Archive for June, 2019


Review by C.J. Bunce

Author Greg Keyes is back again after his smartly written novels War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm with the newly released novelization of Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  Keyes takes what is a convoluted and overstuffed story on film and fleshes out the details of character motivations and plot points, revealing the film really had enough content to be released over two movies.  Keyes’ novel is based on the screenplay by Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields, and a story by those men along with Max Borenstein.  Of course a story credit goes to the many Japanese creators’ works over the past 65 years that the film’s kaiju monsters were mined from.  If you can get past the family of humans that the plot of the latest film revolves around, there is a good story of monsters rising from the ashes that should appeal to any Godzilla fan.

Each chapter begins by pulling the reader into the in-universe historicity of the giant antagonists by quoting myths, historical works, hymns, native poems, and notable stories that make reference to large creatures, ancient gods, and the end of days.  It’s a clever tool, citing works including Yeats’ The Second Coming, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Bacon’s Novum Organum, The Popul Vuh, Tennyson’s The Kraken, Hesiod, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and Job.  It all provides some minimal justification for the constant character references to the monsters as Earth’s ancient gods, as opposed to any attempted sourcing in the scientific record with something like dinosaurs or some kind of Michael Crichton-esque twisted re-creation.

In his novelization Keyes follows the film substantially verbatim, adding some improvements along the way, like specific references to Kong at Skull Island, which merits only an end-credit montage sequence in the film.  This is good preparation for the next film in the series coming next year, Godzilla vs. Kong.  He also provides information that is glossed over in the movie–who are the people affected by the monsters that don’t get the spotlight, those outside Godzilla, Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan?  We learned in the film there were at least seventeen Titans creatures guarded by gated, Monarch outposts, many via names on monitors audiences could blink and miss.

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It’s like Quentin Tarantino bought the rights to direct a Clue remake and merged it with another Kill Bill sequel and Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game.  Whichever way it ends up, the creators of the late summer release Ready or Not know how to make a great movie trailer.  Disney’s new production arm Fox Searchlight, known for independent, horror, and comedy films, looks to have produced a clever idea: a horror film with quirky dark Tim Burton-esque black comedy in a traditional mystery setting.  Make that two trailers, both a good greenband trailer and a good redband trailer.  Check out both trailers below.

Australian actress Samara Weaving (Ash vs Evil Dead, Picnic at Hanging Rock) plays bride Grace, whose new husband, played by Mark O’Brien (Arrival, Warehouse 13), belongs to a family with an eccentric tradition.  The bride must draw a card and survive the game on the card to pass the test and join the family.  She chooses “Hide and Seek” and the family grabs their weapon of choice and proceed to try to kill her.  In the backdrop is this great mansion, backed with production design by Andrew M. Stearn (Chicago, The Handmaid’s Tale, Killjoys), and costumes by Avery Plewes (The Umbrella Academy, Star Trek Discovery).  There’s not much not to like here, except the splattery blood and gore and language that won’t be for every audience.  For everyone else this looks like plenty of goofy fun.

Some high points not to overlook are the Canada actors TV watchers should be familiar with, especially Orphan Black’s standout funnyman Donnie (Kristian Bruun) and Wynonna Earp herself, Melanie Scrofano.  Other familiar faces include Andie MacDowell (Groundhog Day), Henry Czerny (Clear and Present Danger), Adam Brody (Shazam!), Elyse Levesque (Stargate Universe, Orphan Black), Hanneke Talbot (iZombie, Star Trek Discovery), and John Ralston (Haven, Reign).  Ready or Not is directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, with a screenplay by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy.

Here are both the PG-13 and the R versions of the trailers for Ready or Not:

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This past February we reported writer/artist Stan Sakai would be bringing his world of the swordsrabbit Miyamoto Usagi to IDW Publishing with stories old and new.  That begins tomorrow with the first issue of the new three-part, full-color series–yep, the black and white comic will be in full color for the first time, written, drawn, and lettered by comics legend Sakai with colors by Tom Luth (Groo the Wanderer).  Readers will catch up with Usagi caught-up in his own new drama set during the Edo period of 17th century Japan.  The first story, titled “Bunraku,” a word for Japanese puppetry, captures many elements that make the world of Usagi Yojimbo unique: adventure filled with culture, folklore, and history.  IDW also plans to bring all 35 years of Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo stories into new collected editions.  So Issue #1 of Usagi Yojimbo: Bunraku is only the beginning.

First published in 1984, Usagi Yojimbo garnered five Eisner Awards for Sakai, the 2014 Inkwell Award, 2007 Harvey Award, 2002 National Cartoonists Society Comic Book Division Awards, and the Cultural Ambassador Award from the Japanese American Museum.  Haven’t checked out Usagi Yojimbo yet?  The humor is similar to Mike Norton’s Battlepug, or Mike Wieringo’s Tellos, full of action, classic Conan, Tarzan, John Carter-level adventure, with the epic feel of Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki.  Note: Another book is now available for pre-order from Sakai’s earlier publisher.  Last week Dark Horse Comics announced Usagi Yojimbo: 35 Years of Covers, a complete hardcover collection of Sakai’s greatest covers (you can pre-order it now here at Amazon).

Usagi Yojimbo #1 will be released in a main cover by Sakai, plus variants by Daniel Warren Johnson–1:10 retailer incentive, Kevin Eastman–1:50 retailer incentive, comics legend Walt Simonson–1:25 retailer incentive, and a two-part Sakai cover that connects with Ragnarok: The Breaking of Helheim, Issue #1, plus store exclusives from Buzz (500, Legends), Maria Caligari (500, AOD Collectables), J. Scott Campbell (color or B&W, Comics & Ponies), Mike Choi (logo–600, virgin–200, Collector’s Paradise, Knowhere), Chris Johnson (1,000, Brave New World), Alex Kotkin (Excelsior), Linh Nguyen (Incredible Con), Ian Nichols (w/Tick, 500, New England), Tessa Rose (1,000, Jak’s), blank cover from Sakai for use with watercolors, another Sakai cover (500, Other Realms), Julie Sakai (500, Dogū), Mike Vasquez (500, Frankie’s Comics), and the great Charles Vess (color–750, B&W–500, HeroesCon).

Here’s a preview of Usagi Yojimbo–Bunraku, Issue #1, plus previews of the covers for Issues #2 and #3, and all 24 variants for Issue #1, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This weekend one of the greatest American film classics celebrated its 30th anniversary across the U.S.  Thirty years later and Phil Alden Robinson′s Field of Dreams still holds up.  But thirty years is a long time, and my umpteenth viewing for Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies theatrical release for Father’s Day netted even more new thoughts about one of my all-time favorite movies.  I can’t think of a better Father’s Day movie, but if you missed it in the theater this weekend, you have one more day and two showings to catch it before it goes back in the vaults until its next anniversary.  Find out more about tomorrow’s two screenings and find your local participating theater at the Fathom Events website for the anniversary event here.  TCM host Ben Mankiewicz adds some film trivia before and after the screening–he’s a great host for these anniversary events.

Not even two minutes pass before Kevin Costner′s Ray Kinsella hears the ghostly words from afar that set the story into motion: If you build it, he will come.  From there, Robinson’s tightly written, major re-work of the W.P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe is non-stop magic (check out my retro review of the novel here at borg earlier this year where I compare it to the film).  It’s accompanied by James Horner′s sweeping, emotional score that will jerk you around from ghost story surprise to epic cross-country adventure and back to quiet, pastoral personal drama.  You can go back and scratch your head over the actual films that won Academy Awards over Field of Dreams for 1989–it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score.  You’ll find Field of Dreams is the only film that stuck with audiences three decades later, airing almost weekly now on cable channels, confirming its place in the Library of Congress’s film recognition and at the top of the American Film Institute’s rankings more than once.

It’s the rare film like Field of Dreams that begs for there to be an Academy Award for best casting.  Margery Simkin, the casting director for films from Beverly Hills Cop to Top Gun to Star Trek Discovery deserves a salute for getting every role just right.  Kevin Costner never veers from pure immersion into this new farmer wanting to follow his gut instincts.  Amy Madigan plays the perfect supportive partner and wife to Ray.  Gaby Hoffman is smart for her age as Ray’s daughter and a true credit to the film.  Director/writer Phil Alden Robinson should share in the brilliant updating the novel character from real-life J.D. Salinger to the fictional Terence Mann–audiences know James Earl Jones so well from Star Wars, yet here we get the benefit of his powerfully emotional eyes and that broad smile and laugh.  I always look forward to Ray Liotta′s steely stare, his knowing calmness, and his snarky laugh-out-loud dismissal of Ty Cobb.  Keeping with the novel and my take from past viewings, Archie Graham brings the magic home as the crucial piece of the puzzle driving the story to its end, played young and eager in a 1920s mindset by the great Frank Whaley and in his later years as a wise small-town doctor by film legend Burt Lancaster.  The quaint beauty of Dubuque, Iowa, made for the perfect backdrop to film Graham’s hometown of Chisholm, Minnesota, for these scenes.

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We’ve been speculating about a new animated Star Trek for years (like back here at borg), and it’s sort of like the folks at CBS and Paramount listened to us.  Ideas of an animated Star Trek have finally taken hold of late, first with Ira Steven Behr’s Deep Space Nine documentary, and even more recently with announcements of three shows in development for 2020 or 2021: two animated shorts, an animated comedy series by Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan about the lower decks crew of a Starfleet ship, and a Nickelodeon series aimed at kids.  Is there an interest in animated Treks?  We loved that replica costume company Anovos was offering pre-orders for a cool, purple–and screen-accurate–cartoon-style Klingon uniform. Unfortunately Anovos reported production was canceled for insufficient interest.  But Behr’s documentary amped up the buzz for the potential of the medium, especially as a way to bring back actors who may not want to appear in front of the camera anymore, via voice work.  Audio genius company Big Finish has made a big business of resurrecting most of its 50 year history of Doctor Who actors (and their companions) via new audio stories, even without the animated visuals.  Want more William Shatner as Captain Kirk?  This is the way to do it.

Just two months ago we reviewed here at borg television historian and researcher Marc Cushman’s latest brilliant deep dive into vintage television in his book These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, Volume 1 (1970-75) It is a highly recommended, monumental 764-page treatise on Roddenberry, his development of the animated series, and a guide to each episode with exhaustive behind the scenes crew information.  If the future of Star Trek is, indeed, animated, it makes sense another book is coming your way, this time a full color pictorial look at the classic animated series called Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series, and you can check out some preview pages below.

The animated voyages often represented the lighter side of Star Trek that was picked up on by Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer in their story for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, incorporating more bits of humor that would become an integral part of what makes Star Trek… Star Trek from then on.  One of the biggest curiosities of post-Animated Trek is not including the unique alien bridge officers Arex and M’Ress as characters in the movies and series since.  Both have only had appearances in DC Comics’ Star Trek monthly and various novels.  Years ago Gene Roddenberry acknowledged the costs–of requirements like heavy prosthetic and makeup–required of bringing these characters to live-action versions were too burdensome for television production, yet similarly styled characters have cropped up in Star Trek IV and V and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  With the kind of makeup work done by Oscar-nominated creator Joel Harlow in Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Beyond and Emmy-winner James MacKinnon for Doug Jones in Star Trek Discovery, a live-action Arex and M’Ress could happen.

Take a look at this preview for Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series, available for pre-order now here at Amazon:

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The first season of FX’s fringe superhero series Legion was an unexpected hit, but the sophomore season didn’t quite have the same mix of edgy, weird, and dark humor.  The series, based on the comic book by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz, returns a little more than a week away for its third and final season, and FX has revealed the first look at what lies ahead.  FX has also released a summary to catch up anyone who missed last season:

Legion follows lead character David Haller (Dan Stevens), a man who believed himself to be schizophrenic, only to discover that he is the most powerful mutant the world has ever seen.  From childhood, David shuffled from one psychiatric institution to the next until, in his early 30s, he met and fell in love with a beautiful and troubled fellow patient named Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller).  After Syd and David shared a startling encounter, he was forced to confront the shocking reality that the voices he hears and the visions he sees are actually real. 

With the help of Syd and a team of specialists who also possess unique and extraordinary gifts – Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder) and Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin) – David unlocked a deeply suppressed truth: he had been haunted his entire life by a malicious parasite of unimaginable power.  Known as The Shadow King, this malevolent creature appeared in the form of David’s friend Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), but was actually an ancient being named Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban).  During an epic showdown, David managed to push Farouk out of his body and gain control of his mind.  With Farouk on the loose, the team formed an unlikely alliance with their former enemy, Clark DeBussy (Hamish Linklater), and his well-funded government organization, Division 3.  Unfortunately, the hunt for Farouk reawakened the dark voices in David’s head, and with them, a lust for power.  At odds with everyone he once considered a friend, David enlists the help of a young mutant named Switch (Lauren Tsai) whose secret ability is key to his plans to repair the damage he caused.

That’s the story so far.

We were supposed to see even more X-Men this year.  Fox’s last hoorah, The New Mutants movie based on Chris Claremont’s comic book series was slated for release in theaters later this year, but it’s been pushed again, this time to April 3, 2020.  Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg is a producer on this series.

Take a look at this preview for Season 3–the final season–of Legion:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s difficult to imagine even Superman could leap over the tall buildings that have pierced the skyline in recent years.  The current tallest building is a staggering 2,717 feet (828 m) tall, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  If its 57 elevators and 124-floor elevator aren’t high enough for you, just wait for the next skyscraper to eclipse it in 2021, the 3,281-foot high Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, which when finished will in part mimic the look of the fictional Stark Tower/Avengers building in the New York City of the Marvel movies.  From the 2,800 hundred-year-old Great Pyramids of Egypt to today’s contest to be Manhattan’s tallest structure, Edward Denison and Nick Beech′s How to Read Skyscrapers is a handy pocket-sized field guide to accompany you on your travels or serve as a reference to understand the history of humanity’s desire to build ever taller structures.

Not only does How to Read Skyscrapers provide a chronological overview of the construction processes and features behind the history of tall building design, it is a quick course in the progress of architectural science and technology.  Along the way readers will encounter flying buttresses and domes, arches, facades, and columns, lobbies and pedestals, iron framing, prefabricated modular design, elevators, sprinkler systems, boiler and ventilation systems, electricity, zoning barriers, decorative features, building material improvements, innovative lighting, air travel docking systems, marketing and competitive (ego) building and symbolism, all toward the concept of creating the building as city unto itself–and the innovation annotations are all tied to the buildings these new features were first introduced.

For much of the book two cities championed dramatic heights, first Chicago followed later by New York City, making this guide a useful tool for sight-seeing in these cities.  One section highlights American growth and early building history, another section details the global proliferation of tall buildings, followed by a survey of the tallest U.S. buildings, and a tour of the most striking, strangely designed giant structures around the world.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Using a meticulously designed new robot from Weta Workshop, the Australian science fiction movie I Am Mother has all the components of a good story steeped in the classic sci-fi of the 1950s.  It takes place on Earth after an apocalypse that could easily be interwoven into the Cyberdyne/Genisys destruction from the Terminator series, and has that futurism straight out of a Philip K. Dick short story.  What’s left are robots running everything, some on the surface, but one in particular inhabits what looks like a space station buried beneath the planet’s surface.  This robot is called Mother, voiced seamlessly by X-Men series co-star and Australian actor Rose Byrne.  She has preserved several of the last bits of humanity–embryos–in order to repopulate the species via rapid-growth technology.  The production, the design, the light-up props, and the pacing all create the right framework for a significant sci-fi film.  Unfortunately the story is single-threaded, building opportunities for subplots that get left ignored, much like January’s direct-to-Netflix sci-fi release Io.

The build-up is nicely rendered by first-time movie director and script writer Grant Sputore.  The common theme of this genre, as much sci-fi horror as merely sci-fi, is “things aren’t what they seem.”  Or maybe they are.  The audience sees Mother raise a single child from the bank of embryos stowed on the facility, a girl known simply as Daughter, played first by young Tahlia Sturzaker, then for the bulk of the movie by Clara Rugaard, both giving fine performances.  We believe the humans are long gone outside, until a woman arrives, played by two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner Hilary Swank.  She’s been shot, and whether she was shot by humans or robots becomes a mystery for Daughter to solve.  Both Swank and Rugaard look so much alike, their likeness simply must be a plot point:  Are they related, and if so, how?  Sisters?  Clones?  Same hair color and length, eyes, bone structure.  Was Swank’s lost human a former captive in the underground bunker?  How many times has Mother created Daughters or Sons?  How many years from Armageddon is this story really happening?  It’s the answers–or lack thereof–to these questions, and the ultimate payoff Sputore delivers that doesn’t match the rest of the film.

Part of the legitimacy of the film as something more than mainstream popular sci-fi is the amazing body movement work of Luke Hawker acting inside the robot suit he helped design and build with the Weta team.  How rare is it that the designer of the tech is also the actor, who is featured in 90% of the scenes of the film?  The added surprise is this was not a CGI motion capture process, but a practical effect that had to be created with real-world materials.  There is some actual chemistry between Daughter and Mother, and Mother is a pretty great mother to see in action.  It’s like watching young Will Robinson interact with his Robot in Lost in Space.  Add to the believable robot the cold and lonely tenor of the film and you have something like New Zealand’s low budget 1985 sci-fi marvel The Quiet Earth.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Let’s take a trip back 33 years ago to a galaxy not all that far away.  It was my very first issue of the only comic book I ever subscribed to.  It was the end of the school year in 1986 and at last I took the plunge to send in a check to start getting a comic in the mail.  My first issue?  Star Wars #107, which contained a note from Marvel Comics stating that this was to be the final issue and I was going to be sent something instead going forward from a new universe of comics Marvel was starting called… New Universe.  In the days before the Internet or anyone to call to say “what?” I was then sent eleven monthly issues of Star Brand.  Not quite Star Wars, each issue reminded me of what I was not getting.  I was a fan of the Star Wars comic book (issued as Star Wars Weekly in the UK) since receiving my first ever comic as a giveaway when my mom took me to my local library’s Star Wars Day right before Christmas 1977.  The series would introduce me to a roster of creators (many I’d later meet in person) including Roy Thomas, Howard Chaykin, Steve Leialoha, Rick Hoberg, Archie Goodwin, Donald F. Glut, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, John Byrne, Michael Golden, Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe, Al Williamson, Tom Palmer, David Michelinie, Klaus Janson, Ann Nocenti, Jan Duursema, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Walt Simonson.  I read every issue up to Issue #107.

The big surprise?  That original Star Wars series became everyone’s first encounter with the word BORG.  It’s probably the first ever use of those four letters to describe a cybernetic organism, and it was spoken by none other than Luke Skywalker in reference to Valance, The Hunter way back in 1978.  We would learn Valance was a borg who killed borgs, and he became an inaugural inductee here at borg in our borg Hall of Fame, and part of my opening dialogue with borg readers eight years ago here.  This year, through the miracle of an idea worthy of a light bulb floating over your head, Marvel Comics introduced for its ongoing 80th anniversary celebration something I’ve never seen done before: a single, new, numbered issue continuing a series canceled as far back as 33 years ago.  The issue is Star Wars, Issue #108–it’s fantastic and available at local comic shops everywhere now.

 

Providing a chapter by chapter sequel not to Issue #107 of the vintage series, but to the Issue #50 story “Crimson Forever,” Matthew Rosenberg is the writer on the new Issue #108 titled “Forever Crimson,” and along with Valance we again meet some of our favorite characters of the entire Star Wars universe who we haven’t seen in decades:  the villainous Domina Tagge (remember Baron Tagge?), the stylin’ Amaiza Foxtrain, the memorable telepathic hoojib and the red Zeltrons, and best of all, Jaxxon the bounty hunter rabbit, who we last saw on a special variant edition copy of Marvel’s reboot Star Wars, Issue #1.  Plus all the stars of the series we all know and love.  As for the artists, Jan Duursema returns to the series for this one-shot issue, along with Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Andrea Broccardo, Kerry Gammill, Ze Carlos, Stefano Landini, Luke Ross, and Leonard Kirk, with colors by Chris Sotomayor, and lettering by Clayton Cowles.  The result is everything you could want in a Star Wars comic.  It’s the kind of purely fun story that would make a great monthly even today.  If only they continued this story in an ongoing series!

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the benefits of behind-the-scenes and making of/art books for major studio movies is that anyone diving into the production process for the first time can usually learn plenty about the stages of filmmaking from pre-production to final product.  Just pick a film you like and jump right in.  Abbie Bernstein′s The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is no exception, but it will be particularly fun for anyone who is a fan of concept art and mega-monsters.  It’s also weighted toward pre-production and the pre-visualization process.  Readers wouldn’t expect a film with giant creatures to be filmed with practical sets, but with a modern studio Godzilla movie filmed in the U.S., you automatically expect a predominantly CGI movie.  The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is filled with trial pieces from artists showcasing the process of turning the classic Japanese kaiju characters into something new and different.

Fans of Scott Chambliss will want to read what guided him to make the choices and decisions for the look of the film.  Chambliss has his own style, and when watching the film my reaction was how many sets, and specifically the color and lighting choices, felt like Star Trek 2009, a film in which Chambliss also served as production designer.  Chambliss discusses the visual tricks he used to make Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorra appear to have immense scale, but also appear real.  Several effects companies worked on components of this film, each trying to make their creations the best of the pack without competing against each other–the goal being to create the best final product they could.  Some artists worked on familiar software programs, combining photographs and 3D imaging of locations like San Francisco’s Union Square to combine with actors in Atlanta.   Others made sculptures of each creature–in a variety of materials–and then those sculptures were scanned and manipulated into what the audience sees on screen by others, after even more creators contributed their colors, texture, lighting, and other touches.

The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a great companion book to Mark Cotta Vaz’s Godzilla: The Art of Destruction, the behind the scenes look at Gareth Edward’s 2014 Godzilla film that was the starting point for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Simon Ward’s The Art of Kong: Skull IslandAll of these massive monsters will come together soon in Godzilla vs. King, so it’s a good time to be a fan of kaiju.  For fans of the new Legendary Pictures movie, it’s a good opportunity to understand the characters better from those who created them, and learn more from actors about their experiences on set, including Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Elizabeth Ludlow, Thomas Middleditch, Anthony Ramos, and Bradley Whitford.

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