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Category: Backstage Pass


Wil Wheaton standing room only crowd at Planet Comicon 2013

This weekend Planet Comicon Kansas City is featuring a pantheon of nationally recognized comic book writers and artists at its sixth year in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.  The show begins tomorrow at Bartle Hall, and continues through Sunday.  Bring your stacks of comics for autographs from your favorite creators, including Frank Cho, Jill Thompson, Dave Dorman, Mark Brooks, Brian Azzarello, Jae Lee, Dan Jurgens, Chris Stevens, Peter Stiegerwald, Amy Chu, Ashley Witter, Greg Capullo, Stephane Roux, Christopher Priest, and Scott Snyder.

Back again are PCKC regulars Freddie Williams, Tony Moore, Jason Aaron, Phil Hester, Jai Nitz, Ande Parks, Ant Lucia, Skottie Young, Megan Levens, Neal Adams, Greg Horn, Seth Peck, Rob Davis, Darryl Woods, Jason Arnett, Bryan Fyffe, Bryan Timmins, C.W. Cooke, Damont Jordan, and Darren Neely.

Planet Comicon 2014

Make sure you visit the Elite Comics flight crew at the “Party on the Pillar” and pick up some great deals on what the Con is all about–comics–including Elite Comics and Planet Comicon exclusive cover variants of special issues available only at the show.

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It was about the time when I got my first dog (first of what would eventually be 12) when my Mom took me to the old Wakonda Theater to see For the Love of Benji.  It was 1977 and the film was a life-changing movie for a little kid.  The original film premiered in 1974, titled simply Benji, and everyone saw it and fell in love with its lead pooch.  Its song, sung by Charlie Rich, was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe Award.  The movie marketers of the day, well aware of its surprise success, used its word-of-mouth popularity in its ongoing promotional campaigns, and the film’s success led to eight movies, two documentaries, and a short-lived TV series.  They hold up surprisingly well because the star character, second in all-time popularity only to Lassie, was a great actor (actually actors), and the stories were about good kids being good to their four-legged friend.  Next month Benji makes his way back into a feature film, one of the new brand of movies released exclusively on Netflix.  It’s a remake of the original, also called Benji, brought to life by the original family that created the character nearly 45 years ago.

The original canine star of the films was a mixed-breed black and tan dog named Higgins, who had a 14-year career in film, going back to Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Green Acres.  Higgins even co-starred in 1971 with Vincent Price and Zsa Zsa Gabor in a film called Mooch Goes to Hollywood.  He came out of retirement at 14 to make the original Benji.  Remember Tramp from My Three Sons?  That was Higgins’ son Mac.  (My grandma named her dog after that character).  But Higgins’ daughter Benjean would go on to star in several films taking on the role of Benji, from For the Love of Benji in 1977 to Benji the Hunted in 1987.  It was Benjean who took on the human voice of Chevy Chase in the very funny and memorable 1980 comedy Oh, Heavenly Dog!  In that film Benjean acted alongside Jane Seymour and Omar Sharif as a reincarnated detective (Chase), seeking revenge on his murderer.

Everybody in the 1970s loved Benji. That’s Higgins (left) on the film re-issue poster and Benjean (right) on the cover of every kid’s favorite magazine.

All the time it was creator, writer, and director Joe Camp who kept the Benji stories fresh and fun.  For this year’s film, Joe’s son Brandon Camp will take the helm, writing, directing and producing the film.  Brandon, who appeared in For the Love of Benji when he was six years old, previously directed Love Happens with Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston, and he wrote the script for the film Dragonfly (which starred Kevin Costner, Susanna Thompson, and Casey Biggs).  His new film stars a new dog unrelated to the past family of Benji stars, and features two kids, played by Gabriel Bateman and Darby Camp, who oddly enough does not appear to be related to Joe and Brandon Camp.

The new poster (above) was released this week.  And check out this trailer for the film:

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DC Entertainment and Marvel Studios offered superhero genre fans live-action adaptations of some of the comic book world’s best-loved superheroes last year.  The concept artwork behind each of DC’s Justice League and Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok are the subject of two new books for fans wanting to dig deeper into the development of these films: Justice League: The Art of the Film, by Abbie Bernstein, and The Art of Thor: Ragnarok, by Eleni Roussos.  Both share the feature of being primarily photographic essays, visual guides illustrating the phases of characters and environments leading to the final art design used in the films.  So both will make good souvenir or coffee table books in addition to showcasing the artists’ visions for film aficionados and comic book fans.

Justice League: The Art of the Film is a 206-page, full-color, hardcover book similar to last year’s Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film.  This volume gives much attention to the variety of costumes created for the film, particularly the looks of the new characters to the film series, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg.  Cyborg’s cybernetics were added in post-production via CGI.  This is not so much a behind-the-scenes, detailed account with interviews about the production as we’ve seen in other volumes, but it does include statements from each of the key actors and production members peppered throughout the photographs  The layout of pages and overall design is stylized keeping with the themes of the story.

An excerpt from Justice League: The Art of the Film.

Well-designed with gorgeous concept art, The Art of Thor: Ragnarok is a hefty 320 pages in a slipcase holder, featuring classic Jack Kirby art on the book cover inside the dust jacket.  Kirby’s designs can be found as inspiration throughout the film, and are reflected in the concept art and design work, particularly that found in the fantastical world of Sakaar.  Each of the key characters you’d expect get plenty of coverage.  Readers will find hundreds of images of Mayes C. Rubeo’s costume designs for Thor, Hulk, Hela, Loki, Odin, Skurge, and the Grandmaster, as well as supporting characters.  The fiery Surtur has a surprisingly thorough section, showing the various stages that resulted in the finished look seen in the film.

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Never been to a comic book or pop culture convention?  Always wanted to go to San Diego Comic-Con but you don’t have the vacation time available or the funds?  Planet Comicon is next weekend in Kansas City and it’s the sixth year of the show at downtown Kansas City’s giant convention center at Bartle Hall.  Planet Comicon is a great way to get a complete three-day convention experience centrally located in the Midwest, ideal for a last-minute road trip for the family or a car full of friends.  Kansas City is less than 8 hours by car from Dallas, less than 7 hours from Minneapolis, a little more than 7 hours from Indianapolis, and a little more than 8 hours from Denver.  And you don’t need to buy advance tickets–you can purchase them at the door.

So why make the trip?  How about meeting Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Firefly star Alan Tudyk?   Also from Firefly, as well as Doctor Who, Supernatural, Chuck, Leverage, Star Trek Voyager (and one of borg.com‘s actors we can’t get enough of), Mark Sheppard?  Want to get a photo with Michael Rooker (“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” Yondu) and Pom Klementieff (Mantis), stars of last year’s biggest superhero hit Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2?  Are modern classics your thing?  How about seeing the star of fan-favorite movies like Say Anything, High Fidelity, and Eight Men Out?  Yep, John Cusack is returning to the Midwest for this year’s show (you can even bring your prized Rooker and Cusack Eight Men Out baseball cards for autographs).

Do you want to compare notes on The Walking Dead with stars Khary Payton, Rooker, and  Sonequa Martin-Green (also star of Star Trek Discovery)?  Maybe you’re a Game of Thrones fan.  You can meet both Jerome Flynn and Jason Momoa (also Aquaman in the DC Universe movies).  And speaking of fantasy, Planet Comicon is featuring a rare appearance by Harry Potter star Matthew Lewis, who played the beloved hero Neville Longbottom.  Want to meet the actor who has played the toughest badass characters you’ve ever seen?  Sling TV barista and Machete himself, Danny Trejo will be in the house.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Guillermo del Toro’s At Home With Monsters was an eye-opening look at the depths to which the renowned fantasy film director has gone to immerse himself in the creative process, revealing images of his own personal collection of the strange, creepy, and unique from scree-used artifacts to oversized recreations of the Universal Monsters that inspired him early on.  The book (reviewed here at borg.com) was a great entryway to prepare readers and audiences for his latest film, The Shape of Water, nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and reviewed earlier here this week.  The latest look into the mind of del Toro explores this movie from its inception to the final filming decisions.  It all can be found in Insight Editions’ new volume The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times, by Gina McIntyre.

In a year that saw a failed re-launch of the Universal Studios famed monster movies with the first installment The Mummy (reviewed here), it would be del Toro who brought forth a worthy retelling of sorts of that studio’s Creature from the Black Lagoon.  The idea for a story of an Amphibian Man and Beauty and the Beast story where the creature is united with a mute janitorial worker began in 2011 in a simple conversation.  As time went on del Toro and screenplay co-writer Vanessa Taylor built a story, and del Toro singled out actors for key roles.  First and foremost was Sally Hawkins as lead character Elisa, who oddly enough was writing her own story about a mermaid that didn’t know she was a mermaid.  del Toro and Hawkins began working together at that point.  As with his other films, del Toro creates biography sheets for his characters.  Included in McIntyre’s book are tipped-in pages of some of these biographies, allowing readers and writers to examine how much the actors were given about their roles as backstory.

Along with the genesis of the story, The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times examines the creation of the four suits worn by Doug Jones as the creature.  Hawkins, Jones, and co-stars Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Michael Shannon, all describe their takes on their roles, their work with del Toro, and their interaction with other performers.  McIntyre includes interviews with del Toro, the key cast and production crew, including insight rarely seen in behind the scenes movie books, like rationale for costume designs, provided here by costume designer Luis Sequiera.  del Toro not only significantly backed the production for years financially, he was involved in every key decision in the film.  He kept costs down by in part utilizing the sets for the television series The Strain.  

The book examines the unique color palette that audiences will take away as a hallmark of this film.  A highlight is the discussion of the black and white scene from the film, unthinkably shot in a single day.  Much of the film relied on old-school practical effects, including actual underwater filming with Doug Jones in costume, but del Toro also incorporated digital effects for the more dangerous scenes and clean-up work.  The multi-year process for designing and revising the creature suit from clay to prosthetics, foam, and rubber is well documented in the book.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The Art of Ferdinand is the latest in a line of books chronicling the creative process behind genre movies, but this is the first we’ve seen that explores the director’s process for envisioning and executing an animated film from beginning to end.  Showcasing a fantastic film, December’s Ferdinand from Blue Sky Studios (reviewed here at borg.com), writer Tara Bennett uses interviews with the director and an army of production artists and incorporates digital artwork and final renderings from the film to explain how a film is made that merited an Academy Award nomination for the year’s best animated film.

Movie buffs and fans of the original story will likely encounter a new lexicon of moviemaking in The Art of Ferdinand.  Not only do readers see the typical concept art and production stills you’d find in a feature film, director Carlos Saldanha explains each step he took adapting one of the bestselling books of all time, Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s Ferdinand, and collaborating with a staff of artists to expand upon the original 30-page tale into a big-budget animated movie.  Saldanha tells how he started with the last third of the film, sequences he knew would need to look a certain way and more closely mimic the events of the storybook.  Each animated character was taken through an elaborate design process.  After development of both the young version and much larger version of Ferdinand the bull, they moved to the supporting characters with drawings, paintings, sculptures, and digital renderings of each in multiple poses with updated techniques but mirroring what you may have seen in “making of” features from animator Walt Disney from decades past.

A different language of animation is also explored in the book: light sources and bounce-light have greater meaning in an animated film such as Ferdinand, and the director and artists must sketch character turnarounds, color callouts, and texture art, as well as shape, movement, gesture, and expression studies of characters, and a color script similar to storyboards in live action movies, identifying the flow of color throughout the film.   Interaction and movement an actor would perform must be blocked out in the most intricate of ways.  Shape language must be considered, design themes and color themes, proportions of objects, and the use of negative space.

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One of the best subjects I have discussed with a celebrity was asking Peter Mayhew–the actor known for playing Chewbacca from Star Wars–to talk about working with the Muppets when he guest-starred on The Muppet Show with Mark Hamill as Luke and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO in January 1980.  Mayhew beamed as the memories flooded back and he described two incredible worlds he was immersed in–interacting with these great furry characters from television just as if they were real people, and looking down below them to see an entire separate world of creators sprawled across each other with their hands working in every direction like a giant work of magic.  Frank Oz, the actor and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, and the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and many more, has created a new documentary with five of the original Muppet performers to recount the creation of their timeless fantasy world.

Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, will be available for fans everywhere for the first time in March.  Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz, who also was co-director of The Dark Crystal and director of movies from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to HouseSitter, brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Gobo Fraggle, and the original Saturday Night Live character Scred; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Waldorf/Robert Marley, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh (and recurring Law and Order actress); and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.

Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, the late Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the late Richard Hunt, with Gonzo, Floyd, Kermit, Fozzie, and Scooter.

The performers of so many beloved characters discuss their individual approaches to creating memorable characters and the impact Jim Henson had on their lives and work.  This is all a great tie-in to the 35th anniversary return of The Dark Crystal to theaters next month (check out our preview here and the Fathom Events website here for more information on that event).  For a taste of some of the fun to be had in Muppet Guys Talking, check out the website for the show, MuppetGuysTalking.com, and these quick previews:

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The biggest news of yesterday’s Oscar nominations was in the adapted screenplay category.  Writers Scott Frank, Michael Green, and director James Mangold were nominated for their script for Logan, the film borg.com picked as last year’s best picture in our annual wrap-up last month.  Never before has a comic book superhero story been nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for best screenplay.  The closest was a nomination in the original screenplay category for Brad Bird for The Incredibles, a superhero story not adapted from a comic book property, plus graphic novel adaptations for films History of Violence and American Splendor.  But that puts Logan–an X-Men story starring Wolverine and a film that was the pinnacle of the Marvel franchise–right where it belongs, a film on equal footing with classic screenplay nominees featuring strong character development, including the likes of High Noon, Citizen Kane, Rocky, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Shane, The Grapes of Wrath, Sergeant York, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  The writers adapted their story from no specific Marvel Comic series, instead pulling together ideas from several series, citing Craig Kyle’s X-23 series as a key influence.  Unfortunately actors Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart did not receive a nomination in the acting categories.

But the progress of Oscar doesn’t stop with Logan.  A creature feature, the supernatural fantasy The Shape of Water took a whopping 13 nominations, including best picture, best director (Guillermo del Toro), and best actress (Sally Hawkins) and supporting actor (Richard Jenkins).  Get Out, which is something more than just a horror genre movie (that also made our top list), is nominated for four Oscars, including three for first-time director Jordan Peele, for best picture, best director, and best screenplay.  That’s one heck of an introduction to Hollywood, and ties Peele for the record of most nominations in a single year (along with Warren Beatty for Heaven Can Wait and James L. Brooks, who went on to win all three categories for Terms of Endearment).   The film’s lead actor Daniel Kaluuya will be a big contender for the top spot in the best actor category.

Another film we loved, the riveting historical drama The Post (sometimes historical dramas get it right), received two nominations, including nods for best picture and actress Meryl Streep‘s compelling performance (her 21st nomination, breaking her own record for most nominated actor of all time), but unfortunately Oscar ignored one of the best Tom Hanks performances of his career and Liz Hannah’s exceptional screenplay.   For one of the four nominations for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the beloved composer John Williams garnered his 51st Oscar nomination (he’s won five) for best score, besting his own record and hot on the heels of Walt Disney for most nominations ever (Disney was nominated 59 times).  But was this a missed opportunity, when even Williams seemed impressed with himself for the unique work he’d created for his striking soundtrack for The Post?  As he told Variety in a recent interview, “I’ve never done anything quite like it.  There are three or four montages—the press-rolling montage, the extended review of the former presidents, waiting for Justice Black’s decision—with various degrees of intensity, speed and the like.”  In our borg.com review we correctly predicted nominations for best picture and sound for the war genre movie Dunkirk, which was nominated for eight Oscars, including best picture and best director (Christopher Nolan).  Hans Zimmer was nominated for his musical score, which was key to the film’s success.

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Netflix is now carrying a new documentary television series that delves into the creators behind some of our favorite toys from the recent, and not so recent past.  The Toys That Made Us features four episodes in its first season of streaming, each focused on a toy line that should bring in a good cross-section of fandom.  The choices for the first shows include Kenner’s vintage Star Wars action figures and playsets, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe, with an emphasis on the 3 3/4″ line of action figures, Mattel’s Barbie, and the Mattel’s Masters of the Universe No doubt Barbie and G.I. Joe should pull in the older crowd, while the latter half of G.I. Joe and Star Wars will pull in the kids of the 1970s and early 1980s, and Masters of the Universe the kids of the 1980s.

Not a show for kids and not another show about toy collectors, the series devotes plenty of each hour to interviews with designers, marketing, other businessmen discussing the nuts and bolts of negotiating deals, like the lawyer for Kenner discussing the greatest toy deal negotiation ever, and the later not-so-great negotiation because of a loose-lipped CEO.  The Barbie episode features a Barbie expert continually bashing the character as a “hooker” as if she has some sort of love-hate relationship with the doll.  But the politics of toymaking is interesting fodder for the right audience.  Should it be a surprise that toymakers have the same ugly corporate politics, the downsizing, the layoffs, and the takeovers, like every other company?  Prepare yourself for several CEOs and designers as they tiptoe, or not, around decisions and employers they wrestled with in the past as toys and brands came and went.  The creators look back both with nostalgia and anger at the former toy companies that eventually terminated their employment.  So look for an unusual take on these toys and these companies.

The next four episodes will be launched on Netflix later this year, and include Hello Kitty, Transformers, Star Trek, and LEGO.  Sometimes what the show chooses to tell is as interesting as how the show tells it.  The eight toy lines chosen no doubt came from the producer’s own focus groups, like the ideas behind some of the toys they discuss.  If The Toys That Made Us really is a one-time thing, someone else should come along and continue the idea with all the other major brands and influences.

We want to see an episode on Marx toys, including little toy soldiers and the 12-inch action figure series.  We also want to see a history of the broad Mego line of figures, Hot Wheels, Stretch Armstrong, and Big Jim.  How about companies like Fisher Price, Playskool, Playmobil, and Radio Flyer?  A series like this needs to cover more “recent” but still classic toy lines, too, like My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake, and figure out a way to capture famous classic toys like Spirograph, Tinker Toys, Play-Doh, Etch-A-Sketch, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, and the ultimate multi-license toy, Viewmaster.  How about a tour of the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers factories of the past?  Who put out more great board games than these companies?  It’s easy to imagine entire episodes on the history of games like Clue/Cluedo and Monopoly.  And how about featuring a current game company that’s been around for decades, like Wizards of the Coast?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Rarely does a book’s title so aptly describe its content.  Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records (Official Timey-Wimey Edition) is exactly right–a play on The Guinness Book of World Records–it is an ambitious achievement that could only be done for Doctor Who, a series whose time traveler hero has charted records across the universe like no other character in any franchise.  In this 55th year of the Doctor, Simon Guerrier (probably the person who knows Doctor Who front to back the best) combines a TV series encyclopedia and world almanac with the ultimate trivia source to create a worthy TARDIS ride with all the Doctors through their greatest feats, strangest encounters, their firsts, bests, biggests, and mosts.  It answers almost any question you could have about the last of the Time Lords and his (soon to be her) interesting adventures.

Guerrier, co-author of Whographica: An Infographic Guide to Space and Time and The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who for BBC Books, and one of our favorite writers of Doctor Who books, comics, audio plays (his new tales of the Doctors have been performed by Doctor Who actors including Sylvester McCoy and Freema Agyeman), and even documentaries, simply soars through the history of the 12 Doctors and the War Doctor, providing significant coverage of each Doctor, their companions, their greatest stories, and strangest encounters.  For the Doctor Who fan it makes for a great resource, too, complete with nicely indexed and detailed chapters and subjects to allow readers to easily jump back to topics of interest later.

Today is the last day to pre-order Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records (Official Timey-Wimey Edition) at a discount off the cover price–it arrives in bookstores and ships from online retailers tomorrow.

Check out this excerpt, courtesy of Harper Design:

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