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Category: Fantasy Realms


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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Joey Spiotto is an artist whose works are immediately recognizable.  He has his own whimsical take on characters fans know and love–unique, but much like comic book cover artist Skottie Young he makes popular characters his own.  Spiotto is well known for his parody covers for Little Golden Books–his Storytime series takes sci-fi, fantasy, and other pop culture favorites and uses a Muppet Babies-type change-up to show us characters as wee ones on the cover of their own little kids’ book.  He’s taken on every franchise from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Terminator 2, Robocop, and Lost, to the Hamilton musical, from Mad Max: Fury Road, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, They Live, and Tron, to Donnie Darko.  How often do you see one series of anything include homages to both Mr. Rogers and Donnie Darko?  Individual prints of his Storytime series can be bought here and many have been compiled in his book available here at the artist’s Etsy store.

Now in stores is Spiotto’s latest book, Firefly–Back From the Black, a look at the characters of the fan favorite sci-fi series in the artist’s style and brand of humor.  A latecomer to the Firefly series, Spiotto counts himself a fan, and he shows it through his many obscure references in page after page of single panel drawings.  This is one where those who aren’t Firefly fans probably won’t understand what’s going on, but for those who are fans all the key characters are covered–spoofed, parodied, and maybe poked fun at more than a little bit.  You’ll find plenty of images of Jayne sporting his cunning hat, including one of his Mom sewing his hat for him–an off-screen scene every Firefly fan has imagined.  Fans of Spiotto’s first movie tie-in, 2015’s lovable look at Ridley Scott’s Aliens, Alien Next Door, will also like what the artist does here with the Firefly crew.  The kind of book you’d see getting as a Christmas stocking stuffer for those dreaming of a return of Firefly, or a nice add-in to a future Firefly Cargo Crate, Firefly–Back From the Black is now available here from Amazon.

   

Spiotto fans also have just under a day left to take advantage of the artist’s Kickstarter campaign to launch a compilation book of his High Fidelity series of prints–it’s fully funded, but some great deals and incentives are still available.  In this series he takes a similar twist on popular films and series as with his Storytime prints, but with High Fidelity the format is vintage 33 1/3 vinyl LP record album covers, and the characters become bands.

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The 3D movie is here to stay and it’s as big as it’s ever been.  Not only new movies continue to hit the big screen and impress us with newer ways to turn a movie visit into an amusement park ride, whether in 3D or IMAX 3D.  Old films continue to get the 3D treatment, too.  An entire branch of films and home video releases are devoted to this category, with films that weren’t originally filmed in 3D like Titanic, Jurassic Park, Top Gun, I, Robot, and Beauty and the Beast among the films getting the upgrade–the best results coming from the incredible 3D work done to The Wizard of Oz (reviewed here) and Predator (reviewed here).  But a music video getting a 3D upgrade?  That’s new.

This year the 1980s are coming back in a big way.  Michael Jackson’s Thriller knocked our socks off as part of the latest trailer for Stranger Things season 2 last month.  The powerhouse music video (which even made the National Film Registry) has been given a complete 3D and sound upgrade for a premiere at the Venice Film Festival this summer followed by a return to the theaters for the first time since a limited run in Los Angeles when it debuted back in 1983.  Thriller is truly a one-of-a-kind film, directed by John Landis (The Twilight Zone, The Blue Brothers, Animal House, Trading Places) and co-written by Landis and Michael Jackson, the film was a dream project for Jackson, who was a fan of Landis’s fang-filled An American Werewolf in London.  Jackson spared no expense, pulling in monster maker Rick Baker for prosthetics and Michael Peters for choreography input.  It’s a little bit meta–Vincent Price’s Thriller was the (fake) monster movie Michael and his girlfriend watched in the theater in the video, with a great shot of the marquee as they emerge from the theater.  Fans of a new generation will be able to see Thriller in real life on their local theater marquee.

A fan of 3D, Michael Jackson pioneered the re-launch of 3D films in 1986, starring in his sci-fi film Captain EO, a 3D musical with executive producer George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, scored by James Horner and co-starring Dick Shawn (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Producers, The Year Without a Santa Claus) and Anjelica Huston (Prizzi’s Honor, The Addams Family, The Grifters, The Watcher in the Woods) as an incredibly designed borg villain (an inspiration for Star Trek First Contact’s Borg Queen).  John Napier (Broadway’s Cats) created the costumes, Rick Baker returned for makeup and monster creations, and Tom Burman (Planet of the Apes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Goonies, Dead Again) created Huston’s makeup.  A Disney theme park exclusive, Captain EO was shown up until 2015 in the parks’ 3D theaters, but has not been released in a home version.  The Captain EO 3D comic book is regularly still available here at Amazon.

Michael Jackson’s first (and then, presumably only) 3D film featured Anjelica Huston as this spectacular borg creation, the Supreme Leader.

Michael Landis returned to lead the 3D, music, and sound effects upgrades for the new 3D release of Jackson’s film/video Thriller, saying, “I am so happy to have had the chance not only to restore but enhance Michael Jackson’s Thriller!  We took full advantage of the remarkable advances in technology to add new dimensions to both the visual and the audio bringing it to a whole new level.  Even though Thriller was shot traditionally, I was able to use the 3D creatively.  Let me just warn you, there is a rather shocking surprise in there!”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, reviewed here at borg.com, is a summer marvel, director Luc Besson’s epic sci-fi, space fantasy we loved, but was overlooked by many because of its clunky title, its lackluster publicity efforts, and its spectacular visuals that overshadowed its simple love story in the eyes of many mainstream movie critics.  It deserves another look, and for those who missed the story for the special effects, its novelization by author Christie Golden is a great way to see what you may have missed.  Another movie that suffered similarly, but only for U.S. audiences, was director Yimou Zhang’s epic film The Great Wall, reviewed here at borg.com, a late winter release full of inspired, colorful, medieval martial arts battles, but a thinner narrative that was also arguably overshadowed by its own dazzling imagery.  Mark Morris’s novelization of the film fleshes out and clarifies the roles of all the characters that filled the enormous cinematic event.

Putting the movies aside, if you’re a fan of novelizations–if you just enjoy experiencing a film word by word, zipping along with a fun action adventure–each of these books should accompany you in your luggage on your next vacation.  I’ve read and enjoyed this segment of genre fiction for years, and remember spending cross-country trips in the backseat of the family car reading the novelizations of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, The Empire Strikes Back, and the 1989 movie Batman.  Years ago before videos, DVDs, Blu-rays, and digital HD, when the prospect of seeing the movie again in the near future was slight, fans really could only turn to novelizations and the rare films that received the comic book adaptation.  You might think the market may not be as great for novelizations today, yet movies continue to get re-written into novels.  And many are still reading–and loving–them.

Both Valerian and The Great Wall have similar narrative structures.  Both involve two protagonists that embark on a hero’s journey against a giant landscape of action and activity.  In Valerian, two spacepilot operatives are charged with the mission to re-capture a stolen artifact, and along the way they are pulled into a greater conflict involving the fate of millions.  In The Great Wall, two medieval warriors are on a quest to seek the rumored new creation called gunpowder, when their search is cut short by a rare, mythic encounter that could spell certain doom for the cities bordering China’s Great Wall.  The relationship of each of these pairs of characters is very modern, full of dialogue with modern quips, verbal sparring and ribbing each other despite their friendships, and the characters themselves are not necessarily relatable or even likeable at first glance.  If you don’t immediately buy the characters’ relationships, then the global conflict they take us through, despite the films’ epic visuals, may simply not work for you.  But if you give them a chance and jump aboard with the characters, then both stories can be great fun. The novelizations are a great way to give them that chance.

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This past April we previewed here at borg.com what we predicted would be the crossover event of the summer.  We’re glad we were right!  The crossover is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo from IDW Publishing, by arrangement with Dark Horse Comics, Nickelodeon, and Miyamoto Usagi creator Stan Sakai.  Sakai returns to his nimble samurai rabbit warrior 33 years after its first appearance, writing, drawing, and lettering the new book, with Tom Luth supplying the color.  Kevin Eastman, co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even lends a hand, supplying a cover variant for the book.  Both series featuring anthropomorphic martial arts heroes were created in 1984.

The quality of this book can’t be overstated–it’s gorgeous.  With most comic books a panel or two per page always seems to get short shrift, sometimes an image with no details or silhouette, but that’s not the case with Sakai’s work here.  You can see Sakai’s love for these characters in every panel on every page–emotion, action, or attitude is always present–as he conjures a tale derived from Namazu, a legend in Japanese tradition.  He combines his samurai hero with Kakera–his version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sensei Splinter–and everyone’s favorite ninja turtles as they embark on a quest to save Japan.  Sakai’s story is based on the story of a giant catfish that lives under the Japanese islands, whose movements are the cause for frequent earthquakes.  A great hero was able to pin the fish under a massive rock at Kashima Shrine.  In his new twist on the legend, a piece of the rock has broken off, weakening its power, and now the catfish threatens to destroy the country.  Our heroes must face the demonic spearman Jei, who wants the country destroyed and threatens to interfere with their efforts as they return the rock to its rightful place.

As you can see above, Sakai’s sound effects are brilliant!

   

Look for cover variants from Sakai, longtime Sakai collaborator Sergio Aragonés, Mouse Guard’s David Petersen, and Kevin Eastman–ten covers in all.

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It’s Bruce Willis in a sequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable?  Nope.

Bruce Willis took over for Denzel Washington in the sequel to The Equalizer?  Nope.

But the remake of 1974’s Death Wish is another vigilante action thriller just the same.  Willis is back in his Unbreakable hooded sweatshirt and he’s adding another entry into the long list of films in the modern vigilante sub-genre.  We all must like the good guys getting rid of the undisputed bad guys, one way or the other, because Hollywood keeps giving us more vigilante movies.  Just look back to this abbreviated list of predecessor films:  Dirty Harry (1971) (and all the sequels), Billy Jack (1971), Walking Tall (1973), Coffy (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Mad Max (1979) (and its sequels), The Star Chamber (1983), Batman (1989) (and all its superhero emulators and incarnations before and since), Out for Justice (1991), Falling Down (1993), Nowhere to Run (1993), The Crow (1994), Timecop (1994), Kill Bill (2003), A Man Apart (2003), Walking Tall (2004), Man on Fire (2004), Sin City (2005), V for Vendetta (2005), Munich (2005), Shooter (2007), Taken (2008), Kick-Ass (2010), Machete (2010), The Equalizer (2014), and Deadpool (2016).

Charles Bronson (The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, The Twilight Zone, The Magnificent Seven, Never So Few, House of Wax, Pat and Mike) was 53 years old when he made the first Death Wish, and 72 by the time he made the fifth and final film in the Death Wish series.  Bruce Willis is 62, so we’re in the right neighborhood for re-casting the role of a husband and father out for payback after his wife is murdered and daughter assaulted.  Willis’s character’s ill-fated wife is played by Elizabeth Shue, seen most recently on TV’s CSI, but most memorable from Karate Kid, Cocktail, Back to the Future II and III, and Leaving Las Vegas, where she earned an Oscar nomination.  The film co-stars Vincent D’Onofrio (The Magnificent Seven, Daredevil, Men in Black).

Check out this first trailer for Bruce Willis in the remake of Death Wish:

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Amnesia.  A terrifying loss of self, or a chance to start anew?  This is the theme explored in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1946 film noir Somewhere in the Night, starring John Hodiak (Lifeboat, Battleground, The Harvey Girls) and Nancy Guild (Give My Regards to Broadway, Black Magic, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man).  Hodiak plays a WWII vet who awakens in a South Pacific hospital with a broken jaw and amnesia.  The only clues to his identity?  Doctors who keep calling him “George Taylor,” and a wallet empty but for a devastating, angry Dear John letter accusing him of destroying someone’s life.  Unable to stand the idea of being that person, yet without any other identity, Taylor returns stateside, where he discovers that an old friend, Larry Cravat, has opened a bank account in his name, ready to support him upon his return to civilian life.

But his efforts to claim the money open up a can of worms and set a gang of thugs, conmen, mobsters, and even an evil fortune-teller on Taylor’s trail played by Fritz Kortner (The Razor’s Edge), all convinced he can lead them to the mysterious–and still missing–Larry Cravat.

Hodiak’s Taylor is likeable, earnest, and sympathetic, as he tries to navigate the increasingly confusing and seedy world of his pal, Larry Cravat.  Mugged, beaten, chased by cops, thrown out of a sanatorium, and nearly run down by a truck (as it turns out, a villain’s weapon of choice), Hodiak can’t help but wonder: What kind of a guy is this Larry Cravat?

Along the way, Taylor hooks up with a few friendly faces–savvy nightclub singer Chris (Nancy Guild) has a soft spot for the guy, even when she finds out he’s on the trail of the man who broke her best friend’s heart and contributed to her death.  A sympathetic police detective, played with delightful aplomb by Lloyd Nolan (The Untouchables, 77 Sunset Strip, Airport, Earthquake) provides some backstory into the criminal dealings Cravat may have been involved in.  Chris introduces the local nightclub owner, played by Richard Conte (Call Northside 777, Ocean’s 11, The Godfather), who is in love with Chris and tries to help Taylor.  Keep an eye out for producer/director/actor Sheldon Leonard (It’s a Wonderful Life) and Henry Morgan (M*A*S*H, Dragnet) in bit parts.

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to the 2014 spy movie Kingsman: The Secret Service, is coming to the theaters in a few weeks.  If you didn’t see the original, it was probably because of its rather uninspired title.  But don’t wait any longer.  Kingsman: The Secret Service is a blast.  And it’s streaming right now.  Kingsman: The Secret Service stars Colin Firth as a secret agent in a new brand of 007 series, as he attempts to recruit the next member of the Kingsman organization, the son of a former agent, played by Taron Egerton.  It’s stylish.  It’s wall-to-wall action.  It’s part dark comedy.  And its over-the-top violence is operatic and epic.  The last time we had this much fun was watching Roddy Piper and Keith David in They Live.

For those hoping Firth would ever be tapped as Bond, this is every bit that, only Firth’s master spy has moves like no Bond ever had.  One scene provides so much hand-to-hand combat you’d think you were watching Kill Bill, and the Quentin Tarentino influence doesn’t stop there.  You’d almost think the retired director was the ghost director behind the mayhem in the film’s climactic battle.  It’s just as well, as actual director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass 2, X-Men: First Class, Layer Cake) proves again he knows the action genre.

Every great British spy story needs a Bond girl, and Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle is up there with the best.  Her missing lower legs (no, we never learn why) were replaced with steel blades, blades that can kill–and very much do.  Think of Bond girls played by Famke Janssen and Grace Jones, and Boutella fits right in.  Every bit the combat equal to Firth and Egerton’s spies, Gazelle is practically a character missing from Tarentino’s Kill Bill movies. Continue reading

The first instinct of diehard fans of any classic book, song, TV show, film, or anything else, is to flinch at the notion of a remake or reboot of a beloved original.  For years we here at borg.com have included The Watcher in the Woods as a favorite recommendation of a ghost story.  It’s a Disney film unlike any other Disney film–the rare instance of a movie being stronger than its source material (the novel by Florence Engel Randall), a Gothic ghost story (or is it?) that may be the creepiest and scariest story the studio released, certainly the spookiest of the 1980s.  So a remake that is being released this year for the Lifetime channel being previewed at San Diego Comic-Con this year is going to hit our radar.

As a kid, the film bridged being surprising enough to get you to jump out of your seat without being an adult horror movie. As an adult, I have recommended The Watcher in the Woods to friends for children’s Halloween parties, and it’s proven still to be a hit for kids into their pre-teens.  Melissa Joan Hart, known best for her Sabrina, the Teenage Witch series, is directing the remake, and as with the original, she enlisted one of the best to ground the film, Anjelica Huston, who takes on the role made famous by Bette Davis.

The result?  Hart has at a minimum completely nailed the trailer.  In an interview below she discusses concepts kept and concepts updated.  But when you get to the trailer, any concerns for the remake pretty much vanish, like the key image of the trapped, blindfolded girl in the film.  And the creepy woods as a singular character.  In the original, “Bond girl” actress Lynn-Holly Johnson (For Your Eyes Only, Ice Castles) and Kyle Richards played the sisters with Richards at the height of her child-actor career between Halloween and Little House on the Prairie.  In Hart’s new movie, these roles are played by young actors Tallulah Evans and Dixie Egerickx.

Even if you don’t agree Hart gets this one exactly right, you’re going to watch it because it’s on cable, and why not?  Check out this nicely spooky trailer from Comic-Con:

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So many continuing genre TV shows!  CW’s iZombie, Arrow, The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, and Riverdale.  Then we have all the fantasy genre shows like Vikings, Outlander, and Game of Thrones.  There’s The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, and The 100.  HBO’s sci-fi series Westworld.  And new superhero shows–Black Lightning, The Defenders, and Gifted.

What do they all have in common?

All 16 were featured in panels this weekend at San Diego Comic-Con.  And each has a new trailer or special Comic-Con video recap leading into the next season.  The winner?  Check out yesterday’s exciting trailer for Stranger Things, season 2, (shown here at borg.com) which seems to eclipse them all.  But from today’s list make sure you watch Netflix’s The Defenders–if you liked any of the other Netflix Marvel series, this will be a must-see.  And the four minutes of iZombie is a great recap of fun TV.

So let’s get on with it.  Watch your favorites or check out all of them, straight from Comic-Con 2017:

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