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Review by Art Schmidt

This week the team over at Wizards of the Coast that produced the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is coming out with the newest addition to the line of hardcover books which make up the rules and playable content for the game.  Fifth Edition is by far the most popular and widely-played edition of the grandfather of all role-playing games for the last few decades and may be the most popular edition ever.  This newest book is titled Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, and its primary function is to provide nearly 150 new monsters for use in the game’s adventures, but the book itself is so much more than that.  Previous editions have focused their monster books on stuffing as many creatures into them as possible.  The more monsters, the more players will find the book useful, and (presumably) the more copies will sell.  What the current team has excelled at is deviating away from that “more stats are better” mentality, and instead focuses on the “why” of the monsters instead of the “how many”.  And Wizards of the Coast continues to pull this off beautifully in Tome of Foes.

Whereas previous D&D editions would have had the Monster Manual, and then Monster Manual II, followed by Monster Manual III, etc., 5th Edition has the requisite Monster Manual (reviewed here) but then wowed fans with Volo’s Guide to Monsters (reviewed here).  Essentially a book full of monsters, Volo’s deviated from previous norms and expectations in that it provided a wealth of information (re: text) about the monsters, their origins, histories, societies, clans and behaviors rather than just their hit points and ever-more-creative ways to wreck a party of characters.  And people bought in, big time.  The stories behind why mind flayers eat brains and how they manage to have a functioning society, or about the different kinds of giants and how drastically different their societies were and how they view their own roles amongst giants and their gods, were fascinating, and provided many a DM (and player) ideas for running their campaigns and players.

Limited edition, alternate-art cover by Vance Kelly.

At its core Tome of Foes still is a book full of monsters, but the background information it provides is just as deep and satisfying as that found in Volo’s.  The chapters on The Blood War and the Elves are especially valuable in providing players with more sparks for their imagination.  There are many new player options available in Tome of Foes in the form of playable races and sub-races.  Of particular note are the new options for tieflings (a playable race from the Player’s Handbook) and the gith (a D&D favorite dating all the way back to the 1st Edition Fiend Folio).  The gith are a race with two sub-races who roam the Astral plane with their silver swords, marauding and fighting each other in an endless conflict that sometimes spills over into the players’ world.  Tieflings currently have only one race option in the Player’s Handbook, as compared to other playable races such as elves, dwarves, and halflings, who each have two or more sub-race alternatives to customize their characters.  In the Player’s Handbook all tieflings are described as being infused with the essence of Asmodeus, the ruler of the Nine Hells in D&D lore, and they have one set of abilities for their race.  In Tome of Foes tieflings are provided with eight other alternatives, one for each of the rules of the eight layers of Hell that are ruled in Asmodeus’ name (he himself rules the bottom-most, or ninth layer of the Nine Hells).  These options provide a wide range of play for tiefling characters, specifically different stat modifiers and innate spellcasting abilities.

For the gith, the playable race is an interesting addition to the game, with two sub-races, the githzerai and the githyanki, the two original 1st Edition races of gith.  The gith are structured as other races, with a major and minor stat bonus (depending on sub-race chosen), additional abilities, alignment tendencies (though again, as with all previous 5th Edition publications, no restrictions or mandates), and of course, psionics.  As with previous psionic abilities, these are spellcasting abilities with a “psionics” attribute, which allows for casting without components.  In other words, a mental method of casting.  Although many players continue to clamor for a psionics mechanic in this edition, it seems as though the designers are sticking to their guns: psionics is just spellcasting without mumbling, hand-waving, and balls of bat guano.  And in the current version of the game, which nicely balances a wealth of meaningful character-building choices with rules mechanics that are easily accessible to the game-playing public at-large, this seems a wise choice.

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True Lies, Spies Like Us, Top Secret, Get Smart, Austin Powers, RED, Our Man Flint, Hopscotch, Central Intelligence, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, The Tuxedo, Kingsman, and the original Casino Royale.  The history of movies is not lacking in the spy comedy mash-up genre, but there’s always room for another.  Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Ted, Jupiter Ascending, That ’70s Show) and Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters, Ted 2, Ferdinand, Saturday Night Live) star with the queen of spy fare, The X-Files’ own Gillian Anderson in director Susanna Fogel‘s Fall 2018 theatrical release, The Spy Who Dumped MeLionsgate Films revealed the first full trailer for the film this weekend.

Producer Brian Grazer (Spies Like Us, Housesitter, Night Shift, Apollo 13, Splash, A Beautiful Mind) seems to have pulled out all the stops to give this the full look and feel of a serious spy movie, with cinematography by action and comedy veteran Barry Peterson (Central Intelligence, 21/22 Jump Street, Zoolander, Starsky and Hutch, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), production design by Marc Homes (Skyfall, Kick Ass, V for Vendetta, Aeon Flux, Prince of Persia, Game of Thrones, Robin Hood, X-Men: First Class, Prometheus, The Martian), art director Nic Pallace (24: Live Another Day, Mr. Selfridge, Broadchurch), and a musical score by energy-revving maestro Tyler Bates (John Wick, Deadpool 2, The Punisher, Guardians of the Galaxy, Watchmen, 300, Halloween, Sucker Punch).

A portion of the serving of big-screen badass from this movie will be dished out by Ukrainian actor Ivanna Sakhno (Pacific Rim: Uprising) as assassin/spy Nadedja (Kunis originally hails from Ukraine, too).

Here’s the first full-length trailer for the new spy comedy, The Spy Who Dumped Me:

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After a painfully long wait for fans of the series, the CW Network renewed the hit horror comedy/drama iZombie for a fifth season late Friday.  Even the folks at TV Guide had their fingers crossed for this renewal, stating, “At last, our long national nightmare is over,” in response to the news.  What began as a successful comic book series by writer Chris Roberson and artist Michael Allred for DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint about a gravedigger zombie gal who eats brains to survive, took on its own life under the deft management of showrunner Rob Thomas, who had already dazzled his target audience with Veronica Mars.  Powerhouse star Rose McIver’s Liv Moore has become every bit the ace detective that Veronica was, but she also bridged the audience back to the pop culture references and off-the-wall fun Joss Whedon brought the TV audience with the original badass heroine with his Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  And McIver had the added bonus of playing a character that had to change up her performance every single episode while also appearing in nearly every scene, like Quantum Leap’s Sam Beckett and more recently Tatiana Maslany’s several sisters in Orphan Black.  And she has met the challenge with high energy along the way.  Everyone should be taking a good look at McIver’s performance this year come award season.

That isn’t to say the series hasn’t had a few ups and downs as it found its footing each season, upping the ante for its characters faster than anyone could have predicted… Liv and Major (Robert Buckley) are off, then on again… Ravi (Rahul Kohli) and Peyton (Aly Michalka) are off, then on again… Major and Blaine (David Anders) were zombies, then they weren’t and now they are, etc.  The experimentation worked, as the change-ups kept the show fresh and interesting, and as other shows get tired after the first or second season iZombie has taken the road traveled by NBC’s Grimm, a show that kept up the momentum taking major risks and changes only to get better with every new episode.

This week’s Episode 10 of the fourth season, “Yipee Ki Brain, Motherscratcher!” was the kind of crazy fun you might find on an early episode of South Park or Buffy.  Mocking shows that run out of funds that then are left to have their action scenes off-screen to be summarized on-screen by a character afterward, in an audaciously hilarious move by the writers, co-star Malcolm Goodwin (last year’s borg.com pick for Best TV Actor) was left to pantomime a recap of his off-screen heroics for the episode.  That was coupled with the kind of genre trope episode the series’ fans love: a bombardment of movie references and Easter eggs tied to 1980s action flicks.  And Blaine and Bryce Hogson’s Don E continue to surprise us, but never more than in this week’s episode.  The excellent villainy of the past four seasons (iZombie has three episodes left in Season 4) has smartly balanced out the heroes’ story: first with the brilliant Steven Weber’s Vaughn Du Clark and his daughter Gilda (Leanne Lapp), then with Eddie Jemison’s mobster Stacey Boss, followed by the return of Veronica Mars lead Jason Dohring as the questionable zombie law enforcer Chase Graves, and meanwhile the writers were furtively building the character arc of Robert Knepper’s Angus/Brother Love into compelling new territory as we prepare for what’s coming next season.

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Actor and Kansas City Royals baseball fan Paul Rudd stars in a new World War II movie premiering next month.  He plays real-life professional baseball Morris “Moe” Berg in this espionage thriller from director Ben Lewin (Please Stand By).  The movie adapts the true story of the catcher who became a World War II spy.  The Boston Red Sox player was a private figure when, in 1944, the U.S. government’s wartime intelligence agency enlisted his services.  His mission:  To go behind enemy lines in Europe to assassinate the Nazi’s chief nuclear scientist before the Germans develop an atomic bomb.  IFC Films is marketing the film as a high-stakes game of cat and mouse.

The film stars Rudd along with Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man, The Illusionist, The Amazing Spider-man 2), Mark Strong (The Imitation Game, Kingsman, Shazam!), Jeff Daniels (Good Night, Good Luck, Radio Days), Sienna Miller (G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA, Layer Cake), Tom Wilkinson (Valkyrie), Guy Pearce (Alien: Covenant, Iron Man 3), and Wonder Woman’s Queen Hippolyta, Connie Nielsen.  Adapted from a book The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, by Nicholas Dawidoff, with a script by Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan, Thor: The Dark World), the film has a similar look and feel to other recent World War II espionage thrillers, like Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie and Benedict Cumberbatch’s The Imitation Game. 

 

Production design is by Academy Award-winning designer Luciana Arrighi (Howard’s End, Remains of the Day).  Costumes were designed by Joan Bergin (The Prestige, In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot, Vikings).  Three-time Oscar winning composer Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) created the musical score.

Here’s Paul Rudd starring in the trailer for The Catcher Was a Spy:

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The Predator is back.  Today 20th Century Fox released the first full movie trailer for the autumn release of The Predator, the eagerly awaited sequel in the Predator franchise.  And this first trailer looks pretty fun.  Will this sequel finally approach the original Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic from 1987?  The Alien franchise seems to have raked in the big box office bucks for decades while the Predator films haven’t moved past the original.  All indications point to director Shane Black (who played the joking marine in the original Predator) leaving aside 2004’s Alien vs. Predator, 2007’s Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, and 2010’s Predators.  The role of Jake Busey places the new film 30 years after the first sequel.  He plays the son of the character played by his dad, actor Gary Busey, in Predator 2.

If you’re a fan of the next generation of character actors, The Predator may be what you’re looking for.  Boyd Holbrook, who played the cyborg villain of last year’s Oscar-nominated film Logan, plays Quinn McKenna, a member of a military assassin squad.  Sterling K. Brown, who played the king’s brother in Black Panther and the defendant in Marshall, plays a government agent.  Lochlyn Munro, star of Riverdale and guest star in every genre TV series since 1989, plays a General.  Chuck, Dexter, and The Handmaid’s Tale co-star Yvonne Strahovski plays a character named Emily.  X-Men: Apocalypse and Iron Man 2’s Olivia Munn, featured heavily in the trailer, is Casey Bracket, a scientist researching the aliens.  Comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Crow: City of Angels’ Thomas Jane co-star as members of the strike force.  Westworld’s Trevante Rhodes plays a member of the team named Williams.  Young Wonder star Jacob Tremblay is the kid that sets the story into motion, with a package in the mail.  And for a dose of gravitas, look for Edward James Olmos as a general in the movie.

This is the plot description for the film:

From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the hunt comes home in Shane Black’s explosive reinvention of the Predator series.  Now, the universe’s most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species.  When a young boy accidentally triggers their return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Now check out this trailer for The Predator:

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Like the works of Shakespeare, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli & Co., and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, the older, legendary tale of Robin Hood will return (sometimes many times) in a newly realized form for each new generation.  Long, long before Oliver Queen and Clint Barton, there was that wielder of bow and arrow, the original superhero, Robin of Loxley, or Robin Hood.  Lionsgate Films released its first preview trailer for its version of Robin Hood, coming late this year to theaters.  Starring Kingsman’s Taron Egerton as Robin, Jamie Foxx as Little John (with some very Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves-styled Morgan Freeman makeup), Ben Mendelsohn (today’s go-to bad guy) as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Eve Hewson as Marian, Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck, and Jamie Dornan as Will Scarlet, the next Robin Hood feature looks to be the least like its predecessors.

As much as prior incarnations attempted to provide a historically accurate look–for better or worse–for their films, usually targeting the story anywhere from the 14th to the 16th centuries, director Otto Bathurst’s version offers up some modern designs.  Costume designer Julian Day, known for some nicely realized, historically inspired designs in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the 1970s racing film Rush, seems to have avoided any historicity in designing costumes for his latest film.  When does it take place?  Apparently not in any real-time or location.

The classic adventure and romance seems to be weighted this toward action and more action, with much CGI and slow motion fight scenes, and if the first trailer is any indication, it’s going to be light on the fairy tale romance of past versions.  Take a look for yourself at the first trailer for this year’s Robin Hood:

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The best is back next month.  Television’s best comic book adaptation to date, the Emmy-winning Marvel’s Luke Cage, is returning next month as Season 2 arrives on Netflix.  Can Season 2 match the one-two punch of the first season?  It looks like we’re going to get a return of everything fans are after:  More Mike Colter protecting the streets of Harlem as “Power Man” Luke Cage.  The first trailer for the 2018 season is out and we’re learning a lot about what to look for in June as the next season is released on Netflix:  Supercop badass Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is bringing a new weapon to the law with her own cybernetic arm.   Alfre Woodard’s Mariah Dillard is taking her place as leader of the underground criminal element.  Luke’s pal Bobby (Ron Cephas Jones) is back with Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple to watch over Luke.  And even Theo Rossi’s master manipulator and henchman “Shades” Alvarez makes an appearance in the trailer.

The challenge of all superhero tales ultimately is the same:  How intriguing and compelling is the villain?  Season 1 had Shades and Mariah, Frank Whaley’s cool bad cop Detective Scarfe, Erik LaRay Harvey’s sinister Diamondback, and the awesome and gritty Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth.  With Scharfe, Cottonmouth, and Diamondback out of the picture, we’re getting a new villain: Quarry’s Mustafa Shakir is Bushmaster.  Showing Cage there’s always someone bigger and stronger to come along, Bushmaster surprises our hero with equal strength and power.

Does Bushmaster hail from the same mad science that created Cage, or is someone new behind the scenes?

Take a look at this first trailer for Season 2 of Marvel’s Luke Cage:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

First published in March 1956, Diamonds Are Forever is Ian Fleming’s fourth James Bond novel.  This time Bond is tasked by M to follow the route of diamond smugglers transporting stones into England from Africa and on to the United States.  He replaces a small-time transporter and is partnered with the novel’s requisite “Bond girl,” Tiffany Case, and they embark on a trip to the Northeast United States.  Bond becomes an employee of The Mob, and is reunited with his former American ally Felix Leiter (minus an arm and leg after the shark incident in Live and Let Die).  The story moves on to Las Vegas, with some good gambling scenes, then on to a rebuilt Old West town called Spectreville, where Bond meets a strange and wealthy villain who collects real antique trains as if they were toys.  And the action culminates aboard the cruiseship Queen Elizabeth.  The novel is nicely bookended, beginning and ending at a thorn bush occupied by a scorpion in the middle of a desert.

Typically Ian Fleming and James Bond are at their worst when visiting America.  It’s difficult to enjoy the normally down-to-Earth Bond pick up his author’s clear disdain for Americans, whether his inner-monologue through Bond is truly a reflection of the times or not.  Fleming exhibits his peculiar theme of Americans rambling all their dialogue in long outbursts with “low English” dialect regardless of their social strata.  And Fleming seems to wallow in his racism in scenes set in America more so than with Bond in other locales.  But the biggest plus?  The lack of that James Bond misogyny compared to other Fleming efforts.  The seventh novel adapted into a film, and the last canon work for Sean Connery as Bond (he’d have one more go at it 12 years later in Never Say Never Again), Fleming’s fourth Bond novel and the film carrying its name ultimately share little resemblance, ultimately a good thing for moviegoers.  Yet with the current Bond and the reboot of the franchise with Casino Royale, a solid adaptation redo from a good screenwriter could be possible as the story is serviceable with a good edit.

   

The first act takes off too slowly.  The second act is very dry, reading like a travelogue, and at times it is nearly unbearable–to illustrate this point I began reading Diamonds Are Forever in 2014 and kept grinding to a halt (as noted in my review of Dr. No).  Somehow I began again and made it this weekend, thanks to a classic Bond casino scene in Chapter 17 and a stunning car chase action sequence in Chapter 18 that got me over the hump.  From then on, those final 100 pages, the story comes together and Bond, Tiffany Case, the corps of villains, and that classic Bond action finally kicks into high gear.

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If you are a fan of Italian comic book artist Francesco Francavilla, you probably make sure you’ve kept up with his work on series like DC’s Detective Comics, his creator-owned noir series The Black Beetle, Dynamite’s Zorro, Marvel’s Black Panther, Archie Horror’s Afterlife With Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and loads of other series and comic book covers.  In July you’ll even be able to purchase his variant edition of the forthcoming comic Archie Meets Batman ’66.  Francavilla burst onto the comics scene a decade ago, and quickly his trademark style–a mix of classic pulp, noir, and retro color combinations and designs–helped earn him the Eisner Award in 2012.  But if you’re a completist, get ready to for a brief course change this week.

Here’s something to think about: Not all comic book artists stick exclusively to the comic book medium.  Today Francavilla’s artwork is taking on the non-fiction route, as the artist is the featured creator of visuals in today’s issue of The New York Time Magazine.  It’s a clever pairing as the magazine’s annual money issue is taking on the mystique of the classic Crime Does Not Pay comic book series of comicdom’s Golden Era, instead of featuring images of the criminals themselves in its pages.  Titled “Crime Pays,” today’s issue has plenty of Francavilla’s unique imagery for his fans to soak up.  And–what a concept–get caught up on the news at the same time.  Here is the new cover image compared to a classic 1940s cover design:

   

For Francavilla’s comic book fans, he says there’s nothing to worry about.  Via Twitter Saturday he responded to one fan, “I’m not leaving comics at all – working on the new @TheBlackBeetle mini right now as matter of fact 🙂 #IheartComics”.

The New York Times Magazine created this video look behind the scenes at Francavilla’s contribution to this issue of the magazine.

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Now that you’re all recovering from your Star Wars Day activities and readying for Free Comic Book Day today, let’s look at the latest from Solo: A Star Wars Story.  We seem to be transitioning from the high of the Avengers: Infinity War in April and heading toward the premier of Solo on May 25.  And there seems to be no stopping the marketing folks at Lucasfilm.  If you’ve been a fan of Star Wars since the beginning, you may find a new Lucasfilm video the greatest thing since blue milk.  It’s the beginning of the scene where Lando and Han play cards, and Han offers up ships as the stakes.  Is this the exact scene we’ll see in theaters, or one pretty close to it?  It seems pretty likely, although don’t rule out last-minute edits as was done with Rogue One–the other awesome Star Wars Story–where much of the trailer footage ended up on the editing room floor.  Check it out below, unless you want to wait to see it in the theater, but you’re not going to see it in this “virtual reality” 360 degree way in the theater.

Does this sneak peek hint at the future of the theatrical experience?  We’ve seen the 360 degree clips before for other films, and some home video formats do allow the viewer to take control and move around during a film to some extent.  How will that translate to the theaters years from now?  Something like you’d find in a high-end theme park ride?  Never before could moviegoers have such a detailed look at a film, in advance of release.  Take a look at those aliens, like the two-headed fellow to Lando’s right, or the arthropoid with chelipeds to his left (that’s Therm Scissorpunch).  These aliens are exquisite, instantly evoking the original Star Wars cantina where most of us first met Han and Chewbacca.  We’re in for a great ride.

But there’s more: a new clip featuring the first scene with Chewbacca and Han flying together, backed by some of John Williams’ best music: sweeping, evocative cues from his “The Asteroid Field” music from The Empire Strikes Back.  And another clip from director Ron Howard features some new looks at Chewbacca in front of and behind the camera.  It just gets better and better.

  

In case you missed it yesterday, we have two highlights of this year’s Star Wars Day, both out of the UK.  First up is the latest Abbey Road album cover homage.  The Beatles albums have been parodied and honored in thousands of ways over the decades, but we love the above image of the original four cantina action figures from Kenner incorporated into the famous zebra crossing (if you know the source, let us know and we’ll credit it).  And Heathrow airport went above and beyond for May the Fourth, with this fantastic flight schedule.  Bravo!  (But Alderaan?  Too soon!).

Our new Lando, Donald Glover is hosting Saturday Night Live tonight.  The show released a revised Solo poster for him.  Take a look at it, plus a dozen new Solo posters and marketing image updates below (glasses, collectible tickets, buttons, and three trading card sets of 28 cards, too!), and the latest great clips, and don’t forget it’s Free Comic Book Day!  Glover recently provided a tour of the Millennium Falcon (we’ve included that below, too):

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