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Category: Con Culture


Review by C.J. Bunce

This summer Wizards of the Coast has come at its Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition adventures from a strange vantage point with its latest addition, Acquisitions Incorporated.  What if you viewed your next adventure into the Forgotten Realms as a business?  Overlay your Dungeon Master’s next adventure with the components of an enterprising CEO, rival marketeers, and your mundane workplace and what do you get?  Actual slobbering Barbarians at the Gate?  Office Space plays out not in those cold, grey cubicles but in any of your chosen D&D realms, as branding, marketing, team building, product placement, and even making your corporate headquarters takes on new meaning, as players step into familiar gameplay with an oddly familiar backdrop.

Grab your 5th Edition Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and DM’s Guide for fuller adventures, but in a single volume Acquisitions Incorporated really includes all you need for your first entrepreneurial effort, a six-level adventure, The Orrery of the WandererSelect a corporate logo.  Locate your headquarters–how about a tavern, a battle-worn castle (will cost you more in overhead), a chapel, a private library, an abandoned lighthouse, a blacksmith’s shop, a turnip wagon (that is bigger on the inside), or a waterproof canvas (where it’s always spring inside)?  Maybe your right hand man is a retired captain, a druid with an open door policy (all animals welcome), a chef, or the ghost of the previous owner (Jacob Marley as mentor, anyone?).  Plus you’ll have several insiders you may encounter, including a customs official and a knitter who can also wield a sword.  Upward advancement means your franchise can get an exclusive license to a region.  Staff members include a majordomo, untrained and trained hirelings, and task-specific crew.  If you’ve ever worked at a restaurant and had to clean a grease trap, you’ll appreciate the grease compartment as a weapon.  And who hasn’t made it to 3 p.m. and wished they had an escape pod?

Take your chances as one of a number of familiar corporate types, like a famous person’s kid, a failed merchant, a gambler, a plaintiff, or a rival intern.  Play your character like a barbarian, a bard, a cleric, a druid, a fighter, a monk, a paladin, a rogue, a sorcerer, a warlock, or a wizard.  Who needs to hire Deloitte when you can (wisely) enlist a cartographer, a decisionist, a documancer, a hoardsperson, a loremonger, an obviator, an occultant, or a secretarian to build your strategy.  It’s not all fun and games–this is a corporation, after all, so money needs to be made and tasks need to be completed.  You’ll be faced with Complications, like learning your company is accused of stealing someone else’s idea, staff members go missing, an audit finds a spy, or an angry staff member decides to sabotage your business.  Nothing is easy, whether it’s marketeering, misplaced philanthropy, a bad sales month, or simply rival competitors.  You’ll need to watch out for shady business practices as you schmooze and team build.  It’s all familiar, right?  So do you have what it takes to succeed in business in a fantasy realm?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Like most things about baseball, The Battered Bastards of Baseball reflects as much about an era of American culture, economics, and politics as it tells a wonderfully engrossing story about a brief history of the sport.   Independent baseball–privately-owned teams unaffiliated with the Major League Baseball conglomerate–was a thing of the past when Portland, Oregon’s minor league baseball team the Portland Beavers left town.  It was the early 1970s and Portlanders weren’t spending their time or money on minor league games.  Then enters the well-known TV actor Bing Russell, stepping off his last of 14 seasons on Bonanza where he played a deputy sheriff.  Russell appeared in everything back then, from Westerns from Wagon Train to Rawhide, and modern fare like The Munsters, The Rockford Files, and The Twilight Zone.  There begins an underdog story, a mix of The Bad News Bears, Necessary Roughness, and Moneyball.

If you’re lucky enough to trip into the Netflix documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball, you’ll wonder where this story is headed.  It’s a brief history of 1970s Portland and national baseball, and then actor/movie star Kurt Russell and his mother Louise Russell begin discussing his father in a typical documentary format.  It turns out father Bing had a life-long affinity for the game, even being part of a significant piece of baseball history as mascot for the New York Yankees, befriending Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, and Lou Gehrig, who gave Bing the bat he used in his last game before retiring.  That love for the game apparently never left Bing, who concocted an idea to bring baseball right back to Portland by taking the entrepreneurial route–forming a pure upstart baseball team to play minor league ball.  Resurrecting the independent team model he would hold an open tryout for the new Portland Mavericks–if you build it they will come.  And they did.  Players rejected from the big leagues, some retired, many with paunches, and pre-movie star Kurt on the team, too, some players older than most teams would favor, and a bunch of hairy-faced guys decades before it became the “in” thing–all would come together to form a motley band of brothers that would earn a crack at the pennant.  With a 30-man roster, and Bing’s personal brand of fun, fans packed the stadium again, the team setting a record for the highest attendance in minor league history, blazing the trail in other ways, naming the first woman general manager in baseball, Lanny Moss.  But like all good things it seems, a villain would enter the picture to wreck it all.

The real deal: Kurt Russell playing in the Minor Leagues with the Portland Mavericks.

With that nostalgic, cheery vibe of Ivan Reitman’s 1970s movie Meatballs or a dialed-back Slap Shot, Bing’s grandsons Chapman Way and Maclain Way splice together both baseball, Hollywood, and Portland nostalgia to assemble a completely engaging, crowd-pleasing story of underdogs and misfits and the pied piper who led them.  If you remember that every baseball stadium in 1970s America–and every grade school–had kids chomping on Big League Chew–you’ll learn that connection to the Mavericks, too.

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“Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law.”

From Metropolis to Rocky IV, and The Worst to Universal Monsters, Robotech, Shogun, Slayer, Street Fighter II, Lucha, and more, one of the most eagerly awaited has been figures for RoboCop Although we’ve seen RoboCop as action figures by the likes of toy companies like NECA and other companies over the past 30 years, the new line previewed at New York Toy Fair 2019 from Super7 also pulls in that throwback toy design fans of Super7’s ReAction action figure line flock toward.  Super7 has now released its final figure and packaging designs for RoboCop, and they look great (except that sculpt for the toxic slug guy looks a lot like Super7’s sculpt for John Matuszak’s character Sloth from The Goonies).

But of any action figure previewed at New York Toy Fair in February and released this year, is there any single figure with more potential for collectors than Super 7’s Jackie Robinson?  It has that trading card quality, with its cardboard backing and its vintage photograph design, plus it’s as American as apple pie as a toy/collectible, crossing over in the collector market between ReAction retro figure fans and baseball fans.  And the entire Classic All-Stars line is superb.  The other figures in the first group available measure up with Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Juan Marichal, Carlton Fisk, and Orlando Cepeda–plus the first of the mascots in the toy series, from the Philadelphia Phillies.  You can pre-order any or all now at Entertainment Earth (links embedded in names above).  And if Super7 doesn’t get to your favorite player, these will be easy to paint and modify for your team–just like you may have painted the classic electric football player pieces of years ago.

The other line of figures with potential is the classic Peanuts characters in the ReAction format, featuring two Charlie Browns, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Schroeder, and, of course, Snoopy.  These are based on Charles Schulz′s original strips, and have a look that bridges the Funko Pop! and the classic Kenner retro figure sizing and packaging.

Here are images of these three lines and first phases of designs released:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If there is a bigger Trivial Pursuit fan I don’t know who it is.  Whether it was the classic 1981 Genus Edition, the 1983 Silver Screen edition, the 1984 Genus II edition, the 1989 1980s edition, the 1992 10th Anniversary Edition, the 1994 Genus III, the 1996 Genus IV, or 1998 Millennium Edition, or the dozens of tie-ins and card deck supplements since, you can pretty much count me in anytime.  But the latest may be the most fun yet.  Adding to the Stranger Things season three Hasbro Gaming tie-ins Dungeons & Dragons, Monopoly, Ouija board, Screen Test, and an Eggo card game is an all-new throwback 1980s version of Trivial Pursuit I thought I was a Trivial Pursuit purist, but the new Stranger Things Back to the ’80s Trivial Pursuit convinced me that the classic game had some problems and they’ve now been fixed.

The questions come from movies, TV, music, people, events, technology, fashion, sports, and more, and that classic orange sports/wild card category is now questions about your knowledge of the Stranger Things universe.  Don’t worry, that last category will be easy to dodge for anyone at the game table not familiar with the series, but new rules and gameplay also make it possible to give anyone a leg up toward an ultimate win.  “Roll again” spaces are gone, meaning there’s more time answering questions and less time rolling multiple times per turn.  You still need six wedges to win, but you no longer need a pie wedge from each category, so the game time is shorter.  If you aren’t a pro in any given category, you’re also no longer hamstringed into riding out a losing game because of the new “walkie talkie a friend” feature.  As with the Who Wants to be a Millionaire gameshow concept, so long as you’re not playing in Upside Down mode, you can enlist a helper, and if you win, share the spoils with a pie wedge for both players.

 

The Upside Down is an easy, clever board add-on that allows the entire board to be switched from real world mode to the dark Upside Down the series is famous for.  When you’re in the Upside Down you can lose pie wedges by answering incorrectly, and you can’t ask a friend for help.  It fits the Stranger Things story, and it further helps level the playing field among a diverse group of players.

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The Star Wars vintage Kenner action figures changed toys and franchising forever.  Sales of this line were so successful that it’s no surprise the fan nostalgia for these 3.75-inch figures in new packages is still as great as ever, 41 years after their first appearance in a pre-order campaign for Christmas 1977.  With the return of Star Wars action figures in advance of the prequels, four of the original sculpts returned in a limited set in the 1990s (still sold via third party sellers at Amazon here), and Lucasfilm with its own changes over the years keeps finding ways of bringing them back with the Kenner logo via Kenner’s successor company Hasbro.  The company even released a set of four figures: Luke, Leia, R2-D2, and Chewbacca, in an enlarged 12-inch collection, still available at Amazon here, and even a Cantina set, plus 12-inch re-creations of several other vintage figures, from toy company Gentle Giant, discussed over the past decade here at borg.

We previewed the latest return of the 3.75-inch action figures emerging from New York Toy Fair early this year here at borg, six individually sold characters in “retro” packaging with mock weathering that made them different enough from the originals to dissuade people from selling them as originals.  The characters were Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and a Stormtrooper, with a never-before-released, new design of the classic five-points of articulation for Grand Moff Tarkin, available if you bought the re-issue of the original Star Wars board game.

So far these have only been available through Target stores.  The initial release sold out within a few hours, but throughout the U.S. these still have appeared from time to time over the course of this summer.  Otherwise, they’ve turned up on Amazon (here) from third party sellers with a price in excess of $150 for the set.  So for those who missed out, you now have another opportunity to pick up the six figures in the retro packaging.  Entertainment Earth has just announced it is taking pre-orders for a set of all six figures for only $63.99 (price as of date of publication)–nearly a third of the aftermarket price–if you pre-order for shipment in August here at the Entertainment Earth website.

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Funko Pop! figures seem to have taken on a life for kids and collectors like Beanie Babies, if Beanie Babies pulled in every licensed property under the Sun.  The latest Funko Pop! figures tie in to the latest season of Stranger Things.  Their marketing team even mocked up a Tiger Beat magazine spoof that brings it together.  Maybe it’s because the Duffer Brothers succeeded at pulling together some good nostalgia, or maybe these new likenesses are some of Funko’s best so far, but whatever the reason, we think Funko fans are going to want to take a good look at this new line.

The 2017 Toy of the Year and People’s Choice award winning figures seem to be getting better.  More clever designs?  The more… odd… the combination of characters and styles, the better these seem to appeal to Funko collectors.  Stand-outs for the first round of characters include Scoops Ahoy Steve, Will the Wise, Flayed Lifeguard Billy, Date-Night Hopper, and Joyce with her magnets.  This time there’s an over-sized monster available, too.

Three other new figures announced this month will appeal to that good guy in you.  Funko has released Mr. Rogers Pop! figures previously, but the latest comes from the new film starring Tom Hanks.  Two others feature everyone’s favorite Australian animal lover, the late Steve Irwin.  Funko has two designs, a common type with Steve and an alligator and a rarer chase figure with Steve holding a turtle.

Most of these figures are available now and others have just been posted for pre-order.  Click on any of the first 14 images below to find out more about the main line of figures, or to order any at Amazon, and don’t miss the pre-order for the new exclusive Eleven figure available only at Amazon.  Below you’ll also find preview images of Stranger Things retailer exclusive Funko Pop! figures from Target, Wal-Mart, and more.

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Discovery′s annual Shark Week programming is back beginning this weekend.  From July 27 to August 5 look for ten days of shark-centered features.  Shark Week is television’s longest running summer TV event.  That means Narragansett is back with new promotions and local activities for those on the East Coast, and an online store full of tie-ins to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws to coincide with Shark Week 2019.  Not only is Narragansett one of America’s oldest beer companies (they turned 21 in 1911), Jaws made its beer famous again in 1975 when Robert Shaw′s character Quint downs a can and crunches it to look tough in front of Richard Dreyfuss′s character Hooper.  Hooper created the funniest moment of the film, countering Quint by crushing his Styrofoam cup.

Look for Naked and Afraid: Surviving with Sharks, Shark Trip, Isle of Jaws, Shark After Dark, Sharkwreck, Alien Sharks, Sharkpocalypse, Air Jaws, Sharks Gone Wild, Jaws Comes Home, Laws of Jaws, Sharkzilla, Shaq Does Shark Week, Ocean of Fear, Sharks in the City: LA, Guy Fieri’s Feeding Frenzy, and How Jaws Saved the World, and more, all throughout the week.  Check out your local listings here at Discovery for air times.

Narragansett′s online shop has some great new T-shirts featuring Jaws and the Quint can, plus a foam stress can, a skateboard deck, stickers, pins, logo shirts, hats, hoodies, ornaments, sunglasses, beach towels, posters, even skis and hockey sticks–all featuring the image of the beer can design from 1975 or the shark or 1975 Narragansett logo–as it appeared in the film classic Jaws.  The lager beer itself is also available in ‘Gansett markets with the retro cans.  See the entire 1975 retro collection of tie-ins here at the Narragansett online store.  And check out the Narragansett website here for a series of Jaws screening parties along the East Coast all week, plus other parties, trivia contests and more, announced via the company’s Twitter account: @Gansettbeer.

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Instead of what has been done at past panels at San Diego Comic-Con–having a panel for each or just a few major projects–Marvel Studios exec Kevin Feige was on-hand to get several announcements out the door and as many key cast members in and out of his single panel as possible.  For the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase IV, that means tying in Disney’s (pay) streaming service with the movies.  The big takeaway?  New logos are pretty much all there is so far to share, plus key casting and timing announcements.  And although the last Phase had some changes along the way, it looks as if these ten projects will round out the entirety of Marvel over the next few years.  The biggest frustration for fans of the X-Men and Fantastic Four is why nobody at Marvel has been getting a head start on these two massively popular teams of characters–money is definitely going to be left on the table for the duration of Phase IV by pushing out these projects.  Why aren’t these Priority #1 with someone at Disney in light of the long lead-time the corporation had for the Fox acquisition?

The new time table is straightforward: Black Widow movie (May 1, 2020), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier TV series (Fall 2020), Eternals movie (November 6, 2020), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings movie (February 12, 2021), WandaVision TV series (Spring 2021), Loki TV series (Spring 2021), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness movie (May 7, 2021), What If…? animated series (Summer 2021), Hawkeye TV series (Fall 2021), and Thor: Love and Thunder movie (November 5, 2021).  The most eagerly awaited film after this year’s Avengers: Endgame was the hinted-at Guardians of the Galaxy/Thor or Asgardians of the Galaxy team-up movie, but Marvel still has not confirmed that project, unless it’s tied into the 2021 film.  Also relegated to “in development” status: Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel 2, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and the next Tom Holland Spider-Man movie (Spider-Man is Iron Man’s replacement, right?).  Silence seems to confirm the death of the Marvel Netflix universe of Luke Cage, The Punisher, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist, and maybe even Disney+ projects Runaways, Ghost Rider, and Helstrom.  FX’s Legion was already announced as canceled, and we lost track of how many times The New Mutants movie has been pushed back.  Even bigger unknowns are the next Ant-Man and The Wasp, which had Hank Pym actor Michael Douglas already discussing it as a prequel, and if anyone is thinking about Prince Namor the Submariner, nobody is talking.  It begs the question:  Does Disney have too much to handle now?

As a beginning Disney’s Marvel side seems to be taking a lead from its Star Wars division, with its offerings targeting a mix of fans old, new, and in-between.  For the fans of the MCU so far you have plenty, a Black Widow (presumably prequel) and Thor movie as bookends for Phase IV, and TV series to keep alive Falcon, Winter Soldier, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Loki, Doctor Strange, and Hawkeye.  For new audiences (and possibly much older comic book readers) there is Shang-Chi and the Eternals to get to know, along with the announcement that Luke Cage’s Mahershala Ali will be playing Blade in a reboot movie at the beginning of Phase V, the vampire hunter who, like Spider-Man, has already seen an entire series of movies outside of the MCU.

The details are an eclectic mix of things you might want, things you didn’t know you want, and things you won’t know what to make of:

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The first full day of San Diego Comic-Con 2019 began today with a big trailer, Paramount Pictures′ sequel to the 1986 classic Top Gun.  Tom Cruise was on-hand to preview Top Gun: Maverick.  The sequel carries forward with Tom Cruise as Captain Pete Mitchell, call sign Maverick, still flying, and still with the same attitude, confronting Ed Harris (The Right Stuff, Apollo 13), in the first trailer.  Despite Cruise’s efforts to do his own stunts, Cruise didn’t get permission to fly the military’s jets in the new film, but the filmmakers appear to have done nice work splicing Cruise flying something else into the footage.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion), the film co-stars Jon Hamm (Baby Driver) and Jennifer Connelly (Alita: Battle Angel).  The plot finds Maverick still training at fly school Top Gun, watching over his old pal Goose’s kid.  From this first trailer, it’s clear the sequel has pulled out all the beats from the first film, looking to tap into moviegoer’s nostalgia vs. taking Maverick into new territory.

Paramount also released the first poster for the movie:

Check out the first trailer for Top Gun: Maverick:

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Feel like you’re late to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing?  In addition to online and televised events we discussed yesterday here at borg, you have several other ways to look back at Apollo 11 this week as we approach the anniversary of the Moonshot this Saturday.

Last year’s Todd Miller documentary Apollo 11 is back in theaters for a limited engagement.  Check local listings or the film website here for participating theaters.  Also in select theaters is the new documentary Armstrong, narrated by Harrison Ford.  Both Apollo 11 and Armstrong are also available now on Vudu.  Based on James R. Hansen’s book, the movie First Man, although neither an uplifting, exciting, or celebratory film about Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong, it does illustrate the personal toll, the lives lost, and the downside of life as an astronaut (probably save this one to view without the kids).  On Netflix, you’ll find a different but fascinating angle in Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo.  National Geographic’s Apollo: Missions to the Moon, Apollo’s Moonshot, and Al Reinert’s For All Mankind can be rented or purchased on Vudu.  And The Lunar Rover: Apollo’s Final Challenge is available for viewing free right now on Vudu.  Most of these can also be viewed with Amazon Prime.

You can get any book these days overnighted to you from Amazon.  Just beware there are a lot of substandard books out there and many self-published without any actual insight into Apollo 11.  Many others are highly recommended.  Just after the Moonshot Apollo 11 command pilot Michael Collins wrote an autobiographical account, Carrying the Fire, available in a new edition.  Collins also recommends Jim Donovan’s Shoot for the MoonNo Dream is Too High provides lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin’s personal life lessons from Apollo 11 and his life.  The historical account American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley has been praised by critics and historians including Doris Kearns Goodwin.  BBC science correspondent and ex-NASA astronomer David Whitehouse wrote Apollo 11: The Inside Story.  Jay Barbree has written the most definitive account of mission commander Neil Armstrong in his Neil Armstrong: A Life in Flight.  And the most recent work on Apollo 11 is this year’s well-reviewed One Giant Leap by Charles Fishman.

Get the new stamps and pre-order your own first day covers from the U.S. Post Office here (the yellow dot indicates Tranquility Base, landing site of the Eagle).  And don’t forget the U.S. Mint still is selling its 50th anniversary commemorative coins.  See our discussion of them earlier this year here at borg.  Stay away from the original memorabilia unless you’re an expert–fakes are for sale all over the Internet this year, especially items like space-flown patches and astronaut autographs.

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