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Category: Fantasy Realms


Review by C.J. Bunce

As with fans of the other big genre franchises, fans of the Harry Potter universe are always looking for what is coming next for their fandom.  While waiting for the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the next best thing is a visual journey into the artwork of the film series via Harper Design’s new 364-page, giant hardcover book, The Art of Harry Potter.  A gallery of more than 600 images, The Art of Harry Potter covers the eight movies, all created under the watchful eye of Academy Award-winning production designer Stuart Craig.

This collection is entirely different from any behind the scenes art book we’ve seen, breaking down the films by environments, characters, beasts, artifacts, and the most eye-opening: the graphic art that grounded the films in the real world.  The graphic art includes photographs of book covers, key documents seen onscreen, potion bottles, magazines and newspapers, blueprints, maps, heraldry, Quidditch signage, food and beverage containers, posters, and tapestries.  Trying to mock up a Harry Potter room in your house?  This is your sourcebook.  With only eight pages of descriptive text, no in-depth interviews with creators, or the like, and only photo captions to guide you on your journey, consider this volume the ultimate album of the concept artwork that inspired the films.

The most unique section of the book looks into all the artwork that adorned the Hogwarts school and other environments.  These were images that may not have been seen on the screen at all, or images seen only in the corner of a frame flashing by quickly, but all worthy of gallery display.  Don’t expect to find photographs of actors or as-photographed screen images–these images represent the ideas that were developed over the decade between 2001 and 2011 that were then crafted into the final screen costumes, props, stages, and Harry Potter magic.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Nearly one hundred years after Bushnell’s Turtle (the submersible, not the sandwich shop), Jules Verne introduced the world to his futuristic advanced submarine the Nautilus.  In the pages of his novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, an expedition is investigating a giant sea monster that ends up being Captain Nemo’s famous submarine.   A predecessor to modern steampunk stories, 20,000 Leagues gets a sequel 145 years later in C. Courtney Joyner’s new steampunk novel Nemo Rising

Pushing aside Verne’s own sequel The Mysterious Island, Nemo Rising finds Captain Nemo a prisoner of the United States, jailed in a vault in Virginia in a form of solitary confinement and set to be hanged for destroying the USS Abraham Lincoln.  Partially destroyed but slightly rebuilt and sitting in drydock, the Nautilus would seem to be calling for its captain as a bevy of sea monsters begins to destroy European vessels in the Atlantic.  U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant is eager to hang Nemo, but realizes he needs to negotiate a deal for Nemo’s cooperation to prove that these sea monsters are causing the destruction to get the international community off his back.  As the President dodges assassination attempts riding his trusty horse Cincinnati, he finally resorts to using a new invention, an airship, to redouble the efforts to see that Nemo completes his mission and learns the truth behind these attacks.  Accompanied against his wishes by the airship inventor’s intrepid daughter, Nemo seeks his own form of payback as he takes the choice of the mission over the gallows.  The result is a classic seafaring adventure any fan of classic science fiction or pirate tales will love.

First edition of the original Jules Verne Captain Nemo novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas.

With the pacing and action level of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, Nemo Rising reveals a brother-in-arms of Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab on the footing of a modern vengeance story as found in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Netflix’s The Punisher.  This Captain Nemo story is a fun read that will be gobbled up by fans of Verne (especially his novel Master of the World) and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  It also reflects the realism of living and working at sea, but without all the precise detail like you’d find in C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, the Patrick O’Brian Jack Aubrey books, or the famous mutiny stories–it’s more like watching their television adaptations.

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For “truth is stranger than fiction” it’s difficult not to stumble over the story of Sarah Winchester.  Mysteries of the Museum, America’s Castles, and every series that has ever taken viewers on an excursion to America’s supposedly haunted houses has covered the story.  Heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, Sarah Winchester became one of the world’s wealthiest women of the 19th century.  Her husband died in 1881 and she then proceeded to spend her fortune on a sprawling mansion over the next 38 years, a mansion that was never finished.  And why?  Because Sarah Winchester thought the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles were haunting her.  She built extra room after room on her mansion to trick them into not finding her.  And she had new rooms added to the mansion until she died.  And this story is all true.

Next month the great Helen Mirren (RED, Hitchcock, The Queen) steps into the shoes of Sarah Winchester in the new drama horror film, Winchester.  One of genredom’s pervasive actors, Jason Clarke (Terminator: Genesys, Farscape, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Everest) plays a doctor looking into Winchester’s outlandish claims for the Winchester business.

The mansion still exists and is now a tourist attraction called the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.  Check out the website here.  For fans of Supernatural–show creator Eric Kripke gave Sam and Dean their last name because of Kripke’s interest in the Mystery House.

The film adaptation appears to take the ghost story into the realm of Guillermo del Toro’s ghost story Crimson Peak.  Check out previews for the new movie, Winchester, after the cut:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Octopussy and The Living Daylights was the 14th and final book of Ian Fleming’s James Bond works.  Published posthumously in 1966, the stories would take on new lives in movies, the first starring Roger Moore, the second starring Timothy Dalton.  Before both of those films, Bond fans in England would see both stories played out in newspaper comic strips.  Titan Books has re-issued the comic strips in giant collected editions reprinting the strips at their original scale, first with its Dr. No (1958-60) collection, then in its Spectre edition (reviewed here), and next in its Goldfinger (1960-66) edition (reviewed here).  The Living Daylights story was captured in the Goldfinger collection, and Titan has just released its next edition in the series, Octopussy–The Complete Ian Fleming’s James Bond–The Classic Comic Strip Collection 1966-69.

This fourth book in the series leads off with Fleming favorites Octopussy and The Hildebrand Rarity, and it also includes two new stories featuring Bond from the newspaper strip series writer Jim Lawrence: The Harpies and River of Death.  Artist Yaroslav Horak’s work reflects the style of the era, and his characters have the look of Neal Adams’ comic book art from the 1960s.  And how many stories in comics from the 1960s and 1970s had to include the obligatory harpy story?

A common theme through these four stories is the use of animals in Bond tales.  Octopussy is obvious, with its titular character: Major Smythe’s pet octopus that he subjects to experiments.  In The Hildebrand Rarity, antagonist Milton Krest collects endangered sea life.  Jezebel the pet stoat is a feature of The Harpies, and a monkey, bats, a jaguar and Dr. Cat all factor in to the plot of River of Death.  As M mentions to Bond in River of Death, “Very interesting indeed, James… it’s the third odd case in five months involving an animal.”  That sort of sounds like a comment someone would have made in the office reading all these stories in a row back in the 1960s.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The life of master magician Harry Houdini intersected with many other celebrities of the day, and a few of them come into play in a new four-issue comic book series by writer and artist Cynthia von Buhler.  A new addition to Titan Comics’ Hard Case Crime works, Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini tracks the magician in the 20 days leading up to his death on October 31, 1926.  Incredibly enough only the strangest elements of von Buhler’s series are real.  Minky Woodcock is the writer’s creation–the daughter of a private investigator who is hired first by Arthur Conan Doyle to help him discredit Houdini, she is then hired by Houdini’s wife as a magician’s assistant to keep tabs on him.  The blend of the true and the fabricated is smoothly drawn together into an impressive tale of 1920s debauchery, fraud, celebrity, and spectacle.

Yes, Houdini and Doyle were once friends, and their relationship fell apart over their views on spiritualism.  Doyle employed a bizarre spiritualist for Houdini (appearing in the comic) who conducted séances in the nude (who knew the 1920s had such characters?).  When Houdini’s mother was summoned, communicating through the medium in the form of a letter, Houdini was quickly able to see the fraud as an image of a cross appeared and the language was written in English.  Houdini’s mother was Jewish and spoke no English.

 

Von Buhler writes and illustrates both her heroine Minky Woodcock and Houdini’s wife Bess as fascinating women of the 1920s.  Von Buhler’s artistic style is perfectly suited for the story–her women look like they emerged from 16mm film from the Golden Age of cinema–she uses pen and ink with a watercolor method that makes the issues of the series look like they’re printed on classic pulp paper.  And her renderings of Harry and Bess Houdini look like their photographs.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You might think that a movie from 22 years ago isn’t prime material for a reboot, especially when that movie is Joe Johnston’s barely memorable Jumanji.  It starred Robin Williams, a bunch of kids and a nice pantheon of supporting actresses (including Patricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner series, The Station Agent), Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers, Malice, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Bonnie Hunt (Zootopia, Monsters, Inc.)).   Ten years later Jon Favreau would take the same formula ahead with Zathura.  Both movies featured kids getting pulled into a board game where they must fight to survive.  Blending these shows with the pulled-in concept first taken on by Tron in 1982, the new fantasy adventure Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle takes the idea from board game to video game, and does it much better by taking the child actors and having them turn into adult fantasy world avatars, all played by some of Hollywood’s best-loved actors.

The result is great fantasy fun–escapist, easy, laugh-out-loud humor that showcases the talents, charisma, and humor, of the four stars.  Leading the way is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who according to Meet the Press is considering a 2020 presidential bid).  No current personality is better at poking fun at himself, with charisma, good looks, and the smarts to pull off the persona of a teenager afraid of everything who becomes the chiseled Dr. Smolder Bravestone, and yes, smoldering is one of his video character powers.  My screening was preceded by a trailer for Rampage, another big action film game tie-in along the lines of San AndreasJumanji: Welcome to the Jungle co-stars Johnson’s Central Intelligence co-star Kevin Hart, who brings his stand-up comic, self-effacing persona to the big screen again as the tough kid turned short-statured sidekick to Bravestone, Franklin Finbar.  Finbar’s video game powers are hysterical–one of his powers is carrying Bravestone’s tools, and his weaknesses include cake and strength itself.

Another nice choice is comedic actor Jack Black, who plays self-absorbed teenager Bethany’s avatar, Professor Shelly (as in Sheldon, not Michelle) Oberon.  Black plays the role for great laughs, and he pulls off playing a teenage girl like only he could.  Karen Gillan stars as studious teen Martha’s avatar Ruby Roundhouse, a seriously badass superheroine of the Tomb Raider Lara Croft school.  Gillan, known best for her role as Amelia Pond in Doctor Who and as Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, proves again she was born to play big action roles.  She and Bravestone are exactly what you’d expect from online role player fantasy personas, not in actual Activision game but maneuvering pitfalls just the same.  When they’re saving the day the audience is cheering them on every step of the way.  In between those scenes audiences will be laughing as the coming-of-age story of the kids breaks through.  By the end of the film, a cameo actor performance–a brilliant casting move–will take audiences full circle with the mystique of another coming of age fantasy with life-changing implications from the 30 years ago (hint: the cameo actor previously co-starred with one of this film’s actors in one of our favorite coming of age classics).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Say what you like about the three sequels to 2003’s surprise Disney hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, if you love adventures on the high seas, you’ve had a place to come home to, with Dead Man’s Chest (2006), At World’s End (2007), and On Stranger Tides (2011).  If you love the full scope of 3D technology, the series has revealed the potential beauty of the technology as the films provided some beautiful cinematography.  Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales truly brings pirate lore full circle, with Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and more all coming back and as barnacled as ever.  The fifth entry in the series is now streaming on Netflix and available on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, and 4K.

In a year that should see award shows celebrating 17 years of Hugh Jackman fleshing out the story of genre favorite character Logan, also known as Wolverine, 14 of those years saw Johnny Depp create the most memorable character of his career as Captain Jack Sparrow.  Always coming back for more and playing the heart out of his stumbling, distracted, but savvy survivor of visits to the bottom of the ocean and back, Depp solidified what a generation (or two) will always think of first when they hear the word pirate.  Taking a close second for that honor is Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Hector Barbossa, who also graced the screen in each film in the series as an equally interesting but different kind of salty pirate.  When you think of great, modern, master thespians stepping into high-profile genre roles to make them compelling, Rush as Barbossa should be at the top of your list.

Along with the great costumes, weapons, ships, and locations, audiences will find even more Rube Goldberg and Charlie Chaplin-inspired physical comedy in Dead Men Tell No Tales.  For the perennial dose of pirate gravitas, Academy Award winning actor Javier Bardem steps in to the guest star space filled in past adventures by the likes of Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Penélope Cruz, Zoe Saldana, and Stellan Skarsgård.  Bardem is another perfectly cast actor, as a gritty, mighty captain condemned to death with his crew by a young Jack Sparrow.  With some of the series’ best visual effects, Bardem’s Spanish Captain Salazar and his crew roam the high seas looking like they are walking on the ocean’s floor, complete with wet flowing hair and clothes–and missing body parts.  They are ghosts, but a new–and brilliant–take on pirate ghosts (or are they ghost pirates?).  Plus… ghost sharks!

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In After the End of the World, author Jonathan L. Howard pens the second book in a series featuring his two heroes, bookstore owner Emily Lovecraft, fictional descendant of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, and ex-cop Daniel Carter, descendant of Randolph Carter, a recurring character in H.P. Lovecraft’s novels that was said to be written into Lovecraft’s works as his alter ego.  The novel continues in a different vein from where Howard’s Carter & Lovecraft left off, taking readers into the realm of alternate histories and speculative fiction.

After the End of the World will be familiar to readers of Harry Turtledove’s dark parallel histories.  Probably no other storyteller has covered a world where Nazi Germany came out on top as frequently as Turtledove in his novels.  Carter and Lovecraft leave the more Lovecraftian monster horror realm when a cataclysmic event splits reality between the Folded World–the real world–and the Unfolded World, a scary surreal parallel world where a change in historical events threw off the course of history, leaving the duo to begin a journey to try to make things right.

The novel takes much by way of concept from Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle and the recent popularity of its television adaptation, and the political aura of the recent trend of life reflecting fiction echoing in entertainment like The Handmaid’s Tale.  After the End of the World reads like a variant of Dick’s novel, but in Howard’s story Germany destroyed Moscow early in the war, conquered Russia, and sued for peace with the rest of the world, resulting in its lasting success over the past 70 years as a superpower and technological leader.  So this material has been covered in parallel histories, and the value for the reader will be honing in on Emily Lovecraft and Daniel Carter as a pair.

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Our favorite TV borg in 2016 was Bruce Campbell as he teamed up with on-screen father Lee Majors in the Starz television series Ash vs Evil Dead.  Reprising his role from the Evil Dead film series and Army of Darkness, the chainsaw-armed suave hero Ash is back next month for Season 3 of the dark comedy-meets-horror gore fest.  Starz releases a new teaser for the 2018 episodes this week, a mock beer ad featuring Ash as a smarmy 1980s guy cruising a lounge.

Fake brand Shemps Beer (think the TV-pervasive Morley cigarettes or Magnum’s Old Dusseldorf beer) was featured in the Starz series first seasons.  The “Shemp” in “Shemps Beer” is Campbell’s and Evil Dead and series co-creator Sam Raimi’s term for all the back-up characters they needed to pull in for their low-budget original film Evil Dead, a play on The Three Stooges’ third member of the comedy team who replaced Curly, Shemp Howard, who also died and was replaced but with his previous stand-in–a “fake Shemp.”  Hence “Shemps” as the series fake beer.

Accompanied by Cutting Crew’s memorable radio song, Campbell is back being the Bruce Campbell we loved in the Evil Dead films and series, and as star of Burn Notice, and in Sam Raimi’s Spider-man movies (the best part of those films, actually) and in his series Jack of All Trades, and in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and in Xena: Warrior Princess, and in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.

Check out this new teaser for Season 3 of Ash vs Evil Dead, and the full preview for this year’s episodes:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new book takes a look behind the scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Abrams Books’ The Art of Star Wars: The Last JediAs with the prior entries in its series: The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Art of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it reflects fascinating and interesting images from the film, plus commentary and interviews from director Rian Johnson and his staff of creative professionals.  Most of the concept art provides a look at ideas left behind, with some exceptions, like the exotic new animals and beasts that could be seen throughout the film, like the sea cow, the porgs, fathier horse-like animals, and the crystalline shard foxes.  Johnson notes in the book’s foreword the challenges and hopes of making his new movie “Star Wars-y.”  Browsing this new book, it will be up to each reader and moviegoer to determine if he was successful.

As with past books in the series, the book was created parallel with the final post-production and film release, so a few key spoiler scenes are not included in the film.  Handily, this edition includes a follow-up section including the death of Han Solo that was omitted from The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  So a few elements are not addressed in this book many fans will want to know about, but perhaps those areas will be included in the behind the scenes volume for Episode IX.  But you will find plenty here to interest any fan–plenty of ship designs and concept art for the film’s new environments and sets.

The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi tells two separate stories, one in the text explaining the decisions made by director Rian Johnson and the visual artists and staff, and the second via the concept artwork that was translated to the screen and the artwork left behind.  The book lists 77 creators behind the backgrounds, landscapes, sets, vehicles, props, and costume designs.  It will take the reader who has seen the film five minutes of flipping through the book to realize it is Jock’s final character rendering work that is seen in the final cut of the film that landed in theaters: Old Luke’s fantastic island garb, Rey’s updated costumes, Rose’s and the Resistance’s uniforms, DJ and Leia’s costumes.  Really all the great, final designs that made it to the screen for the main cast came from the pen and paint of Jock.  But for whatever reason Jock was not interviewed for the book.  What were his influences?  Why this or that design?  It’s unfortunate because it really looks like Jock’s designs for Oliver Queen in his Green Arrow: Year One series directly influenced his designs for Old Jedi Master Luke and that would have been great to learn.

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