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Archive for August, 2019


Review by C.J. Bunce

The biggest action film of the summer is easily the most enjoyable film of the year.  That’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, a movie that gets so many genre formulas right it just can’t miss.  Certainly one of the better entries in the Fast & Furious franchise, it knows what works and uses it.  That’s a sure-bet cast of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, Mission: Impossible–Fallout’s Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba in the ultimate badass role as a James Bond spy gone bad with Superman powers, lots of futuristic cyborg tech, and an understanding of why audiences come to the movie theater in the first place.  Hobbs & Shaw is a movie for people who like movies.

The trailers gave audiences a glimpse at what to expect, and they delivered on all promises: laugh-out-loud funny dialogue, nonstop action, road races and camera angles that the franchise is known for, and lots of surprises and callbacks, and a script that doesn’t take itself seriously.  There’s something for everyone here.  If you’re after only the fast cars, action, and speed of the franchise, this entry measures up.  And that family drama that the regular franchise leads Diesel, Paul Walker, and Jordana Brewster built the franchise on is here, too.  This time that includes digging into the past between Statham’s Deckard Shaw and sister Hattie, played by Kirby, and Helen Mirren back again as their mother (Luke Evans’ brother Owen from the last film may or may not be mentioned this time), and Johnson’s Luke Hobbs is pals with his young daughter at home and returns to the family he left behind years ago in the Samoan Islands.

But stuntman-turned-director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, John Wick) and script writers Chris Morgan (writer of five prior Fast & Furious films) and Drew Pearce (Hotel Artemis, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) know why audiences are really buying tickets, and you just need to drift over their previous film credits to see why they were tapped for Hobbs & Shaw.  Hattie is a badass equal to Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde (Theron also co-starred in the most recent sequel), any of the four lead characters could give Leitch’s John Wick a run for his money, and moviegoers will hardly remember last year’s much-lauded Mission Impossible: Fallout’s action scenes after they see this.  (A few casting spoilers follow).

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Todd McFarlane has said he hoped to create a comic that would make it 300 issues when he began his Spawn series back in 1992–to surpass Dave Sims’ Cerebus series and become the longest running independent comic book series.  Now 27 years later he’s making it happen with a scheduled Issue #301 on its way.  But first it’s the big 3-0-0 and plenty of variant covers to go with it.  McFarlane also has a reboot film in the works, but little detail has been released, other than McFarlane intends to write the script, produce the project, and direct it.

For Issue #300 we count 18 covers in all.  So make your picks and let your local comic book store know what you’re after.  Keep in mind this release is similar to other benchmark issues–one-third of these covers will not be regular shop releases–so you will need to track those down on eBay or from collector retailers.

Covers were designed for this issue by McFarlane, Greg Capullo, J. Scott Campbell, Jerome Opeña, and Jason Shawn Alexander, along with black & white covers, logo covers, and “virgin” art covers, as well as a blank sketch cover.

Here are full-sized images of the covers for Issue #300, courtesy of Image Comics, and a preview of Issue #301:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Like most things about baseball, The Battered Bastards of Baseball reflects as much about an era of American culture, economics, and politics as it tells a wonderfully engrossing story about a brief history of the sport.   Independent baseball–privately-owned teams unaffiliated with the Major League Baseball conglomerate–was a thing of the past when Portland, Oregon’s minor league baseball team the Portland Beavers left town.  It was the early 1970s and Portlanders weren’t spending their time or money on minor league games.  Then enters the well-known TV actor Bing Russell, stepping off his last of 14 seasons on Bonanza where he played a deputy sheriff.  Russell appeared in everything back then, from Westerns from Wagon Train to Rawhide, and modern fare like The Munsters, The Rockford Files, and The Twilight Zone.  There begins an underdog story, a mix of The Bad News Bears, Necessary Roughness, and Moneyball.

If you’re lucky enough to trip into the Netflix documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball, you’ll wonder where this story is headed.  It’s a brief history of 1970s Portland and national baseball, and then actor/movie star Kurt Russell and his mother Louise Russell begin discussing his father in a typical documentary format.  It turns out father Bing had a life-long affinity for the game, even being part of a significant piece of baseball history as mascot for the New York Yankees, befriending Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, and Lou Gehrig, who gave Bing the bat he used in his last game before retiring.  That love for the game apparently never left Bing, who concocted an idea to bring baseball right back to Portland by taking the entrepreneurial route–forming a pure upstart baseball team to play minor league ball.  Resurrecting the independent team model he would hold an open tryout for the new Portland Mavericks–if you build it they will come.  And they did.  Players rejected from the big leagues, some retired, many with paunches, and pre-movie star Kurt on the team, too, some players older than most teams would favor, and a bunch of hairy-faced guys decades before it became the “in” thing–all would come together to form a motley band of brothers that would earn a crack at the pennant.  With a 30-man roster, and Bing’s personal brand of fun, fans packed the stadium again, the team setting a record for the highest attendance in minor league history, blazing the trail in other ways, naming the first woman general manager in baseball, Lanny Moss.  But like all good things it seems, a villain would enter the picture to wreck it all.

The real deal: Kurt Russell playing in the Minor Leagues with the Portland Mavericks.

With that nostalgic, cheery vibe of Ivan Reitman’s 1970s movie Meatballs or a dialed-back Slap Shot, Bing’s grandsons Chapman Way and Maclain Way splice together both baseball, Hollywood, and Portland nostalgia to assemble a completely engaging, crowd-pleasing story of underdogs and misfits and the pied piper who led them.  If you remember that every baseball stadium in 1970s America–and every grade school–had kids chomping on Big League Chew–you’ll learn that connection to the Mavericks, too.

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“Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law.”

From Metropolis to Rocky IV, and The Worst to Universal Monsters, Robotech, Shogun, Slayer, Street Fighter II, Lucha, and more, one of the most eagerly awaited has been figures for RoboCop Although we’ve seen RoboCop as action figures by the likes of toy companies like NECA and other companies over the past 30 years, the new line previewed at New York Toy Fair 2019 from Super7 also pulls in that throwback toy design fans of Super7’s ReAction action figure line flock toward.  Super7 has now released its final figure and packaging designs for RoboCop, and they look great (except that sculpt for the toxic slug guy looks a lot like Super7’s sculpt for John Matuszak’s character Sloth from The Goonies).

But of any action figure previewed at New York Toy Fair in February and released this year, is there any single figure with more potential for collectors than Super 7’s Jackie Robinson?  It has that trading card quality, with its cardboard backing and its vintage photograph design, plus it’s as American as apple pie as a toy/collectible, crossing over in the collector market between ReAction retro figure fans and baseball fans.  And the entire Classic All-Stars line is superb.  The other figures in the first group available measure up with Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Juan Marichal, Carlton Fisk, and Orlando Cepeda–plus the first of the mascots in the toy series, from the Philadelphia Phillies.  You can pre-order any or all now at Entertainment Earth (links embedded in names above).  And if Super7 doesn’t get to your favorite player, these will be easy to paint and modify for your team–just like you may have painted the classic electric football player pieces of years ago.

The other line of figures with potential is the classic Peanuts characters in the ReAction format, featuring two Charlie Browns, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Schroeder, and, of course, Snoopy.  These are based on Charles Schulz′s original strips, and have a look that bridges the Funko Pop! and the classic Kenner retro figure sizing and packaging.

Here are images of these three lines and first phases of designs released:

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There’s something about Mary, a new horror film coming this fall, that screams out John Carpenter.  It has that seaside feel of Carpenter’s The Fog, complete with a haunted seafaring vessel and moody cinematography.  It also has that trapped-in-an-evil-car vibe of Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Christine.  It’s about an old boat with a past, found and restored, and haunted–all Christine elements.  Who doesn’t want more Carpenter movies, or second best, a Carpenter homage?  Mary is a new horror film that boasts its contrast with the average why-not-run-from-the-haunted-house movie by staging its ghost story on a boat: “The thing about boats is there’s nowhere to run.”  A nice double feature with The Lighthouse, perhaps?  The first trailer for the movie also conjures a little Jaws, The Ring, and Dead Calm.

Academy Award-winning actor Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, RoboCop, The Fifth Element) and Emily Mortimer (Mary Poppins Returns, The Kid, The Ghost and the Darkness) star in the indie film, which is directed by cinematographer Michael Goi (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Swamp Thing, American Horror Story), with a cast including Jennifer Esposito, straight off her supporting role in The Boys, plus Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven, Murder on the Orient Express), Natalie Jean (Gotham), Michael Landes (Final Destination 2, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), Stefanie Scott (Chuck, Jem and the Holograms), and Owen Teague (IT, Black Mirror).

The solid leading and supporting cast and some nicely creepy cinematography and scares in the trailer make this look like a good Halloween pick.  And the eerie music is supplied by frequent horror movie–and Avengers movie series–composers The Newton Brothers.  Here’s the trailer for Mary:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

First previewed here at borg back in March, the first comic book story from the universe of television’s The Orville reads in every way like a script that didn’t get produced–an episode that fits nicely into the timeline of the show but didn’t get filmed.  Dark Horse Comics is publishing four issues this summer, two two-part stories written by executive producer David A. Goodman with artwork by David Cabeza and colors by Michael Atiyeh.  Fans of the show who haven’t already picked them up will want to find the two issues already in comic shops and add the next two to their lists.  The feel of the characters is spot-on, every side glance among Ed, Kelly, and Gordon looks like actors Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, and Scott Grimes–unusual when sci-fi adaptations these days often don’t feature the drawn characters looking like the actors behind them.

Both stories for Dark Horse’s first foray into The Orville take place between the first two seasons.  The first two-issue story, “New Beginnings,” presents some things not necessary for the TV show, but still interesting to see play out, including the rapid growth of Bortus and Klyden’s child Topa, and how that relates to Kelly encountering her new love interest, Cassius, after walking away from Ed at the end of Season One.  As fans know, Cassius took on a bigger role in the second season of the show.

  

Meanwhile Ed and Gordon take off in a shuttle to attend a conference.  Gordon is bored with mundane ship tasks, specifically investigating a Magnitar.  And Ed can’t get Kelly out of his thoughts.  As they learn, sometimes it’s better to be bored.  They end up crash landing on a primitive planet, providing readers the adventure and exploration the show really excels at.  All the while writer Goodman carefully picks up that banter between Ed and Gordon that provides the backbone of the humor for the show.  All told, “New Beginnings” is a great start that will hopefully mean many more years of tie-in comics.

Take a look at a preview of the story, plus a sneak peek at the cover art to Issues #3 and #4, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Comic book fans saw an unprecedented 13 television series based in the Marvel Comics universe since Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 2013.  Of those the six best produced of these landed on Netflix, beginning with Daredevil and Jessica Jones.  You’ll not likely find two people who can agree on which was best.  My #1 goes to Luke Cage, which went beyond the typical superhero turf to show a completely unique two seasons of stories.  I thought Daredevil offered nothing new, and The Punisher turned a ho-hum character into something exciting thanks primarily to the performance of actor Jon Bernthal.  The team-up The Defenders just couldn’t find chemistry between its members, and the best part of Iron Fist was Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing and appearances by Simone Missick’s Misty Knight and Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple.  Which brings us to the third and final season of Jessica Jones, the last of Netflix’s trip through the Marvel characters at least for the foreseeable future.

Jessica Jones started out promising, and that was no small feat considering the superhero was more anti-hero than the typical Marvel story.  Actor Krysten Ritter knew her character from her first episode, and in three seasons never veered from the moody, angry detective we first met in 2015.  Unfortunately, in three seasons the character never changed, unless even more moody, angry, and alone is enough.  The first season worked because Jones had to face a particularly unique and vile villain in David Tennant′s Kilgrave.  As he’s done with this year’s Good Omens, Tennant’s energy and intensity tends to elevate even the most bland material.  Season 2 of Jessica Jones had another interesting villain as Jones’ biological mother, played by Janet McTeer.  The third season?  It lacked a compelling villain at all, with Jeremy Bobb playing a Law & Order villain-of-the-week transplant fans were stuck with for an entire season (Bobb’s played guest Law & Order characters four times).  The actual villain was the one lurking the entire time, Carrie-Anne Moss′s dying lawyer and Jones’ former comrade in sleuthing, Jeri Hogarth.  Despite the talent of the actors, the story arc this season was flat.  The series begged for episodic tales, and instead it dragged what could have been a single episode story.  It’s Netflix ending on a sour note, and confirms new creators are needed to salvage what could be a great group of characters on the small screen.

The saving grace for the entire series, and the only reason to invest your time for all three seasons, is that it launched the character Hellcat.  Just like Jessica Jones introduced Mike Colter’s Luke Cage (who returns briefly to bookend the series) and Daredevil launched The Punisher, something bigger and better than the title hero arrived.  Upstaging the star, no character had a greater character arc than Rachael Taylor′s “messed-up” child star Patsy, grown up into Trish Walker, a human with powers, known as Hellcat in the comics and in the show’s credits.  The writers knew they had something good, showing her struggle to help her sister in the second season to become an equal during season three.  But they bungled it.  Trish was loyal to her sister, trying to do what every good superhero character tries–to create good for people and try not to get corrupted.  But the show tripped into the common superhero trap–superheroes, at least these superheroes, can’t cross the line of the law for any reason and kill the bad guy.  In this case, even if a serial killer continues to murder relentlessly, and even if the cops have practically given up trying to catch him, and the legal system has failed.  So how many opportunities are presented and skipped over by the characters?  A dozen?  And the result by Jones failing to let Trish act is–surprise–more dead bodies.  If Jessica Jones, the character, is about anything, isn’t it getting dirty to take down bad guys?  So why give her series this stale Superman/Batman/Green Arrow, etc. Boy Scout story?  The question of whether superheroes can ever kill is as overdone in the genre as origin stories, and completely unsatisfying as the only dilemma here.  Yet through it all Taylor as Trish/Hellcat was fantastic stuff.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Actor Vic Mignogna, who has played Star Trek’s Captain Kirk on the fan-made series Star Trek Continues, has taken on an enormous task in his latest project, narrating the mammoth behind-the-scenes look at classic television and creator/producer Gene Roddenberry in an audio play adaptation of the Saturn Award-winning These Are the Voyages–ST: TOS Season One–nearly 29 hours in all.  Master researcher and TV historian Marc Cushman has meticulously crafted several volumes detailing the Golden Age of Television, including four volumes (and fifth on the way) of Star Trek history.  With the new audiobook, Cushman has assembled nearly 100 voice actors, including several Star Trek insiders quoted in the book, who returned to voice their contributions from Cushman’s first book in his series.  Among the voices you’ll hear writer Dorothy Fontana, writer Ronald D. Moore, actor Clint Howard, casting director Joe D’Agosta, actor Sean Kenney, and director Ralph Senensky, plus sons of Leonard Nimoy (Adam) and James Doohan (Chris) voicing their fathers’ quoted material, and other surprises, like Mythbusters co-host and Star Trek Continues actor Grant Imahara as the voice of George Takei.  The result is a fantastic way to kick back and enjoy the long-lost past and inner-workings of your favorite 1960s sci-fi series.

Marc Cushman’s adaptation of his own work, with Susan Osborn, smartly distills his lengthy first volume into the key narrative elements–Gene Roddenberry’s arrival in Hollywood, the development of Star Trek, Roddenberry’s assemblage of creators, directors, producers, writers, and actors for his series, and the episode by episode chronicle of the ups and downs of season one.  Mignogna is a fantastic choice to walk the audience along, a mix of 1930s radioplay storyteller and Ken Burns’ award-winning series of documentaries.  For anyone afraid of embarking on a lengthy 658-page non-fiction book, this is your answer.

Actor Vic Mignogna with Star Trek repeat guest actor Clint Howard.

Voice actor Ralph Miller really nails the talkative and often irritable Gene Roddenberry.  The less-known players in the story often provide the most interesting performances, men and women reproducing 1960s inflections and accents in a myriad of types believably well.  The dialogue in the book has a more lively feel and effect when spoken.  As an example, Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies’ discussions (originally via written correspondence) over details of military components to be incorporated into the series sets provides for some humor in the drama.  Listeners will really get a good picture of these two negotiating over who was better able to sign-off on the look of the practical, visual bits of the series.  And the production values are spot on–These Are the Voyages–ST: TOS Season One is a well-produced, entertaining work full of trivia for Star Trek fans and classic TV buffs, presented in an unusual, unexpected way.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not an overstatement to say Francesco Francavilla is the artist who brought Archie Comics back to life.  At the very least he has turned a new generation of readers onto one of comicdom’s longest lasting titles.  Along with Jon Goldwater and Alex Segura behind the scenes and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and later artist Robert Hack in the pages of the monthly books, it was Francavilla’s haunting, brand new look at Riverdale and its teen characters that kick-started reader interest in new titles and take another look at the classic stories, the ones with the traditional Dan DeCarlo look that 70 years of readers were familiar with.  Francavilla, the Eisner Award-winning cover artist, is the focus of a new hardcover book Archie Comics is premiering this Wednesday.  Featuring all of his Archie Comics standard covers and variants, plus selected interior artwork and cover artwork for books outside the Archie universe, The Archie Art of Francesco Francavilla is a must for collectors of his books and neo-pulp styled art prints.

In part because of his use of fantastic colors for his imagery, his designs seem to pop on every page.  You’ll find his several covers for Afterlife with Archie, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vampironica, Jughead the Hunger, Archie Meets Batman, Archie vs Sharknado, Archie vs Predator, Chilling Adventures in Sorcery, Riverdale, Life with Archie, Archie, Jughead, Betty & Veronica, and Josie and the Pussycats.  Other pages highlight Francavilla’s style on the covers of New Crusaders, The Black Hood, and The Hangman.  The Archie Art of Francesco Francavilla also includes some cover and page roughs–preliminary sketches used for approval and story breaking, all shown along with the final versions.  You’ll also find exclusive cover art from convention-only covers and other variants.

Woule we have a Riverdale television series if not for Francavilla’s darker look at Archie?  Probably not.  Here is a first look at some advance preview pages of The Archie Art of Francesco Francavilla for borg readers courtesy of Archie Comics:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If there is a bigger Trivial Pursuit fan I don’t know who it is.  Whether it was the classic 1981 Genus Edition, the 1983 Silver Screen edition, the 1984 Genus II edition, the 1989 1980s edition, the 1992 10th Anniversary Edition, the 1994 Genus III, the 1996 Genus IV, or 1998 Millennium Edition, or the dozens of tie-ins and card deck supplements since, you can pretty much count me in anytime.  But the latest may be the most fun yet.  Adding to the Stranger Things season three Hasbro Gaming tie-ins Dungeons & Dragons, Monopoly, Ouija board, Screen Test, and an Eggo card game is an all-new throwback 1980s version of Trivial Pursuit I thought I was a Trivial Pursuit purist, but the new Stranger Things Back to the ’80s Trivial Pursuit convinced me that the classic game had some problems and they’ve now been fixed.

The questions come from movies, TV, music, people, events, technology, fashion, sports, and more, and that classic orange sports/wild card category is now questions about your knowledge of the Stranger Things universe.  Don’t worry, that last category will be easy to dodge for anyone at the game table not familiar with the series, but new rules and gameplay also make it possible to give anyone a leg up toward an ultimate win.  “Roll again” spaces are gone, meaning there’s more time answering questions and less time rolling multiple times per turn.  You still need six wedges to win, but you no longer need a pie wedge from each category, so the game time is shorter.  If you aren’t a pro in any given category, you’re also no longer hamstringed into riding out a losing game because of the new “walkie talkie a friend” feature.  As with the Who Wants to be a Millionaire gameshow concept, so long as you’re not playing in Upside Down mode, you can enlist a helper, and if you win, share the spoils with a pie wedge for both players.

 

The Upside Down is an easy, clever board add-on that allows the entire board to be switched from real world mode to the dark Upside Down the series is famous for.  When you’re in the Upside Down you can lose pie wedges by answering incorrectly, and you can’t ask a friend for help.  It fits the Stranger Things story, and it further helps level the playing field among a diverse group of players.

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