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Archive for July, 2019


Review by C.J. Bunce

Thanks to Fathom Events and other film retrospectives over the years, movie audiences can revisit their first viewings of some of the best films ever made.  In that league comes The Muppet Movie, which just wrapped its 40th anniversary with two days of screenings.  Like the one-of-a-kind The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees, and the symbols of goodness everywhere: Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, and Steve Irwin, The Muppets are a truly unique team, and Jim Henson and his $65 million box office hit The Muppet Movie reflects why they created the word “iconic” in the first place.  It says something when a retrospective anniversary screening can make the week’s Top 10 box office after 40 years.  The Muppets are as accessible and necessary as they’ve ever been.

Paul Williams’ musical score and powerful songs might be the high point of the movie, from “The Rainbow Connection,” to “Movin’ Right Along,” to Gonzo’s emotional “I’m Going to Go Back There Again.”  Or maybe it’s the magic, the forgetting we’re absorbed in characters played by actors that are a frog and a pig and a bear and a dog and whatever Gonzo is.  Or maybe it’s the behind the scenes magic.  Filming in the lagoon once used for Gilligan’s Island, Henson spent an entire day perfecting the scene with Kermit singing in a wetsuit under water, perched inside a metal tank, reaching upward to give Kermit his character.  You wouldn’t know any of it happened that way from the perfectly still water and multiple angles the song is filmed from.  Or that Kermit was operated my remote control for the Schwinn scene (but Kermit the Muppet really was riding that bicycle, no strings attached!).  Jim Henson can’t be overstated as sitting among the kings of creating the fantastical.

But even all of those great components can’t beat the storytelling.  Full of honesty and heart, Kermit’s path is a classic reluctant hero’s journey, equal to that of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Luke in Star Wars, Frodo and Bilbo in Tolkien’s stories (Fozzie is a great Samwise), Harry in J.K. Rowling’s series.  Here our green felted friend assembles a group of new friends to help him succeed by story’s end.  The Muppets had already been known to us through The Muppet Show, yet this movie succeeded in getting audiences to meet them all over again.  The story is playful, too, allowing its own script to become a plot device with the characters.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re wondering who is the best current comic book interior artist, you only need to turn to the current issue of Archie Comics/Dark Horse Comics′ mash-up series, Archie vs. Predator II: Revenge Comes to Riverdale.  Consistently Robert Hack is one of the industry’s best producing artists, and with this series he immerses readers into new territory where sci-fi meets small town America.  And he’s a double threat–take a look at his incredible covers for Issues #1-3 above and below with co-creator Kelly Fitzpatrick (along with a nice variant cover from Francesco Francavilla).

Dark Horse Comics and Archie Comics have partnered again, bringing back writer Alex de Campi, who crafted the initial bestselling 2015 story (for both publishers) with artist Fernando Ruiz.  Our preview below takes you right into the story where de Campi last left us.  Something’s not quite right with Archie Andrews, and Betty and Veronica are attempting to track down a “Diagon Alley” of sorts called Memory Lane to get everyone back to where they are supposed to be.  Funny and clever, it’s peppered with pop culture references, and some of Betty and Veronica’s best frenemy banter.  Predator dogs!  The Mars Curiosity rover!

  

Artists Rick Burchett, Derek Charm, Francesco Francavilla, Dan Parent, and Billy Tucci are providing some great cover variants for the series, too.

You won’t want to miss it.  Here is a preview of the first issue of Archie vs. Predator II, plus a look at the variant covers, courtesy of Archie Comics:

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The Star Wars vintage Kenner action figures changed toys and franchising forever.  Sales of this line were so successful that it’s no surprise the fan nostalgia for these 3.75-inch figures in new packages is still as great as ever, 41 years after their first appearance in a pre-order campaign for Christmas 1977.  With the return of Star Wars action figures in advance of the prequels, four of the original sculpts returned in a limited set in the 1990s (still sold via third party sellers at Amazon here), and Lucasfilm with its own changes over the years keeps finding ways of bringing them back with the Kenner logo via Kenner’s successor company Hasbro.  The company even released a set of four figures: Luke, Leia, R2-D2, and Chewbacca, in an enlarged 12-inch collection, still available at Amazon here, and even a Cantina set, plus 12-inch re-creations of several other vintage figures, from toy company Gentle Giant, discussed over the past decade here at borg.

We previewed the latest return of the 3.75-inch action figures emerging from New York Toy Fair early this year here at borg, six individually sold characters in “retro” packaging with mock weathering that made them different enough from the originals to dissuade people from selling them as originals.  The characters were Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and a Stormtrooper, with a never-before-released, new design of the classic five-points of articulation for Grand Moff Tarkin, available if you bought the re-issue of the original Star Wars board game.

So far these have only been available through Target stores.  The initial release sold out within a few hours, but throughout the U.S. these still have appeared from time to time over the course of this summer.  Otherwise, they’ve turned up on Amazon (here) from third party sellers with a price in excess of $150 for the set.  So for those who missed out, you now have another opportunity to pick up the six figures in the retro packaging.  Entertainment Earth has just announced it is taking pre-orders for a set of all six figures for only $63.99 (price as of date of publication)–nearly a third of the aftermarket price–if you pre-order for shipment in August here at the Entertainment Earth website.

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Funko Pop! figures seem to have taken on a life for kids and collectors like Beanie Babies, if Beanie Babies pulled in every licensed property under the Sun.  The latest Funko Pop! figures tie in to the latest season of Stranger Things.  Their marketing team even mocked up a Tiger Beat magazine spoof that brings it together.  Maybe it’s because the Duffer Brothers succeeded at pulling together some good nostalgia, or maybe these new likenesses are some of Funko’s best so far, but whatever the reason, we think Funko fans are going to want to take a good look at this new line.

The 2017 Toy of the Year and People’s Choice award winning figures seem to be getting better.  More clever designs?  The more… odd… the combination of characters and styles, the better these seem to appeal to Funko collectors.  Stand-outs for the first round of characters include Scoops Ahoy Steve, Will the Wise, Flayed Lifeguard Billy, Date-Night Hopper, and Joyce with her magnets.  This time there’s an over-sized monster available, too.

Three other new figures announced this month will appeal to that good guy in you.  Funko has released Mr. Rogers Pop! figures previously, but the latest comes from the new film starring Tom Hanks.  Two others feature everyone’s favorite Australian animal lover, the late Steve Irwin.  Funko has two designs, a common type with Steve and an alligator and a rarer chase figure with Steve holding a turtle.

Most of these figures are available now and others have just been posted for pre-order.  Click on any of the first 14 images below to find out more about the main line of figures, or to order any at Amazon, and don’t miss the pre-order for the new exclusive Eleven figure available only at Amazon.  Below you’ll also find preview images of Stranger Things retailer exclusive Funko Pop! figures from Target, Wal-Mart, and more.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A stroll through the spy units in movies like the 007s of James Bond, the Kingsmen of Kingsman: The Secret Service, the spies of Mission: Impossible, the dueling and partnering international agents of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and even the heroine of Atomic Blonde all provide an avenue for fans of the spy genre to see how an actor could also portray a spy of another franchise.  An example of this is Pierce Brosnan’s run on Remington Steele as prep for his destined role as James Bond.  How would Colin Firth look as a Bond, or Charlize Theron?  A similar comparison can be found in the new film, Men in Black: International, and its new novelization by author R.S Belcher.

How would Chris Hemsworth, formerly Captain Kirk’s dad in the first Star Trek reboot movie, but now engrained in the psyche of moviegoers everywhere forever as Thor, especially after his character change-up in Thor: Ragnarok, which tweaked the character with the humor that the actor seems to infuse into his other films and public appearances.  As Men in Black’s London division Agent H, Hemsworth is this character–they are indistinguishable.  It makes sense–it’s how good casting works–but it will be impossible to read the character and not think of the actor’s persona, charm, and smile as you read it.  You may try, but the character of H seems to be one that only Hemsworth could play.  Not so much directly written for Tessa Thompson is the new Agent M.  The character is a solidly conceived rookie in a wild, fun, and faithful follow-on for the Men in Black franchise.  But even with roles in Veronica Mars, Heroes, Creed, and Valkyrie in the Marvel movies, she doesn’t have that same star power–yet.  But the novelization is quite a vehicle for that Hemsworth persona, and his fans will love the book as much as they loved the film.  How would Hemsworth appear in an Ian Fleming novel?  You’ll find out here in this new novel of the British spy genre.

Credit is due to the underlying screenplay written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, but the novelization of Men in Black: International also has some of the finest alien supporting characters of the series, and the story is every bit as consistently full of fun and futuristic science fiction as the first and third movies (far surpassing the second entry in the franchise).  The alien Pawn character Pawny is right up there with Michael Stuhlbarg’s Griffin.  Pawny is lovable and loyal, a bit like Dobby from the Harry Potter movies.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With Avengers: Endgame still in theaters, another adaptation of the same source material that inspired that movie and Avengers: Infinity War is now available.  It’s James A. Moore′s Infinity, a novelized adaptation of the Infinity comic book event from 2013.  Moore adapts the key story details from Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer’s story across an array of comic book titles, drawn by several artists.  In most ways Infinity will seem completely foreign to fans who are only aware of the movies.  When people speak of the cosmic side of the Marvel universe they’re referring to the kinds of elements that form the backbone of this story.  The Inhumans, known many by the short-lived television series, are a major component of the story.  Like the graphic novel, the novel follows the Avengers and other superheroes of Earth trying to fight off ancient creators called the Builders, who believe that Earth would be better terraformed–leveled, destroyed, and rebuilt–than left as it is.  At the same time Thanos is looking for his son.  One of his loyal Children of Thanos (the Black Order in the novel), which consists of the same henchmen in the films plus a few others, ultimately finds him–his son, Thane–on Earth.

Fans of 1980s brief New Universe will recognize Star Brand and Nighthawk as major characters in this story.  Missing characters seen in the graphic novel that don’t end up here are Luke Cage, Power Man, She-Hulk, Silver Surfer, Wasp, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Hank Pym, S.H.I.E.L.D., and Falcon.  New characters for movie audiences include Manifold, Captain Universe, and the Atlantean Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  Black Panther and Doctor Strange are still key to the story, but in different ways.  Alien races include the Kree and the Skrulls, with Ronan the Accuser as a major player.  The novel adaptation is spread thinly across universes as was the comics version.  Keeping track of the characters without the benefit of seeing their unique costumes may be difficult for anyone not familiar with all the comics.

If you’re bothered by corporate guru Tony Stark as always the smartest guy in the room, which seems to be the thing in more recent years, especially with the popularity of the character from the movies, you’ll find some relief here.  Fortunately Moore also uses Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, Hulk Bruce Banner, and X-Men’s Hank McCoy aka The Beast–the three actual smartest legacy superhero characters–to work the moving parts of the problem.  Ultimately what the reader brings to the book will determine the level of enjoyment.  For anyone new to hundreds of tangent characters of the Marvel Comics, keeping track of Who’s Who is nearly impossible.  Moore takes strides to bring background characters to the fore, including a romantic sub-plot, but who they are and why they should be important isn’t tapped into enough.

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Discovery′s annual Shark Week programming is back beginning this weekend.  From July 27 to August 5 look for ten days of shark-centered features.  Shark Week is television’s longest running summer TV event.  That means Narragansett is back with new promotions and local activities for those on the East Coast, and an online store full of tie-ins to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws to coincide with Shark Week 2019.  Not only is Narragansett one of America’s oldest beer companies (they turned 21 in 1911), Jaws made its beer famous again in 1975 when Robert Shaw′s character Quint downs a can and crunches it to look tough in front of Richard Dreyfuss′s character Hooper.  Hooper created the funniest moment of the film, countering Quint by crushing his Styrofoam cup.

Look for Naked and Afraid: Surviving with Sharks, Shark Trip, Isle of Jaws, Shark After Dark, Sharkwreck, Alien Sharks, Sharkpocalypse, Air Jaws, Sharks Gone Wild, Jaws Comes Home, Laws of Jaws, Sharkzilla, Shaq Does Shark Week, Ocean of Fear, Sharks in the City: LA, Guy Fieri’s Feeding Frenzy, and How Jaws Saved the World, and more, all throughout the week.  Check out your local listings here at Discovery for air times.

Narragansett′s online shop has some great new T-shirts featuring Jaws and the Quint can, plus a foam stress can, a skateboard deck, stickers, pins, logo shirts, hats, hoodies, ornaments, sunglasses, beach towels, posters, even skis and hockey sticks–all featuring the image of the beer can design from 1975 or the shark or 1975 Narragansett logo–as it appeared in the film classic Jaws.  The lager beer itself is also available in ‘Gansett markets with the retro cans.  See the entire 1975 retro collection of tie-ins here at the Narragansett online store.  And check out the Narragansett website here for a series of Jaws screening parties along the East Coast all week, plus other parties, trivia contests and more, announced via the company’s Twitter account: @Gansettbeer.

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A reminder for fans of fantasy, comedic actors, Jim Henson, and his beloved Muppets:  Celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Muppet Movie, Fathom Events is partnering with The Jim Henson Company and Universal Pictures to show the classic big-screen debut of the Muppets on more than 700 screens nationwide for two days, beginning tomorrow.  Order tickets now before they sell out at the Fathom Events website here.

For two days only, The Muppet Movie returns with screenings on Thursday, July 25, and Tuesday, July 30.  The Muppet Movie will play at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (local time) each day.  Following the international success of the television show The Muppet Show, which at its peak aired in more than 100 countries, Muppets creator Jim Henson took a creative risk to have the characters star in their first motion picture.  The result, directed by James Frawley, became a box-office hit, starring Kermit (performed by Henson), Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear (performed by Frank Oz), Gonzo (performed by Dave Goelz) and his chicken Camilla (performed by Jerry Nelson), Scooter (performed by Richard Hunt), and dozens of other favorite characters.

In addition to the Muppet performers, The Muppet Movie showcased a Who’s Who of 1970s comedy, with cameo roles by Dom DeLuise, James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, Carol Kane, Telly Savalas, Milton Berle, Elliott Gould, Edgar Bergen, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, and Orson Welles.

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Feeling the heat?  A new San Diego Comic-Con trailer for Snowpiercer might help.  First a series of graphic novels we discussed five years ago here at borg, then a movie starring Chris Evans (reviewed here and discussed here), the futuristic, post-apocalypse universe of Snowpiercer is now making its way to your television set.  For the 2013 movie, the casting of big names, Marvel superhero Chris Evans, Academy Award-winning actor Tilda Swinton, and multiple Oscar-nominated actors John Hurt and Ed Harris, reflected the critical and popular appeal of the comic version of the story more than the resulting B-movie that ended up on the screen.  Now it’s up to Academy Award-winning actor Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Alita: Battle Angel, The Princess Bride) carry the baton.

Originally published in French in 1982 as Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob with art by Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer, Volume 1: The Escape is available in an English translation by Virginie Selavy with follow-on English translations of Volume 2: The Explorers by Benjamin LeGrand and Volume 3: Terminus by Olivier Bocquet also available, and a prequel Extinction by Matz, on the way.  For the new TBS television series (available on Netflix elsewhere), stage actor Daveed Diggs joins Jennifer Connelly with several new faces and background actors.  And it’s already been renewed for a second season.

Repressive like the world of George Lucas’s THX-1138 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, thematically political like the similarly wintry Dr. Zhivago, and drawn with the stark, black and white look of Aha’s Take On Me music video from the 1980s, Snowpiercer is a bleak, but ambitious, series of graphic novel about many things.  The back of the train like the back of the bus in the 1960s, or the lower sections of the ship on the Titanic, you can analogize the social strata of the train to many things. But neither the rumored horrors at the “tail” of the train, nor the “golden carriages” of the first class at the front of the train are what they appear to be.  At one level Snowpiercer is a strange, existential retelling of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  As with the movie, the trailer for the series shows something different from the graphic novel that inspired it, but maybe an alternate story of the train a la Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.

Here’s the trailer for TBS’s new series, Snowpiercer:

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Instead of what has been done at past panels at San Diego Comic-Con–having a panel for each or just a few major projects–Marvel Studios exec Kevin Feige was on-hand to get several announcements out the door and as many key cast members in and out of his single panel as possible.  For the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase IV, that means tying in Disney’s (pay) streaming service with the movies.  The big takeaway?  New logos are pretty much all there is so far to share, plus key casting and timing announcements.  And although the last Phase had some changes along the way, it looks as if these ten projects will round out the entirety of Marvel over the next few years.  The biggest frustration for fans of the X-Men and Fantastic Four is why nobody at Marvel has been getting a head start on these two massively popular teams of characters–money is definitely going to be left on the table for the duration of Phase IV by pushing out these projects.  Why aren’t these Priority #1 with someone at Disney in light of the long lead-time the corporation had for the Fox acquisition?

The new time table is straightforward: Black Widow movie (May 1, 2020), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier TV series (Fall 2020), Eternals movie (November 6, 2020), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings movie (February 12, 2021), WandaVision TV series (Spring 2021), Loki TV series (Spring 2021), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness movie (May 7, 2021), What If…? animated series (Summer 2021), Hawkeye TV series (Fall 2021), and Thor: Love and Thunder movie (November 5, 2021).  The most eagerly awaited film after this year’s Avengers: Endgame was the hinted-at Guardians of the Galaxy/Thor or Asgardians of the Galaxy team-up movie, but Marvel still has not confirmed that project, unless it’s tied into the 2021 film.  Also relegated to “in development” status: Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel 2, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and the next Tom Holland Spider-Man movie (Spider-Man is Iron Man’s replacement, right?).  Silence seems to confirm the death of the Marvel Netflix universe of Luke Cage, The Punisher, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist, and maybe even Disney+ projects Runaways, Ghost Rider, and Helstrom.  FX’s Legion was already announced as canceled, and we lost track of how many times The New Mutants movie has been pushed back.  Even bigger unknowns are the next Ant-Man and The Wasp, which had Hank Pym actor Michael Douglas already discussing it as a prequel, and if anyone is thinking about Prince Namor the Submariner, nobody is talking.  It begs the question:  Does Disney have too much to handle now?

As a beginning Disney’s Marvel side seems to be taking a lead from its Star Wars division, with its offerings targeting a mix of fans old, new, and in-between.  For the fans of the MCU so far you have plenty, a Black Widow (presumably prequel) and Thor movie as bookends for Phase IV, and TV series to keep alive Falcon, Winter Soldier, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Loki, Doctor Strange, and Hawkeye.  For new audiences (and possibly much older comic book readers) there is Shang-Chi and the Eternals to get to know, along with the announcement that Luke Cage’s Mahershala Ali will be playing Blade in a reboot movie at the beginning of Phase V, the vampire hunter who, like Spider-Man, has already seen an entire series of movies outside of the MCU.

The details are an eclectic mix of things you might want, things you didn’t know you want, and things you won’t know what to make of:

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