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Category: Fantasy Realms


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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There’s something about Mary, a new horror film coming this fall, that screams out John Carpenter.  It has that seaside feel of Carpenter’s The Fog, complete with a haunted seafaring vessel and moody cinematography.  It also has that trapped-in-an-evil-car vibe of Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Christine.  It’s about an old boat with a past, found and restored, and haunted–all Christine elements.  Who doesn’t want more Carpenter movies, or second best, a Carpenter homage?  Mary is a new horror film that boasts its contrast with the average why-not-run-from-the-haunted-house movie by staging its ghost story on a boat: “The thing about boats is there’s nowhere to run.”  A nice double feature with The Lighthouse, perhaps?  The first trailer for the movie also conjures a little Jaws, The Ring, and Dead Calm.

Academy Award-winning actor Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, RoboCop, The Fifth Element) and Emily Mortimer (Mary Poppins Returns, The Kid, The Ghost and the Darkness) star in the indie film, which is directed by cinematographer Michael Goi (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Swamp Thing, American Horror Story), with a cast including Jennifer Esposito, straight off her supporting role in The Boys, plus Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven, Murder on the Orient Express), Natalie Jean (Gotham), Michael Landes (Final Destination 2, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), Stefanie Scott (Chuck, Jem and the Holograms), and Owen Teague (IT, Black Mirror).

The solid leading and supporting cast and some nicely creepy cinematography and scares in the trailer make this look like a good Halloween pick.  And the eerie music is supplied by frequent horror movie–and Avengers movie series–composers The Newton Brothers.  Here’s the trailer for Mary:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not an overstatement to say Francesco Francavilla is the artist who brought Archie Comics back to life.  At the very least he has turned a new generation of readers onto one of comicdom’s longest lasting titles.  Along with Jon Goldwater and Alex Segura behind the scenes and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and later artist Robert Hack in the pages of the monthly books, it was Francavilla’s haunting, brand new look at Riverdale and its teen characters that kick-started reader interest in new titles and take another look at the classic stories, the ones with the traditional Dan DeCarlo look that 70 years of readers were familiar with.  Francavilla, the Eisner Award-winning cover artist, is the focus of a new hardcover book Archie Comics is premiering this Wednesday.  Featuring all of his Archie Comics standard covers and variants, plus selected interior artwork and cover artwork for books outside the Archie universe, The Archie Art of Francesco Francavilla is a must for collectors of his books and neo-pulp styled art prints.

In part because of his use of fantastic colors for his imagery, his designs seem to pop on every page.  You’ll find his several covers for Afterlife with Archie, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vampironica, Jughead the Hunger, Archie Meets Batman, Archie vs Sharknado, Archie vs Predator, Chilling Adventures in Sorcery, Riverdale, Life with Archie, Archie, Jughead, Betty & Veronica, and Josie and the Pussycats.  Other pages highlight Francavilla’s style on the covers of New Crusaders, The Black Hood, and The Hangman.  The Archie Art of Francesco Francavilla also includes some cover and page roughs–preliminary sketches used for approval and story breaking, all shown along with the final versions.  You’ll also find exclusive cover art from convention-only covers and other variants.

Woule we have a Riverdale television series if not for Francavilla’s darker look at Archie?  Probably not.  Here is a first look at some advance preview pages of The Archie Art of Francesco Francavilla for borg readers courtesy of Archie Comics:

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It looks entirely like an experimental expressionistic film, something created by an aspiring filmmaker in film school, maybe an ambitious effort to create something historical and strange like Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.  Is production and costume designer-turned-director Robert EggersThe Lighthouse simply a horror movie about two lighthouse keepers or can we hope for something bigger, more of metaphor and allegory?  Shot in black and white 35mm film, the initial appeal is for anyone fond of classic black and white Gothic horror It’s billed as psychological horror, but will it feature psychological horrors of today or stick with more reserved terrors that reflect its more tempting, classic appearance?

The Lighthouse stars character actor Willem Dafoe, and co-stars Robert Pattinson in his most public role since the announcement he will don the cowl and cape in a forthcoming Batman movie.  Remember Michael Keaton releasing Beetlejuice, Clean and Sober, and The Dream Team with the new acting range spin to get us prepared to see him on the big screen as the dark knight detective?  Genre niche popularity of the Twilight series and his brief stint in the Harry Potter franchise aside, Pattinson hasn’t had the universal appeal and popularity Keaton had with Night Shift and Mr. Mom, making him a household name.  Can he convince fanboys and fangirls he has what it takes?  Can audiences push the future aside and appreciate The Lighthouse for whatever Eggers is trying to do?

As for Eggers, who co-wrote the story with brother Max, this is his second film after the Anya Taylor-Joy vehicle The Witch.  Here he’s trying that tried and re-tried convention of bringing black and white films to modern audiences.  It often works, as it did with popular and critical success for Paper Moon, Young Frankenstein, Raging Bull, Dead Again, Schindler’s List, The Artist, Logan Noir, and Roma.

Take a look at this nicely moody trailer for The Lighthouse:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Thanks to Fathom Events and other film retrospectives over the years, movie audiences can revisit their first viewings of some of the best films ever made.  In that league comes The Muppet Movie, which just wrapped its 40th anniversary with two days of screenings.  Like the one-of-a-kind The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees, and the symbols of goodness everywhere: Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, and Steve Irwin, The Muppets are a truly unique team, and Jim Henson and his $65 million box office hit The Muppet Movie reflects why they created the word “iconic” in the first place.  It says something when a retrospective anniversary screening can make the week’s Top 10 box office after 40 years.  The Muppets are as accessible and necessary as they’ve ever been.

Paul Williams’ musical score and powerful songs might be the high point of the movie, from “The Rainbow Connection,” to “Movin’ Right Along,” to Gonzo’s emotional “I’m Going to Go Back There Again.”  Or maybe it’s the magic, the forgetting we’re absorbed in characters played by actors that are a frog and a pig and a bear and a dog and whatever Gonzo is.  Or maybe it’s the behind the scenes magic.  Filming in the lagoon once used for Gilligan’s Island, Henson spent an entire day perfecting the scene with Kermit singing in a wetsuit under water, perched inside a metal tank, reaching upward to give Kermit his character.  You wouldn’t know any of it happened that way from the perfectly still water and multiple angles the song is filmed from.  Or that Kermit was operated my remote control for the Schwinn scene (but Kermit the Muppet really was riding that bicycle, no strings attached!).  Jim Henson can’t be overstated as sitting among the kings of creating the fantastical.

But even all of those great components can’t beat the storytelling.  Full of honesty and heart, Kermit’s path is a classic reluctant hero’s journey, equal to that of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Luke in Star Wars, Frodo and Bilbo in Tolkien’s stories (Fozzie is a great Samwise), Harry in J.K. Rowling’s series.  Here our green felted friend assembles a group of new friends to help him succeed by story’s end.  The Muppets had already been known to us through The Muppet Show, yet this movie succeeded in getting audiences to meet them all over again.  The story is playful, too, allowing its own script to become a plot device with the characters.

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A reminder for fans of fantasy, comedic actors, Jim Henson, and his beloved Muppets:  Celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Muppet Movie, Fathom Events is partnering with The Jim Henson Company and Universal Pictures to show the classic big-screen debut of the Muppets on more than 700 screens nationwide for two days, beginning tomorrow.  Order tickets now before they sell out at the Fathom Events website here.

For two days only, The Muppet Movie returns with screenings on Thursday, July 25, and Tuesday, July 30.  The Muppet Movie will play at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (local time) each day.  Following the international success of the television show The Muppet Show, which at its peak aired in more than 100 countries, Muppets creator Jim Henson took a creative risk to have the characters star in their first motion picture.  The result, directed by James Frawley, became a box-office hit, starring Kermit (performed by Henson), Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear (performed by Frank Oz), Gonzo (performed by Dave Goelz) and his chicken Camilla (performed by Jerry Nelson), Scooter (performed by Richard Hunt), and dozens of other favorite characters.

In addition to the Muppet performers, The Muppet Movie showcased a Who’s Who of 1970s comedy, with cameo roles by Dom DeLuise, James Coburn, Madeline Kahn, Carol Kane, Telly Savalas, Milton Berle, Elliott Gould, Edgar Bergen, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, and Orson Welles.

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Feeling the heat?  A new San Diego Comic-Con trailer for Snowpiercer might help.  First a series of graphic novels we discussed five years ago here at borg, then a movie starring Chris Evans (reviewed here and discussed here), the futuristic, post-apocalypse universe of Snowpiercer is now making its way to your television set.  For the 2013 movie, the casting of big names, Marvel superhero Chris Evans, Academy Award-winning actor Tilda Swinton, and multiple Oscar-nominated actors John Hurt and Ed Harris, reflected the critical and popular appeal of the comic version of the story more than the resulting B-movie that ended up on the screen.  Now it’s up to Academy Award-winning actor Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Alita: Battle Angel, The Princess Bride) carry the baton.

Originally published in French in 1982 as Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob with art by Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer, Volume 1: The Escape is available in an English translation by Virginie Selavy with follow-on English translations of Volume 2: The Explorers by Benjamin LeGrand and Volume 3: Terminus by Olivier Bocquet also available, and a prequel Extinction by Matz, on the way.  For the new TBS television series (available on Netflix elsewhere), stage actor Daveed Diggs joins Jennifer Connelly with several new faces and background actors.  And it’s already been renewed for a second season.

Repressive like the world of George Lucas’s THX-1138 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, thematically political like the similarly wintry Dr. Zhivago, and drawn with the stark, black and white look of Aha’s Take On Me music video from the 1980s, Snowpiercer is a bleak, but ambitious, series of graphic novel about many things.  The back of the train like the back of the bus in the 1960s, or the lower sections of the ship on the Titanic, you can analogize the social strata of the train to many things. But neither the rumored horrors at the “tail” of the train, nor the “golden carriages” of the first class at the front of the train are what they appear to be.  At one level Snowpiercer is a strange, existential retelling of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  As with the movie, the trailer for the series shows something different from the graphic novel that inspired it, but maybe an alternate story of the train a la Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.

Here’s the trailer for TBS’s new series, Snowpiercer:

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Victoriana meets steampunk and mythology in an upcoming series.  With production design that evokes The Golden Compass, Harry Potter, and the gloom of Charles Dickens, Amazon Studios’ new Carnival Row has all the elements of a good fantasy.  With two big stars, Cara Delevingne (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) and Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings), it looks to be the next series to keep an eye on.

At San Diego Comic-Con this week, Amazon Studios’ released two introductions to the series, presented by the two lead actors.  The best feature may be the beautiful accompanying music by Nathan Barr, composer of many a horror show.  And this has plenty of its own blood and gore.  A detective show, a mystery and a fantasy world with its own look despite familiar influences, Carnival Row will be a certain pick to binge-watch next month.

Check out these new previews from SDCC 2019 of Carnival Row:

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Netflix and The Jim Henson Company previewed even more from the forthcoming sequel series to Jim Henson’s fantasy masterpiece, The Dark Crystal this week at San Diego Comic-Con.  We previewed The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance back here at borg in May, including all the voice cast playing characters both familiar and new.

The new footage shows a little more of what is coming next month, plus it offers some behind the scenes imagery, with brief commentary from creators, including director Louis Leterrier, executive producer Lisa Henson, production designer Gavin Bocquet, creature and costume designer Brian Froud, assistant costume designer Wendy Froud, and actor Simon Pegg, the new voice of Chamberlain.  What is clear is that Jim Henson would likely have approved of their method.  We’ll have to wait to see it to confirm whether it also has the heart, the wonder, and the fear of the original.

The Muppet-like characters so far look as good as anything The Jim Henson Company has created.  Aughra, the Skeksis, the new Fizzgig, and new Gelflings also appear to be faithful updates to the originals.  At SDCC the director announced a behind-the-scenes documentary is also in the works.

Take a look at the new footage and behind the scenes glimpses at The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance:

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The BBC and HBO brought a new trailer to San Diego Comic-Con Thursday for the new series His Dark Materials.  Logan star Dafne Keen is back in a leading role as Lyra Belacqua, with Ruth Wilson as the vile Mrs. Coulter, James McAvoy as the grand Lord Asriel, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as the friend to polar bears everywhere, Lee Scoresby.

If it all looks familiar it’s because the first part of the series traces the steps of the Philip Pullman novel Northern Lights aka The Golden Compass, already translated into the movie The Golden Compass, a big-budget, special effects filled spectacle in 2007 starring Dakota Blue Richards, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Sam Elliott, and Christopher Lee, and an equally impressive voice cast.  The film was as big as fantasy movies get, with a budget to support an all-star cast, so it will be a challenge to create an episodic version as spellbinding and audience-grabbing on a TV studio budget.

Yet for television fantasy it looks great so far–Dafne Keen showed in Logan she can create one of the greatest superheroine performances of all time even at her young age, and for fans of the original film and the novels the trailer may just get them to finally check out an HBO subscription.  Last week novelist Philip Pullman commented on Twitter: “Today I wore a jacket I hadn’t worn for two years.  In the pocket I found my green leather pen case containing the pen that wrote His Dark Materials… I knew it would come back to me.”  Coincidence?  We doubt it.

Complete with a new alethiometer, check out this great trailer for the BBC-produced HBO series, His Dark Materials:

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