Category: Backstage Pass


Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re accustomed to seeing non-fiction tie-in books digging into what makes the big sci-fi franchises so popular.  But it’s only a recent trend that publishers are meeting fan demand by digging into those television series that don’t have the established fan bases and studio support.  Firefly was probably the first series to break out in this way, but publishers are now seeing–thanks to streaming platforms specifically–that fans want more content about their favorite shows.  Following recent books like Jeff Bond’s The World of The Orville (reviewed here at borg) and The Art and Making of the Expanse (reviewed here), the next acclaimed science fiction series has a behind-the-scenes account with Mike Avila’s The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World from Titan Books.

Designed almost identically to the successful The World of The Orville, this look at Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World is both an overview of the series, its characters, its source material, and the creation of its detailed alternate world, and it’s also a visit with the creators behind and in front of the camera that made a complex, highly regarded work of classic sci-fi literature into a compelling benchmark in television storytelling.  As we’ve seen in interviews with Lisa Henson in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance–Inside the Epic Return to Thra and interviews about the Broccoli family in The Many Lives of Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy, this look at the Amazon series provides one of fandom’s first glimpses at Philip K. Dick’s daughter, Dick estate trustee and series executive producer Isa Dick Hackett.  So whether you liked (or not) how the series took portions of the novel, left some behind, and added new bits, Hackett explains the thought process behind the production’s choices.

The book covers the entire series–all four seasons–and is divided into four sections by theater: the Japanese Pacific States, the Neutral Zone, the Greater Nazi Reich, and Alternate Worlds, and these sections further highlight specific components of the series, including characters, locations, design, costumes, props, and music.  There’s even a section on creating the creepy opening title sequence, slightly altered each season.  And stills of the signage, both re-created concepts and alternate history imagery, provide fans the opportunity to at last study them in detail.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

As movies go, few successes were as unlikely as Steven Spielberg’s Jaws It was a film that from its inception never seemed like anyone knew how to get their arms around the project.  Spielberg’s driving force was refusing to film in a tank as seen in the Spencer Tracy clunky version of The Old Man and the Sea.  It was to be the real ocean or nothing.  And there never was any alternative to building a full-sized shark.  Art director-turned production designer Joe Alves partnered with Spielberg, and it was his first instinct to render his charcoal concept drawings explicitly to show the violent shark attack scenes, all for a set of pitch materials to help sell the idea of the film to the studios.  These drawings by Alves, his storyboards, his location scouting notes, and his pages of production outlines are now reproduced for the first time in Joe Alves: Designing Jaws, a new look at cinema’s original blockbuster.

A lot has happened since Jaws.  Would Paul Allen have taken on searching for and discovering the sunken USS Indianapolis but for the film sharing the sailors’ story?  Nearly 45 years later it seems impossible that a new book could be written about the adaptation of Peter Benchley’s 1974 hyped novel Jaws (reviewed here), which was (incredibly) being published at the same time the film was being made.  The definitive book for years about the making of the film has been (and remains) screenwriter Carl Gottlieb’s insightful work The Jaws Log (reviewed here), but we’ve since seen periodic looks back at the production, as in Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard (reviewed here).  No doubt if there’s something more to learn about Jaws, the film’s fans (including me) are going to get our hands on it.  Access to something like Joe Alves’s personal archive of artwork and production notes is as surprising and rare as it gets, so Joe Alves: Designing Jaws is going to be a no-brainer for movie buffs to add to their bookshelves.

Jaws was by no means Alves’s first film.  He began in the cinema creating special effects for Forbidden Planet, and later Night Gallery, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and after Jaws he’d design films like Escape from New York, Freejack, and Geronimo: An American Legend.  Somehow all the competing ideas for Jaws would come together, and Alves would be best known for his work on the film.  His charcoal concept art illustrates how removed from the final vision the creators of Jaws began with, beginning with an assumption that Spielberg would actually be showing the shark a lot.  As readers will learn in this book, the film we know only came together in the editing room.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

The “Moviemaking Magic/Cinemagic” series from Abrams Books is my current favorite book format for genre tie-in non-fiction works.  Check out my reviews of the volume on the Marvel Studios Heroes and Villains here, and the first volume on Star Wars, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures and Aliens, here.  The format is interactive, featuring several series of foldout photographs that allow the reader to see the changes in design over time, like ships from concept to realized model.  And these books allow for hundreds of photographs and how-to film production process accounts and interviews, arranged in an easy to reference chronology.  With the latest film in theaters, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams has published the next look behind the scenes at the production process, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships and Battles, the most comprehensive account of the 11-film franchise’s models, sculptures, concept artwork, and their creators since Sculpting a Galaxy was released in 2005 when we only had six films available (you can see my review of that book here).

The book is targeted at a younger audience, but Star Wars fans of any age will appreciate the detail and information they may not have read about before, including notes from George Lucas from the first idea for the film, his treatment for The Star Wars, to Colin Cantwell and Joe Johnston′s concept drawings, all the way through the two “Star Wars story” movies Rogue One and Solo, and all nine Skywalker saga films, including a preview page of concept art from The Rise of Skywalker.  The original trilogy gets the biggest share of the coverage, including the full run of major ships, how they were developed, and what method was used to get them on the big screen, but the 21st century films and the prequels also get significant sections.  Readers will follow the development of filmmaking methods old and new: full-sized sets and vehicles like the landspeeder and X-wing fighter, scale models (both small and large scale), kitbashing, matte painting, and CGI.

Fans of the Millennium Falcon specifically will not want to miss this book.  They can track the development of the many models and designs used across the original trilogy, which had to be resurrected for the final trilogy with a side trip to an early, modified version of the ship for Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Coverage includes concept art, unused designs, and photos of the pocket-sized models through the multiple full-sized, walk-on creations. The various Death Star space stations and Star Destroyers get similar handling in the book.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s always fun to be a fan and find a new edition of a previously published work you overlooked.  In light of this year’s new James Bond film, No Time to Die, and Daniel Craig’s indication this will be his last Bond film, keep an eye out for a new round of speculation on his replacement.  While you’re waiting for the official Bond #25, check out Bond On Bond: Reflections On 50 Years Of James Bond Movies.  Not just another look at the franchise, this was written by Bond himself, or at least the actor who played Bond the longest, Roger Moore, five years before he passed away in 2017.  Bond fans will love that the book doesn’t seem at all to have a ghost writer–this is candid Roger Moore in all his great humor, wry wit, and suave, British sincerity, just as we’ve seen him in interviews over the years and heard him in DVD commentaries.

The book is not just about Moore, but his relationship with the producers, studio, and other actors who have played Bond and their contributions to the franchise.  Moore knows more than you’d think about the significance of Ian Fleming’s stories, and their impact on the world.  He also has an incredible memory, and even if some of the subjects discussed might have been memory joggers posed by others, his anecdotes show insight into the character, and components of 50 years of films, including Daniel Craig’s, that get Fleming’s character just right.  Also, if you played Bond, you get to refer to the character as Jimmy.

How does it feel to walk around knowing the world thinks of you as Bond?  Why did Moore refrain from ever uttering the lines “shaken, not stirred”?  Why did the studio and Moore agree to make many differences in his style of playing Bond compared to his predecessor, Sean Connery?  What’s a press junket like when you’re Bond?  What’s it like to attend the movie premieres with royalty?

Continue reading

It’s been another long year of great entertainment.  It’s time for the seventh annual round of new honorees for the borg Hall of Fame.  We have several honorees from 2019 films and television, plus you’ll find some from the past, and a peek at some from the future – 28 new borgs or updated variants in all, bringing the borg Hall of Fame total to 221.

You can always check out the updated borg Hall of Fame on our home page under “Know your borg.”

Some reminders about criteria.  Borgs have technology integrated with biology Wearing a technology-powered suit alone doesn’t qualify a new member.  Tony Stark aka Iron Man was named an honoree because the Arc Reactor kept him alive, not because of his incredible tech armor.  The new Spider-Man suit worn by Tom Holland is similar to Tony’s, but it’s not integrated with Peter Parker’s biology.  Similarly Peni Parker, seen outside her high-tech SP//dr suit in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Black Manta from Aquaman are merely wearing tech suits.  We’d love a reason for a Mandalorian to make the cut, like Boba Fett, or Jango Fett, or the new Mandalorian from the series, since nobody has more intriguing armor.  Maybe the second season coming next fall will give us something new to ponder.

Also, if the creators tell us the characters are merely robots, automatons, or androids, we take their word for it.  Again, integration is key, but in the Hall, once a member, always a member.  

So let’s get on with it.  Who’s in for 2019?

Continue reading

Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the Best Books of 2019.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here, the Best in Television 2019 here, and the Best Comics of 2019 here.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t print reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year:

Best Read, Best Fantasy Read, Best New Edition of Previous Published Work, Best Translated Work – A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes 1 by Jin Yong, translated by Anna Holmwood (St. Martin’s Press).  The first book in one of the most read books of all time finally makes its way to the U.S. after its premiere in Great Britain.  Readers will learn why George Lucas pulled its concepts for his Skywalker saga, and why generations of Chinese fans of fantasy of flocked to its heroes and villains.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Read: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock (Tor Books), The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin Young Readers).

Best New Novel, Best Horror Novel, Best Historical Novel, Best Mystery Novel – The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  A truly literary work combining a smart Holmesian adventure and the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft.  Readers will love Lovegrove’s approach, Holmes and Watson’s journey, and all the creepy surprises.

Best Sci-Fi Novel, Best Thriller – The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson (HarperCollins).  Wilson successfully conjured the spirit of Michael Crichton for this smart, creepy, and oddly current sci-fi sequel to The Andromeda Strain.  A cast of characters just like Crichton would have put together, and a must-read.

Best Franchise Tie-In Novel – Firefly: Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  One of the best authors around crafts a worthy story to expand the Firefly canon and give fans their own new movie of sorts for the franchise.  Runner-up: Alien: Prototype by Tim Waggoner (Titan Books).  Honorable Mention: Death of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E.C. Gaska (Titan Books).

Best Retro Read – Mike Hammer: Murder, My Love, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books).  Collins continues to bring Spillane’s characters to life with thrilling prose and all the best pieces of noir drama and action.  Honorable mention: Brothers Keepers by Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).

Best Genre Non-Fiction – Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Rob Bredow (Harry N. Abrams).  Bredow’s unique access to the production made for a rare opportunity in any production to see details of the filmmaking process.  Every movie should have such a great deep dive behind the scenes.  Honorable mention: The Making of Alien by J.W. Rinzler (Titan Books).

There’s much more of our selections for 2019’s Best in Print to go…

Continue reading

Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the Best in Comics.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here, and the Best in Television 2019 here.

We reviewed comics from every major publisher this year, and were pleasantly surprised with all the new characters and content available.  You’ll find both some new creators on the list this year and some fan favorites who keep making better comic books each new year.

Here are the best comic books for 2019:

 

Best Limited Comic Series (tie) – Sara by Garth Ennis and Steve Epting (TKO Studios) and Goodnight Paradise by Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli (TKO Studios).  The new publisher TKO Studios began with a bang with these two incredible stories.  Sara is what every fan of war comics hopes for, and Goodnight Paradise brings the realities of life in the 21st century to the comics page in a story that will stay with readers a long time.

Best Ongoing Comic Book SeriesGhost Tree by Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane (IDW Publishing). Haunting, mythic, and sweeping, this story of a man reflecting on his past and coming to terms with the present combines with Asian legend tropes to form an emotional and curiously funny tale. Sure to leave readers begging for more.

 

Best Sci-Fi Comic Series, Best Comic Book WritingAscender by writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen (Image Comics).  Lemire owned this category with two fabulous science fiction tales, both with strong female lead characters. Runner-up: Sentient by Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta (TKO Studios).

Continue reading

What inspired you this year to be a hero?

More superheroes than ever before on the big screen?  A guy who looks like Boba Fett rescuing a little alien kid on the small screen?

Lots of superheroes trying to save the planet from Thanos again?

You don’t need superpowers to change the world.

Several charities are out there in need of your help.  You can change the world one dollar at a time.  And it can even help your own pocketbook if you make charitable contributions by the end of the month for your 2019 taxes.

So change the world.  borg.com endorses the following awesome organizations:

Wayside Waifs

Great Plains SPCA

Alley Cat Allies

Humane Society

ASPCA

Animal Rescue League

Bat Conservation International

American Anti-Vivisection Society

REGAP

Best Friends Animal Society Sanctuary

Frankie’s Friends

Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary

Check out these great charities today and give if you can.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

It’s time for borg′s annual look at the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  This year we selected 25 characters that rose to the top.  Again the studios gave us more to cheer about than ever.  We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and root for.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong, you’ll find no one here timid or weepy, but all rely on their individual skills to beat the odds and overcome any obstacle that comes their way.  Over the years we have expanded the list to include any tough, savvy, gritty character played by a woman, so villains are welcome here, too.  Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, or human, but all have fought, some against difficult circumstances, others against personal demons (literally, figuratively, or both), and some against gun and laser fire.  And they all showed what a tough, kick-ass character is about.

Several characters who made previous years’ kick-ass heroine lists returned to TV and film and could very well make the list again, but we’re looking for new recruits.  So we’re not forgetting Lagertha in Vikings, Liv Moore from iZombie, Trish Walker in Jessica Jones, and Juliana Crain from The Man in the High Castle, all in their final seasons of their series, plus Eleven in Stranger Things, Juliet Higgins in Magnum PI, Liz Dudley in Lodge 49, the 13th Doctor in Doctor Who, Betty Cooper from Riverdale, and Sabrina Spellman and Ms. Wardwell from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  At the movies Valkyrie, The Wasp, and Okoye were back, this time in Avengers: Endgame, Martha/Ruby Roundhouse returned in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and Rey was back one more time in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker This year we add a mystic, a former Russian operative, a DHS agent, an adventurer, an undercover cop, a bounty hunter, a general, a gang leader, superheroes, martial arts masters, special agents, survivors, former soldiers, resistance fighters, gelflings, warriors, witches, a bride, and even a cyborg–with a roster evenly split between television and movie characters.

Credit goes to both the writers and other creators of the characters and the actors and performers that brought them all to life.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2019:

Aughra (The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance).  If there was a greater woman character in the history of fantasy film, we don’t know who that would be.  We first met her 37 years ago thanks to Jim Henson in the original movie, and she hardly changed at all for the prequel series that arrived at last this year.  Voice actor Donna Kimball and Muppeteer extraordinaire Kevin Clash perfectly replicated the witchy sorceress whose wisdom, savvy, and mystic powers were stealthily used this season.  She went to death and back again, and was key to defeat the Skekses once again. (Henson/Netflix)

Black Widow (Avengers: Endgame).  After a decade of being the only superheroine in the Avengers, Scarlet Johannson’s Natasha Romanoff finally took center stage this year as the bravest of the entire bunch, giving her life to save not only everyone on Earth, but everyone across the universe destroyed by Thanos.  And yet she still didn’t get the fanfare that Tony Stark did.  We’re hoping she gets the solo film she deserves when she’s back one more time next year in her own movie. (Disney/Marvel)

Hattie Shaw (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw).  As part of a big bad assassin family, whose mother was played by Helen Mirren and brother by Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby’s Hattie might be the toughest of them all.  If you need to track down a missing deadly virus in the hands of a cybernetically enhanced superhuman, who else are you going to call to team up with Statham and The Rock?  (Universal)
Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

From Hong Kong to the U.S. and Australia to Uganda, Australian director Serge Ou and writer Grady Hendrix track the scope of the Hong Kong kung fu movie industry and its pop culture influence on the world in the documentary Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks, now streaming this month on Netflix.  Splicing interviews with kung fu legends of the past with new discussions with martial artists and actors influenced by them, Ou offers up a surprisingly rich look at how and why kung fu movies gained an international following that continues to this day via Jackie Chan comedies, the Matrix movies (with a sequel due in theaters next year), and new television series like Wu Assassins and Iron Fist. 

Beneath what is in essence an overview of the genre is a smart mixture of social and cultural commentary on a global phenomenon centered on an artform mixing athleticism, dance, and grace.  Kung fu made its way to American audiences with Tom Laughlin in Billy Jack, and into millions of homes via the Kung Fu series.  This was paralleled by Bruce Lee movies and lesser films (they call them Bruce-sploitation) from China and U.S. studios, direct-to-video crotch-kicking and “squirrel-grabbing” action on VHS tapes in video stores, heroines leading the way as a sub-genre, eventually moving to black and inner city audiences embracing the culture, starting with martial artist and actor Jim Kelly (who co-starred with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon), re-emerging later as an influence on hip hop music.  The genre got even bigger boosts with Jackie Chan heavy-stunt comedies, followed by The Matrix and the Academy Awards arrival of the genre with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Chinese co-productions with other nations, and actors of Chinese background in the mainstream outside of Asia would eventually come along.

Viewers meet (or revisit) early kung fu icons Cheng Pei-Pei and Sammo Hung in new interviews, along with Billy Banks, who would turn the genre into his own fortune via the creation of the Tae Bo workout, early American female kung fu star Cynthia Rothrock, martial artist Richard Norton, plus from the 21st century shows, Iron Fist actor Jessica Henwick, Wu Assassins actor JuJu Chan, Doctor Strange actor Scott Adkins, and Marvel stuntwoman and choreographer Amy Johnston, among others.  It’s all interspersed with great action sequences and other clips from more than 100 films.  A theme underscoring much of kung fu movie history is a distinct lack of safety standards, with more than one participant in the documentary stressing that Hong Kong kung fu movies couldn’t be made anywhere else for that reason.

Continue reading