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Category: Fantasy Realms


It’s time for borg‘s annual look at 2018’s Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  This year we selected 24 characters that rose to the top.  Again the studios gave us more to cheer about than ever.  We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and cheer on.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong (and, okay, sometimes evil), you’ll find no one here timid or weepy, but all rely on their individual skills to beat the odds and overcome any obstacle that comes their way.  Over the years we have expanded the list to include any tough, savvy, gritty character played by a woman, so villains are welcome here, too.  Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, or human, but all have fought, some against difficult circumstances, others against personal demons (literally, figuratively, or both), and some against gun and laser fire.  And they all showed what a tough, kick-ass character is about.

In 2018 these characters broke new ground, and unlike last year’s great list, this year’s selections would not have worked as well had the characters been swapped for males.  We had a former MI-5 agent, bounty hunters, assassins, doctors, defenders, advanced superhumans, superheroines, warriors, witches, and even a few cyborgs–with a roster evenly split between television and movie characters.

Better yet, here’s something we haven’t said before.  Several of our selections this year were played by women over 50.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2018:

Enfys Nest (Solo: A Star Wars Story).  For the first half of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Enfys Nest was the leader of a band of pirates, a character as cool and ruthless as anyone Han Solo ever faced.  But once she took off her mask,  it became clear how important she was, how significant her mission was–even more so than Han Solo’s own pursuit of mere wealth.  She foreshadowed what Han would later find with Leia, an early glimpse at a rogue and scoundrel who actually had some good in him.  When they joined forces, it made their characters even better.  And she became one of the best warriors in the Star Wars universe since the original trilogy.  (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Okoye (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War).  Is there any woman warrior as powerful and impressive in a fantasy movie this year as Danai Gurira’s Okoye?  We can’t think of any.  A smart commander, a brave soldier, a loyal ally.  Stalwart, devoted, steadfast, strong physically, intimidating and wise, with a keen unwavering ferocity, she represented the best of Wakanda, and fought bravely to defend the world at the last stand against Thanos.  (Disney/Marvel)

Higgins (Magnum PI).  Few television characters are as beloved as Jonathan Higgins in the original Magnum, p.i.  So it was going to be risky having any actor step into the role John Hillerman made famous.  So when the show honored the original character and late actor with such a finely tuned, updated character and actor, we took notice.  Perdita Weeks’s Juliet Higgins is everything Robin Masters was–the character we all thought Higgins was in secret.  We don’t know whether we’ll learn the truth this time around and what that truth will be, but as an ex-British secret service agent, she’s a James Bond for Thomas Magnum to partner with–literally running alongside the show’s star and fighting and shooting her way as an equal.  And the result?  Every episode of the first season was full of great action and fun.  (CBS)
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Lionsgate released its first trailer this week for the reboot of Hellboy, a holiday gift for fans of Mike Mignola‘s character and his various Dark Horse Comics series and previous films.

The new Hellboy is played by Stranger Things’ star David Harbour, and his appearance and delivery are surprisingly different than that of Ron Perlman’s version of the character, despite the similar makeup and costume.  The entire trailer also does not have the nicely creepy, dark and brooding feel from Guillermo del Toro’s original from 15 years ago, opting instead to be brighter and have more of a comic book vibe.  Maybe it’s the use of Mony Mony as the song backing the preview?  This story is expected to be adapted from Mignola stories Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt, and The Storm and the Fury.  Despite the brighter look, the head splatter and gore seal the deal with this new film scoring an R rating.

Hellboy stars Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, Resident Evil), Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean, John Wick), Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-O), Sasha Lane, and Thomas Haden Church (John Carter, Tombstone) as Lobster Johnson.

Check out this first trailer for the new Hellboy:

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Still aren’t in the Christmas spirit yet?  With no Christmas day episode of Doctor Who this year, Netflix is filling in the gap with an episode of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina called “A Midwinter’s Tale,” another solid episode of the series taking the story forward where the first season left off, and delving into some classic tropes of American and Victorian Christmas lore.  It’s all with the twist of the darker, horror-infused world of the show, but as Miranda Otto’s character Aunt Zelda says, “Christmas is the best time for ghost stories.”  See A Christmas Carol, as an example.

Plenty of Christmas episodes of past genre television series are available right now, most via services you may already subscribe to, others for a few dollars (and some you may find free to watch on YouTube).  How about starting with the unofficial sequel to Die Hard and Die Hard 2 starring Reginald VelJohnson (Ghostbusters, Tron: Uprising) in his third appearance as Sgt. Al Powell?  He’s one of several actors guest starring in a trilogy of Christmas episodes of Chuck, available on Amazon Prime.  First is “Chuck vs. the Crown Vic,” then VelJohnson and Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead) in “Chuck vs. Santa Claus,” rounded out with Brandon Routh (Superman Returns, Arrow) and Stan Lee in an early cameo as himself in “Chuck vs. the Santa Suit.”  But be careful, you may end up getting sucked into the rest of the series, starring Zachary Levi (Shazam!, Psych the Movie, Thor: Ragnarok), Yvonne Strahovski (The Predator, The Handmaid’s Tale), and Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Leverage, Castle).

In the same vein as Sabrina, check out Grimm with Christmas episodes “Twelve Days of Krampus” and “The Grimm Who Stole Christmas,” both available on Amazon Prime.  “Twelve Days of Krampus” provides one of the best illustrations of Krampus, the folkloric character who has been a subject of this time of year for more than 2,000 years.  Ever get coal in your stocking?  Learn more here.  And you’ll find some familiarity with the critters in “The Grimm Who Stole Christmas” as the new Sabrina episode.  Each of these Grimm episodes is among the best of Christmas episodes, and overall great episodes of the series.  And if paranormal shows are your thing, don’t forget the Supernatural episode, “A Very Supernatural Christmas.”  Catch it on Netflix.  The Winchester Brothers pursue some pagan gods at Christmastime, revisit their own Christmas past, and try to share a Christmas together as only they could.

That brings us to six classic Christmas episodes.  How about six more?

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After seeing Jim Henson and Frank Oz‘s The Dark Crystal return to theaters last winter for its 35th anniversary, we were reminded why this movie kept up its status as the best live-action, high-fantasy film for two decades–until the arrival of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings series.  The set for Aughra’s beautiful pinnacle of all set pieces–the location of that mechanical wonder called the Orrery–showcases a fantasy creation that has yet to be surpassed in any film.  We first mentioned Netflix green-lighting the return of The Dark Crystal universe last year here at borg, as the studio began work on the ten episode series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.  No other news has surfaced publicly about the series until this week.  We now have the first three images of the three lead character Gelflings, and an award-winning roster of voice actors.  And good news for The Dark Crystal fans: Aughra will be returning, voiced by Donna Kimball (Community).

Taron Egerton (Robin Hood, Eddie the Eagle, Kingsman series) will be playing the voice of Rian (below, left), Natalie Emmanuel is the voice of Deet (below, right), and Anya Taylor-Joy is the voice of Brea (above)–making up the trio to lead the film.  Other Gelflings will be voiced by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider, Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter series), Emmy winner Eddie Izzard (Valkyrie, The Riches, Treasure Island), BAFTA nominee Mark Strong (Shazam!, Green Lantern, Kick-Ass, Kingsman series), Golden Globe nominee Toby Jones (Doctor Who, Harry Potter series, Marvel movies, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), Golden Globe nominee Caitriona Balfe (Super 8, Outlander), plus Natalie Dormer (The Hunger Games series, Captain America: The First Avenger), Shazad Latif (The Commuter, Black Mirror, Star Trek Discovery), and Theo James (Underworld series).

And it doesn’t stop there.  Voicing the Skeksis and urRu (or “Mystics”) are BAFTA winner Mark Hamill (Star Wars, The Flash, and Kingsman series, Batman animated series),Golden Globe nominee Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter series, Star Wars Rebels, Star Trek Discovery), BAFTA nominee Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Star Wars series), Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key (The Predator, Tomorrowland),  Emmy nominee Harvey Fierstein (Hercules, Independence Day), Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (The BFG), Ralph Ineson (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, Kingsman, and Harry Potter series), and Golden Globe winner Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live).  Other voice roles will be performed by the puppet actors.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As a high schooler who wasn’t a gamer, I watched my friends with their stack of books and wondered why the books looked so… corporate.  I knew enough about the basics of Dungeons & Dragons, and knew the focus on role-playing and imagination, and couldn’t see why players didn’t use some kind of fantasy covers, like poster art from Dragonslayer or The Dark Crystal.  Wandering a Borders or Barnes and Noble bookstore more than 15 years ago, I thought the faux leather and metal locks-and-hinge look from the 3.5 Edition was what I had expected for an in-universe look of a game that was about bringing players inside a new world.  Wizards of the Coast stepped into a different flavor of that theme with its variant series of books for the 5th Edition, and the result has been pretty stunning.

The variants Wizards of the Coast chose were created by Hydro74.  That’s the alias of artist Joshua M. Smith, whose artwork often reflects a unique style that pulls together the bright-on-black contrasts of 1970s black velvet posters, magical stylized creatures, and eye-popping foil-embossed, metallic inks.  In a series where magic is key, the selection of Hydro74 for the 5th Edition special variant covers was a great choice.

Wizards of the Coast has been slowly releasing the variants beginning late 2016 with Hydro74 covers on special editions of Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and continuing with Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, this year’s history of D&D: Art & Arcana, and a stylized D&D ampersand dragon used for other covers and poster art that began as a cover for Dragon+ magazine in 2015.  But now the publisher has created a one-stop ultimate collection of special covers for the key 5th Edition books released before the other Hydro74 covers became the theme, in the Special Edition Core Rulebooks Gift Set.  The set includes Hydro74 cover versions for the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Monster Manual, and the Player’s Handbook, and a sturdy storage box and screen–both decorated with shiny red and gold embossed dragon imagery.  If you haven’t picked up the core rulebooks for the 5th Edition yet and you’ve been thinking about diving in, this is the place to start.

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Warner Brothers released a great new trailer for the next Godzilla movie this week–Godzilla: King of the Monsters–and followed up with posters featuring clear images of Godzilla’s three gigantic foes–the “Titans.”  Directed by Michael Dougherty (X-Men 2, Superman Returns, X-Men: Apocalypse), the film stars Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Sally Hawkins, CCH Pounder, David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford, and Ziyi Zhang.

The new story follows a secret agency called Monarch as humanity faces off against the classic monster foes of Godzilla’s past–myths in the new story, which come to life, meaning certain doom for humanity.  Godzilla will face Titans Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah.  These are monsters that first saw the screen in Japanese films more than 50 years ago.

Who will win?

  

All of the original monsters can be seen beginning Saturday, December 22, on the El Rey Network’s Kaiju Christmas Marathon, screening 13 classic films including all four of these Titans.

Take a look at the new posters and these trailers for the film Godzilla: King of the Monsters:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The classic wartime strategy board game is back, but this time with the strangest update yet.  It’s Axis & Allies & Zombies.  Just released, the game is playable as a standalone game featuring a 1941 scenario, and if you’re a fan of the original and think you’ve exhausted all the scenarios under past editions, you’ll love the included new rule modifications for the 1942 Edition of Axis & Allies.  It’s a great way to reinvigorate your game play (even if zombies aren’t your thing).  Why?  At its core, Axis & Allies is a heavily dice-driven game.  The update really offers some random changes in circumstances thrown at you as you defend the Americans, the Soviets, the British, the Germans, or the Japanese, in an alternate universe battle to win World War II (we reviewed the new Axis & Allies 1942 Edition last year here at borg).  If you love the zombie genre, even better, as no other game will give you this kind of real-world zombie battle, outside maybe your town’s annual zombie run.

Everything you need to play the game under the 1941 Zombie rules–the standalone game–are included in Axis & Allies & Zombies.  Blood-spattered money (Industrial Production Credits), a stained deluxe game board, six new zombie game dice, ghostly zombie characters, new zombie control markers, a set of 60 zombies (plus an 86-card expansion deck for the 1942 Edition), and all the game pieces from the original game are included here.  A big difference is this game can be played on a standard card table as opposed to the 1942 game board which requires far more space to play–this edition of the game includes a smaller game board than the original, but it still has plenty of room for play.

Zombies are created whenever a nation’s infantry unit is destroyed or via a directive from a zombie card drawn during each turn.  Every zombie gets to attack in each round.  Even neutral territories have gameplay–as a “Desperate Times” zombie card may indicate zombie infiltration via those locations, unlike their lack of utility in the classic game.  Optional play of “Desperate Measures” rules can result in good or bad actions, like the ability to use newly conceived anti-zombie technology.  And don’t expect an air attack by zombies.  Why?  Zombies can’t fly airplanes (of course!).  You also can’t deny the cool factor of another new feature–Chainsaw Tanks.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With classic stories for kids dating back to as early as 1982, a new book collects twenty-nine storybooks in all from Sesame Street Christmases past.  Sesame Street Christmas Treasury features many long out-of-print storybooks, including some older Little Golden Book titles reprinted in a larger format for the first time.  Colorful, cheery, and full of positive messages for kids from 4 to 8 years old (and everyone else who still loves the Sesame Street characters), it’s a great last-minute gift idea for your younger kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews.

Whether your favorite character is Grover, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Bert & Ernie, The CountSnuffleupagus, Oscar the Grouch, Abby, Zoe, or Elmo–and better yet if you love them all–you’ll have plenty of stories to read to your kids to last the holidays and beyond.  If you’re hunting a specific out-of-print favorite storybook, check out the listing below of all 29 books included in Sesame Street Christmas Treasury.

High points of the book include reprinted Little Golden Books I Can’t Wait Until Christmas and Big Bird Meets Santa Claus, plus Oscar’s Grouchy Christmas, and A Christmas Story featuring Super Grover.  Christmas Songs from Sesame Street features two-stanza versions of ten classic carols, with images of a variety of characters from the show.  Even more songs can be found throughout the other included stories.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Today is our last day of reviews of the movie tie-in books for the new J.K. Rowling fantasy film Fantastic Beasts:  The Crimes of Grindelwald Rounding out the tie-in books is an exclusive behind the scenes account of the production composed of interviews with cast and crew, plus a new double-sized coloring book of the quality of adult coloring books but suitable for all ages.

In many ways Lights, Camera, Magic! The Making of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is like the souvenir books you’d get to commemorate a special event or show years ago.  It has all the images from the film of the key characters, environments, and scenes.  And it features interviews with all principal cast members except Johnny Depp.  Elaborating on the motivations behind scenes, scope, and decisions made for the film are screenplay writer J.K. Rowling, director David Yates, producer David Heyman, graphic designers Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, production designer Stuart Craig, art director Martin Foley, costume designer Colleen Atwood, hair and makeup artist Fae Hammond, set decorator Anna Pinnock, concept artist Dermot Power, prop designer Pierre Bohanna, and visual effects supervisors Tim Burke and Christian Manz.  The book also features a foreword by star Eddie Redmayne.  Readers will find more than one photo and section describing scenes that did not make the final cut of the film, too (did anyone have any idea Newt wrote a book that was made for a book-signing scene in the film?).

The Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Magical Adventure Coloring Book offers up several scenes from the film, as well as deleted scene images, to color.  The coloring book is in the realm of the more elaborately designed adult coloring books, such as Sherlock and Doctor Who coloring books.  quality artwork and photo-real images that look like the actors being portrayed, not just quick sketches.  You’ll find images of Newt, Dumbledore, Grindelwald, and more characters, plus several beasts inside.

Take a look at these excerpt pages from each book:

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By C.J. Bunce

Of all this year’s books we’ve read and reviewed at borg in 2018, more than 100 all told, we’re hard-pressed to find one that matches the beauty of design in The Archive of Magic – The Film Wizardry of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, a new elaborately designed and detailed look at the film, the story, and the production of the new fantasy film from the mind of J.K. Rowling.  Not only is the photograph reproduction quality superb, every page incorporates the style of the film, created by the very designers who made the images for the film.  That’s MinaLima–the dynamic art duo of Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima–who also designed props for the Harry Potter movies as well as a new series of classic book reprints (reviewed here previously at borg).

Writer/editor Signe Bergstrom provides several textual elements that make The Archive of Magic stand out.  She presents the narrative of the story itself in a way that will help moviegoers understand the sequence of events in the densely packed film.  She also incorporates in-world elements, like examining new characters and story elements, and she steps out of the fantasy and interviews the film’s creative staff, writers, and actors, to provide an in-depth guide through the production.  Readers will find final as-filmed versions of costumes and set production, in contrast with The Art of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, which consists primarily of pre-production concept artwork (see our review here yesterday).

The Archive of Magic takes the paper ephemera book tie-in concept that has exploded in the past three years to another level.  Included are several reproductions of paper props that were key to the story, not merely set dressing, but the book also includes tipped-in reproductions of set dressing, too, created by the artists who made the very props seen in the film–for any past Harry Potter universe film replica props like this would sell for at least $10-20 each.  It begins with a deluxe hardcover, magnetic wraparound cover with gold embossed Art Nouveau designs.  Included are Leta Lestrange’s note she finds in the Ministry Records Room, a 3D-lenticular photo identification card for Newt Scamander, a book mark incorporating Grindelwald’s logo on paper stock like that seen in the film, Credence Barebone’s dual-sided birth certificate, Queenie’s postcard from Tina, the Spellbound magazine that incorrectly reports on a Newt Scamander/Leta Lestrange engagement, Nicolas Flamel’s business card that Dumbledore gives to Newt, Butter Beer logo label stickers, six reproduced newspaper pages, and two folded, full-size circus posters.

Take a look at this book trailer produced by Harper Design, and sixteen interior pages from the book:
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