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Category: Comics & Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

The new sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service (reviewed here at borg.com) starts as you’d hope for, immediately slamming viewers into high gear with a frenetic car chase featuring BAFTA-winning actor Taron Egerton’s Brit spy Eggsy, defending himself from a kidnapping with the same level of over-the-top superhero moves that saved him from similar threats in the first film.  After the introduction of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which opens this Friday nationwide, the film loses the freshness and style of the original and shifts from a faithful James Bond homage to Bond as it might be interpreted by the Coen Brothers.  Where the original careened into the stuff of a Quentin Tarentino film in its major action sequences, the sequel shifts into a quirky blend of gore, explosives, and caricatures that moves beyond Bond homage to more of an Austin Powers parody.

The sequel offers up a top tier cast.  BAFTA winner Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Stardust, Kick-Ass, Green Lantern, John Carter, Zero Dark Thirty) returns as Merlin and–no surprise from the trailers–Academy Award-winning actor Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, Shakespeare in Love, Pride and Prejudice) is back as agent Galahad and Edward Holcroft (Wolf Hall) returns as rejected Kingsman Charlie.  Audiences saw both die in the original.  Firth is picture-perfect in every scene, as if he was always destined to have a 007 role.  Holcroft, who you might easily mistake for Chris Evans, offers up a more fleshed out character this round, and he gets some of the better one-on-one battles against Eggsy, complete with a nifty Swiss Army multi-functional borg arm.

New to the world of the Kingsmen are their American spy agency counterparts.  The leader is played by Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, RIPD, Hell or High Water, Tron, True Grit, Iron Man) in a classic Southern-accented delivery, appearing for a few brief scenes.  Pedro Pascal (The Great Wall, The Adjustment Bureau, Game of Thrones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), whose moustache makes him a ringer for a 1970s Burt Reynolds, breaks out in his performance as an agent with some mad lasso skills.  And true to form, genre favorite Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street) shows up with the swagger of a Southern lawman, but in only the briefest of scenes, much like his smaller roles in G.I. Joe: Retribution and Hail, Caesar!  The U.S. spy squad is full of Hee Haw-vibed caricatures of Americans, albeit echoing Joe Don Baker’s drawling U.S. roles in three Bond movies (The Living Daylights, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies).  The women have the better parts in Kingsman: The Golden Circle:  Academy Award winner Halle Barry (X-Men series, Catwoman, Monster’s Ball) is the American “Q” with the nicely Ian Fleming name of Ginger Ale–the former “Bond girl” flipping sides this time from Bond co-lead and love interest (Die Another Day) to the current Ben Whishaw I.T. guru role.  And Academy Award winner Julianne Moore (The Big Lebowski, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Children of Men) is the film’s villain, a drug kingpin named Poppy–a strange, comic books-meet-Coen Brothers baddie bent on world domination, with scary calm Jack Nicholson Joker insanity and a 1950s chic.  We’ve seen some Bond villains far out there, but Moore’s Poppy is one who could out-crazy them all.

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Perhaps the best part of the film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice were the two behind the scenes books that provided superb coverage of the costumes, props, and vehicles from the film: the Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Tech Manual reviewed here, and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice: The Art of the Film, reviewed here.  These books demonstrate that despite the negative reception of a film by audiences, fans of the beloved characters have some resources to find inspiration for their next cosplay or prop-building project.  The next in the line of books probing behind the scenes of the DC Comics universe created for the big screen is this summer’s Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film by Sharon Gosling (author of Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes).  Anyone needing good source photographs of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and the Amazon warriors of her origin story for their next cosplay project will find some great references here, including photos of the greatest of the Amazon warriors, Robin Wright’s badass general Antiope, plus swords and shields of key characters developed for the film.

The best section of the book provides interviews with two-time Academy Award-nominated production designer Aline Bonetto (Amélie) and Academy Award-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming (Topsy-Turvy) as they discuss the planning and development of audiences’ first look at Themyscira on film.  Both worked together closely coordinating design elements between their departments as concepts were developed.  You’ll find 192 pages of artwork, marketing images, on-location photographs, and costumes as they were sketched and later finalized for wear, all in quality color photographs on thick paper stock.  Costume designer Lemming notes that the entirety of the Amazon warrior costume components were prepared by hand, without 3-D printers or similar modern techniques, intending for the resulting products to look as the characters themselves might have made them.  Although Gadot’s costume was already set prior to Hemming’s involvement due to Wonder Woman’s introduction in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice–the costume was designed by Academy Award-nominated designer Michael Wilkinson (American Hustle, Tron: Legacy)–Hemming discusses re-designing the boots and attempting to make the rest of the costume more comfortable for Gadot, and this was an element for the other costume designs as well, many of which would be used for stunt and action scenes requiring significant movement.

Two-time Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer (The Golden Compass, The Life of Pi) managed the film’s significant use of CGI along with practical effects where possible.  Westenhofer discusses stunt sequences (including the end of film fight scenes) and points out where the film required digital rendering to illustrate the story’s grand environments.

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For fans of a good fantasy fix, you can hardly find a more exciting adventure and weekly romp than TNT’s The Librarians.  For four years The Librarians have continued the world of the Warehouse 13-esque, made-for TV movie series going back to 2004, made popular by star Noah Wyle (Donnie Darko, Mark Felt, Falling Skies, ER, A Few Good Men) as Librarian adventurer Flynn Carsen.  Season 4 is coming this back to TNT this Fall (and to Syfy in the UK), and will feature guest stars John Noble (The Lord of the Rings, Fringe, Sleepy Hollow, Forever) as Monsignor Vega, a Vatican bishop who is secretly the head of the Heretical Order of the Shadows bent on destroying the Library, and Rachel Nichols (Continuum, Star Trek 2009, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Conan the Barbarian) as Nicole Noone, Carsen’s original Guardian originally thought to be dead.

While you’re waiting for the TV series to return, a new monthly comic book series will provide fans with an excellent continuation.  Published by Dynamite Comics, The Librarians, Issue #1, has the look and feel of an episode of the series, complete with the great banter between the Librarians the show is known for, the quirky characters protecting an even more bizarre Library full of secrets, magic, and the rarest artifacts hidden from the rest of us in the real world.

   

In the first issue writer Will Pfeifer (Aquaman, Hellboy) and Brazilian artist Rodney Buchemi (Uncanny X-Men) take The Librarians and readers to a classic source of the strange and paranormal, TV’s In Search Of… series that starred Leonard Nimoy.  Because it’s The Librarians version of that series, this issue is not about Nimoy and the series creators per se, but it’s similar enough that fans of the series will follow all the references, and–for those that need it spelled out–the first issue is titled “In Search Of… Chapter 1.”   Carsen, Caretaker Jenkins (John Larroquette), Colonel Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn) and fellow Librarians Jake Stone (Christian Kane), Cassandra Cillian (Lindy Booth), and Ezekiel Jones (John Harlan Kim) set out to find the killer of the creator of the paranormal films, Solomon Schick, after he is murdered at a local film festival.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Betrayal.  Duplicity.  Deception.  Intrigue.

Godfrey’s debut novel, New Pompeii, was one of last year’s most entertaining reads (reviewed here at borg.com).  Empire of Time, Godfrey’s sequel, is equal to the first, and brilliantly enough it’s completely readable as a standalone work not requiring the reader to have read his New Pompeii.  Godfrey, who is not a professor of ancient history, has written a narrative about life in Pompeii at the time Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 that would swiftly pass muster with historians.  And his knowledge of history is matched by his science fiction storytelling skill to provide a rousing next chapter for one of the decade’s most nuanced time travel stories.

Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars is one of the more exciting of the primary history texts of the ancient world.  In New Pompeii, Godfrey transported most of the population of Pompeii in AD 79 to a rebuilt facsimile in the present day world, saving their lives from Vesuvius’s lava, fire, and heat.  More fleshed out this time around, the characters who live in the world of New Pompeii in Empire of Time all live, fight, and die in accordance with the politics, literature, art, social, and scientific elements of Suetonius’s world.  Godfrey even hands the classic book to a character for that character’s own twisted inspiration.  Godfrey crisscrosses time with his lead character, former research assistant Nick Houghton as he traverses modern Italy, and follows Houghton in the city of New Pompeii in his Roman persona, Decimus Horatius Pullus–the legendary “man who cannot be killed.”  In a third and parallel story Godfrey presents the exploits of a slave turned gladiator named Achillia, a ruthless, bloodthirsty survivor who establishes even more of the detailed feel for the mindset of people in the real Roman Empire.  A hardened warrior, Achillia will appeal to fans of Robin Wright’s General Antiope from the opening scenes of Wonder Woman.

The same political intrigue that seeped into stories of Italy’s modern-day Cosa Nostra is present among the manipulators, magistrates, and political machinations of New Pompeii.  Readers will travel through most of the novel with Houghton as he sleuths out lost technical data in the normal world that may allow the “Novus Particles” device to repeat the time travel used to transport the ancients to the present day.  He is also charged–in his Pullus persona–with the same mission only under the control of Calpurnia, the “Empress of Time” of New Pompeii.  But is there truly a device to reactivate time travel?  When archaeologists suddenly begin to encounter messages in English in ancient ruins, does that provide evidence that someone in the future can not only pull matter forward in time, but also transport messages backward in a parallel timeline?  And who is sending the messages?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The appeal for fans of this summer’s big-budget science fiction adventure Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has been the greatest for its spectacular visuals.  The film was a labor of love for director Luc Besson, whose science fiction classic The Fifth Element stands alone in the sci-fi genre for its elaborate designs and completely new look at the future.  Besson fell in love with the French comic book source material by Jean-Claude Mézières that featured space pilots Valerian and Laureline.  Besson says he counts Laureline as his first love, “She was totally free and badass, and a very modern heroine.”  For years Besson did not think an adaptation could be done, until he watched James Cameron’s Avatar, and that film was the impetus for him to begin to look at the idea anew.  The result became Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

A film that pushes the possibilities of a future that is not so bleak and dystopian–as so many science fiction films paint the future–deserves a proper account to detail its creation.  That book is Mark Salisbury’s The Art of the Film: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a full-color, wall-to-wall visual, hardcover chronology of the concept art and photographs of the film’s characters, planets, spaceships, and costumes.  Well-known for his behind the scenes looks at Crimson Peak, Prometheus, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Elysium, and Alice in Wonderland, and his landmark series on creating comic books from the viewpoint of the industry’s best, including Artists on Comic Art and Writers on Comics Scriptwriting, Salisbury provides more here than an edited accumulation of imagery.  He tells both the development of the film scene-by-scene from beginning to end, and interweaves the framework for the story on the screen.

Salisbury’s primary source in the book is Besson himself, who cites the creations he used in the film when he adhered to Mézières’s original vision from the source material, and when–and why–he didn’t.  It’s a testament to his adaptation that Mézières approved of his many creations and adaptations, including Valerian and Laureline’s famous ship, the Intruder. 

No expense was spared by Besson in creating Valerian with complete artistic freedom.  His development of a creative team was unprecedented.  Instead of taking the traditional route in developing the team–such as hiring thirty designers working very fast–as used for traditional films, his requirements for his effects-laden film were far greater than normal, requiring more outsourcing to multiple teams, including Industrial Light and Magic.  But instead of hiring a core team of thirty key creators for three months, he hired five creators for a year.  “We sent a message to more than 1,000 design schools saying, ‘We are going to make a design film and if you want to participate, submit an alien, a spaceship, and a world,'” he said.  He received 3,000 entries.  The lucky five chosen were Patrice Garcia, who had worked with Besson on The Fifth Element and Arthur and the Invisibles, Ben Mauro (Elysium, The Hobbit), book designer Marc Simonetti, illustrator Alain Brion, and artist Feng Shu.  Veteran storyboard/concept artist Sylvain Despretz (Alien Resurrection) joined the team, and it is their artwork and ideas that readers primarily will find throughout the book–and in the film.

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Captain Jellico and an over-the-top Wesley Crusher join the crew of the Enterprise-D and get to play in the world of daggers, sashes, and deception with today’s release of the third issue of IDW Publishing’s limited comic book series Star Trek: The Next Generation–Mirror Broken.  Plus, for the second consecutive month of a series usually only issued sporadically, Archie Comics’ Archie Horror imprint is releasing the eighth issue of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  We have previews of both issues below for borg.com readers, courtesy of their publishers.

The creative brother team of David Tipton and Scott Tipton continue the Mirror Universe adventures of the Star Trek: The Next Generation era with another round of beautiful pages by J.K. Woodward in Mirror Broken’s next installment.  Look for the standard cover by Woodward and great variant covers by Tony Shasteen and George Caltsoudas.  This time Woodward has created a look for Wesley Crusher that will appeal to both lovers and haters of the classic sci-fi series’ obligatory child character.  Get prepared to see who wins and who loses in the ultimate strategy battle between Picard and Jellico.  And Trek fans should always check every corner of each panel for hidden throwback gems from the TV series.

   

In Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, comic book writer and show runner of the CW’s Riverdale,  and artist Robert Hack continue to take Sabrina down a darker path than the character has ever experienced.  Sabrina has returned Harvey from the dead, but at what price, and will anyone be able to stop what has been unleashed before it’s too late?  The creative team continues to flesh out the personality of Riverdale’s timeless teenage witch, blending a young heroine’s tale with equal parts Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed.  Plus Hack’s classic pulp horror comic imagery gets better with each new issue.

Check out these previews for Star Trek: The Next Generation–Mirror Broken, Issue #3, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Issue #8: Continue reading

At the beginning of Daniel Craig’s first foray as James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale, Craig redefined Bond as viewers were taken back to his first kill, the event that earned Bond his 00 status.  The scene instantly set the standard for the modern fight-or-die scene.  This is the exact level of hand-to-hand combat viewers will be treated to in the new summer release, Atomic Blonde.  Charlize Theron terrifically portrays what everyone always wanted to see: a woman in the role of James Bond.  Sure, she has a different name, but Theron is believable just the same as a spy being interrogated by heads of MI6 at the end of a mission.  As she tells her story, in every way she convinces us that she could go head-to-head with, and maybe even knock out Craig’s tough and bloody version of the Brit master spy.  Only don’t think this is a typical Bond movie.  It isn’t.  It’s layered, more like The Usual Suspects or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, only better–less cerebral and more fun.  And Theron chalks up another badass cinematic heroine, resulting in a film that is easily worth the admission price.

Based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City from Oni Press, Atomic Blonde follows the original, focusing on several nation’s spies trying to recover a secret list of agents being smuggled out of East Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a no-nonsense top-level spy with attitude and style, battered and bruised from some recent epic encounter when we meet her at the beginning of the movie.  She’s being interrogated and debriefed by both British and American agency heads, with John Goodman (Argo, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Big Lebowski, Monsters, Inc.) as the American and Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger, Snow White and the Huntsman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Doctor Who) as the Brit.  What unfolds is a smartly constructed Cold War thriller, more complicated than Ian Fleming but not as complicated as John le Carré, but enough so that it may lose viewers a few times along the way.  Ultimately Broughton finds herself trying to smuggle out of the country a German officer who memorized the secret spy list, played by Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes, The Illusionist, V for Vendetta, The World’s End).  The rewards and payoffs come not only at the resolution but in several scenes along the way, as Theron punches, kicks, hammers, fires, splatters, mows down, stabs, punctures… everything but bites her way through dozens of bad guys trying to kill her.  The violence is extreme, but it all works–it’s great fun much like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s or Chuck Norris’s blockbuster rampages in the 1980s–and it’s not gratuitous like a Quentin Tarentino bloodbath (blown-off heads aside).

The Atomic Blonde of the title comes from Broughton’s short, 1980s style hair, and that length allows us to see that much of the time Theron is actually doing her own punching, and taking plenty of punches, from all these men.  She’s quicker, and she prepares herself for many of her battle damage by soaking in water filled with ice cubes–a concept that helps her more than once throughout the film.  The story and action really kicks in as Broughton begins to smuggle Marsan’s character out of the country and as the steps are laid out in a subplot involving her mission to assassinate Satchel, a double agent known for selling secrets to the Soviets.  It’s exciting like the real-life story told in Ben Affleck’s hit film Argo, where a spy smuggled a group of would-be hostages out of Iran in 1980.  Atomic Blonde has less subtlety and nuance than Argo, but Atomic Blonde similarly displays an early, retro style of storytelling compelling enough to keep viewers interested.  Does it feel like a comic book adaptation?  Sure.  Like History of Violence and Road to Perdition.  In fact Broughton could be Hit Girl from Kick-Ass all grown up.

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That week is here–All the lead-in built up by Marvel’s host of television series created for Netflix finally comes together this weekend.  Marvel’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist become The Defenders.  Netflix has released a final trailer leading up to the series premiere.

We’ve learned in the past few years that combining your A-league superheroes doesn’t guarantee a successful cinematic experience.  How much better than the theatrical Avengers and Justice Leaguers was the B-league team that comprised the Guardians of the Galaxy?  How about the strange success in Deadpool of partnering Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and Deadpool?

So far we’ve loved most of what we’ve seen Marvel put together for Netflix.  Luke Cage earned several of our “Best of Television” categories last year here at borg.com.  The core of its new team-up of all the Netflix Marvel superhero stories is a classic Marvel comic book team-up:  Power Man and Iron Fist.  It’s amazing that this team-up has the potential to gain some real traction 40 years later.  And you can’t get much more nostalgic for 1970s comic books than the late, great Steve Gerber run on The Defenders.  So put together Luke “Power Man” Cage, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and add in Elodie Yung as Elektra, and give us a villain played by sci-fi queen Sigourney Weaver, and a supporting cast including the incomparable Scott Glenn, and a triple threat of actresses known for their badass roles: Rosario Dawson, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Simone Missick?  What’s not to like?  We asked it earlier with the first previews for the series: Can The Defenders be the best team-up on-screen yet?

Check out this final trailer for Marvel’s The Defenders:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The Virginian, Ironside, Amy Prentiss, Kolchak: The Nightstalker, and CHiPs.  For modern TV watchers and students of film and production, these series from the 1960s to 1980s won’t come to mind as the most memorable TV series to use to teach a TV production course.  But they are enough for Cy Chermak–TV executive producer, producer, story editor, and writer of those series and more–to incorporate into a step-by-step narrative providing an insider’s view of show process and studio politics in his new book The Show Runner: An Insider’s Guide to Successful TV Production. 

Nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, Chermak successfully–and sometimes not so successfully–negotiated the tiers of studio department hierarchy to create a lucrative career for himself.  In this autobiographical account he provides dozens of golden nuggets that any prospective TV writer will find insightful in understanding how an episode of television is created, from idea to final edit.  In addition to Chermak’s anecdotal lessons, he simplifies the duties and relationships of the production department from a show runner’s standpoint–a biased view, but a unique and interesting look from the top.  He uses an episode of his short-lived series Amy Prentiss–a 1974 series with Jessica Walter (Archer, PCU, Ghost in the Machine, Play Misty for Me) as the first woman chief of police in San Francisco–to take the reader on a walk-through as assistant to mentor Chermak as executive producer.

Along the way Chermak introduces us to the difficulties of ego and personality that seem to go with the territory of both studios execs and actors.  His examples include his personal interactions with Raymond Burr and Darren McGavin, who Chermak presents as particularly difficult to work with.  Chermak remains completely personable along the way, as if he’s putting his arm around the reader’s shoulder and giving the full studio tour, complete with interesting name dropping.  Chermak is quick to point out his own shortcomings and missed opportunities, like letting go by a young, yet-to-be-discovered Steven Spielberg making his way onto the studio lot as if he worked there to bump elbows with anyone who might screen his student film, Amblin.  Chermak’s first screenplay for the big screen was a movie called 4D Man, literally the first 4D movie (in addition to the 3D visuals it included physical effects, a concept taking off again at select theater chains today), featuring well-known actors Robert Lansing (Star Trek, Simon & Simon, The Equalizer), Lee Meriwether (Batman, Star Trek, Barnaby Jones), and Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker, The Streets of San Francisco).  

One of many rounds of re-write discussions for the short-lived series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

For kids of 1970s and 1980s television, look for Chermak’s discussion of the problem of dual lead actors, as he recollects a battle of ego between CHiPs stars Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada, which ultimately spelled doom for Wilcox and Chermak, and cancellation of the entire series a year later.  “A year later” becomes a theme for Chermak.  He notes several instances of a series folding a year after he was removed as show runner of the series.

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Holy Contributing to the Delinquency of Minors, Batman!  Those fans of the late Adam West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin and their classic camp TV version of the DC Comics superheroes can get a nostalgic fix of the good ol’ days in Batman: Facts and Stats from the Classic TV Show, designed by Rian Hughes with text by Y.Y. Flurch (actually Joe Desris–Y.Y. Flurch is an in-joke to the name of an author on a book in the series).  Celebrating the five decades since the Batman series premiered in 1966, Batman: Facts and Stats is a technicolor treat for your favorite Bat-fan.

Batman: Facts and Stats is not an in-depth look at the series–it’s more of a “gift book” formatted hardcover–8 inches by inches, it’s a nicely designed scrapbook full of images from the show and selected trivia.  Did you know Robin delivered more than 400 “Holy…” lines throughout the series?  From Holy Barracuda! to Holy Priceless Collection of Etruscan Snoods!  The book is populated with real-world references and in-world curiosities.  You’ll learn behind the scenes information about the Batmobile, Batcopter, and the Batcycles, and photos of many of Batman’s wonderful toys, like the years ahead of its time mobile crime computer, the inflatable duplicate Batmobile, and the Bat-phone.

Only one actor donned the suits of villainy for each of the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Joker (Cesar Romero), and the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), but you’ll see plenty of different Catwomen (Star Trek and The Bionic Woman’s Julie Newmar, Barnaby Jones and Mission: Impossible’s Lee Meriwether, and St. Louis Blues’ Eartha Kitt) and Mr. Freezes (Oscar winner George Sanders, director Otto Preminger, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and The Magnificent Seven’s Eli Wallach).  Like many 1960s television shows (think Lost in Space and Star Trek for starters), Batman featured a host of guest stars, with everyone from Vincent Price to Cliff Robertson, Shelly Winters to Liberace, Roddy McDowell to Zsa Zsa Gabor, and so many others.  But what five characters appeared in all 120 episodes of the series?  Batman: Facts and Stats will get you up to speed on plenty of Bat-trivia.

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