which ties nicely into the Mr. Rogers biography.  A big plus for Mr. Rogers’ fans:  It will include directions for a sweater like Rogers wore on his show.  You can pre-order Herzog’s book now here at Amazon, and we’ve included a preview of the book below.  He wore several sweaters and different colors on the show over the years, but has anyone counted the number of times he wore a sweater?

 

Knitters (and friends of knitters) should take note:  For a limited time you can download the complete pattern and instructions from Herzog’s book to make your own cardigan, just like the one Mr. Rogers had.  Who better to cosplay than America’s most beloved icon?

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Review by Art Schmidt

Dungeons & Dragons continues to enjoy an increased popularity among gamers and folks open to roleplaying experiences, and continuing the excellent line of campaign adventures is the latest offering, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. This is an excellent 224-page book and contains a large fold-out map of the massive city of Waterdeep in the back.  The folks at Wizards of the Coast have listened to their community of players and dungeon masters, who have lamented past maps, which provided the DM with a numbered and heavily marked map–not that useful for players as it displayed all areas of interest.  The map in Dragon Heist is two-sided: one side marked and numbered for use by the person running the campaign, and the flip side unmarked and for use with the players.  Huzzah!

Waterdeep has always been the “City of Splendors,” once the most important and influential city in the Forgotten Realms, the imaginary world where the adventures of the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons all take place (but not for long!).  The adventure Dragon Heist takes players from 1st to 5th level during a heavily investigative and dynamic mystery involving a missing treasure and evil villains who want to beat the players (and everyone else) to the prize.  Unlike other adventures, Dragon Heist contains multiple paths to progress through the story, depending on the dungeon master’s choice of villain to pit the characters against.

This latest “season” adventure was announced during the live streaming weekend event The Stream of Many Eyes where several actors and D&D aficionados along with the Wizards of the Coast staff and some high-profile game streamers all played several games of D&D and discussed the new campaign book and associated gaming paraphernalia.  Joe Manganiello (Rampage, Magic Mike XXL, True Blood), Deborah Ann Woll (Daredevil, True Blood, The Punisher), Matthew Lillard (Scooby-Doo, Bosch, Twin Peaks (2017)), Ashley Johnson (Blindspot, Teen Titans Go!, Marvel’s The Avengers) and Matthew Mercer (Critical Role, Attack on Titan, Overwatch) were just some of the celebrities involved in the three-day extravaganza.

Dragon Heist is the first in a set of two hardcover adventures, the second being Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage (available November 13, 2018).  It follows the adventurers as they perform a favor for famous explorer, raconteur, and part-time scoundrel Volothamp Geddarm.  The favor nets them a base of operations in the middle of Waterdeep, and from there things escalate as the characters are caught up in a grand mystery concerning the whereabouts of a lost treasure hoard of golden coins (called “dragons,” hence the name of the adventure).  The characters investigate some mysterious happenings and eventually can discover the whereabouts of the hoard and must battle other interested parties to try to claim it.


The adventure takes a cue from the previous hardcover campaign Storm King’s Thunder, offering dungeon masters four alternate ways to run the adventure for their groups.  This choice comes in the form of four different villains which the party is pitted against in their race to discover what is going on in Waterdeep and eventually recovering the hoard of gold dragons.  Each villain is assigned a season (winter, spring, summer or fall) and this choice dictates not only the time of year in which the adventure takes place, and the main villain, but the order in which various locations around the city are visited while in search of the clues. Continue reading

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