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Category: Fantasy Realms


The Western lives!  Recent films Bone Tomahawk, the remake of The Magnificent Seven, and The Hateful Eight will attest to that, and this summer a young generation of actors takes the lead roles in the genre’s next entry, the movie Damsel.  Brothers David Zellner and Nathan Zellner direct (and co-star with) Alice in Wonderland and Crimson Peak’s Mia Wasikowska and Twilight and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’s Robert Pattinson, portraying pioneers on the American frontier, a disparate band of characters encountering struggles that adversely affect their journey.

Unlike modern neo-Westerns like Wind River or Hell or High Water, the setting here is vintage Old West.  Despite its modern vision, the Magnolia Pictures release seems to have some of that Louis L’Amour charm.  The big draw for fans of Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Heroes, Twin Peaks) and his vast catalog of work will be watching him in his brief role as a preacher, the kind of part typically reserved for character actor and Western movie staple, Sam Elliott.

As with Quentin Tarentino’s The Hateful Eight, the trailer conveys a very modern, off-kilter brand of Western, typical of the kinds of films the directors are known for.  It’s a quirky comedy, but the film has been praised from its Sundance premiere as respecting the films that came before it, like the classics of John Ford.  Cinematographer Adam Stone (Midnight Special) shot the film in Ford’s trademark location, the celebrated Monument Valley.

Here is the trailer for the new Western movie, Damsel:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Originally self-published via Kickstarter as With Kind Regards from Kindergarten, a new steampunk children’s chapter book arrives at bookstores this month from Insight Kids, renamed The Clockwork War.  Bookended by a grandmother trying to persuade a hesitant granddaughter to give kindergarten a try, in the style of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Kline creates a fantasy tale about an orphanage, two friends, and a giant oak tree to nudge the granddaughter along.  Addressing those time-honored angsts of childhood: bullies, advertising, commercialism, roaches, the lack of monsters under one’s bed, plastics, progress for progress’ sake, soot and smog, and henchmen, author Adam Kline assembles a clockwork fantasyland in a fable style pointing young ones to the inevitable lesson that at some point everyone must “rise to the occasion.”

Karlheinz Intergarten and Leopold Croak begin their story under the tutelage of Miss Understood and her orphanage, both fast friends with active imaginations.  Miss Understood will be likeable for kids, full of mixed-up (but apt) sayings like “the early nerd gets the worm,” “all’s well that smells well,” and “money can fry happiness.”  While playing in the giant oak tree during a storm, Leopold is struck by a lightning bolt, and loses his imagination.  Lonely when Leopold no longer wants to play, Karlheinz (Karl) leaves town to become apprentice to a clockmaker, whose companion is a clockwork mouse named Pim.  Many years later Karl becomes a brilliant clockmaker in his own right, and when his mentor dies he returns with Pim to the town of his youth to find it dying and polluted, driven into the ground by the richest man in town: his old friend Leopold, who has lost sight of fun and friendship and focuses only on his corporation and his moneymaking, popular line of electronic toy girl dolls.  He has seemingly forgotten the needs of his real daughter, who is perched above town away from all others, allergic to everything but cucumber tea.

“Some rats are evil, Pim,” sighed Karl. “I won’t argue that.  But they’re almost never born that way.”  And this is true–of rats, of cats, of dogs, and everything else. It’s especially true of people.

A clockwork fly and mouse, a hungry dog, cats’ fear of any loud noise, a giant thug, a pirate ship, and a dragon all come together under Karl’s guidance to teach lessons to both Leopold and the granddaughter at home hearing the tale.  Kline pulls themes and styles from a variety of classic and modern sources, from Pinocchio to Edward Scissorhands, from Aesop’s Fables to the Grimm television series and Mouse Guard, and from The Invisible Man and Hugo to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

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For the fourth consecutive year, Wizard World will be invading the Iowa Events Center this June, bringing comic book writers and artists and celebrity guests to meet thousands of attendees for Iowa’s largest comic and pop culture convention.  Wizard World Comic Con Des Moines will again feature non-stop live entertainment, gaming, panels with celebrities, and cosplayers.  Celebrity guests scheduled to attend the show include Winston Duke (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War), James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek), Charisma Carpenter (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Matt Ryan (Legends of Tomorrow, Constantine), Jim Beaver (Supernatural, Deadwood), Lisa Berry (Supernatural), Gregg Sulkin (Runaways, Faking It), hosted by Kato Kaelin.

Comic book creator guests include Phil Hester (Green Arrow, The Bionic Man, Shipwreck, The Irredeemable Ant-Man), Ande Parks (Green Arrow, Capote in Kansas, The Lone Ranger), Chad Hardin (Harley Quinn, Justice League), Tom Cook (Masters of the Universe, Smurfs), and dozens of other writers in artists in the event’s Artist Alley.  Purchase books, sketches, and other original art, and get autographs from dozens of creators and entertainers.

Even more celebrity guests and creators are expected to be announced in advance of the event.

   

Wizard World Comic Con events bring together thousands of fans of all ages to celebrate the best in pop culture movies, television, gaming, live entertainment, comics, sci-fi, graphic novels, toys, original art, and collectibles.

Show hours are Friday, June 1, 2018, 4-9 p.m.; Saturday, June 2, 2018, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday, June 3, 2018, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.  Kids 10 and under are admitted free with paid adult admission.

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One hundred comic book artists have come together over the past year to create the next great joint art project, this time featuring the fan favorite characters of the Adventure Time animated and comic book series.  Last year Wonder Woman was featured for her 75th anniversary.  This year a new group of some of the best-known names in the world of comics volunteered an original work of art featuring Adventure Time, penciled, inked, painted, or otherwise colored on a BOOM! Studios Kaboom imprint Adventure Time blank comic book cover.  It’s all for a good cause that gives back to, and in effect pays forward comic book creators that came before them.

It’s called the The Adventure Time Get-a-Sketch 100 Project.  All proceeds of the auction of the original artwork will go to the Hero Initiative, an organization that helps out the comic book industry by contributing funds to individuals and their families in the event of medical and financial crises.  Most of the comic creators the fund helps were piecemeal workers in their careers over the past decades or those without any kind of retirement program.

And for those who can’t afford the original artwork, the Hero Initiative is creating a hardcover and softcover edition compiling all the covers that will be for sale beginning May 30, 2018, with proceeds of those books also going to the Hero Initiative.

You’ll find some of the very best Adventure Time-inspired sketch images you’ve ever seen in this group.  Many are from well-known artists, but some of the finest works are showcased by more recent artists entering the industry.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Ahoy there, matey.  Gaming developer Rare and distributor Microsoft have said they expect their new shared world action-adventure game Sea of Thieves to be a major success for Xbox One and Windows PC, with a Rare company executive stating he expects the game to become a franchise as popular as Halo, Gears of War, and Minecraft.  As part of its efforts to bring in players, Rare has partnered with Titan Books to publish a tie-in to the game, Tales from the Sea of Thieves.  Sea of Thieves the game is a first-person pirate adventure allowing players to sail a legendary world alone or with a crew of up to four players.  Released in March, the game’s greatest appeal so far for fans has been its great visuals, opting for a cartoon-like palette versus a photo-real world, and its cooperative gameplay.

Written by Paul Davies, Tales from the Sea of Thieves is a fictional journal written loosely in the style of seafaring lore like you’d find in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly novels, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, more recently William Goldings’ To the Ends of the Earth, and countless other historical accounts.  Its design becomes a real-world take-home prop from the game, a mock “battered and beaten” textured hardcover that looks and feels like a 19th century book that will go well with your tricorn, Jolly Roger, parrot, compass, and telescope.  The contents are in-universe, providing the accounts of pirate crew experienced years before the events of the game, introducing the types of adventures players can encounter in the game.

The tales are light fare, suitable for any age.  They don’t go so far as the darker side of the high seas as you would find in Lovecraft, but the voices are similarly evocative of his style.  The artwork is stylized from the game and fun, full color with the icons and emblems you’d expect from pirate lore.  Even the page edges are untrimmed as with journals and books of years past.

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Review by Art Schmidt

This week the team over at Wizards of the Coast that produced the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is coming out with the newest addition to the line of hardcover books which make up the rules and playable content for the game.  Fifth Edition is by far the most popular and widely-played edition of the grandfather of all role-playing games for the last few decades and may be the most popular edition ever.  This newest book is titled Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, and its primary function is to provide nearly 150 new monsters for use in the game’s adventures, but the book itself is so much more than that.  Previous editions have focused their monster books on stuffing as many creatures into them as possible.  The more monsters, the more players will find the book useful, and (presumably) the more copies will sell.  What the current team has excelled at is deviating away from that “more stats are better” mentality, and instead focuses on the “why” of the monsters instead of the “how many”.  And Wizards of the Coast continues to pull this off beautifully in Tome of Foes.

Whereas previous D&D editions would have had the Monster Manual, and then Monster Manual II, followed by Monster Manual III, etc., 5th Edition has the requisite Monster Manual (reviewed here) but then wowed fans with Volo’s Guide to Monsters (reviewed here).  Essentially a book full of monsters, Volo’s deviated from previous norms and expectations in that it provided a wealth of information (re: text) about the monsters, their origins, histories, societies, clans and behaviors rather than just their hit points and ever-more-creative ways to wreck a party of characters.  And people bought in, big time.  The stories behind why mind flayers eat brains and how they manage to have a functioning society, or about the different kinds of giants and how drastically different their societies were and how they view their own roles amongst giants and their gods, were fascinating, and provided many a DM (and player) ideas for running their campaigns and players.

Limited edition, alternate-art cover by Vance Kelly.

At its core Tome of Foes still is a book full of monsters, but the background information it provides is just as deep and satisfying as that found in Volo’s.  The chapters on The Blood War and the Elves are especially valuable in providing players with more sparks for their imagination.  There are many new player options available in Tome of Foes in the form of playable races and sub-races.  Of particular note are the new options for tieflings (a playable race from the Player’s Handbook) and the gith (a D&D favorite dating all the way back to the 1st Edition Fiend Folio).  The gith are a race with two sub-races who roam the Astral plane with their silver swords, marauding and fighting each other in an endless conflict that sometimes spills over into the players’ world.  Tieflings currently have only one race option in the Player’s Handbook, as compared to other playable races such as elves, dwarves, and halflings, who each have two or more sub-race alternatives to customize their characters.  In the Player’s Handbook all tieflings are described as being infused with the essence of Asmodeus, the ruler of the Nine Hells in D&D lore, and they have one set of abilities for their race.  In Tome of Foes tieflings are provided with eight other alternatives, one for each of the rules of the eight layers of Hell that are ruled in Asmodeus’ name (he himself rules the bottom-most, or ninth layer of the Nine Hells).  These options provide a wide range of play for tiefling characters, specifically different stat modifiers and innate spellcasting abilities.

For the gith, the playable race is an interesting addition to the game, with two sub-races, the githzerai and the githyanki, the two original 1st Edition races of gith.  The gith are structured as other races, with a major and minor stat bonus (depending on sub-race chosen), additional abilities, alignment tendencies (though again, as with all previous 5th Edition publications, no restrictions or mandates), and of course, psionics.  As with previous psionic abilities, these are spellcasting abilities with a “psionics” attribute, which allows for casting without components.  In other words, a mental method of casting.  Although many players continue to clamor for a psionics mechanic in this edition, it seems as though the designers are sticking to their guns: psionics is just spellcasting without mumbling, hand-waving, and balls of bat guano.  And in the current version of the game, which nicely balances a wealth of meaningful character-building choices with rules mechanics that are easily accessible to the game-playing public at-large, this seems a wise choice.

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True Lies, Spies Like Us, Top Secret, Get Smart, Austin Powers, RED, Our Man Flint, Hopscotch, Central Intelligence, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, The Tuxedo, Kingsman, and the original Casino Royale.  The history of movies is not lacking in the spy comedy mash-up genre, but there’s always room for another.  Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Ted, Jupiter Ascending, That ’70s Show) and Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters, Ted 2, Ferdinand, Saturday Night Live) star with the queen of spy fare, The X-Files’ own Gillian Anderson in director Susanna Fogel‘s Fall 2018 theatrical release, The Spy Who Dumped MeLionsgate Films revealed the first full trailer for the film this weekend.

Producer Brian Grazer (Spies Like Us, Housesitter, Night Shift, Apollo 13, Splash, A Beautiful Mind) seems to have pulled out all the stops to give this the full look and feel of a serious spy movie, with cinematography by action and comedy veteran Barry Peterson (Central Intelligence, 21/22 Jump Street, Zoolander, Starsky and Hutch, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), production design by Marc Homes (Skyfall, Kick Ass, V for Vendetta, Aeon Flux, Prince of Persia, Game of Thrones, Robin Hood, X-Men: First Class, Prometheus, The Martian), art director Nic Pallace (24: Live Another Day, Mr. Selfridge, Broadchurch), and a musical score by energy-revving maestro Tyler Bates (John Wick, Deadpool 2, The Punisher, Guardians of the Galaxy, Watchmen, 300, Halloween, Sucker Punch).

A portion of the serving of big-screen badass from this movie will be dished out by Ukrainian actor Ivanna Sakhno (Pacific Rim: Uprising) as assassin/spy Nadedja (Kunis originally hails from Ukraine, too).

Here’s the first full-length trailer for the new spy comedy, The Spy Who Dumped Me:

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After a painfully long wait for fans of the series, the CW Network renewed the hit horror comedy/drama iZombie for a fifth season late Friday.  Even the folks at TV Guide had their fingers crossed for this renewal, stating, “At last, our long national nightmare is over,” in response to the news.  What began as a successful comic book series by writer Chris Roberson and artist Michael Allred for DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint about a gravedigger zombie gal who eats brains to survive, took on its own life under the deft management of showrunner Rob Thomas, who had already dazzled his target audience with Veronica Mars.  Powerhouse star Rose McIver’s Liv Moore has become every bit the ace detective that Veronica was, but she also bridged the audience back to the pop culture references and off-the-wall fun Joss Whedon brought the TV audience with the original badass heroine with his Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  And McIver had the added bonus of playing a character that had to change up her performance every single episode while also appearing in nearly every scene, like Quantum Leap’s Sam Beckett and more recently Tatiana Maslany’s several sisters in Orphan Black.  And she has met the challenge with high energy along the way.  Everyone should be taking a good look at McIver’s performance this year come award season.

That isn’t to say the series hasn’t had a few ups and downs as it found its footing each season, upping the ante for its characters faster than anyone could have predicted… Liv and Major (Robert Buckley) are off, then on again… Ravi (Rahul Kohli) and Peyton (Aly Michalka) are off, then on again… Major and Blaine (David Anders) were zombies, then they weren’t and now they are, etc.  The experimentation worked, as the change-ups kept the show fresh and interesting, and as other shows get tired after the first or second season iZombie has taken the road traveled by NBC’s Grimm, a show that kept up the momentum taking major risks and changes only to get better with every new episode.

This week’s Episode 10 of the fourth season, “Yipee Ki Brain, Motherscratcher!” was the kind of crazy fun you might find on an early episode of South Park or Buffy.  Mocking shows that run out of funds that then are left to have their action scenes off-screen to be summarized on-screen by a character afterward, in an audaciously hilarious move by the writers, co-star Malcolm Goodwin (last year’s borg.com pick for Best TV Actor) was left to pantomime a recap of his off-screen heroics for the episode.  That was coupled with the kind of genre trope episode the series’ fans love: a bombardment of movie references and Easter eggs tied to 1980s action flicks.  And Blaine and Bryce Hogson’s Don E continue to surprise us, but never more than in this week’s episode.  The excellent villainy of the past four seasons (iZombie has three episodes left in Season 4) has smartly balanced out the heroes’ story: first with the brilliant Steven Weber’s Vaughn Du Clark and his daughter Gilda (Leanne Lapp), then with Eddie Jemison’s mobster Stacey Boss, followed by the return of Veronica Mars lead Jason Dohring as the questionable zombie law enforcer Chase Graves, and meanwhile the writers were furtively building the character arc of Robert Knepper’s Angus/Brother Love into compelling new territory as we prepare for what’s coming next season.

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Like the works of Shakespeare, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli & Co., and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, the older, legendary tale of Robin Hood will return (sometimes many times) in a newly realized form for each new generation.  Long, long before Oliver Queen and Clint Barton, there was that wielder of bow and arrow, the original superhero, Robin of Loxley, or Robin Hood.  Lionsgate Films released its first preview trailer for its version of Robin Hood, coming late this year to theaters.  Starring Kingsman’s Taron Egerton as Robin, Jamie Foxx as Little John (with some very Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves-styled Morgan Freeman makeup), Ben Mendelsohn (today’s go-to bad guy) as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Eve Hewson as Marian, Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck, and Jamie Dornan as Will Scarlet, the next Robin Hood feature looks to be the least like its predecessors.

As much as prior incarnations attempted to provide a historically accurate look–for better or worse–for their films, usually targeting the story anywhere from the 14th to the 16th centuries, director Otto Bathurst’s version offers up some modern designs.  Costume designer Julian Day, known for some nicely realized, historically inspired designs in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the 1970s racing film Rush, seems to have avoided any historicity in designing costumes for his latest film.  When does it take place?  Apparently not in any real-time or location.

The classic adventure and romance seems to be weighted this toward action and more action, with much CGI and slow motion fight scenes, and if the first trailer is any indication, it’s going to be light on the fairy tale romance of past versions.  Take a look for yourself at the first trailer for this year’s Robin Hood:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

First published in March 1956, Diamonds Are Forever is Ian Fleming’s fourth James Bond novel.  This time Bond is tasked by M to follow the route of diamond smugglers transporting stones into England from Africa and on to the United States.  He replaces a small-time transporter and is partnered with the novel’s requisite “Bond girl,” Tiffany Case, and they embark on a trip to the Northeast United States.  Bond becomes an employee of The Mob, and is reunited with his former American ally Felix Leiter (minus an arm and leg after the shark incident in Live and Let Die).  The story moves on to Las Vegas, with some good gambling scenes, then on to a rebuilt Old West town called Spectreville, where Bond meets a strange and wealthy villain who collects real antique trains as if they were toys.  And the action culminates aboard the cruiseship Queen Elizabeth.  The novel is nicely bookended, beginning and ending at a thorn bush occupied by a scorpion in the middle of a desert.

Typically Ian Fleming and James Bond are at their worst when visiting America.  It’s difficult to enjoy the normally down-to-Earth Bond pick up his author’s clear disdain for Americans, whether his inner-monologue through Bond is truly a reflection of the times or not.  Fleming exhibits his peculiar theme of Americans rambling all their dialogue in long outbursts with “low English” dialect regardless of their social strata.  And Fleming seems to wallow in his racism in scenes set in America more so than with Bond in other locales.  But the biggest plus?  The lack of that James Bond misogyny compared to other Fleming efforts.  The seventh novel adapted into a film, and the last canon work for Sean Connery as Bond (he’d have one more go at it 12 years later in Never Say Never Again), Fleming’s fourth Bond novel and the film carrying its name ultimately share little resemblance, ultimately a good thing for moviegoers.  Yet with the current Bond and the reboot of the franchise with Casino Royale, a solid adaptation redo from a good screenwriter could be possible as the story is serviceable with a good edit.

   

The first act takes off too slowly.  The second act is very dry, reading like a travelogue, and at times it is nearly unbearable–to illustrate this point I began reading Diamonds Are Forever in 2014 and kept grinding to a halt (as noted in my review of Dr. No).  Somehow I began again and made it this weekend, thanks to a classic Bond casino scene in Chapter 17 and a stunning car chase action sequence in Chapter 18 that got me over the hump.  From then on, those final 100 pages, the story comes together and Bond, Tiffany Case, the corps of villains, and that classic Bond action finally kicks into high gear.

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