Category: Movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

The latest Aliens novel will come as a surprise to fans of the Alien franchise and tie-in novels.  More of a video game tie-in than an outer space/sci-fi/horror tale, Aliens: Phalanx finds its confrontation with the gloss black, spike-tailed Xenomorphs on a planet much like audiences saw in the sister series, Predators, where individuals are plucked from across the universe and dropped on an undeveloped planet to survive being hunted by that franchise’s title creatures.  Like something out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, or the tie-in novels for Warcraft, Tomb Raider, or Gears of War, readers meet up with members of a pre-industrial culture fighting for survival.  Aliens: Phalanx arrives in stores everywhere today and is available to order here at Amazon.

Literally a society on the run, locals must strategize their movements to get from place to place, actually living among the Xenomorphs that they not surprisingly refer to as “demons.”  Writer Scott Sigler details in more than 500 pages–the longest Alien tie-in yet–his characters’ journey, all toward the ends of touching back into more of the familiarity of the Alien universe.  The conceit of the films is that humans could stand any chance against the Xenomorphs.  Readers’ suspension of disbelief will be pressed even further here, when those being asked to survive in the tale do not benefit from the full arsenal of Weyland/Yutani’s corporate-backed armament as found in the Aliens movie and prior stories.

Billed as a “medieval” tale, Aliens: Phalanx is probably more about “going medieval,” survival in the modern sense, more than anything that touches on the actual Middle Ages (as a historian I wouldn’t have guessed the Middle Ages presence here over, say, an early North or Latin America construct).  In fact, without the title and cover art, for most of the novel readers wouldn’t know they were reading an Aliens universe story.  The environment, the worldbuilding, the culture, the lack of naming convention all lend the book to have been readily adapted to an alien world of any sci-fi franchise, or even something like Cowboys and Aliens, as the vibe is more something out of S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk–primitive culture but not so primitive antagonists in a horrifying, primal bid for survival.

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Super7, the toy company known for its wide variety of action figure licenses and its retro Kenner style carded, 3.75-inch action figures, greatly surpassed its delivery at last year’s Toy Fair (shown here and here) by bring hundreds of prototype figures, card back mock-ups, and final versions to New York Toy Fair 2020 this past weekend.  More than the typical sneak peek, Super7 previewed a huge variety of action figure cards for its ReAction line, with pre-ordering forecasted for later this year and some items available now here at Amazon.

New action figure licenses at the show include Army of Darkness, An American Werewolf in London, Aliens, Andre the Giant, Back to the Future II, Knight Rider, The Munsters, Archie, Red Dawn, Beavis and Butt-Head, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Son of Frankenstein, Spongebob Squarepants, Halloween II, and a new line of NBA All Stars.  Bands with new figures seen for the first time in the Super7 line include RUN DMC, Notorious B.I.G., and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

Plus past figure lines will see more additions this year.  Those include Universal Studios Monsters, Peanuts, several Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Nightmare Before Christmas, lots of Transformers, Toxic Crusader, Thundercats, Ghost, Misfits, Mars Attacks, Alien, Chucky, and Robocop, and Super7 displayed several final figures this weekend that were previewed last year here at borg, including They Live, Teen Wolf, Major League Baseball All Stars, MLB Mascots, and characters from the Rocky movie series.

Take a look at close-up views of just a sampling of the action figures on display at this year’s event:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Watching the incredible award-winning Netflix series Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the seamless visuals and storytelling can’t prepare viewers for the amount of detailed craftsmanship required to create the series (which was our pick for Best TV Series, Best New Limited TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, and Best TV Soundtrack in our year-end wrap-up last year here at borg).  It was far more involved than any other live-action project, CGI production, or animated series, and that feat is what Daniel Wallace’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance–Inside the Epic Return to Thra is all about.

Like in Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making Solo: A Star Wars Story (a diary of sorts of the making of that film reviewed here), creating this level of rich behind the scenes account for such a complex production benefits from being assembled during the development and execution of the series.  This is a complete story that begins where Caseen Gaines’ compelling The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History (reviewed here) ends, taking readers from 1982 into the development of Thra’s expanded universe of books, comics, and online resources, all waiting to be combined together to inspire and become the Netflix series.

But the biggest thing not found on the screen–the thing that glues together the book and process behind the series–is the imagination, influence, and contributions of Brian Froud.  Readers will find hardly a page of this volume without a key concept design personally envisioned, painted, or sketched by Froud, the visionary behind the look of the original The Dark Crystal film.

And that explains why the series feels so faithful to Henson’s original film.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Only mere seconds into Farmageddonthe next big production from frequent Oscar-winner and stop-motion pioneer Aardman Animations–and viewers will feel the pangs of their favorite classic Steven Spielberg movies, complete with a magical score that has all the beats of a John Williams-esque adventure, thanks to composer Tom Howe.  This is a return to the lovable Aardman underdog Shaun the Sheep, star of several series and films who we last saw on the big screen in 2015’s Shaun the Sheep movie.  But this time our lovable wooly hero encounters an alien visitor and the resulting effort by directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan with writers Jon Brown, Mark Burton, and Nick Park may be Aardman’s most effective, most lovable, and most far-reaching crowd-pleaser to date.  A direct-to-Netflix presentation, it also stands a chance at being a contender for best full-length animated film at next year’s Oscars.

Shaun the Sheep steps in for Spielberg’s Elliott in this modern close encounter with a lovable extra-terrestrial named Lu-la, so adorable that she may even make Baby Yoda go “awww.”  The impeccable stop-motion animation viewers expect from Aardman is here, as well as the cast of endearing anthropomorphic farm animals, but the heartfelt story, unthinkably successful chemistry between clay characters, exquisite visual effects, lighting, and cinematography, and an emotional score make for a triumph of sci-fi and family storytelling, proving a common language is not necessary to understand relationships between someone that might be a bit different.  Here that’s a sheep and an alien, but the story is effective enough that kids (and attentive adults) will apply the message to everyone.  In fact, Aardman proves language isn’t necessary at all–the story is told entirely without spoken English dialogue, relying on expressive visuals, animal voices, and sound effects, making it truly internationally (or intergalactically) enjoyable.

This fun new sci-fi/fantasy adventure begins with a dog guarding his sheep–a motley but crafty band who live at the farm including Shaun–followed by a great homage to Looney Toons classic barnyard antics as the show establishes the farmyard bond between sheep and dog and dog and man.  The man and dog– The Farmer and Bitzer–show Aardman going back to its roots, what first made the filmmaker internationally known through its award-winning shorts.  Wallace and Gromit could be cousins to this man and dog duo, and anchoring the film with the ensemble here again (as with past Shaun stories) instead of going off in a different direction was a wise choice.  It takes a special combination to merge classic animation with expert laugh-out-loud comedy situations, and the creators at Aardman are the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the spirit and creativity of Jim Henson.  The story is sweet and can appeal to a variety of audiences.  The older crowd can try to spot all the influences, and the young at heart can marvel at Farmageddon′s sheer joyous presentation.

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The major toy companies have big plans for New York Toy Fair 2020 this weekend, and already have released marketing information for one of the biggest toy licenses, despite the Skywalker saga ending with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker this past December.  But the Disney+ series has had no problem taking up any slack, thanks to The Mandalorian, universally seen as the most acclaimed and fan-reviewed sci-fi/fantasy series yet–a major rarity in a modern era of snark, trolls, and haters.  Finally, last year’s bizarrely planned drought of available toys featuring The Child, more popularly known by fans as Baby Yoda, will at last be met with a saturation of varieties of the character.  The character will only get more popular and the toys available featuring it are sure to be the major win this year for Disney and Lucasfilm, if not the entire toy industry.  Look for the return of Star Wars: The Clone Wars with a final season on Disney+ to be met with a return of figures and playsets from the animated series.

Getting a jumpstart on the weekend toy show, several of the new toy lines are already available for pre-order focused on The Mandalorian.  We selected what we see as the best of the bunch from the Star Wars previews.  The entirety of the Star Wars licensed products revealed at the show will be even bigger.  Check out images below and links to pre-order at Amazon where available.  As with every annual Toy Fair, just because the toys are announced doesn’t mean you won’t have to wait until next Christmas season to see them in stores.  Ugh!  But some you’ll find are available right now.

So let’s start with The Child.  The big toy will be Hasbro’s The Child Animatronic Edition (shown above), a battery-powered toy with 25+ sounds and movements, including “Force nap,” giggles, sleeping sounds, coos, “Force activation,” and a removable necklace, and fabric robe.  It’s available for pre-order now here for $59.99.  Projected release date is December 15, 2020.  The gamble is getting your order in now versus the possibility of short supplies in December.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You still have a month before visual effects artist-turned director Dave Wilson’s Bloodshot movie arrives as the next cyborg superhero from Marvel Comics to hit the big screen.  But if you want to get a jump on your friends, there’s Bloodshot: The Official Movie Novelization, just released from Titan Books, a  great read for fans of all things borg.  Readers will be pulled inside the story of Ray Garrison, a slain special ops Marine, who is resurrected thanks to Dr. Emil Harting, a (mad?) scientist who is perfecting his use of nanotechnology and cybernetics to create an unstoppable squad of super-soldiers.  Written by Gavin Smith and based on the Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer screenplay, Bloodshot creates the next step in the evolution of cybernetic technology stories that began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, mixing the rage of The Punisher with the impact on the human psyche and dehumanization of turning from man to cyborg, as we’ve seen in stories like RoboCop (who was inspired by Judge Dredd and Marvel’s Rom).

As for the Marvel universe in film, Bloodshot is poised to stack up neatly beside the lab-created Hulk, the merger of body and “something else” of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, the mission and science of Captain America, Wolverine, and Deadpool, the determination of Cable, and it’s a fitting follow-up to the half-man/half-monster movie, Venom.  That’s a lot of Marvel characters with similar struggles, and there are certainly more, Marvel characters with the same vintage of origin story–an unlikely or involuntary super-soldier–so how do you spin this key Marvel trope in a fresh, new way?  As Smith, Wadlow, and Heisserer have done it, you go back to the human condition, and look to what has come before.

Bloodshot reads much like Martin Caidin’s original story of the first modern cyborg in his novel Cyborg, about Steve Austin, the Bionic Man–the Six Million Dollar Man–a military hero brought to death’s door and back via science.  In many ways Bloodshot–the program that pulls in the story’s hero and becomes the name of his new persona–is an update to Cyborg–what you could imagine the Bionic Man reboot with Mark Wahlberg to be like.  And it pulls in good mind-twisting sci-fi elements evoking Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse and Duncan Jones’ Source Code.

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If you didn’t know her before you may have heard her powerful, soulful rendition of The Beatles’ song Yesterday performed with the photo montage memoriam during this year’s Oscar ceremony.  Eighteen-year-old singer Billie Eilish is the latest songwriter/singer whose work will define a James Bond film when No Time to Die debuts in theaters in April.  Eilish is the youngest person and second person ever to win the four main Grammy categories (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best New Artist), and now, co-writing the song with her brother Finneas O’Connell (Glee), Eilish becomes the youngest performer to headline a Bond theme.  The song features guitarist Johnny Marr, with orchestral arrangements by Hans Zimmer and Matt Dunkley.  She’ll perform the song live for the first time at the Brit Awards in London Tuesday.

Compare her No Time to Die (listen to the full song below) to Sam Smith’s Writing’s On the Wall from Spectre and you’ll notice a familiar framework.  Eilish doesn’t have the mature voice of Adele, as demonstrated in her passionate and aching theme to Skyfall.  Eilish opts for cracking whispers over the fuller sound of Bassey or Adele.  But clearly all three of these most recent performers for Bond films borrow something from Bassey’s sultry performances of early Bond themes.  Be sure to listen for musical cues and motifs from familiar Bond themes of years past dotting the background of Eilish’s song.  Note: The version on Eilish’s YouTube page probably doesn’t match what will hopefully be a cleaner, clearer edit used for the expected stylized opening credits sequence in the film–you may need to listen twice to catch all the lyrics, or watch this version with printed lyrics here.

Listen to all the prior Bond themes and watch all the corresponding opening credit sequences at our borg rundown of the themes here.  Then vote in our James Bond Theme Song Poll below for your favorite:

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This week two brief videos will leave most people scratching their heads and asking, “Why bother?”  The first, for The Batman, released by writer-director Matt Reeves (who we hold out hope for because he wrote and directed the great vampire love story Let Me In), is a “camera test,” which appears more like an early lighting and costume test where you can glimpse new bat actor Robert Pattinson in his batsuit.  The second is from Netflix, and it’s an overly long scene of a Russian prison work detail resulting in the appearance of David Harbour as a thinner, gaunt, exhausted Jim Hopper, spoiling any surprise that the character was really killed in the final episode of the last season of Stranger Things (C’mon, you knew he wasn’t going to be dead for long).  Some will applaud one or both.  Others will sneer.  Where will you land?  (Psst.  There’s no wrong answer).

What are these things anyway?  Barely teasers, the purported “camera test” for The Batman is more “trial balloon,” an intentional vehicle for starting buzz, good or bad, so potential audiences get accustomed to yet another revamp of the batsuit and actor.  Literally thousands of podcasters have already manipulated the image of Pattinson in many ways to try to glean something worth discussing (not surprisingly with little to say).  We already knew it takes some effort to find an artist that has drawn Bruce Wayne that in any way resembles the co-star of The Lighthouse, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the Twilight vampire movies.  And–big surprise–David Crossman and Glyn Dillon′s new costume design looks like another batsuit of the sharp-angled, action figure toy variety (toys = sales = more $) instead of something out of the comics pages.  And current movie go-to composer Michael Giacchino offers another repeated bass line with drum set in the background to back it all up.  Our wish?  We just want Warner Bros. to finally get the voice of Batman right and skip that goofy, dry, smoker voice and coughed-out dialogue.  Let’s hear him say, “I’m Batman.”

The Stranger Things video is out there to whet appetites of fans who won’t see the series return for another year.  But did the fans need to know Hopper wasn’t dead before the fourth season was ready to go?  Here’s an idea:  If you’re going to cast against type, as they’ve done for The Batman, why not really have some fun and give us David Harbour as Batman?  Sure, Harbour is playing a Russian superhero in the summer Black Widow movie from Marvel Comics, but audiences won’t care.  Let’s really have some fun.  Or give Pattinson the role of a superhero he really looks like: Wolverine.  They need a new younger actor for the role in the new Marvel Cinematic Universe, right?

Oh, well.  Watch–or don’t–you’re not missing much!  Here are the two brief, too-brief videos for The Batman and Stranger Things:

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No doubt the movies of writer-director Wes Anderson are an acquired taste.  Fortunately he exhibits some variety, as we’ve explored before here at borg.  Whether it’s Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, or Isle of Dogs, at least one of these films will likely appeal to you.  For his next big screen venture, Anderson is taking an anthology angle.  The lengthy-titled The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, or just The French Dispatch, for short, doesn’t need to mention Anderson’s name at all.  It’s instantly recognizable from his framed cinematography, disturbing bland color hues, and fourth-wall breaking stares from its cast.  Yes, there really is a Liberty, Kansas (found in southeast Kansas, population 123).  Purportedly inspired by The New Yorker magazine, the film is actually based in a fictional city in France, and follows media types in the latest look at that self-reflective, stark fantasyland found in many Anderson movies.

The anthology element consists of incorporated story threads centered on characters and “stories” played out by Anderson troupe members Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand, and–new to Anderson-land–Jeffrey Wright.  Other Anderson familiars include Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, and Jason Schwartzman.  Like Woody Allen movies years ago, everyone seems to be flocking to be in the next Anderson picture, so this time that means the likes of Henry Winkler, Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Huston, Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Liev Schreiber, and many more.  Music is by Alexandre Desplat.

Check out this trailer for the expectedly unusual The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For every new movie you watch, you need to go back and see a classic, right?  If The Hunt for Red October is Star Trek in the ocean, then Outland is The Sand Pebbles in outer space.  A predecessor to science fiction staples like Total Recall, Blade Runner, and Firefly, Outland is still one of the best depictions of what life actually may be like working aboard a space vessel, once modern technology figures out how to get past that zero gravity issue.  Isolation rarely has been portrayed as believably as directed here by Peter Hyams (Timecop, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, The Star Chamber, Amazing Stories).  The 1981 Academy Award-nominated classic, Outland is now streaming on Starz, Hulu, Amazon, and Vudu.

Audiences never saw Sean Connery so average as he was playing Marshal William T. O’Niel.  In a very low-key role more frequently seen played by someone like Steve McQueen, Connery is a federal cop in space, assigned to the titanium ore mining outpost Con-Am 27.  He was selected because he was likely to phone in his job, and not ruffle feathers.  But he finds himself when he learns the outpost is a haven for drug smuggling and worse, using drugs to work crews to their deaths, all part of a cover-up.  The film’s own predecessors were any number of cop shows, and it has themes from Westerns, too, especially High Noon, another lone lawman trying to take out a local band of ruffians–and another man with marital problems.  Critics accused the film of being thin, but it’s exactly why the film works so well and holds up well still today.  In many ways the film is better, and even scarier, than Alien and Total Recall, proving you don’t need monsters to be truly alone and unprotected from life-threatening elements in space.

O’Niel’s only help is from Frances Sternhagen (Doc Hollywood, Cheers, The Closer) as Dr. Marian Lazarus, a no-nonsense crewman who is sympathetic to O’Niel as the newbie having to dodge the unfamiliar “way things are done.”  Dr. Lazarus is one of sci-fi’s least known but toughest sci-fi heroines, and her chemistry with Connery as comrade-at-arms is superb.  Another crew member is played by sci-fi and Western veteran James Sikking (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Hill Street Blues, Doogie Howser, MD), who would continue for decades to play similar roles.  And the baddie of the bunch is played by your favorite film Frankenstein, Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein, Johnny Dangerously, The X-Files, Everybody Loves Raymond).

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