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Review by C.J. Bunce

As movies go, few successes were as unlikely as Steven Spielberg’s Jaws It was a film that from its inception never seemed like anyone knew how to get their arms around the project.  Spielberg’s driving force was refusing to film in a tank as seen in the Spencer Tracy clunky version of The Old Man and the Sea.  It was to be the real ocean or nothing.  And there never was any alternative to building a full-sized shark.  Art director-turned production designer Joe Alves partnered with Spielberg, and it was his first instinct to render his charcoal concept drawings explicitly to show the violent shark attack scenes, all for a set of pitch materials to help sell the idea of the film to the studios.  These drawings by Alves, his storyboards, his location scouting notes, and his pages of production outlines are now reproduced for the first time in Joe Alves: Designing Jaws, a new look at cinema’s original blockbuster.

A lot has happened since Jaws.  Would Paul Allen have taken on searching for and discovering the sunken USS Indianapolis but for the film sharing the sailors’ story?  Nearly 45 years later it seems impossible that a new book could be written about the adaptation of Peter Benchley’s 1974 hyped novel Jaws (reviewed here), which was (incredibly) being published at the same time the film was being made.  The definitive book for years about the making of the film has been (and remains) screenwriter Carl Gottlieb’s insightful work The Jaws Log (reviewed here), but we’ve since seen periodic looks back at the production, as in Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard (reviewed here).  No doubt if there’s something more to learn about Jaws, the film’s fans (including me) are going to get our hands on it.  Access to something like Joe Alves’s personal archive of artwork and production notes is as surprising and rare as it gets, so Joe Alves: Designing Jaws is going to be a no-brainer for movie buffs to add to their bookshelves.

Jaws was by no means Alves’s first film.  He began in the cinema creating special effects for Forbidden Planet, and later Night Gallery, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and after Jaws he’d design films like Escape from New York, Freejack, and Geronimo: An American Legend.  Somehow all the competing ideas for Jaws would come together, and Alves would be best known for his work on the film.  His charcoal concept art illustrates how removed from the final vision the creators of Jaws began with, beginning with an assumption that Spielberg would actually be showing the shark a lot.  As readers will learn in this book, the film we know only came together in the editing room.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Forty-three years after author Max Allan Collins published his novel Quarry’s Deal in 1976, he has penned the sequel, Killing Quarry, what he calls the last of a sub-series of his famous anti-hero Quarry’s exploits selling his hitman services to targets of other hitmen.  Killing Quarry is available now from Hard Case Crime, the 15th novel of the Vietnam vet whose return from the service wasn’t at all what he expected, and the subject of his own Cinemax series, Quarry, reviewed here at borg last year.  Collins has finished or co-authored nearly as many crime novels with crime writer Mickey Spillane posthumously, reflecting the prolific nature of Collins’ crime writing and expertise, plus Collins’ noteworthy Road to Perdition, five other book series and countless tie-in novels.  Killing Quarry is great fun, a solid retro fix, and true throwback to those action-packed, guns and sex pulp novels of the 1970s.

Collins catches up with Quarry as he’s pulled another name from the Broker’s hit list, acquired after the Broker’s death more than a decade ago.  The Broker was the man who first tapped Quarry for a life of murder for money when he returned from the war with few prospects and a cheating wife.  Quarry takes on both roles as hitman this time, both planning and monitoring the target in a town a few hours away, ultimately to make the hit himself, an enterprise usually split between two partners to the job.  But it doesn’t take long for Quarry to realize the hitman he is after is pursuing his own target, right back to Quarry’s own neighborhood, right across the street in direct eyeshot to Quarry’s own retreat.  The killing life is wearing on Quarry after all these years, but at least he is prepared and knows what is coming for him.  He’ll be ready, so long as he doesn’t fall asleep on the job.

Cinemax’s Quarry television series.

Quarry is joined in the 1980s this time by Lu, the blonde Asian-American woman who became his lover in Quarry’s Deal in the 1970s.  She’s a killer in her own right, and enmeshed with the system of brokers and hitmen that have now become a regional game of hitmen and agents beginning to trip over each other’s territories.  Both Quarry and Lu deserve each other–they are both getting too old for killing and want to stack up their funds and retire to some tropical paradise.  They walked away from each other years ago.  Maybe this time it will work out for them?

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Disney and Fox have no expectations for this one, so it would be great for X-Men fans to see it in the theater and make known the X-Men are as important to fans as the Avengers, twenty years after the first X-Men movie arrived in theaters.

We’re hoping The New Mutants was worth the wait.  At last we have a trailer that shows the potential of these characters, with this week’s release of the final trailer for the final film of the longest running continuous superhero movie franchise, Fox’s X-MenThis is movie #13, and with it, the first horror superhero movie for Marvel.  April 13, 2018, was the original release date for the movie, but it was bumped a few times by the studio to accommodate bigger superhero stories including Deadpool 2 and X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and then Marvel movies after the merger of Fox and Disney.  We previewed it here at borg more than two years ago.  It looks like M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass (and even co-stars that movie’s Anya Taylor-Joy) merged with the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, with Stranger Things star Charlie Heaton carrying forward the Johnny Depp look.  Or a really haywire The Breakfast Club.  As a result of the success of modern horror stories like Get Out and It, the original cut is in final reshoots by director Josh Boone to make it scarier.  It’s not exactly the same, but it’s also easy to envision these mutant kids as an offshoot or tie-in story related to the lab that produced Laura aka X-23 in James Mangold’s Academy Award-nominated Logan.

And speaking of Anya Taylor-Joy, the film was made before these young actors’ careers really took off.  Taylor-Joy filmed Split just before this and then Glass, was a lead voice (of Brea) in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and in Playmobil: The Movie, starred in Peaky Blinders, and filmed the lead role in a new remake of Emma, with five other films coming out in the next year.  Maisie Williams grew up on Game of Thrones.  And since filming The New Mutants, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, and Blu Hunt have appeared in several movies and TV shows.  The bad news of the reshoots is that Jon Hamm’s character Mister Sinister was reportedly cut entirely.

It’s the original roster of New Mutants (Cannonball, Mirage, Sunspot, and Wolfsbane), plus Magik from the second roster.  Finally!  Check out this great new trailer for The New Mutants:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The “Moviemaking Magic/Cinemagic” series from Abrams Books is my current favorite book format for genre tie-in non-fiction works.  Check out my reviews of the volume on the Marvel Studios Heroes and Villains here, and the first volume on Star Wars, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures and Aliens, here.  The format is interactive, featuring several series of foldout photographs that allow the reader to see the changes in design over time, like ships from concept to realized model.  And these books allow for hundreds of photographs and how-to film production process accounts and interviews, arranged in an easy to reference chronology.  With the latest film in theaters, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams has published the next look behind the scenes at the production process, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Ships and Battles, the most comprehensive account of the 11-film franchise’s models, sculptures, concept artwork, and their creators since Sculpting a Galaxy was released in 2005 when we only had six films available (you can see my review of that book here).

The book is targeted at a younger audience, but Star Wars fans of any age will appreciate the detail and information they may not have read about before, including notes from George Lucas from the first idea for the film, his treatment for The Star Wars, to Colin Cantwell and Joe Johnston′s concept drawings, all the way through the two “Star Wars story” movies Rogue One and Solo, and all nine Skywalker saga films, including a preview page of concept art from The Rise of Skywalker.  The original trilogy gets the biggest share of the coverage, including the full run of major ships, how they were developed, and what method was used to get them on the big screen, but the 21st century films and the prequels also get significant sections.  Readers will follow the development of filmmaking methods old and new: full-sized sets and vehicles like the landspeeder and X-wing fighter, scale models (both small and large scale), kitbashing, matte painting, and CGI.

Fans of the Millennium Falcon specifically will not want to miss this book.  They can track the development of the many models and designs used across the original trilogy, which had to be resurrected for the final trilogy with a side trip to an early, modified version of the ship for Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Coverage includes concept art, unused designs, and photos of the pocket-sized models through the multiple full-sized, walk-on creations. The various Death Star space stations and Star Destroyers get similar handling in the book.

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The best of British genre fare collided New Year’s Day as the new season of Doctor Who got underway.  Merging a classic type Doctor Who adventure with James Bond tropes made for what might be the best episode of Doctor Who since Matt Smith handed over his sonic screwdriver.  But that’s only the beginning, as the two-part opener continues tonight on BBC America in the States and much earlier in the UK on BBC One.  U.S. viewers have one chance to beat the social media spoilers: Fathom Events is hosting a unique Doctor Who event nationwide today at 1 p.m. local time, a theater broadcast of Spyfall–the New Year’s Day episode and the worldwide premiere of part two–complete with a live Q&A with the cast.  Check out the Fathom Events website here for details.

Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall had a full season to iron out the transition to a new Doctor, and if you didn’t watch the entire first season now is a good time to jump back in, because this adventure starts strong with high stakes, a new alien threat, non-stop action, and an echo from Doctor Who of the past.  It all plays out like an episode written by either Russell T. Davies or Stephen Moffat, but it’s Chibnall who wrote this story.  A new favorite scene can be found in the New Year’s Day Spyfall episode: It’s hard to imagine any prior Doctor could have nailed the scene where the Doctor takes on a 007-inspired role, and plays a high roller hand at cards trying to be as cool as Bond–but not quite getting there.  Jodie Whittaker has the enthusiasm of David Tennant, the innocence of Matt Smith, and the daftness of Peter Capaldi, all rolled up into one.  And she’s brilliant in this first episode, even better than last year.

This Doctor doesn’t need a companion any different from the twelve Doctors that preceded her, yet this new triumvirate companion works–it’s a family, or “fam” as she calls them and a mechanism to allow a distribution of the action.  Yasmin (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole), Graham (Bradley Walsh) join the Doctor on her latest travels at the request of MI 6, and a guest appearance by Stephen Fry as C (think M in the Bond stories) and Sacha Dhawan as O (another 00 agent).  It’s hard to believe it’s actually been a year since we last saw them all together in the Season 11 finale.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Acclaimed horror filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock′s first attempt at developing a film from the professional partnership of French writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac was for their 1952 novel She Was No More He got passed up, but he wouldn’t miss acquiring the rights to their next novel published in 1954–another murder mystery–called D’Entre Les Morts, translated as From Among the Dead, or The Living and the Dead.  H.G. Clouzot would direct She Was No More and release it as the film Diabolique, but Hitchcock would go on to be known best for his adaptation of their work–the film classic Vertigo, labeled for decades by critics as his masterpiece, and even the best movie ever made by anyone.  As readers will learn upon returning to the original Boileau and Marcejac novel, later renamed Sueurs froides or Cold Sweat (the French title of Hitchcock’s film), and finally Vertigo in light of the film’s success, screenplay writers Samuel A. Taylor and Alec Coppel significantly modified the novel for the screen.

The novel is a masterful, gritty look at five years in the life of a Frenchman in 1940 Paris, a lawyer traumatized by acrophobia and vertigo after watching a man die falling from a building, later suffering from depression and psychosis after a bundle of life experiences results in a sort of post traumatic stress disorder.  As the war comes closer, Flavières is asked by an old college friend to keep tabs on his wife, Madeleine, who he claims has developed a strange fixation on her dead great-grandmother who killed herself at Madeleine’s current age.  Flavières does as asked, but soon falls in love with Madeleine.  His love turns to obsession, which only gets worse as the story goes on, and he becomes a voyeur, and eventually controlling, possessive, and manipulative.  It would be nearly impossible for anyone to imagine actor James “Jimmy” Stewart playing the role of the novel’s protagonist Roger Flavières, so different from Stewart’s character in the film, Scottie Ferguson, a likeable San Francisco lawyer-turned cop.

Flavières follows Madeleine everywhere she goes.  As she sits and stares blankly at the gravestone of her great-grandmother, as she visits the dead woman’s apartment, as she drifts about the city in a trance state.  Is she possessed by her ancestor’s ghost?  This is the lingering question of the husband, of Flavières, and the mystery for the reader until the very end of the story.  While observing Madeleine from afar, Flavières watches her dive into the river Seine, and he rescues her, revealing himself, but not disclosing his work for her husband.  Her mysterious nature continues until he accompanies her to a church with a bell tower.  She runs up the steps, but his vertigo keeps him from following.  She screams, and falls to her death.  To this point–the midpoint of the novel–the movie is a close adaptation of the novel, except for the setting.  But the second half of the novel becomes a different journey for the protagonist than what the movie audience has seen.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s always fun to be a fan and find a new edition of a previously published work you overlooked.  In light of this year’s new James Bond film, No Time to Die, and Daniel Craig’s indication this will be his last Bond film, keep an eye out for a new round of speculation on his replacement.  While you’re waiting for the official Bond #25, check out Bond On Bond: Reflections On 50 Years Of James Bond Movies.  Not just another look at the franchise, this was written by Bond himself, or at least the actor who played Bond the longest, Roger Moore, five years before he passed away in 2017.  Bond fans will love that the book doesn’t seem at all to have a ghost writer–this is candid Roger Moore in all his great humor, wry wit, and suave, British sincerity, just as we’ve seen him in interviews over the years and heard him in DVD commentaries.

The book is not just about Moore, but his relationship with the producers, studio, and other actors who have played Bond and their contributions to the franchise.  Moore knows more than you’d think about the significance of Ian Fleming’s stories, and their impact on the world.  He also has an incredible memory, and even if some of the subjects discussed might have been memory joggers posed by others, his anecdotes show insight into the character, and components of 50 years of films, including Daniel Craig’s, that get Fleming’s character just right.  Also, if you played Bond, you get to refer to the character as Jimmy.

How does it feel to walk around knowing the world thinks of you as Bond?  Why did Moore refrain from ever uttering the lines “shaken, not stirred”?  Why did the studio and Moore agree to make many differences in his style of playing Bond compared to his predecessor, Sean Connery?  What’s a press junket like when you’re Bond?  What’s it like to attend the movie premieres with royalty?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With the much anticipated ninth episode Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker here at last, writer/director J.J. Abrams has succeeded again at managing a major film franchise challenge and making the best of it.  With Star Trek in 2009, he took a waning property and shot new life into it, but came up short four years later when he tried again and delivered Star Trek Into Darkness, heavily milking the nostalgia of the fan base with its retread of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.  In 2015 Abrams was handed the keys to the other big space franchise, where he revitalized a left-for-dead movie saga and delivered Star Wars: The Force Awakens, notable for the introduction of Daisy Ridley’s curious and mysterious desert scavenger Rey, arguably one of the most fleshed out characters in the entire franchise with this final installment.  Fortunately Abrams’s return to Star Wars will likely net better results for its fanbase with a movie that rises to become the best in the final trilogy, or at least as good as his The Force Awakens.  Is this still George Lucas’s Star Wars?  No, but that just shows the power and unique status of the original trilogy–even Lucas couldn’t capture the magic again with his prequels.  The Rise of Skywalker is the kind of movie that could be judged on its merits as a J.J. Abrams movie and separately as a Star Wars sequel.  Whether you as a viewer like this installment or not will depend on your own expectations.

Abrams may be at his best, with his unique style, lens flares and all, when he gives fans what they want.  Abram’s success this holiday season is a bit of a salvage effort, bringing Rey back as the focal hero/heroine of the story, incorporating some of the saga’s best “Jedi being Jedi” sequences, and tapping into the nostalgia for the 1977 original in bite-sized bits instead of leaning on it like he did so unapologetically with Star Trek Into Darkness.  If only Abrams had made all three Star Wars films, this third chapter could have been much tighter, and the whole trilogy would likely be better received by most of the fanbase.  As a viewer if you don’t (or can’t) just sit back and enjoy the cameo performances, throwbacks, and Easter eggs, you’ll get the feeling that using two directors instead of one over the three films is the crux of any problems in The Rise of Skywalker.  Upon its release, the previous installment The Last Jedi felt like it belonged to an entirely different story than The Force Awakens.  Plot threads created by Abrams were summarily abandoned.  Key characters were eliminated without explanation.  New plot threads came from out of nowhere.  In short, the director-flipping was the big mistake from a storytelling perspective.  Abrams has the extensive portfolio behind him to demonstrate he would have been the right choice to direct all three films.  So this time Abrams had a greater task than ever before, because he was stuck making major course corrections, all to get this tale back on track, re-focused again on Rey.  The necessary patchwork aside, The Rise of Skywalker will go down as one of Abrams’ best works.

Will Star Wars, or more specifically, the Skywalker saga with this three-part conclusion, endure the test of time?  If audiences continue to believe in its value as entertainment, there is no reason why studios can’t keep going back to this material repeatedly–think Shakespeare’s plays, Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dickens’s Ebenezer ScroogeRecall how even more recent stories like the Terminator, Predator, and Halloween (and Star Trek) film series have continued to make sequels and wholesale reboots, disregarding a film that doesn’t do as well and continuing like it was never made.  There’s no reason that can’t happen someday with Star Wars.  So those fans who still want to see the Expanded Universe on the big screen–the complexities and triumphs of both Timothy Zahn’s sequel trilogy and Dark Horse Comics’ many stories like Dark Empire that did so much more with heroes Luke and Leia–just wait.  Someday the right new visionary will step in and make it happen, but fans will need to accept new actors as their heroes, just like we saw with the latest Star Trek trilogy.

Want to dig in further?  Spoilers follow.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In brief, it’s the best adventure, fantasy, and comedy in theaters in 2019 and a great way to begin your new year.  Jumanji: The Next Level is still packing-in theaters a little more than two weeks into its run–an alternative to the other holiday releases and guaranteed to leave you smiling at the end.  The four stars didn’t miss a beat in their return, swapping roles and adding new laughs, and the new characters inside and outside the game are perfectly matched to tell a new tale.  Two films down and Jumanji: The Next Level is now the new major adventure fantasy franchise, up there with Tarzan, The Jungle Book, Conan the Barbarian, John Carter of Mars, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mummy, and Indiana Jones.  Put this sequel at the top of the best of those franchises.

The studio didn’t hold back on new action sequences–inside the movie again Jumanji is the same video game of curious origin.  The new levels introduced this time increase the stakes in bigger and better ways.   A bridge-crossing scene with swarming apes and a geometric, Mario Brothers/Donkey Kong-like element is now going to be the adventure film standard to try to beat.  Sure, there are throwbacks to jungle adventures of the past, but it’s not derivative, all presented in fresh ways.  As another tour inside a video game (like Tron and Ready Player One), you’ll have the added fun of spotting video game influences (like Pitfall and Q-Bert), including a new, more difficult gauntlet.

The movie does double duty as an epic quest and rollicking comedy.  Comedians turned comedic actors Jack Black as Dr. Shelly Oberon and Kevin Hart as Mouse Finbar again are comedy gold.  Even the small bits are a scream–Hart riding and getting off a camel is a lesson in physical comedy.  They make the movie loads of fun, but straight man roles performed by Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan as in-game characters Dr. Smolder Bravestone and Ruby Roundhouse share the credit for the laughs, too.  If you’ve seen Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, you’d expect big comedy from the sequel.  And that’s where the writing genius comes into play, thanks to a script by writer/director Jake Kasdan and writers Jeff Pinkner, and Scott Rosenberg.  How do you bring back the hour movie stars, the four young actors who played the original players (Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Alex Wolff, and Ser’Darius Blain), the rescued Alex played by Colin Hanks, and in-game characters played by Nick Jonas, and Rhys Darby without re-hashing the first movie?  You’ll have to see it to find out.  Just be prepared for some great twists and surprises.

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It’s been another long year of great entertainment.  It’s time for the seventh annual round of new honorees for the borg Hall of Fame.  We have several honorees from 2019 films and television, plus you’ll find some from the past, and a peek at some from the future – 28 new borgs or updated variants in all, bringing the borg Hall of Fame total to 221.

You can always check out the updated borg Hall of Fame on our home page under “Know your borg.”

Some reminders about criteria.  Borgs have technology integrated with biology Wearing a technology-powered suit alone doesn’t qualify a new member.  Tony Stark aka Iron Man was named an honoree because the Arc Reactor kept him alive, not because of his incredible tech armor.  The new Spider-Man suit worn by Tom Holland is similar to Tony’s, but it’s not integrated with Peter Parker’s biology.  Similarly Peni Parker, seen outside her high-tech SP//dr suit in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Black Manta from Aquaman are merely wearing tech suits.  We’d love a reason for a Mandalorian to make the cut, like Boba Fett, or Jango Fett, or the new Mandalorian from the series, since nobody has more intriguing armor.  Maybe the second season coming next fall will give us something new to ponder.

Also, if the creators tell us the characters are merely robots, automatons, or androids, we take their word for it.  Again, integration is key, but in the Hall, once a member, always a member.  

So let’s get on with it.  Who’s in for 2019?

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