Archive for December, 2019


We’re three episodes into the CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, sixth of the now annual efforts to get interest from the audience of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Batwoman, or Black Lightning in more than just one of their several adaptions of DC Comics.  The Crisis crossover has so far aired during Supergirl, Batwoman, and The Flash, and is now streaming on the CW app, continuing January 14 with episodes on Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow.  If you’re able to not be critical of all its flaws, you may be able to sit back and have fun with all the cameos and guest stars.  But the clunky writing and even clunkier dialogue may also leave you thinking about what could be–what could be done with the DC characters if only someone would put forth some extra effort.  Nobody expects TV series to produce the results you get with a movie budget, yet so far CW’s series have been more faithful to the spirit of the comic book source material than DC at the theaters (this year’s movie Shazam! as the welcome exception).  With all the money going into so many related series, why not cut a few of the series and combine efforts to focus more on compelling combined team scripts?  The actors are great, a cut above the material they’re working from, and it’s difficult to watch the crossover event and not wish executive producer Marc Guggenheim & Co. would give the actors something more.

Sure, it’s tough to cram so many characters into so few minutes.  But you also don’t want your fans making excuses for you.  We like fan service, a term host Kevin Smith uses a few times in his after show to describe this crossover, but how about that extra push to boost the quality?  That said, there is something for every taste in the Crisis crossover, and if you’re willing to sit back and let it all come at you, you’re going to find some great efforts to pull at your nostalgia strings.  Everyone involved, especially as they discuss their efforts in the after show, seem to love the material.  The overall big wins include John Wesley Shipp, who still holds the title for all-time best superhero adaptation, returning again for some scenes as the Flash from his 1990-91 series, Brandon Routh playing both his regular series character The Atom and donning the cape again he wore as the big-screen Superman in Superman Returns, and Matt Ryan, who couldn’t be more dead-on from the comics in his performance, reprising his role as John Constantine (more Justice League Dark, please!).

In part, the CW is stuck because of deals and studios, which (sort of) explains no Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, (yet two Supermans?) or big-screen Batman actor–although voice actor Kevin Conroy has a legion of fans who are probably more than happy to see him take a turn as a Kingdom Come-inspired Bruce Wayne.  Having a voice actor who doesn’t look like any comic version of Batman is just something you have to go with here–maybe close your eyes and imagine him in the animated Batman series.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Few comic book stories this year presented both a unique idea and a perfect pairing of writer and artist.  Previewed here earlier this year, IDW’s limited mini-series Ghost Tree is coming to comic book and book stores this week for the first time in a single, collected, graphic novel edition.  Prepare yourself for a refreshingly slow-paced supernatural journey into the past for a young Japanese expatriate.  His name is Brandt, and he is returning to the home of his youth because of a promise made to his grandfather a decade ago.  He is drawn from the U.S. to his grandmother’s home in Japan, and a fated meeting in the woods nearby.

Evoking folk tales like Momotarō and Bao, writer Bobby Curnow (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and artist Simon Gane (Godzilla) painted a touching, engaging, and haunting snippet from Japanese culture, bridging two generations, with a tale steeped in the otherworldly realm of so many Asian legends.  Like Kim Eun-hee’s Kingdom, it bridges genresThis is not horror, despite some mildly shocking imagery, but a story of possibility, connections, and learning from the past.  It’s a journey of self-discovery for grown-up Brandt, but what more can he learn from his grandfather now that his grandfather is gone?  Who is waiting for him in the woods and what does his grandmother know of it?  Learning from mistakes and regret, a haunted tree, and an assembly of souls that are drawn to it, plus monsters, an old girlfriend, and disembodied samurai?  It sounds strange, but it works.

  

The great color work is provided by colorist Ian Herring.  If shades of green are your thing, this series is for you.  Herring’s choices make for a great combination with Gane, whose artwork frequently pulls readers into a myriad of fascinating cultural settings.  Herring’s limited palette of colors is the perfect soothing addition to Bobby Curnow’s story–all three combining to make a perfect book.  Gane’s beautiful style is his own, but it evokes works we’ve seen from great comic artists like Moebius, Milo Manara, and 1980s Frank Miller.

Here is a preview of the new trade edition of Ghost Tree, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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If you want to see how much the 1980s-inspired Stranger Things has worked itself into the 21st century zeitgeist, you need only turn to the last three big studio trailers revealed over the past three days.  Make no mistake, if Stranger Things isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread it’s pretty close, full of fun characters and great riffs on some of our favorite bits of nostalgia.  So why shouldn’t everything and everyone try to get on the bandwagon?

The most exciting trailer comes from a film Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray have been interviewed about since Ghostbusters II.  Taking a cue from Halloween, Predator, and Terminator, the franchise is doing some skipping of reboots and making Ghostbusters: Afterlife a direct sequel to Ghostbusters II.  The lead role will be played by young (perfectly cast) Mckenna Grace, who has appeared in lots of genre films and shows (Ready Player One, Independence Day: Resurgence, Captain Marvel, and horror franchises: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Annabelle, Amityville, and Hill House).  In a nice nod to the late Ghostbusters co-star and writer Harold Ramis, she and Stranger Things co-star Finn Wolfhard (who wore his own Ghostbusters suit in his series) will play the grandkids of Ramis’s character, Dr. Egon Spengler.  Shifting to a prairie setting from the city, the tone feels more like the creepy and cool Netflix series in the first trailer, but it hints that slime-bearing apparitions we last saw in Manhattan will be showing their faces soon.  And a bonus: Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) plays the grade school teacher, and the kids’ mom is played by Carrie Coon (Avengers: Infinity War).  Plus Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts–everyone but Rick Moranis–have been confirmed for at least a cameo.  And there’s an El Camino and the return of the Ecto-1.  What more could you want?

 

Along with Ghostbusters: Afterlife are new trailers for Wonder Woman 1984 and Free Guy.  As you’d guess from the title, Wonder Woman 1984 is also looking back to the 1980s, complete with a big shopping mall action scene like we saw this summer in Stranger Things.  It looks like it’s trying to be a Marvel movie, complete with a World War-era soldier named Steve (Chris Pine) making his return from the past to co-star and Gal Gadot back in her title role, making an Iron Man entrance.  The movie has a comedic actor starring as a kooky villain (Kristen Wiig), making it look like we’re going to get another Superman III–yet another 1980s thing.  The third movie in our Stranger Things vibe is Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds in a spin on the lead character of the LEGO movies–here he is a video game character as in the 1980s nostalgia-filled Ready Player One, a non-player character who decides he wants to be the hero.  The movie co-stars the guy who plays our favorite character in Stranger Things, Joe Keery.  It doesn’t look like Tron, but we’ll take it.

Check out these trailers with a Stranger Things vibe for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Wonder Woman 1984, and Free Guy:

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This Friday fans of the science fiction TV series The Expanse get their wish: a fourth season and new studio commitment that may yield even more seasons.  Dropped by the Syfy channel more than a year ago, Amazon Studios is breathing new life into the series, taking over right where the third season left off (check out a preview for the new season below).  Based on the James S.A. Corey series of novels (eight with a ninth in the works), the show has earned a fan following much like that of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, in part because of its similar dark and gritty look at the future of Earth.  And as a bonus, unlike most TV series, The Expanse now has its own behind-the-scenes book digging into the production, full of concept artwork, ship and costume designs, and all the future tech that goes into a visual effects-filled show.

The Art and Making of The Expanse was created by Titan Books editor Andy Jones and Alcon Publishing’s Jeff Conner.  It doesn’t skimp on the photographs, giving fans both a treasure trove of screen images while also showing how those final shots came to be.  It recounts how the series made its way from video game to roleplay game to novels before getting picked up for TV.  Showrunner Naren Shankar and producers Mark Fergus, Daniel Abraham, and Ty Franck tell the whole story with contributions from actors Steven Strait, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Cas Anvar, Thomas Jane, and Sadavir Errinwright, production designer Seth Reed, costume designer Joanne Hansen, construction coordinator Robert Valeriote, senior VFX supervisor Bob Munroe, and concept artist Tim Warnock.

Readers will see all the key sets, spacesuits and other costumes, props, designs, ships, ship signage, and more from the first three seasons with a look at the fourth season’s concept art.  Look for layouts on each main character, the major ships and space stations, and a lot more.

Here is a preview of season four of The Expanse, with new cast members Burn Gorman (Torchwood, Forever, The Man in the High Castle), Lyndie Greenwood (Sleepy Hollow, Nikita), Jess Salgueiro (Orphan Black, The Strain), Michael Benyaer (Deadpool, Magnum PI), Chai Valladares (Star Trek Discovery, The Boys), and Kris Holden-Reid (Vikings, Lost Girl), and a new cyborg or two:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, you probably think of the incredible scope of its collection.  It houses some of the most famous and rare paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other artifacts from ancient times to the present day.  Its collection can be parsed in so many ways to record the history of almost any subject.  So it was a brilliant idea for The Met to open up its collection to focus on imagery for the holidays to illustrate a book about traditional Christmas stories.  Christmas is Coming! Celebrate the Holiday with Art, Stories, Poems, Songs, and Recipes is an ideal single source book of traditional Christmas songs and stories, illustrated with attractive imagery from artists celebrating the holiday across the centuries.  It also includes new poems commissioned for the book and holiday recipes created by the chefs from the restaurant at The Met.  If you’ve ever tried to find that one book with stories to read by the fire, with songs to sing to pull out every year, this is for you.

Along with excerpts of The Christmas Story and The Three Wise Men from the Bible, are historic Christmas stories from Arthur Conan Doyle, the Brothers Grimm, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Leo Tolstoy, and Lucy Maud Montgomery, and poetry from William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Christina Rossetti, H.P. Lovecraft, E.E. Cummings, and Robert Louis Stevenson.  It includes Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Francis Church’s timeless editorial Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. 

The artwork spans the entire collection of The Met, ranging from religious paintings depicting the Nativity from the 15th century and a winter landscape by Camille Pissarro to a collection of three dimensional holiday-related objects, illustrations of Santa Claus, and several images curated from a collection of vintage holiday cards donated to the museum.  Christmas is Coming! includes sheet music for ten of the most familiar Christmas songs, and recipes hand-selected by chefs at The Met that include Shepherd’s Pie, Turkey Pot Pie, English Toffee, Cranberry-Thyme Shortbread, and more.

Here are some excerpts from The Met’s Christmas is Coming!:

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We’ve seen Disney go back to the well as the norm lately, with a host of live-action remakes of animated movies from the “vaults.”  Ticking off the list so far have been Aladdin, Cinderella, The Jungle Book (twice), and Pete’s Dragon, with Beauty and the Beast, Lady and the Tramp, the second take on The Jungle Book, and The Lion King remakes really more CGI than live-action, with a few centered on classic villains, including two Maleficents and one Cruella.  What other animated Disney films will audiences see adapted to the real world in the future?  So far news of pre-production has been mentioned for The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lilo & Stitch, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, The Sword and the Stone, yet another take on The Jungle Book, and spin-offs including Tink, Rose Red, and Prince Charming.  With more than a dozen live-action remakes of animated Disney movies in production, it’s a surprise to see a preview for one that looks like it could have been a standalone live-action film from the get-go.  Utilizing the production designer of The Lord of the Rings movies, Disney has upped the ante for Mulan.

Based on the 1998 animated Oscar-nominated film, which was based on a Chinese folk legend of a young heroine who posed as a boy to fight for her people (The Ballad of Mulan), with a lot of influence from Jin Yong’s heroine Huang Rong in Legends of the Condor Heroes, next year’s Mulan replaces roles voiced in the animated film that included Eddie Murphy, Harvey Fierstein, Donny Osmond, and Miguel Ferrer, instead showcasing a legion of Chinese and Chinese-American actors and a film steeped more in traditional Chinese folklore.  In the title role is Yifei Liu (also known as Crystal Liu) an actress who has grown up with roles in wuxia stories, starring in Return of the Condor Heroes, and appearing with Jackie Chan and Jet Li in John Fusco’s Forbidden Kingdom.  In the first trailer for Mulan (below) we meet her father, played by Wu Assassins and The Man in the High Castle’s Tzi Ma.  Other key cast members include Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) as Bori Khan, Gong Li as the Cyclone Mei-inspired witch Xian Lang, Rogue One’s Donnie Yen as Commander Tung, M*A*S*H and Star Trek’s Rosalind Chao as Hua Li, and Chinese mega-action star Jet Li as The Emperor.

Mulan is directed by Niki Caro, who you may know as the director of the fantastic and inspiring McFarland USA, among other award-winning films.  Clearly this is not going to be a shot-for-shot remake as we’ve seen with past Disney efforts.  Costumes were designed by Bina Daigeler (Volver, Grimm), and the music was created by the prolific film composer Harry Gregson-Williams.  The rich production look is courtesy of Grant Major (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Meg, X-Men: Apocalypse, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny).

Take a look at this fantastic, exciting new trailer for Mulan:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Sometimes you can align the right fan with a project and come up with something great.  Add Mark Edlitz to that list and his fascinating, broad look at the James Bond franchise in The Many Lives of James Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy As audiences get ready for 2020’s No Time to Die, the franchise continues to be as popular as ever, through new fiction and non-fiction books, comics, music, posters, and more.   But how do you translate the master British spy from Ian Fleming’s original stories into new stories, or adapt the character to the big screen, to audio books and radio plays, and to spin-off comic books and novels?  Mark Edlitz is a long-time fan who took his tape recorder along to Bond conventions over the years and interviewed everyone he could find in front of and behind the camera, then expanded that into people behind the books and everything else he could find.  The result is the largest collection of Bond oral histories anywhere.  The result is The Many Lives of James Bond, now available for the first time, from Lyons Press.

Supplemented with sketch art (from artist Pat Carbajal) and peppered with black and white photographs of the interview subjects, Edlitz makes up for some of the big creators he was unable to interview by interviewing people close to them.  Interviewing people is not easy: Sometimes the subjects aren’t good at being interviewed, and oftentimes subjects are evasive for whatever reason.  But most subjects in the book said they felt a certain family connection to the honor of working on a Bond project, and were open with their thoughts.  It’s full of all kinds of surprises, and more insights than you can imagination about being Bond, from interviews with Roger Moore and George Lazenby, a stunt double, Hoagy Carmichael and David Niven’s sons (Fleming’s initial visions for Bond), and Glen A. Schofield, who provides his account of working with Sean Connery as voice over actor in a video game 20 years after his last Bond performance.  The Many Lives of James Bond also looks back to some early, pre-Bond film era performers.

  

Edlitz covers casting the role and directing Bond (from movie directors Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale), Roger Spotiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies), and editor and unit director John Glen (who worked on eight films with four Bond actors)), writing words and working with the famed producers who own the Bond legacy (from interviews with more than a dozen writers, including three-time Bond screenwriter Bruce Feirstein), creating music for Bond (from songwriters Leslie Bricusse (Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice) and Don Black (who wrote songs for five films)), creating clothes for Bond (from Jany Temime (Skyfall, SPECTRE)), and even marketing Bond (in movie posters created by Robert McGinnis (Diamonds are Forever, Live and Let Die), Rudy Obrero (Never Say Never Again), and Dan Goozee (Moonraker, Octopussy, A View to a Kill)), all while trying to be faithful to Fleming’s vision while adapting when necessary to changing times.

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This month Wizards of the Coast is celebrating 45 years of fans and gaming and 5 years of the Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons with a one-time opportunity.  The D&D Sapphire Anniversary Dice Set: Collector’s Limited Edition will be available to commemorate the occasion, a set of eleven aluminum dice with a special sapphire set in the d20 die.  Wizards of the Coast hopes this to be the jewel of any gamer’s dice sets.  You’ll want to mark your calendar for December 12, 2019, at 9 a.m. Pacific/11 a.m. Central, the go-live date for sales of the set.  And you’ll need to act fast, as the number of sets will be limited to 1,974, reflecting the first year of D&D.

“When the D&D team realized the sapphire is the traditional anniversary stone for both five years and forty-five years, and that adding a laboratory-created sapphire to a twenty-sided die wouldn’t jeopardize the integrity of a roll, we couldn’t pass up the chance to make something really cool to celebrate the milestones,” said Nathan Stewart, vice president of the D&D for Wizards of the Coast.  “The team put together a fun product for our fans that includes art and newly updated stats for sapphire dragons, making these classic dragons ready for play in your next D&D session.”

Here are the stats for the set from Wizards of the Coast:

  • A complete set of eleven precision anodized luxury aluminum dice, including two d20s, one d12, two d10s, one d8, four d6s, and one d4, all created exclusively for Wizards of the Coast by Level Up Dice.
  • The centerpiece of the set is a dice masterpiece, a d20 that contains an inlaid lab-grown sapphire in the place of the twenty.
  • All other dice sport a fully engraved and anodized official D&D ampersand on the highest value of each die.
  • A custom dice box and dice tray combo only available with this set, perfect for protecting and showcasing the set everywhere you play.
  • A premiere foldout card featuring official D&D fifth edition game statistics for adult sapphire dragons, along with vibrant, full-color art.
  • An exclusive sticker sheet with the D&D ampersand.
  • A sequentially numbered collector’s card confirming the set’s authenticity.

Take a look at this trailer with close-up images of the dice, which also doubles as a bit of a “moment of Zen”–

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No Time to Die It will be the 25th official James Bond movie and the 27th if you include the independent movie Never Say Never Again and the first version of Casino Royale, all part of the longest running blockbuster franchise that began in 1962 with Dr. No.  The first full movie trailer for No Time to Die is here (check it out below), along with several character posters.  And those (like us) who see Daniel Craig as their favorite Bond will be sad to hear Craig says this will be his last turn at 007.  His performance as “the man every guy wants to be and every woman wants to be with” would no doubt be familiar to author Ian Fleming, whose character was a rugged, late career spy as Craig has played it (check out our past reviews of the Bond novels here at borg).

Along with other international venues, Bond returns to Jamaica in his next film, where we’ve seen him before in Dr. No and Live and Let Die, but more importantly it’s Bond coming full circle, as Jamaica is where Fleming wrote all of his Bond stories, at his real home there he called Goldeneye.  Long-time series producer Barbara Broccoli tapped Cary Fukunaga, a cinematographer and relative newcomer to the big screen, to take the reins as director, following Sam Mendes, who directed the last two Bond movies.  Returning as the familiar core characters are Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, and Léa Seydoux as Bond’s latest love interest from the last outing.  New to the series are Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) as the villain Safin, plus Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049), Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel) as a new 00, Lourdes Faberes (Knightfall), Rae Lim (Tomb Raider), and Billy Magnussen (Black Mirror).

 

Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica.  His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help.  The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

Check out all the character posters (which list the UK release date) and the first trailer released today for No Time to Die:

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We’ll all forever scratch our heads over why it didn’t enter anyone’s mind at Marvel Studios to get Black Widow her own movie before Infinity War and Endgame.  Was it because they didn’t plan to kill off Black Widow in Endgame until the last minute?  In repeated interviews Scarlett Johansson doesn’t even seem to know why.  Captain Marvel was great fun, but wouldn’t it have made sense to have this film as the penultimate film in the decade-long, newly titled Infinity Saga?  But it looks like Disney and Marvel pulled it off.  Johansson as a younger Black Widow, and a great, fun, surprise cast gets the spotlight in the first trailer for next summer’s first likely blockbuster, which arrived this morning.

As you’ll see in the trailer below, Black Widow features the return of Johansson, plus adds Stranger Things and Hellboy star David Harbour as the Soviet answer to Captain America, the Red Guardian, Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) as assassin Melina Vostokoff aka Iron Maiden, Florence Pugh (The Commuter) as Yelena Belova, and de-aged Oscar-winning actor William Hurt, who started the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe off in The Incredible Hulk, back as General Ross.  Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow takes place following the events of Captain America: Civil War, so it’s not really all that long ago.  Recall when Natasha Romanov left Steve Rogers at the cemetery at the end of the film?  This is evidently what she alluded to when she left.  The villain is Taskmaster, but the identity of that actor/actress has yet to be revealed.  And Pugh’s character might be getting queued up to take over the Black Widow mantle later in this new phase (#4) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as her character has been known to use the title in the pages of the comic books.

 

Along with the trailer, a second poster was released Tuesday morning, following the red hourglass style of the first poster given to fans at Disney’s D23 Expo this year.

First previewed at D23 Expo, check out this first trailer for Black Widow:

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