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Category: Retro Fix


Review by C.J. Bunce

Like most things about baseball, The Battered Bastards of Baseball reflects as much about an era of American culture, economics, and politics as it tells a wonderfully engrossing story about a brief history of the sport.   Independent baseball–privately-owned teams unaffiliated with the Major League Baseball conglomerate–was a thing of the past when Portland, Oregon’s minor league baseball team the Portland Beavers left town.  It was the early 1970s and Portlanders weren’t spending their time or money on minor league games.  Then enters the well-known TV actor Bing Russell, stepping off his last of 14 seasons on Bonanza where he played a deputy sheriff.  Russell appeared in everything back then, from Westerns from Wagon Train to Rawhide, and modern fare like The Munsters, The Rockford Files, and The Twilight Zone.  There begins an underdog story, a mix of The Bad News Bears, Necessary Roughness, and Moneyball.

If you’re lucky enough to trip into the Netflix documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball, you’ll wonder where this story is headed.  It’s a brief history of 1970s Portland and national baseball, and then actor/movie star Kurt Russell and his mother Louise Russell begin discussing his father in a typical documentary format.  It turns out father Bing had a life-long affinity for the game, even being part of a significant piece of baseball history as mascot for the New York Yankees, befriending Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, and Lou Gehrig, who gave Bing the bat he used in his last game before retiring.  That love for the game apparently never left Bing, who concocted an idea to bring baseball right back to Portland by taking the entrepreneurial route–forming a pure upstart baseball team to play minor league ball.  Resurrecting the independent team model he would hold an open tryout for the new Portland Mavericks–if you build it they will come.  And they did.  Players rejected from the big leagues, some retired, many with paunches, and pre-movie star Kurt on the team, too, some players older than most teams would favor, and a bunch of hairy-faced guys decades before it became the “in” thing–all would come together to form a motley band of brothers that would earn a crack at the pennant.  With a 30-man roster, and Bing’s personal brand of fun, fans packed the stadium again, the team setting a record for the highest attendance in minor league history, blazing the trail in other ways, naming the first woman general manager in baseball, Lanny Moss.  But like all good things it seems, a villain would enter the picture to wreck it all.

The real deal: Kurt Russell playing in the Minor Leagues with the Portland Mavericks.

With that nostalgic, cheery vibe of Ivan Reitman’s 1970s movie Meatballs or a dialed-back Slap Shot, Bing’s grandsons Chapman Way and Maclain Way splice together both baseball, Hollywood, and Portland nostalgia to assemble a completely engaging, crowd-pleasing story of underdogs and misfits and the pied piper who led them.  If you remember that every baseball stadium in 1970s America–and every grade school–had kids chomping on Big League Chew–you’ll learn that connection to the Mavericks, too.

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“Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law.”

From Metropolis to Rocky IV, and The Worst to Universal Monsters, Robotech, Shogun, Slayer, Street Fighter II, Lucha, and more, one of the most eagerly awaited has been figures for RoboCop Although we’ve seen RoboCop as action figures by the likes of toy companies like NECA and other companies over the past 30 years, the new line previewed at New York Toy Fair 2019 from Super7 also pulls in that throwback toy design fans of Super7’s ReAction action figure line flock toward.  Super7 has now released its final figure and packaging designs for RoboCop, and they look great (except that sculpt for the toxic slug guy looks a lot like Super7’s sculpt for John Matuszak’s character Sloth from The Goonies).

But of any action figure previewed at New York Toy Fair in February and released this year, is there any single figure with more potential for collectors than Super 7’s Jackie Robinson?  It has that trading card quality, with its cardboard backing and its vintage photograph design, plus it’s as American as apple pie as a toy/collectible, crossing over in the collector market between ReAction retro figure fans and baseball fans.  And the entire Classic All-Stars line is superb.  The other figures in the first group available measure up with Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Juan Marichal, Carlton Fisk, and Orlando Cepeda–plus the first of the mascots in the toy series, from the Philadelphia Phillies.  You can pre-order any or all now at Entertainment Earth (links embedded in names above).  And if Super7 doesn’t get to your favorite player, these will be easy to paint and modify for your team–just like you may have painted the classic electric football player pieces of years ago.

The other line of figures with potential is the classic Peanuts characters in the ReAction format, featuring two Charlie Browns, Linus, Lucy, Sally, Schroeder, and, of course, Snoopy.  These are based on Charles Schulz′s original strips, and have a look that bridges the Funko Pop! and the classic Kenner retro figure sizing and packaging.

Here are images of these three lines and first phases of designs released:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Actor Vic Mignogna, who has played Star Trek’s Captain Kirk on the fan-made series Star Trek Continues, has taken on an enormous task in his latest project, narrating the mammoth behind-the-scenes look at classic television and creator/producer Gene Roddenberry in an audio play adaptation of the Saturn Award-winning These Are the Voyages–ST: TOS Season One–nearly 29 hours in all.  Master researcher and TV historian Marc Cushman has meticulously crafted several volumes detailing the Golden Age of Television, including four volumes (and fifth on the way) of Star Trek history.  With the new audiobook, Cushman has assembled nearly 100 voice actors, including several Star Trek insiders quoted in the book, who returned to voice their contributions from Cushman’s first book in his series.  Among the voices you’ll hear writer Dorothy Fontana, writer Ronald D. Moore, actor Clint Howard, casting director Joe D’Agosta, actor Sean Kenney, and director Ralph Senensky, plus sons of Leonard Nimoy (Adam) and James Doohan (Chris) voicing their fathers’ quoted material, and other surprises, like Mythbusters co-host and Star Trek Continues actor Grant Imahara as the voice of George Takei.  The result is a fantastic way to kick back and enjoy the long-lost past and inner-workings of your favorite 1960s sci-fi series.

Marc Cushman’s adaptation of his own work, with Susan Osborn, smartly distills his lengthy first volume into the key narrative elements–Gene Roddenberry’s arrival in Hollywood, the development of Star Trek, Roddenberry’s assemblage of creators, directors, producers, writers, and actors for his series, and the episode by episode chronicle of the ups and downs of season one.  Mignogna is a fantastic choice to walk the audience along, a mix of 1930s radioplay storyteller and Ken Burns’ award-winning series of documentaries.  For anyone afraid of embarking on a lengthy 658-page non-fiction book, this is your answer.

Actor Vic Mignogna with Star Trek repeat guest actor Clint Howard.

Voice actor Ralph Miller really nails the talkative and often irritable Gene Roddenberry.  The less-known players in the story often provide the most interesting performances, men and women reproducing 1960s inflections and accents in a myriad of types believably well.  The dialogue in the book has a more lively feel and effect when spoken.  As an example, Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies’ discussions (originally via written correspondence) over details of military components to be incorporated into the series sets provides for some humor in the drama.  Listeners will really get a good picture of these two negotiating over who was better able to sign-off on the look of the practical, visual bits of the series.  And the production values are spot on–These Are the Voyages–ST: TOS Season One is a well-produced, entertaining work full of trivia for Star Trek fans and classic TV buffs, presented in an unusual, unexpected way.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not an overstatement to say Francesco Francavilla is the artist who brought Archie Comics back to life.  At the very least he has turned a new generation of readers onto one of comicdom’s longest lasting titles.  Along with Jon Goldwater and Alex Segura behind the scenes and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and later artist Robert Hack in the pages of the monthly books, it was Francavilla’s haunting, brand new look at Riverdale and its teen characters that kick-started reader interest in new titles and take another look at the classic stories, the ones with the traditional Dan DeCarlo look that 70 years of readers were familiar with.  Francavilla, the Eisner Award-winning cover artist, is the focus of a new hardcover book Archie Comics is premiering this Wednesday.  Featuring all of his Archie Comics standard covers and variants, plus selected interior artwork and cover artwork for books outside the Archie universe, The Archie Art of Francesco Francavilla is a must for collectors of his books and neo-pulp styled art prints.

In part because of his use of fantastic colors for his imagery, his designs seem to pop on every page.  You’ll find his several covers for Afterlife with Archie, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vampironica, Jughead the Hunger, Archie Meets Batman, Archie vs Sharknado, Archie vs Predator, Chilling Adventures in Sorcery, Riverdale, Life with Archie, Archie, Jughead, Betty & Veronica, and Josie and the Pussycats.  Other pages highlight Francavilla’s style on the covers of New Crusaders, The Black Hood, and The Hangman.  The Archie Art of Francesco Francavilla also includes some cover and page roughs–preliminary sketches used for approval and story breaking, all shown along with the final versions.  You’ll also find exclusive cover art from convention-only covers and other variants.

Woule we have a Riverdale television series if not for Francavilla’s darker look at Archie?  Probably not.  Here is a first look at some advance preview pages of The Archie Art of Francesco Francavilla for borg readers courtesy of Archie Comics:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If there is a bigger Trivial Pursuit fan I don’t know who it is.  Whether it was the classic 1981 Genus Edition, the 1983 Silver Screen edition, the 1984 Genus II edition, the 1989 1980s edition, the 1992 10th Anniversary Edition, the 1994 Genus III, the 1996 Genus IV, or 1998 Millennium Edition, or the dozens of tie-ins and card deck supplements since, you can pretty much count me in anytime.  But the latest may be the most fun yet.  Adding to the Stranger Things season three Hasbro Gaming tie-ins Dungeons & Dragons, Monopoly, Ouija board, Screen Test, and an Eggo card game is an all-new throwback 1980s version of Trivial Pursuit I thought I was a Trivial Pursuit purist, but the new Stranger Things Back to the ’80s Trivial Pursuit convinced me that the classic game had some problems and they’ve now been fixed.

The questions come from movies, TV, music, people, events, technology, fashion, sports, and more, and that classic orange sports/wild card category is now questions about your knowledge of the Stranger Things universe.  Don’t worry, that last category will be easy to dodge for anyone at the game table not familiar with the series, but new rules and gameplay also make it possible to give anyone a leg up toward an ultimate win.  “Roll again” spaces are gone, meaning there’s more time answering questions and less time rolling multiple times per turn.  You still need six wedges to win, but you no longer need a pie wedge from each category, so the game time is shorter.  If you aren’t a pro in any given category, you’re also no longer hamstringed into riding out a losing game because of the new “walkie talkie a friend” feature.  As with the Who Wants to be a Millionaire gameshow concept, so long as you’re not playing in Upside Down mode, you can enlist a helper, and if you win, share the spoils with a pie wedge for both players.

 

The Upside Down is an easy, clever board add-on that allows the entire board to be switched from real world mode to the dark Upside Down the series is famous for.  When you’re in the Upside Down you can lose pie wedges by answering incorrectly, and you can’t ask a friend for help.  It fits the Stranger Things story, and it further helps level the playing field among a diverse group of players.

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We previewed Amazon Prime’s first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle here back in February.  Now we have a peek at an opening scene from the first episode of season four.  Last year’s finale for the season, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV here at borg, featured a 1960s sci-fi scene with its own version of “stranger things.”  An experiment led by an alternate history Josef Mengele, who could forever imprint a Nazi-won World War II on any and all timelines led to the Liberty Bell melted down and the Statue of Liberty destroyed, last seen falling into New York Harbor.  With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and viewers were left with series lead Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana seemingly understanding how to phase-travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Tagomi had done.

Luke Kleintank’s Joe Blake and Rupert Evans’ Frank Frink were cast out of the story, as Jason O’Mara’s Wyatt Price stepped in to fill the void.  Helen and her girls have left Rufus Sewell’s John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for much more in this coming season.

What is this mysterious relationship in another timeline between Juliana and John Smith?  Check out this first look at an opening scene showcasing these characters in season four, the final season, of The Man in the High Castle:

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It looks entirely like an experimental expressionistic film, something created by an aspiring filmmaker in film school, maybe an ambitious effort to create something historical and strange like Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.  Is production and costume designer-turned-director Robert EggersThe Lighthouse simply a horror movie about two lighthouse keepers or can we hope for something bigger, more of metaphor and allegory?  Shot in black and white 35mm film, the initial appeal is for anyone fond of classic black and white Gothic horror It’s billed as psychological horror, but will it feature psychological horrors of today or stick with more reserved terrors that reflect its more tempting, classic appearance?

The Lighthouse stars character actor Willem Dafoe, and co-stars Robert Pattinson in his most public role since the announcement he will don the cowl and cape in a forthcoming Batman movie.  Remember Michael Keaton releasing Beetlejuice, Clean and Sober, and The Dream Team with the new acting range spin to get us prepared to see him on the big screen as the dark knight detective?  Genre niche popularity of the Twilight series and his brief stint in the Harry Potter franchise aside, Pattinson hasn’t had the universal appeal and popularity Keaton had with Night Shift and Mr. Mom, making him a household name.  Can he convince fanboys and fangirls he has what it takes?  Can audiences push the future aside and appreciate The Lighthouse for whatever Eggers is trying to do?

As for Eggers, who co-wrote the story with brother Max, this is his second film after the Anya Taylor-Joy vehicle The Witch.  Here he’s trying that tried and re-tried convention of bringing black and white films to modern audiences.  It often works, as it did with popular and critical success for Paper Moon, Young Frankenstein, Raging Bull, Dead Again, Schindler’s List, The Artist, Logan Noir, and Roma.

Take a look at this nicely moody trailer for The Lighthouse:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With costumes designed by Anna B. Sheppard, the designer for Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers, Inglourious Basterds, and Captain America: The First Avenger, you know your World War II movie is in good hands.

The first ninety minutes of Overlord is the stuff of the classic World War II movie.  Think Guns of Navarone or Von Ryan’s Express or a later film, Force 10 From Navarone.  It’s also modern in the way of Inglourious Basterds, but that movie if it had been filmed by John Carpenter, complete with special effects from The Thing and action from They Live.  It also co-stars Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt Russell (also Goldie Hawn’s son) as the tough and confident Corporal Ford, a John Wayne role like he plays like he’s been making movies for 40 years.  If that isn’t enough to go out and get your hands on Overlord, I don’t know what you could want.

It begins with a paratrooper drop, filmed believably, like Memphis Belle, but with the action of Edge of Tomorrow.  The first 40 minutes follows British actor Jovan Adepo as American soldier Private Boyce, a nice, naïve kid drafted recently and dropped into harm’s way behind enemy lines in France the day before D-Day.  Like Starship Troopers and Edge of Tomorrow, this is 100% authentic war, look and feel, and we follow Ford and boyce and their squad from the air on down to the gates of a town where they hide out and plan to blow up a German radio tower.  Despite J.J. Abrams producing this film and hints to the contrary, don’t expect aliens or zombies–this is not a secret Cloverfield 4.  What Boyce, Ford, & Co. find is a lab beneath the tower where the Germans are conducting experiments on the local French villagers and their own men.  It’s here where the story takes a turn for the weird.

The first 90 minutes are brilliant, face-paced, heart-pounding, nail-biting stuff.  Young director Julius Avery and writer Billy Ray pursue the lore of the German experiments toward a the creation of a “superman” or “super soldier” and what that might be like.  To their credit, they approach this like the Korean series Kingdom, which looked to a virus as the creation of a village of zombie-like villagers.  Here Avery and Ray look to twisted science as well, but they add in a bit of a fountain of youth element as part of the creation of these soldiers.  Spoiler:  They don’t all turn out exactly as planned by the Germans.

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Before Walter Simonson and Tom Palmer collaborated on their stunning adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back, they joined forces to create a great run of stories in the pages of Marvel Comics’ original Star Wars monthly, featuring two of the most famous borgs of all time, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.  By some kind of miracle the original page art from the 1980s was located to come together for IDW Publishing′s sixty-third Art Edition publication.  Boasting the 1:1 scale, original comic page art sized, pages in a deluxe hardcover edition, this is another of those books Star Wars fans have always dreamed of.

Just as we saw with Howard Chaykin and Roy Thomas’s earlier Art Edition for Star Wars (reviewed here at borg), Walter Simonson Star Wars Artist’s Edition presents high-quality copies of the original page art.  Unlike many past Artist’s Editions, however, the entire lettering and logos are all present, so readers can re-visit the entire issues (minus ads) for Issue #51 “Resurrection of Evil,” Issue #52 “To Take the Tarkin,” Issue #55 “Plif!,” issue #56 “Coffin in the Clouds,” Issue #57 “Hello, Bespin, Good-Bye!,” and Issue #60 “Shira’s Story,” all written by long-time The Amazing Spider-Man and Action Comics writer and Venom, Carnage, and Scott Lang Ant-Man character creator David Michelinie, with lettering by Joe Rosen and John Morelli.

Take a look at the original inked artwork in these stunning preview pages of Walter Simonson Star Wars Artist’s Edition presented for borg readers courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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A foreword to Dylan Struzan′s new book A Bloody Business notes that it “isn’t purely fiction.”  In Struzan’s introduction, she remarks, “What I’m about to tell you, I heard mostly from Jimmy Alo… This is the story of Meyer Lansky and the beginning of organized crime.  I’m telling it to you the way Jimmy told me.  I’m telling you this up front so you won’t be surprised later on.  You be the judge of whether or not it’s bullshit.”  And therein lies the rub.  Is this even a novel, or is it non-fiction?  A Bloody Business is a painstaking, excruciatingly detailed account of a decade of organized crime kingpins Lansky and Charlie “Lucky” Luciano–640 pages of dialogue and set-ups for dialogue, so the reader’s inner ear can hear the account as actors might recite lines in a 1930s mobster movie.

The book is based on 50 hours of discussions Struzan had with Jimmy Alo, a kid at 15 when he started working deep inside a life in the crime world with the key players in the book (he was well-known in his day, and the basis for the character Johnny Ola in The Godfather, Part II).  Alo told Struzan the stories in the book beginning when he was 91 years old, with the understanding she would only write the book after he died.  It’s written as fact, and if it had footnotes with citations to authority or other substantiation, then the book would be far more effective.  As written it provides great color for the times, connecting the constellation of events that led to the era, and for anyone writing their own 1920s-1930s fiction the book would be immensely useful.  It would also be a good study piece for diehard historians specializing in the era–they are best positioned to pick and choose the fact from the fiction.  For everyone else there’s a “take our word for it, or don’t” quality.  Without further research by the average reader, and without elaboration on the context for the events of each chapter, the book may be a struggle.

 

For many the best reason to get A Bloody Business will be the artwork.  Dylan Struzan is the wife of Drew Struzan, the world-famous movie poster artist, and here he partnered with his wife on her first book to supply 25 (including the cover) original poster-worthy illustrations featuring 1920-1933 crime figures including Lansky, Luciano, Al Capone, and contemporaries like Mae West, the Marx Brothers, and Duke Ellington.  A color version of this hardcover edition would have been welcome by fans of the artist (see our discussion of Struzan before here and here), known for the original movie posters for major films including Star Wars and Back to the Future.

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