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Review by C.J. Bunce

The next level of books on film animation is here.  But Klaus: The Art of the Movie, a behind the scenes look at the new Christmas movie from Netflix, doesn’t dig into the next advances of CG-animation.  Instead you’ll find a story about a group of creators wanting to advance the style of animation before the advent of CGI.  And that’s what they did, finding new ways to take hand-drawn animation forward in a way that will appear just as exciting and new to movie audiences.

Written by Ramin Zahed, Klaus: The Art of the Movie is a peek inside the mind of long-time animator Sergio Pablos, who has worked on his share of popular animated movies that have taken a more typical approach to the modern animated movie, as co-creator of Despicable Me, in addition to serving as animator on Disney movies like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Tarzan, and Treasure Planet, plus more modern films like Rio and Smallfoot.  This book is the next step for students of animation techniques, following in a long line of movies whose behind-the-scenes accounts have been reviewed previously here at borg, like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse–The Art of the Movie, The Art of Ferdinand, Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie, Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films, Jonny Quest Speaks, Harryhausen: The Lost Movies, and Special Effects: The History and Technique.

Although you may be distracted from the background details by the stunning, innovative use of light and shadow in Klaus, this book features dozens of double-page artworks that allow you to take your time, marveling over the techniques used to create everything from snowy peaks to old, dusty floorboards.  It’s then that you see the influence of the styles of Christmas classics from Rankin & Bass and early Walt Disney Studios on the artists that worked on the film.  With decisions like having animal characters act like real animals instead of the typical talking comedy foil, stark contrasts in the direction of the story’s various environments, and vivid color choices, all the key production creators are able to point to what specifically sets their movie apart.

Here is a look inside Klaus: The Art of the Movie:

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Ok, I confess: I’ve never been a big fan of the movie Clue.  It took the smart, suspenseful, iconic game of my childhood and turned it into a silly farce, disregarding the beautiful conventions of the color-coded characters, and making the measured, thoughtful play a frantic slapstick comedy.  Clue (originally called Cluedo in Britain) is about mystery and deduction and the Golden Age of British country house mysteries.  Well, Diana Peterfreund has restored my faith in the franchise, and channeled a bit of classic Christopher Pike in the mix!  Her new release In the Hall with the Knife: A Clue Mystery, the first novel from the Clue franchise (Hasbro and IDW introduced comic book versions in 2017 and 2019), reimagines the characters and game play in a contemporary New England boarding school.  Six students are stranded in a spooky Victorian mansion-turned-dorm when their remote, coastal village is besieged by a freak winter ice storm.  The campus is flooded, power, phones, and internet are down—and somebody has it in for Headmaster Boddy, the school’s beloved principal.

Is it blue-haired Beth “Peacock” Picach, the school’s perpetually angry tennis star?  Or maybe brooding townie Vaughn Green?  What about the school’s “power couple,” ambitious geniuses Scarlett Mistry and Phineas Plum?  New kid Mustard, just transferred in from a military academy?  Even sweet, bookish Orchid McKee has her secrets… and Peterfreund slowly doles them out, keeping the pacing taut and the plot clipping along until the Big Reveal.

Like the classic gameplay, each character takes a turn, in alternating, third person point-of-view chapters.  Like the game, they all suspect each other, pointing their fingers as the story goes on.  Rooms are explored, secret passages revealed, familiar weapons appear in characters’ hands… and the ultimate culprit is finally exposed.  Peterfreund gives the reader enough clues to play along and solve the mystery with (or slightly before) the characters.  And just like the game itself, the worldbuilding, scene setting, and backstory leave you wishing for more of this world and its secrets.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For years it seemed like new Christmas classics were few and far between.  It usually takes some time for a movie to gain “classic” status, and that itself is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.  Early on audiences stamped the label on Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas.  You have your A Charlie Brown Christmas, your How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and a bevy of Rankin & Bass stop-motion animated shows like Frosty the Snowman.  Then more modern fare came along, like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Elf.  Oh, and we can’t forget Die Hard.  All stamped with an anvil as “classics.”  If you want to see more movies from cinema history, check out the Turner Movie Classics book Christmas in the Movies, reviewed last year here at borg.

Putting aside the modern made for TV movies, if you’re younger, you may count as a classic something like The Polar Express, with Tom Hanks.  It’s that kind of recent film category where you can add in Netflix’s new movie–its first animated feature, Klaus Both of these movies are animated in interesting ways that will keep you entertained simply from a visual perspective, Klaus from its unique lighting and color choices and a strong Spanish comic art style (as seen in Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy).  They also share a certain traditional storybook look, and their tales also look back to nostalgia for their ideas.  Klaus is another origin story take on Santa Claus.  Audiences have seen this many times, including in the not to be missed films Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (featuring the voices of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, and Keenan Wynn) and in books like L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and more recently, the brilliant Santa: My Life and Times, with artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz (we reviewed it here).

Spain’s Sergio Pablos directed Klaus intentionally stepping away from modern Disney-style CGI animation to traditional hand-drawn art, so it looks more like Disney’s top technical achievement, the Oscar-winning Beauty and the Beast from 1991, and less like The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  The story is cute, and contrasting with the traditional visual style, is the inclusion of humorous dialogue told by voice talents famously known for being snarky.  We follow a postman named Jesper, who couldn’t look or sound more like David Spade, actually voiced by Jason Schwartzman.  Jesper is a non-achiever, and his father sends him to a distant Scandinavian town to learn to be successful at his job.  The town ends up like a lawless town out of the Old West.  His job is to get people to use the mail service again.  Along the way he runs into a Hatfield-McCoy conflict, with one part voiced by Joan Cusack, and an old man with a house full of toys named Klaus, voiced by J.K. Simmons.

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Of all John Carpenter’s films, They Live may be the most riveting.  It’s one of those uses of science fiction to advance social commentary, and it did it like nothing before.  When you think of science fiction movies, the big franchises probably come to mind first, but then there are those gold nuggets that had a mid-level of success that reflect unique, special visions.  Films like Total Recall and They Live built fan followings over time.  Right before They Live star Roddy Piper’s death, he was in discussions to attend a local event, but it wasn’t meant to be.  But 31 years after the film’s release, who wouldn’t be excited for Super7 to get their mitts on the They Live license for some retro Kenner-style action figures?

We first previewed the cards for the figures coming out of this year’s New York Toy Fair.  The slated figures were for Roddy’s lead badass and a male and female alien (the movie and Super7 call them ghouls, but we all know they were aliens).  The figure of Roddy was destined to be one of the coolest figures ever, based on the great prototype displayed at Toy Fair.  Unfortunately, the incredible sculpt for the Roddy Piper figure (his character was called Nada) didn’t make it to the production stage for failure to secure the image or similar rights and so the two alien figures are the totality of what is being released for the film.  (Keith David’s character Frank would have made a great figure, too).

Roddy Piper’s Nada prototype figure from Super7 would have included his sunglasses and three weapons as accessories, but no bubblegum.

In the film, aliens have arrived and coerce some humans to sell out–to allow the aliens to dig their claws into society and take over. A small group has discovered the truth, and its band of resistance fighters uses specially developed sunglasses and contact lenses to identify the aliens among us. The show’s heroes acquire the glasses and learn that it’s not only the people hiding secrets, but an entire world of subliminal messaging has lulled the bulk of society into complacency.

This week Super7 previewed a variant for the male “ghoul” (which may be available for a single or both of the “ghoul” figures, but we’ve only seen the male so far).  And its packaging may be Super7’s best retro “ReAction” packaging yet.  So what’s so great about the variant figure?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One stylistic feature stands out in TKO Studios′ second wave of comic book titles released this month: Although each series is available in a comic book format, the stories read like graphic novels, as if the need to have the six chapter breaks is only an excuse to have an attractive corresponding cover.  It’s not a bad thing.  In fact, with frequent two-issue arcs and eight-issue, ten-issue, or even more issues in a complete story like you’d find in traditional publishing, the six-issue template is easy to get accustomed to.  Readers may notice this the most in The Banks, a crime story that spans three generations of an African-American family of thieves in Chicago, written by Roxane Gay (Black Panther: World of Wakanda), with artwork by Ming Doyle (The Kitchen), and colors by Jordie Bellaire (Hawkeye, The Wake).

Evenly paced with not a lot of spikes of action in each issue/chapter, The Banks is a quiet tale–a character study of different personalities reacting to a new opportunity from different points of view.  Celia is the thirty-something straight shooter who, despite her best efforts, can’t break through the glass ceiling at her supposedly legit career job.  Her grandfather was a well-known ex-con, but it turns out so was her grandmother and mother.  So when Celia is passed over for promotion again, she decides following in the family business is worth a try.

  

The challenge of the story for the comic book format is that the story requires a lot of conversations between characters, and not a lot of set pieces.  Without the typical comic book theatrics, exotic locations, and choreographed action scenes, this feels more like a novel that happens to be told in a visual format.  The story is a good one–this has a Luke Cage vibe and is structured like the recent Shaft movie featuring three generation of men in the Shaft family (made famous originally in the 1970s movie).  You may find yourself casting the characters with actors for the TV version the publisher no doubt hopes to net from at least one of these new titles (think Pam Grier, Rosario Dawson, Simone Missick, and Nicole Beharie or Tessa Thompson).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

How often does a television series stay powerfully compelling for the entirety of its run?  Most series, especially science fiction series, have a freshman and sophomore season full of bad episodes and clunky storylines.  With a fourth season now one for the books, Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle is the exception, and nothing short of cinema magic that the final season of the series didn’t miss a beat in its final ten episodes.  The series has been a slow burn from the first season, but if you enjoy the idea of an alternate universe that doubles as an alternate history story–and nobody made them better than author Philip K. Dick–then this is the series for you, waiting for you to stream its 40 episodes right now.  It all began with a first-rate pilot (first previewed here at borg) set in a gut-wrenching world where the Axis beat the Allies in World War II, created five years ago for Amazon’s first run at a series format.  From the meticulously re-created sets, buildings, landscapes, costumes, props, and vehicles, to a script that may very well reflect the smartest and most tense science fiction ever to hit television sets, The Man in the High Castle proves Amazon Studios can match (and beat) the quality of programming of any of its competitors.

The themes are unfortunately current, grand and weighty like the best science fiction should be, and Santayana’s warning was probably never better illustrated in fiction form, asking the question: Could Nazi leadership of the homegrown American variety be worse than a threat from foreign invaders?  The show also explores other big ideas, like the idea that you may not be the very best possible version of yourself (and what you could do about it).  Most series are top-heavy, relying too much on the lead characters to drive the story.  The writers of The Man in the High Castle took the time to completely flesh out dozens of key supporting characters, each one critical to the story, and all an example of world-building detail that every writer should take notes on.  Every thread they created gets nicely tied up by the final episode.  The very best, most complex and creative character arcs on any series this decade happened here.  And the series’ climactic scene is simply goosebump-inducing.  The pool of candidates for anyone’s best TV actor and actress this year?  They should begin with this series.

Back again is Alexa Davalos as the world-bending, judo teacher-turned resistance strategist.  She was joined by last year’s new suave, rogue soldier, played by Jason O’Mara.  They have the knowledge to potentially save their world and infinite others, but how do they decide what is the right way to do it? Leading the bad guys on the American front again is Rufus Sewell′s Reichsmarshall John Smith, whose performance as the rising Nazi leader is so convincing viewers will never see what’s coming next, and his wife Helen, played by Chelah Horsdal, gets to step into the spotlight in nerve-wracking ways this season.  Joel de la Fuerte, as Japan’s Emperor’s leader in San Francisco, is so versatile he should be the most sought-after actor on the planet.  This year they are joined by new good guys played by Frances Turner and Clé Bennett, who bring a welcome, late-breaking twist to the outcome of the world, plus the return of Quinn Lord as the alt world’s Thomas Smith.  Even the kids playing the daughters–Genea Charpentier and Gracyn Shinyei–are scary good (meriting inclusion on our ever-growing horror film “creepy little girls” list).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Like an episode of Monk or Murder She Wrote, the next film from writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) is a straightforward mystery.  Knives Out comes in on the heels of the similar looking Ready Or Not, and it’s a mash-up of sorts, aiming to have that ensemble cast variety of the last Thanksgiving movie release mystery, Murder on the Orient Express, while trying to bring back the nostalgia of the famous comedy whodunnit movie, Clue.  It’s the 85th birthday of the family patriarch and the families of his three children arrive to celebrate.  The next morning the patriarch is found dead.  Arriving in theaters next week and marketed toward the Thanksgiving holiday crowd, Knives Out turns out to be a mixed bag.

The reason to check it out is as you’d expect: the cast.  The cast choices would be a dream assemblage for any film.  James Bond Daniel Craig facing off against Captain America Chris Evans?  Legend Christopher Plummer delivering a performance as good as his last Oscar-winner?  Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, and Toni Collette playing against type?  And top it off with Don Johnson, poised to have his own career second wind as a leading man.  But the real star performance comes from Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049).  de Armas, a ringer for a Tru Calling-era Eliza Dushku, plays a nurse to Christopher Plummer’s character.  Incredibly charming and engaging, de Armas is also given the biggest opportunity to show the most emotional range in the film.  A plus for Bond fans, this movie will serve as a preview of sorts for movie audiences of No Time to Die, as de Armas plays the next “Bond girl” opposite Daniel Craig’s master spy in theaters next spring.

Not a recommended movie for taking on a date, and ultimately a questionable choice for Thanksgiving, one of the conceits (which may take viewers outside the realm of reality) is a character who vomits with each lie.  By the end of the film it becomes an in-your-face gross-out, making viewers watch one character… covered… for an entire scene.  As a story element this “human lie detector” is also a writers’ crutch, a trick that skips over some story challenges viewers would normally be able to work through on their own.

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Reviewed by Art Schmidt (with commentary from a few Ricks)

Today Wizards of the Coast is releasing two new supplements for the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game, one a hardcover sourcebook based on the Fourth Edition Eberron campaign setting, and the other a new boxed set themed after the popular Adult Swim cartoon Rick and MortyThe Eberron hardcover Rising from the Last War (available today here at Amazon) is sure to appeal to those folks who enjoyed playing in the dark, techno-magical, pulp fiction world of Khorvaire, but the Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons set (available here) may appeal to a broader audience, including fans of the show who may never have rolled a twenty-sided die before.

Similar to previous boxed sets, the Rick and Morty set is named for the popular comic Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons written by Patrick Rothfuss (author of the Kingkiller Chronicles and The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle) and Jim Zub (Samurai Jack, The Young Adventurers Guide series and the upcoming run of Conan the Barbarian) and illustrated by Troy Little (Chiaroscuro, The Powerpuff Girls).  The boxed set contains a 64-page rulebook with the basic rules to get a group of players exploring, a set of five pre-generated characters for the players to use (or they can of course make up their own), a dungeon master’s screen to help the game master run things in relative secrecy, a set of eleven sickly-yellow polyhedral dice, and a 32-page adventure (written by the legendary D&D adventure writer Rick Sanchez of Earth C-141, himself), designed to take a group of up to five characters from first to third level.

Seriously, you game nerds should have seen this coming.  D&D, once little more than Satan’s Gateway to the Occult, is friggin’ everywhere these days.  A crap-ton of folks even sit around watching people live-stream their play sessions, which is, apparently, more fun than actually playing the game.  Think about that, Wizards of the Coast: ever heard of the ‘Law of Diminishing Returns’?  Read a book!  The more popular the game becomes, the less copies you’ll sell!  You’re digging your own graves! – Rick C-137

Like the comic series, the game Rick and Morty vs. Dungeons & Dragons is filled with self-aware and fourth-wall breaking commentary and dialogue, giving the characters an unsettling but hilarious point of view of being viewed while also knowing full well the world of the viewer.  The result is a gaming experience sure to please fans of the series and the roleplaying game equally, while introducing those who may be unaware of the other to new and enjoyable experiences.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In his fourth novel expanding on the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, writer and movie director Nicholas Meyer adds another mash-up to his repertoire, weaving Doyle’s dynamic duo together with real-life contemporaries and events in England and Russia in 1905.  In keeping with Doyle’s subtext of having his heroes address and attempt to thwart social injustices, Meyer takes a real-life hoax document used for more than a century to discredit Jewish people and weaves it into the fictional narrative to address and mirror racism, governance, and propaganda in current government and politics.  Meyer overlays his own lessons of history on a murder plot brought to Holmes by renowned brother Mycroft, the solving of which takes Holmes and Watson outside their familiar England to far-off Russia.

Readers who haven’t read the original Doyle stories would benefit by tackling a few of those first, or any of the several modern sequels, sidebars, and tie-in books we’ve reviewed over the past decade here at borg.  The Peculiar Protocols is a narrative for diehard Holmes & Watson readers, stuffed full with early 20th century psychology, Easter Eggs, callbacks, and a host of real historical figures interspersed convincingly in the style of a Kim Newman novel.  To absorb all the layers introduced into the story, readers will want to follow Holmes’ lead and pay close attention to the details–something readers will enjoy more after becoming familiar with Doyle’s original style.  Meyer’s “meta” conceit as backdrop for the story is the finding of diary pages believed to have been written by the real Dr. Watson, and so the Special Collections library folks at the University of Iowa, Meyer’s alma mater and keeper of his own original papers, deposited the material into Meyer’s hands for deft handling, knowing he’s done this before.

Meyer never forgets his Star Trek chops (having written three Star Trek movies and directed two).  Meyer, who I interviewed here at borg back in 2016, then confirmed his intent in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country to have created Sherlock Holmes as a real character in the world of Star Trek by having Spock refer to Holmes as one of his ancestors.  That movie doesn’t hide its reliance on Spock as a future master sleuth inspired by Doyle’s detective.  Now if you want to see the source of where Spock got his own signature fighting move, you might check out Peculiar Protocols if only to find Spock’s ancestor using a familiar method to debilitate a foe.

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Sixty-six years since readers first met Ian Fleming’s James Bond, there is no sign of the franchise waning.  The next film, No Time to Die, brings back Daniel Craig as the world’s most famous spy, arriving in theaters next April.  But if you want to get caught up on four decades of James Bond movies, there has been no better time to do it than right now.  You could buy digital copies of the 24 films so far, available on streaming platform VUDU for a bundle price of $149.99.  Or if you’re willing to watch commercials, you can view nearly all of them now and for a limited time, free.

That’s everything from Dr. No to Quantum of Solace, all the Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan installments, including both versions of Casino Royale and the off-brand film Never Say Never Again.  The two exclusions from the free-with-commercials offer are the two most recent films, Skyfall and SPECTRE, which are available at the regular VUDU pricing.

While you’re at it, you may want to check out the new Lyons Press release, Mark Edlitz’s 312-page hardcover look at the films, The Many Lives of James Bond, available now here at Amazon.

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