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Category: Backstage Pass


The 80th anniversary of what has been called by film critics the greatest year of movies is here.  In 1939 audiences were first introduced to the landmark Western, John Ford’s Stagecoach, John Ford also released Young Mr. Lincoln, Frank Capra released his most patriotic film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Charles Laughton starred in The Hunchback of Notre DameDrums Along the Mohawk, The Little Princess, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Only Angels Have Wings, Gunga Din, Dark Victory, Son of Frankenstein, Golden Boy, Destry Rides Again–all premiered in 1939.  And then there was director Victor Fleming, who released not only the definitive historical romance, Gone With the Wind, but the celebrated greatest fantasy movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz.  To celebrate its 80th anniversary, Turner Classic Movies/TCM Big Screen Classics and Fathom Events have teamed up to show special screenings of The Wizard of Oz beginning Sunday, to appear at more than 700 theaters nationwide.

Starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, and Terry as Toto, The Wizard of Oz, in a controversial and competitive year of Oscars, would take home the Academy Award for best song (Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg‘s “Over the Rainbow“) and Herbert Stothart‘s musical score (it was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Special Effects).

It’s the classic that would be celebrated by generations as one of the rare films re-broadcast on television year after year before the advent of home video, but hundreds of millions of fans have never seen it as it was meant to be seen.  Take the advice of author Elizabeth C. Bunce, who reviewed the movie for its 75th anniversary here at borg, if you have never seen it in the theater, do yourself a favor and grab everyone you care about, and get to the theater to see The Wizard of Oz.  

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With winter settling in and another cold snap crossing the U.S. and the film’s nomination for a Best Animated Film Academy Award, audiences are continuing to discover Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in theaters (reviewed earlier here at borg).  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse–The Official Movie Special is a new hardcover book going behind the scenes of the movie, and it has a different twist.  The book interviews all three of the film’s directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, who provide different perspectives on working with Phil Lord on the script, and share insight into the pre-production, voice actor recording, and visual effects.

Senior animation supervisor Josh Beveridge recounts the steps of the animation process used for the film, including inkline methodology to make the film look like a comic book, using a large team of animators.  Several pages are devoted to each of Miles Morales and his family, Peter B. Parker, Spider-Man Noir, Gwen Stacy, Peter Porker, and Peni Parker and SP//dr–how each was designed, how each was presented to distinguish their different comic book origins using variations in light, color, and dimension, and how each voice actor approached the performance.  The villains get coverage, too, including the Prowler, Kingpin, Tombstone, and a new Green Goblin and Doc Ock.

The best look at stills from the film released so far can be found in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse–The Official Movie Special.  It also nicely references all the writers and artists that created the various Spider-Verse characters used in the film.  It features concept art and production art from production designer Justin K. Thompson, art director Dean Gordon, and creators Jesús Alonzo Iglesias, Seonna Hong, Patrick O’Keefe, Shiyoon Kim, Yashar Kassai, Naveen Selvanathan, Paul Lasaine, and Craig Kellman.  Voice actors Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, and Hailee Steinfeld also provide contributions.

Take a look inside at a few pages from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse–The Official Movie Special:

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Known for providing George Lucas with the original designs for several spaceships for the original Star Wars, concept artist Colin Cantwell has revealed photographs of his actual model ships created for Lucas in 1975.  Cantwell, who we discussed here at borg back in 2017, has only in the past few years entered the pop culture convention circuit.  For thirty years Cantwell left the movie design business, working at a computer engineering firm in Colorado.  Now 87, Cantwell has embraced fans of his early work, traveling the country, signing prints of his original Star Wars concept art from 1974-75.

At the same time noted artist Ralph McQuarrie was designing characters and environments in his concept art for Lucas, Cantwell designed the first concept artwork for the X-Wing and Y-Wing Fighters, the TIE Fighter, Star Destroyer, Death Star, T-16 Skyhopper, and the original Millennium Falcon, which was rejected and repurposed as Princess Leia’s ship, the Tantive IV Blockade Runner–the first ship seen in the film.  He designed two other ships that were not used in the film, his Landspeeder and Sandcrawler.  Cantwell has been selling prints of his concept art for the past two years, but this month he began to release images on his Facebook page and website of the actual, original models he made–based on his own designs–that he presented to Lucas in 1975.  He’s selling autographed prints of these images now on his website here.

His models were “kitbashed”–he used existing plastic model kit parts and re-purposed them to make a real-world feel for his ships (and without the time, effort, and cost required for molding his own parts).  Industrial Light and Magic would use this concept to create the Star Wars aesthetic, and set decorator Roger Christian used the idea with real world tech to make the future look lived-in, earning an Oscar for doing so (Lucas offered Cantwell the opportunity to create and lead ILM, but he declined).  Cantwell used the body of a dragster kit, painted pill bottles, plastic Easter eggs, and a WWII bomber turret among other model kit parts.

Cantwell’s original designs were substantially used for the final production models, but Cantwell’s actual T-16 Skyhopper model was used by Mark Hamill as Luke’s own ship model in an early Tatooine scene.  Most recently, Cantwell was recognized by Disney and Hot Wheels with a series of replicas, including his Millennium Falcon/Tantive IV, TIE Fighter, X-Wing Fighter, Star Destroyer, and the unused Landspeeder design.

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As a grade schooler I’d often smuggle to school a copy of the current mini Legos or Star Wars toy catalog, providing something to distract me from the day with my favorite things.  Harry Potter fans have it better today.  Now Insight Editions has a new take-anywhere volume for anyone needing their Harry Potter fix anytime, The Art of Harry Potter–Mini Book of Graphic DesignAvailable at $11.99 or less, it’s an inexpensive source for the visual details of the movies you didn’t get to see on the big screen.  The images were there, only barely seen on book covers, wrappers, newspapers, signs, and all sorts of paper ephemera that were on the desks, in the backpacks, and on the shelves, those thousands of items that needed to be created by designers to make J.K. Rowling’s books come to life.

In a small package you get more than 50 pages of book cover art and about 20 pages each of potion art, magazines and newspapers, Hogwarts documents, Ministry of Magic documents, maps, heraldry, Quidditch signage, food labels, Beasleys’ joke shop product labels, wanted posters, and other signage, all in full color.  At 304 pages you might expect a giant book of images.  But you’ll be surprised at what can be minimized into a 2.5 x 3.5-inch hardcover pocket-sized book that’s slightly less than an inch thick.  Prior to smart phones readers might have balked at a book with images and type font so small.  Now readers regularly read the equivalent of font sizes of 5 or smaller without thinking about it.  So the adjustment for the eyes for this new line of books in this format isn’t that bad.

Here is an 18-page preview of The Art of Harry Potter — Mini Book of Graphic Design courtesy of Insight Editions:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The writer behind the graphic novel Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes has returned with a new novel of connecting stories, sporting another great Planet of the Apes title, Death of the Planet of the Apes (believe it or not, this title had not yet been used in the franchise).  Andrew E. C. “Drew” Gaska dug into the original movie series and provides all the connective material that fans of the film series didn’t see on the big screen.  What happened to Charlton Heston’s astronaut George Taylor when he left for the Forbidden Zone in Beneath the Planet of the Apes?  What is his backstory before he lands with his crew and first confronts a strange, simian-ruled planet?  But Death of the Planet of the Apes does more than follow Taylor around.

The best new features in the POTA-verse include Gaska showing us how our favorite chimps Zira, Cornelius, and Dr. Milo make the ANSA spacecraft work again, connecting the dots between their run-in with astronaut Brent in Beneath of the Planet of the Apes and their arrival at Earth of the past at the beginning of the most fun film of the series, Escape from the Planet of the Apes.  Gaska provides some great prequel material, intertwining the ANSA space agency with the real-world NASA (something he began in his Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes).  Taylor becomes a Chuck Yeager-esque flight pioneer in one of the subplots, a man with determination, insight, and the stoic outlook of a Scott Kelly.  We follow more of Ursus, Zaius, and Nova, and meet a new gorilla and a new part human/part ape hybrid living far beyond the realm of the apes that appeared on film (a callback to an unused production concept from the films of the 1970s).

Official ANSA crew photograph.

With so many stories focused on Cornelius and Zira’s son Caesar, in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and the latest reboot trilogy of films, it’s refreshing that Death of the Planet of the Apes returns to these core characters.  Gaska moves back and forth in time in his storytelling, weaving all the segments from the different eras into a grand-scale adventure.  More so than the original, readers will revisit concepts of science fiction’s past: the Philip K. Dick-inspired telekinesis concept from Beneath the Planet of the Apes is fleshed out, the Forbidden Zone travels and robots conjure images of Logan’s Run, and Planet of the Apes as a retelling of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine becomes even more clear.
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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new book at last features a throwback many fans of classic TV cartoons may not be aware of.  If you watched Hanna-Barbera animated shows Jonny Quest, Sinbad Jr. and His Magic Belt, Young Samson & Goliath, or Space Ghost before you learned how to read as many kids did, you might never have made the connection that Tim Matheson was the voice of Jonny, Sinbad, Samson, and Jace.  That’s the boy who would grow up to be well-known actor Tim Matheson, who would star in Animal House and Fletch, and have key roles in shows like Magnum Force and 1941, and guest star in several TV series, from Leave it to Beaver to Burn Notice, in addition to directing even more shows, all over the past six decades.

In the new book Jonny Quest Speaks: Jonny, Sinbad Jr. & Me, author Kevin Scott Collier pieces together past interviews with creators from Hanna-Barbera, giving a background for Jonny Quest, which premiered in 1964.  He includes an interesting and informative interview with Matheson as he recounts not only voicing the various cartoon characters, but his direct work with animation legends Joe Barbera, Don Messick, and Mel Blanc.  It all amounts to a good comic-con panel worth of content from Matheson, who recalls his interactions at this time in his life with great clarity.  A big deal for Matheson was his first public appearance, flying first class into Kansas City and staying at the Muehlebach Hotel.  He signed autographs at a department store, yet his series had not yet aired on television.  Matheson illustrates how he learned how the business of Hollywood works (and why the animation pioneers had the biggest houses in town), something he picked up by paying attention to the adults working around him, all always serious about their craft.

Matheson discusses his takes on competing animated series (speaking fondly of animation pioneer Jay Ward) and goes into more detail about working with Blanc and Gary Owens of Laugh-In fame in a chapter on Sinbad Jr. and His Magic Belt, Young Samson & Goliath, and Space Ghost.  The actor has been working long enough and is lucky enough to be able to drop names he worked with including Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda, and Bob Hope.

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Our borg Best of 2018 list continues today with the Best in Print.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2018 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2018 here, and the Best in Television 2018 here.

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

Best Read, Best Sci-fi Read – The Synapse Sequence by Daniel Godfrey (Titan Books).  The Synapse Sequence is one of those standout reads that reflects why we all flock to the latest new book in the first place.  The detective mystery, the future mind travel tech, the twists, and the successful use of multiple perspectives made this one of the most engaging sci-fi reads since Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.  Honorable mention: Solo: A Star Wars Story novelization by Mur Lafferty (Del Rey).

Best Retro Read – Killing Town by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime).  The lost, first Mike Hammer novel released for the 100th anniversary of Mickey Spillane’s birth was gold for noir crime fans.  This first Hammer story introduced an origin for a character that had never been released, in fact never finished, but Spillane’s late career partner on his work made a seamless read.  This was the event of the year for the genre, and a fun ride for his famous character.  Honorable mention: Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake.

Best Tie-In Book – Solo: A Star Wars Story–Expanded Edition novelization by Mur Lafferty (Del Rey).  Not since Donald Glut’s novelization of The Empire Strikes Back had we encountered a Star Wars story as engaging as this one.  Lafferty took the final film version and Lawrence and Jon Kasdan’s script to weave together something fuller than the film on-screen.  Surprises and details moviegoers may have overlooked were revealed, and characters were introduced that didn’t make the final film cut.  Better yet, the writing itself was exciting.  We read more franchise tie-ins than ever before this year, and many were great reads, but this book had it all.  Honorable Mention: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove (Titan).

Best Genre Non-fiction – Hitchcock’s Heroines by Caroline Young (Insight Editions).  A compelling look at the director and his relationship with the leading women in his films, this new work on Hitchcock was filled with information diehard fans of Hitchcock will not have seen before.  Young incorporated behind-the-scenes images, costume sketches, and a detailed history of the circumstances behind key films of the master of suspense and his work with some of Hollywood’s finest performers.

There’s much more of our selections for 2018’s Best in Print to go…

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What inspired you this year to be a hero?

A new Spider-Man taking to the big screen?  A new Doctor and her friends savings the world?

Lots of superheroes trying to save the planet from Thanos?

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 2018 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 2018’s Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  This year we selected 24 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 cheer on.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong (and, okay, sometimes evil), 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.

In 2018 these characters broke new ground, and unlike last year’s great list, this year’s selections would not have worked as well had the characters been swapped for males.  We had a former MI-5 agent, bounty hunters, assassins, doctors, defenders, advanced superhumans, superheroines, warriors, witches, and even a few cyborgs–with a roster evenly split between television and movie characters.

Better yet, here’s something we haven’t said before.  Several of our selections this year were played by women over 50.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2018:

Enfys Nest (Solo: A Star Wars Story).  For the first half of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Enfys Nest was the leader of a band of pirates, a character as cool and ruthless as anyone Han Solo ever faced.  But once she took off her mask,  it became clear how important she was, how significant her mission was–even more so than Han Solo’s own pursuit of mere wealth.  She foreshadowed what Han would later find with Leia, an early glimpse at a rogue and scoundrel who actually had some good in him.  When they joined forces, it made their characters even better.  And she became one of the best warriors in the Star Wars universe since the original trilogy.  (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Okoye (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War).  Is there any woman warrior as powerful and impressive in a fantasy movie this year as Danai Gurira’s Okoye?  We can’t think of any.  A smart commander, a brave soldier, a loyal ally.  Stalwart, devoted, steadfast, strong physically, intimidating and wise, with a keen unwavering ferocity, she represented the best of Wakanda, and fought bravely to defend the world at the last stand against Thanos.  (Disney/Marvel)

Higgins (Magnum PI).  Few television characters are as beloved as Jonathan Higgins in the original Magnum, p.i.  So it was going to be risky having any actor step into the role John Hillerman made famous.  So when the show honored the original character and late actor with such a finely tuned, updated character and actor, we took notice.  Perdita Weeks’s Juliet Higgins is everything Robin Masters was–the character we all thought Higgins was in secret.  We don’t know whether we’ll learn the truth this time around and what that truth will be, but as an ex-British secret service agent, she’s a James Bond for Thomas Magnum to partner with–literally running alongside the show’s star and fighting and shooting her way as an equal.  And the result?  Every episode of the first season was full of great action and fun.  (CBS)
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Review by C.J. Bunce

Today is our last day of reviews of the movie tie-in books for the new J.K. Rowling fantasy film Fantastic Beasts:  The Crimes of Grindelwald Rounding out the tie-in books is an exclusive behind the scenes account of the production composed of interviews with cast and crew, plus a new double-sized coloring book of the quality of adult coloring books but suitable for all ages.

In many ways Lights, Camera, Magic! The Making of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is like the souvenir books you’d get to commemorate a special event or show years ago.  It has all the images from the film of the key characters, environments, and scenes.  And it features interviews with all principal cast members except Johnny Depp.  Elaborating on the motivations behind scenes, scope, and decisions made for the film are screenplay writer J.K. Rowling, director David Yates, producer David Heyman, graphic designers Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, production designer Stuart Craig, art director Martin Foley, costume designer Colleen Atwood, hair and makeup artist Fae Hammond, set decorator Anna Pinnock, concept artist Dermot Power, prop designer Pierre Bohanna, and visual effects supervisors Tim Burke and Christian Manz.  The book also features a foreword by star Eddie Redmayne.  Readers will find more than one photo and section describing scenes that did not make the final cut of the film, too (did anyone have any idea Newt wrote a book that was made for a book-signing scene in the film?).

The Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Magical Adventure Coloring Book offers up several scenes from the film, as well as deleted scene images, to color.  The coloring book is in the realm of the more elaborately designed adult coloring books, such as Sherlock and Doctor Who coloring books.  quality artwork and photo-real images that look like the actors being portrayed, not just quick sketches.  You’ll find images of Newt, Dumbledore, Grindelwald, and more characters, plus several beasts inside.

Take a look at these excerpt pages from each book:

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