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Archive for September, 2019


At some point a studio needs to create the Fisher Price Little People movie.  (We all need to see that black-and-white freckled dog driving the tugboat on the big screen).  We’ve seen LEGO movies (two that were top-notch films) and movies based on UglyDolls, Pokémon, Bratz dolls, and even Clue and the Battleship board game (not to mention G.I. Joe and Transformers).  So the only question we should be asking is, “Why not Playmobil?”  This Christmas you can find out.

What does the new animated Playmobil: The Movie have going for it?

It may be worth watching just for the Viking character.  Beyond that, legions of Harry Potter fans may want to see what Daniel Radcliffe has been up to lately.  He voices the lead character, a suave James Bond type named Rex Dasher.  The film co-stars Anya Taylor-Joy, the current young go-to actress who seems to be in every franchise lately, from M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass to Marvel’s The New Mutants to The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.  Plus it includes an odd assemblage of people you might not think of for their voice roles in animated shows, like Meghan Trainor, Kenan Thompson, and Jim Gaffigan.

If you grew up with Playmobil–as hundreds of millions of people around the world have since the toy brand’s creation in 1974 and its creation of 3 billion figures to date–you may think a movie may be worth a try, even if that means waiting for it to arrive on Netflix.  In case you missed it, here’s the trailer for Playmobil: The Movie:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As in any creative industry, as much as Hollywood is rife with successes, far more projects barely make it past the idea stage.  Others make it through preliminary steps only to get left behind, most never heard of again.  Decisions are made, offers are given, and you move forward.  The fact that Tom Selleck rejected the role of Indiana Jones is a famous footnote to movie history.  Most recently Amanda Seyfried recounted rejecting the role of Gamora in the Marvel films.  A Mouse Guard movie made it through pre-production before getting stalled.  For every successful project, how many others are left behind?  If you’re as iconic as filmmaker Ray Harryhausen, you might have even more projects left in the discard pile than others.  Those might-have-been projects, rejected ideas, and even scenes that made it beyond mere idea to concept art come together in John Walsh’s new look at the auteur and father of stop-motion creatures, Harryhausen: The Lost Movies

Ray Harryhausen’s creations were cutting edge for the first century of cinema, their creator a special effects visionary who found his niche in fantasy worlds, via films like One Million Years B.C., Clash of the Titans, and Jason and the Argonauts.  Documentarian John Walsh met with Harryhausen, who died in 2013, to film a documentary about the filmmaker, and along the way he chronicled 70 projects Harryhausen considered but did not go through with, including script and concept art material.  Some of these are projects he was asked to participate in and couldn’t find a fit, or films he passed up for other projects, including films anyone could see translated by Harryhausen, like Conan, Tarzan, King Kong, Moby Dick, John Carter of Mars, and Beowulf.  Then there are those surprises fans could only dream about, like Harryhausen’s take on The Empire Strikes Back, The Princess Bride, Dune, or X-Men.  Harryhausen: The Lost Movies provides fans with a glimpse into Harryhausen’s involvement in these projects, some with photographic clues of how his input might have resulted in very different films.

Pulling together some never-been-seen-before artwork, sketches, photos, and screencaps of test footage from the Harryhausen Foundation archives, Walsh creates a scrapbook of sorts, an artist’s sketchbook.  Harryhausen considered every other major classic fantasy and fairy tale to utilize his brand of special effects storytelling.  He created test footage for H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, but his letter to Orson Welles was not answered.  His alien designs from that footage are in this book.

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First previewed back in June here at borg, Ford v Ferrari (as titled in the U.S., it’s Le Mans ’66 everywhere else) revisits that legendary battle of man vs machine vs man.  And its next trailer has arrived (check it out below).  James Mangold, who has directed some brilliant movies, including Cop Land and Logan, is directing the film, so it’s going to be an easy pick to see when it lands in theaters this November.  It’s long overdue that we get to see automotive legends Ford and Ferrari in a biopic about the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race.  Henry Ford II worked with Lee Iacocca to lead a team of engineers and designers to build a car for Ford to compete with Enzo Ferrari, and the result was the GT40 Mark II.  On June 18-19, 1966, they would face off.

It was the subject of a 2009 book, Go Like Hell, and the 2016 documentary based on that book, The 24-Hour WarThe leads in this version of events seem to be not the legendary opponents in the battle, Ford and Ferrari, but Matt Damon as racecar driver-turned-designer Carroll Shelby of Shelby Mustang fame, and Christian Bale as Daytona and Sebring-winning driver Ken Miles.  These were the days of racing when every other name would become a racing legend, names like A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, and Lloyd Ruby.  Playing Iacocca is Jon Bernthal (The Punisher, The Walking Dead), with Tracy Letts (Homeland, The Post) as Ford, and Remo Girone (Live by Night) as Ferrari.  Rounding out the cast are Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, and Ray McKinnon.

Here is the second trailer for 20th Century Fox’s adaptation of the events leading to the 1966 24-hour race, Ford v Ferrari aka Le Mans ′66:

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It’s a big week for Dungeons & Dragons players.  This Tuesday is the release date for Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, the eagerly-awaited next adventure in the Fifth Edition of Wizards of the Coast’s original roleplaying game.  One city has fallen into hell, and it’s up to players to see that Baldur’s Gate does not meet the same fate.  The game takes players from levels 1 to 13 as they journey through Baldur’s Gate and into Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells.

And the biggest feature that fans have been waiting for is here: Infernal Machines, making this new journey a mash-up of dark fantasy and Mad Max.  The machines are battle-ready vehicles, which you can build and customize as your characters enter the Blood War.

Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus is a thick 256 pages, with an exhaustive, detailed history of Baldur’s Gate (popularized in the video game of the same name) taking up the first quarter of the book.  Look for lots of new creatures, several interesting NPCs, a pronunciation guide, and even a new lettering script to adapt for your own designed supplemental materials.

 

This new D&D volume features extensive artwork, and attractive maps by Dyson Logos, Mike Schley, and Jared Blando, including a giant double-sided foldout map.  You’ll also find a unique appendix featuring concept art sketches, designs, and characters, providing a peek behind the scenes at Wizards of the Coast.  Note: There’s even a disclaimer for anyone wary of the darker nature of this adventure.  The short version?  It’s all for fun (but you already know that).

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Illumination Entertainment’s movie The Secret Life of Pets was a surprise success back in 2016, and it saw a sequel in theaters this year, leading the box office in its opening week.  It turns out those cute neighborhood pets are just as fun even if you remove the voices of the famous actors who play the parts in the movies.  A new hardcover comic arriving at comic book stores this month translates Max, Snowball, Duke, Gidget, Chloe, Mel, Buddy and the gang into a comic strip for all ages of animal lovers.  It’s all in The Secret Life of Pets: The Fast and the Furry

Writer Stéphane Lapuss’ and the artist known as Goum have combined to put together a new collection of behind the curtains antics that continue to show fans what the dogs and cats (and birds and pigs and rabbits and…) are doing when their humans aren’t at home.  That’s 100 pages of comic strip stories in a colorful, gift book-sized hardcover edition.  And if you like this book, you’ll be happy to hear another volume is in the works.

This isn’t an adaptation of either movie, but a collection of all-new tales.  Take a look at this preview of The Secret Life of Pets: The Fast and the Furry, courtesy of Titan Comics:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’ve ever wanted to start playing Dungeons & Dragons, but didn’t have anyone around that knew how to play, Wizards of the Coast has released a new boxed set with everything you need to get started.  Expanding on its earlier D&D Starter Kit, the all-new D&D Essentials Kit includes all of the components to get started on an adventure out of the box, with hours of adventuring for 2-6 players.  Unlike with the Starter Kit, the Essentials Kit skips ahead from pre-generated characters allowing for building your own characters, with four races: dwarf, elf, halfling, and human, and five classes: bard, cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard.  This alone keeps this new set ahead of the Starter Kit.  But what else?

First, Wizards of the Coast has whittled down the three rulebooks into a single, easy-to-read, 64-page D&D Essentials Rulebook The Rulebook is for all potential players to read, and it includes the rudimentary steps missing from prior iterations–here are not only the rules and parameters for moving through a game but what each step is for, why it matters, and how it fits into the larger gameplay–a great addition for anyone who doesn’t think they learn as fast and are afraid to ask questions.  The next component is the adventure book, Dragon of the Icespire Peak, tailored specifically for first-time players, with the potential for characters to reach six levels.  Note: This takes place in the same region as The Lost Mine of Phandelver, which was included in the D&D Starter Kit, so both adventures can be played together.  This time players have several smaller adventures, so it frees up gameplay for those without time for a single six-hour session.

Expanding on the elements of the D&D Starter Kit are several extras in the D&D Essentials Kit For anyone who doesn’t have a large group to play with, you now have one-on-one rules for only two players, a Dungeon Master and single player.  Along with the two books, inside the sturdy storage box is a set of 11 red translucent polyhedral dice, and a handy box for cards and dice.  A cardboard Dungeon Master’s screen with fantasy artwork by Grzegorz Rutkowski is a nice touch, plus a large, foldout, full-color, two-sided map of Phandalin (also found in Acquisitions Incorporated) and Sword Coast is there to enhance gameplay.  The box also includes six blank double-sided character sheets, nine Initiative cards, nine Quest cards, 36 Magic Item cards, nine starter Sidekick Character cards, 14 Condition cards, three Combat cards, and a Magic Charm card–these will help keep beginners on track.  Finally, the box includes a sheet with codes for continuing gameplay online with D&D Beyond, with three added adventures: Storm Lord’s Wrath (for 7th level characters), Sleeping Dragon’s Wake (for 9th level characters), and Divine Contention (for 11th level characters).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Nothing in my lifetime in the fantasy genre has had an impact as great as Jim Henson, his creations, and influence.  That stretches to The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, tangent puppet creations like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, and Henson’s masterwork, the 1982 holiday release The Dark Crystal.  So nothing could be greater than to revisit The Dark Crystal in a new incarnation, and not only find the people behind it got it right, but set a new standard in storytelling along the way.  No visual storytelling medium is older than puppetry, and nothing reaches inside you like a story told with creations you know aren’t real, yet when done exceptionally well they convey every emotion as if they were real.  The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, now streaming on Netflix, sets a new bar because it expands on the original film’s story, bringing to life a larger, fully fleshed-out world and a timeless tale that firmly installs the name Henson (Jim and daughters Lisa and Cheryl) as equal to fantasists like the Grimms, Kipling, Milne, Howard, Tolkien, Lewis, Beagle, Harryhausen, Lucas, Jackson, and Rowling.  “Wonder” should be the Henson family hallmark.  Beyond that, the series surpasses the best fantasy of television and big-screen productions, so from here on audiences may ask comparatively, “Yes, but does it convey the emotion and wonder The Dark Crystal series created?”

Dynamic, thrilling, suspenseful, and full of action, mythology, sorcery, good and evil, despair and triumph, swashbuckling adventure, unimaginable beauty and love for nature and community, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance presents better than anything before what every other fantasy before it seems to stumble on: Stakes.  The preparation of the viewer for a world of dire fantasy stakes couldn’t have been more artfully revealed.  What is at stake in the film isn’t just another “end of the world” story, but something that reaches in and makes you believe a stack of rocks can be lovable, the innocent can rise against the darkest evil, where the world of humans and their conflicts is not a consideration, and where you may find you want a hug from a giant spider.  Glorious, ground-breaking, faithful to the original, with thousands of creators making a film in a spectacularly difficult way, it more than fulfills its promise.

You could heap all sorts of praise on the series, beyond Netflix for betting its money on a prequel, the Hensons and original visionary family the Frouds, beyond director Louis Leterrier, writers Jeffrey Addiss, Will Matthews, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, haunting music by Daniel Pemberton, the spectacular assemblage of voice actors, from Simon Pegg and Warrick Brownlow-Pike (who perfectly resurrected Chamberlain the Skeksis, one of fantasy’s greatest villains) to Donna Kimball and Kevin Clash (resurrecting fantasy’s greatest sorceress, Aughra).  The unsung heroes will be those puppeteers and the designers of the production, the puppets, the costumes, and props.  There’s not a big enough award for this series or its many creators, artists, and artisans, and all that had to come together to make it.  A glimpse behind the scenes can be found in a must-see feature following the ten episodes of the series.

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Following the designs created under Daniel Falconer, art director and senior concept designer for Weta Workshop, the famed creation house of all things forged and fantastical, is releasing a new line of statues and replicas from The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, similar in style, look, and feel to Weta’s highly collected products from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  Many of these items will not be released until next year, but online collectible store Entertainment Earth is taking pre-orders now.  The statues and replicas are every bit the quality you’d expect from the company, known for matching the items seen on the screen with the products it delivers to the public.

First out will be four 1:6 statues, including Rian and Hup, both by Weta Workshop sculptor Steven Saunders.  Maudra Fara’s eyepatched companion Baffi the Fizzgig was created by Weta Workshop sculptor Jane Wenley.  The vile Skeksis Emperor is as creepily real, as sinister, and scary, as anything we’ve seen from Weta.  This statue is by Weta Workshop sculptor Hao Wang, and includes all four arms, plus a metal prosthesis for his rotting nose!  If you’re interested, you’ll want to pre-order the Skeksis Emperor now here at Entertainment Earth, as it will be limited to only 400 units worldwide.  The intricacy on this piece is unparalleled, and it will no doubt go down as one of Weta’s finest high-end statues.

 

A 1:1 scale prop replica of the Essence vial is crafted from glass and resin, with LED lighting to replicate the radiant essence seen on screen (operated via battery).  The Dark Crystal necklace is based on 3D scans provided by Netflix, shaped to be an exact replica of the Crystal seen on screen, its draconic claw is inspired by the Skeksis clasp system in the Castle of the Crystal.  It is a resin pendant complete with gunmetal-plated brass claw, includes a 20-inch stainless steel chain, and is encased in a gift box.

Find more information and learn how to pre-order any now from Entertainment Earth at the links above. Check out several high quality images below, courtesy of Weta Workshop:

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You may have gulped it down in one sitting or maybe you think it’s so good you’re (like us) enjoying this new series slowly, but there’s no doubt Netflix′s original series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will be a contender for the best series of the year in any category.  Lisa Henson and The Jim Henson Company have created something special here, and we’re now seeing some of the first tie-ins from this reboot of The Dark Crystal franchise, which began only two years ago with Caseen Gaines’ authoritative look at Henson, his inspiration, and his original Thra creations in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History (reviewed here at borg).  If you’re enjoying the new series, you’ll want to dive in to learn about the Hensons and how they created the world of Thra from the very beginning.

Funko has six 3 3/4-inch action figures to add to its earlier The Dark Crystal collection (first discussed here in 2016, these figures sell for top dollar on the aftermarket, with a few still on Amazon like Jen, Kira & Fizzgig, Chamberlain, Aughra, Landstrider, Garthim, and UrSol).  For the new TV series Funko’s first wave of figures have better sculpts and paint work than the prior series.  They feature gelflings Deet and Rian, Hup the podling, Aughra the Oracle, the Hunter Skeksis, and a Silk Spitter (see larger images below, and click on the names to learn more and order these at Amazon, currently about $10 each).

 

The tie-in books to choose from truly have something for all ages.  Look for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Inside the Epic Return to Thra, Heroes of the Resistance: A Guide to the Characters of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and Aughra’s Wisdom of Thra.  Below, check out a 10-page preview of the beautifully detailed behind the scenes art book The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Inside the Epic Return to Thra Each book is now available for pre-order from Amazon, and the publisher descriptions of each book is included below:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

“The waters speak the truth, that they do.  Only now have you lived long enough to know the child that you shall always remain.  That which dwells in the heart can never be lost to the spirit.”

Some artists’ works are so brilliant, so evocative, so memorable, and so successful, that whenever they draw, sketch, or paint, it turns heads.  One of those artists is Bill Sienkiewicz.  His 1980s comic book artwork changed the way comic books are approached by artists and readers, forever.  His trademark abstract works and his recurring sketches of people making the news are regular features that can make you happy to open your social media application for the day.  Put Sienkiewicz together with a Santa Claus story?  It’s as good as it sounds, and it arrives in stores beginning this week.

We’ve seen some incredible work on Christmas stories in the comic book medium before.  Take for example the modern Batman opus, 2011’s Batman: Noel by Lee Bermejo (we reviewed it here).  Now this year we have Santa: My Life and Times, An Autobiography, a lavish, updated edition to a 1998 project.  It features a holiday story written by Jared Green (and Santa, of course), with vibrant and festive watercolor art, cover to cover, by Sienkiewicz.  As are all good storybooks, this is a shiny, over-sized hardcover.  You will get lost in the details of every page of art.  Marvel at all the wintry critters.  Peek inside windows.  The beauty of nature’s magic is everywhere.  By my count there are not only more than 100 illustrations by Sienkiewicz in this book, there are 100 poster-worthy illustrations.

The storytelling is very Victorian and grand, neither modern nor silly.  This is the same voice found in the classic 1823 Clement Clarke Moore holiday staple,  A Visit from St. Nicholas (aka ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas).  Green’s voice of Santa is like a conversation in a good Dickens hero’s friendly voice.  Think Bob Cratchit.  This is a deep, rich, well-thought out fantasy.  The story spreads pure goodness and joy, the kind you’ll want to read to little kids (or adults, or cats), complete with Dr. Seussian sound effects peppered about.  No doubt this is the same Santa that influenced the likes of Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, Steve Irwin, and Jim Henson.  The look and feel matches the spirit of the Rankin/Bass Christmas classics perfectly.

Here are some pages of the interior art and story from Santa: My Life and Times: An Autobiography, courtesy of Titan Comics:

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