Category: Movies


by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Last month we offered our review of Guillermo del Toro’s new gothic film, Crimson Peak, raving over its atmosphere and performances.  Since it won’t be released in a home-viewing format for a while yet, how are we supposed to refresh our Crimson Peak fix until then?

Read the movie tie-in novel, of course!

crimson peak cover

Crimson Peak by veteran horror author Nancy Holder is a dead ringer for its onscreen counterpart, offering a scene-by-scene text recreation of the film.  But Holder often goes deeper, offering perspectives from characters not fully expressed on screen, elaborating on the story’s emotional arc, and adding to the haunting atmosphere with her own nuanced, sometimes surprising voice.

If you’ve seen the film, there’s nothing new here.  At times the book feels flat, as if the words alone can’t live up to the actors’ performances, and the author was required to give as close a blow-by-blow account as possible.  But in other moments, Holder’s own prose shines:

It watched the house’s breath scatter the dry leaves that drifted in, drifted by.  The walls were bleeding from fissures in the wallpaper.  Stab wounds, or a razor blade drawn across a vein? Moths flew out; maggots fed.  The mad head of the house was rotting, and night was dragging her wings across the moon, tracing filigree on the floor.  In the attic, more black moths were dancing because it was cold, because it was dark. Because they were hungry.

For the butterfly.

Oooh, shivery!

The biggest challenge here is the same minor plot weakness that caused the film to stumble a bit at the end.  With so much glorious setup, with the fantastic otherworldly intervention of the supernatural–which is what drew us to this story, after all!–Crimson Peak deserves a bigger payoff, a less predictable and mundane explanation for all the horror.  But Holder actually manages the material a little more deftly than it appeared on screen; the pacing is more dread-inducing as she doles it out piecemeal.  We already know what’s happening, and yet the book’s buildup is better than the film’s letdown.  Whatever Holder can’t render as stunningly via prose (del Toro’s visionary ghosts), she makes up for in suspense.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We have a review of the first of three tie-in books to the new Robert Rodriguez film Alita: Battle Angel coming your way.  Alita: Battle Angel should appeal to any fan of cyborgs–the story as envisioned by James Cameron was a pet project of the director for several years, one he’d picked up from Guillermo del Toro.  When Cameron decided to pursue management of his several Avatar sequels directly and finally handed over the project to Rodriguez he did so with more than 600 pages of notes he’d prepared.  The film is an adaptation of the manga Battle Angel: Alita by Yukito Kishiro, a story about self-discovery and empowerment via a centuries-old human brain that finds its way into the cybernetic body of a young girl.  A part-time doctor, part-time bounty hunter, Doctor Ido, played in the film by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, takes center stage in Alita: Battle Angel–Doctor Ido’s Journal, the new release by writer Nick Aires for Titan Books.

After losing his human daughter’s struggle to live, the Dr. Frankenstein-inspired Dr. Ido finds the “core” of a cyborg in a scrapyard with a surviving, living human brain.  He uses the prosthetics and futuristic body parts he’d designed for his daughter to rebuild a new girl, quasi-Pinocchio style, naming her Alita after his daughter.  The sci-fi story follows Alita as she tries to learn about her past and survive in a dystopian world that mixes inspirations from John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, Neill Blomkamp, and George Miller.  The visions of each of these directors’ best futuristic films comes through in Doctor Ido’s Journal, an in-universe document which reprints concept art, sketches, and photographs from the film, combining them with a diary entry narrative written by Aires in the place of Dr. Ido.  Doctor Ido’s Journal will be familiar to fans of Aires’ past in-universe books, including Oliver Queen’s Dossier, S.T.A.R. Labs: Cisco Ramon’s Journal, and Arrow: Heroes and Villains and works by others reviewed here, including Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report, The Book of Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual, and the Batman v Superman Tech ManualFans will first find a cleverly designed flex-cover that mimics metal (a great design effect that would make for an attractive blank journal), followed by pages of dense notebook entries that track the action of the film, all from Dr. Ido’s perspective.

The artwork is exceptional, vivid engineering-level drawings like those found in Mark Salisbury’s Elysium: The Art of the Film, reviewed here at borg, and the combination of horror and beauty found in production artists Dan Hallett and Matt Hatton’s elaborate designs in Alien: Covenant: David’s Drawings, reviewed here (it’s worth noting the Weta Digital created much of the designs for both Alita: Battle Angel and Elysium, and the similarly realized scrap-metal worlds of Blomkamp’s District 9 and CHAPPIE).  At times the gear-heavy animatronics inside the cyborgs echo the real-world 19th century automaton past of these creations, making these modern borgs into something that feels almost steampunk.

Here are some preview pages from Alita: Battle Angel–Doctor Ido’s Journal courtesy of the publisher:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new edition of a book about the popularity of Fawcett Comics‘ original Captain Marvel, the world’s mightiest mortal–the superhero renamed Shazam and featured in a new movie this month starring Zachary Levi–will be the perfect trip through time for fans who have enjoyed the character in his many stories going back to his debut in 1939.  My personal favorite Captain Marvel stories can be found in the original Whiz Comics (all in the public domain and available to read online now here) and as drawn by Alex Ross in his landmark graphic novel with Mark Waid, Kingdom Come.  For the first time in a softcover edition, Chip Kidd’s Shazam: The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal has been reprinted by Abrams ComicArts just in time for the release of the film, Shazam!

For those not in-the-know, this is the Captain Marvel who now goes by Shazam (the word that causes him to bring forth his powers)–the one owned by DC Comics today, and not the one owned by Marvel Comics and also in theaters now in the movie Captain Marvel (reviewed here at borg).  Shazam: The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal is a historical work, and it doesn’t hesitate to use the name he’s always been known as by his fans.  As told by writer Chip Kidd, the Captain Marvel fan club had 400,000 people in it in its best year in the 1940s, and Fawcett projected 40 million followers of the character in books and film.  Captain Marvel books sold 1.3 million copies per month, not a common feat even today.  Does anything approach that kind of fan club status today?  At the height of the character it was more popular than Superman and Batman, and so of course the character had hundreds of tie-in products.

Readers will marvel over a reprint of the entire story from Captain Marvel Adventures, Issue #1–created by two then unknowns: Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, and reprints of several colorful covers from Whiz Comics, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel Comics, WOW Comics, Master Comics, America’s Greatest Comics, Spy Smasher, and even Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny, plus pages of scans of original comic pages from ex-Fawcett staff.

The book uses photographs from a collection of some of the scarcest superhero collectibles known, including images of books, toys, and paper ephemera for Captain Marvel and the entire Marvel Family–superhero kids like Billy Batson–the boy who turns into Captain Marvel–and his friends who use the Shazam powers but remain as kids.

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It’s been fifty years since talking apes first took over theater screens across the world.  Planet of the Apes first screened for U.S. audiences in the spring of 1968, ushering in the dawn of a new age in sci-fi and dystopian film and the rise in a level of movie make-up on a scale not seen before.  In the battle for your movie-going dollars, the conquest was won many times over by each additional entry in the franchise.  All told nine times the story would gain new light on the big screen–so far–it would return with four sequels, two television series, numerous graphic novel adaptations, a remake, and a modern film saga.  Fortunately for fans the war will never end.  Beneath it all was Pierre Boulle’s original novel published only five years before, La Planète des singes, still in print and available here.  All these years later you still cannot escape the iconic imagery, first and foremost that way-too-far-past the spoiler alert image of the upper half of a destroyed Statue of Liberty perched on the beach.  And we eagerly await each new way to title a sequel that the next creators taking over can come up with.

How many kids sat up at the end of the film asking how the Statue of Liberty got all the way to the ape planet?  Somehow even the young ones got it, and we’d get our early taste of movie tie-ins in the form of trading cards and model kits (my own prize for weathering a hernia surgery at 4 years of age was the great Dr. Zaius model from Addar Plastics Co.).  As part of the observance of 50 years of the original film, Entertainment Earth has just begun accepting pre-orders for its first-ever line of Kenner-style vintage action figures (click on each of the six images below to learn more and/or order).   General Ursus looks great!  (Toymaker Mego had its own line of larger figures back in 1974).  The 50th anniversary is also celebrated with a Monopoly tie-in, 1960s style (available here) and a great retrospective look from Abrams Books at the vintage trading card series (reviewed here).  No single box set assembles all the films, although you can get a recent release of the original five films here and the recent trilogy here, all at Amazon.

   

When we speak in terms of genre landmark franchises we usually begin with the 50-year mark of longevity with the big or small screen, including James Bond, Doctor Who, Superman, Batman, and most recently Star Trek.  Planet of the Apes took its first step into that rare class with the novel’s anniversary in 2013, but it is now forever cemented with legendary status.  Here is a vintage TV trailer that played on your wood-grained Zenith console 50 years ago this week (although most of the U.S. watched this in black and white, as the new-fangled color TV was too expensive for the average household):

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Star Trek Book 2016

The in-universe book can be found in all sorts of genres.  In Star Trek we’ve seen this type of book recently with Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years and The Autobiography of James T. Kirk.  You’re either a fan of this type of work or you aren’t–these books attempt to take readers deeper into the world and stories of our favorite characters.  More than found in the basic canon, in a way that often seems less imaginative than something like a tie-in novel.  Rarely have we read this type that knocked our socks off.  An exception is DK’s Star Trek: A Visual Dictionary–a simple but enjoyable look inside all facets of Star Trek (reviewed here previously at borg.com).  A new in-universe book by DK qualifies as a good read and maybe even a great Star Trek work.

The Star Trek Book celebrates 50 years of Star Trek with what amounts to a school textbook from Star Trek’s future.  Detailing the lives of key players in the Federation, chronicling major events, technologies, cultures, and locales, The Star Trek Book lives up to its promise.  The chronicle itself is brilliantly executed.  Not simply a time period by time period account, such as taking each series one by one, instead this account weaves the facts and features of all series and movies together as a singular whole.  This makes for a reference you won’t simply read and file away on the shelf, but one you keep coming back to (as we have in the weeks since we got a first look at the book).

DK AmazonUK6

The reboot universe of Star Trek, here designated for the first time as the Kelvin timeline, is handled alongside the original series cast and stories.  The Enterprise series is intermingled with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek Voyager, and the key events from the movies, all in a way that finally gives each component equal coverage.  So fans of one or all the series will find something of interest here.

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A new political satire film is coming to U.S. theaters next week–The Death of Stalin.  Ahead of its U.S. release, it has already caused controversy in Russia and other former Soviet Union states, and it’s been banned in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.  Russian leadership has stated, “The Death of Stalin is aimed at inciting hatred and enmity, violating the dignity of the Russian people, promoting ethnic and social inferiority, which points to the movie’s extremist nature.  We are confident that the movie was made to distort our country’s past so that the thought of the 1950s Soviet Union makes people feel only terror and disgust.”  The Death of Stalin is based on a French graphic novel by writer Fabien Nury with artwork by Thierry Robin and Lorien Aureyre.

Sounds like something worth reading, right?

Nury’s The Death of Stalin is a dark comedy take on befuddled Russian leadership in the 1950s.  Strangled by Joseph Stalin’s paranoia and violent extremism, his lieutenants can barely function enough to call for a doctor when he suffers a heart attack that strikes him following his reading of a letter insulting him.  Who will lead after his death and how many Russians will die as power is re-aligned?  The story plays like a Quentin Tarantino film–think of the bulk of the political machinations in Inglourious Basterds mixed with Seth Rogen’s The Interview, plus the absurdity of Doctor Strangelove set against the historical visuals and serious edge of Valkyrie.  And it’s all a very British comedy.

Sourced with a handful of well-known British comedic actors, the film stars Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter series, Star Trek Discovery), Steve Buscemi (Pulp Fiction, The Big Lebowski), Olga Kurylenko (Oblivion, Quantum of Solace), Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion, Never Let Me Go), Michael Palin (Monty Python & The Holy Grail, A Fish Called Wanda), Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), and Jeffrey Tambor.  Armando Iannucci (Veep) directs with cinematography by Zac Nicholson (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables, The Scarlet Pimpernel) and costumes by Suzie Harman (The Bourne Ultimatum).

Check out this preview of the graphic novel The Death of Stalin and a trailer for the film:

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Warcraft clip

Review by C.J. Bunce

If your only exposure to Orcs is in the J.R.R. Tolkien Middle-earth stories, be prepared for a different look at this fantasy species in Christie Golden’s new novel Warcraft: Durotan, prequel to the upcoming Legendary Pictures Warcraft movie.  We’ve reviewed many franchise tie-in novels over the years here at borg.com and plenty of prequels.  Warcraft: Durotan is a surprisingly original novel, giving us a unique, sympathetic look at what you may otherwise only know as brainless, barbarian fantasy monsters.

Warcraft is of course the film adaptation of the megahit series of videogames.  It opened this weekend internationally to some early box office success.  Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code), director of the film and son of the late David Bowie, star of Labyrinth and fan of fantasy films, has said he previewed the film for his father, who was excited about the movie.  We previewed the movie trailer earlier here at borg.com.  It stars Vikings lead actor Travis Fimmel, along with Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Paula Patton, Dominic Cooper, and Ben Foster.

Warcraft Durotan novel

You don’t need to have any background with the video games to enjoy the prequel novel.  It will be familiar to fans of the games, but deviates from the video game story.  Some fans of the games will like it, some won’t.  Durotan is the son of a chieftain of a clan of Orcs.  When Durotan steps into the leadership role of his clan he must learn to balance the traditions of the past with the very survival of his clan.  Warcraft: Durotan is a solid fantasy story, but it could easily be the story of an actual Native American tribe, a Viking or Highland clan, an Aztec tribe, ancient Spartans, a band of Mongols, or even a family in a Louis L’Amour Old West novel.  Durotan’s trials are the trials of any leader whose people are plagued with crisis after crisis.  Loyalty, bravery, sacrifice, tradition, mythology, and folklore all come into play.

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Aliens rock music video 1980s

Following on its success with last year’s Back to the Future Day celebration and the annual Star Wars Day (May the Fourth), 20th Century Fox has created a new day to bring fans back to the Alien franchise.  Although we believe they should have gone with Mother’s Day, April 26, 2016, is being targeted for the first Alien Day in honor of the doomed world, LV-426, where Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley first encountered the vile xenomorphs in 1979’s Alien.  This means bringing the movie back for a limited theatrical release and plenty of product tie-ins.  It’s all in anticipation of Fox’s release of Ridley Scott’s next Alien franchise film next year, Alien: Covenant, starring Michael Fassbender.

Aliens Funko

For action figure fans, NECA is releasing Lieutenant Vasquez, Newt, and Kenner-style Ellen Ripley figures, and Funko is releasing a Kenner-style Queen, Power Loader and Ripley figure set and Super 7 will offer several figures.  Hot Toys will sell a 1:6 scale Ripley figure.  Look for Kotobukiya to release a 1:10 scale xenomorph.  Sideshow and Medicon Toy company will also release new Alien figures.

Alien Invasion Lebbon

Titan Books is releasing a new Tim Lebbon tie-in novel, Alien: Invasion.  (Check out our review and interview with Lebbon here at borg.com of Lebbon’s first awesome Alien novel Alien: Out of the Shadows).  And Alien: Out of the Shadows will get its own audiobook featuring the voice of Rutger Hauer.  Insight Editions will release a new book, The Weyland-Yutani Report.

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In many ways the spy protagonist Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron in this year’s action blockbuster Atomic Blonde, will be barely recognizable to fans of writer Antony Johnston and artist Sam Hart’s Lorraine Broughton, the heroine of the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City The most obvious change is certainly that Broughton is not drawn blonde in the pages of the comic, but the modifications go much further.  Yet, if you can separate the source material from the film, both can be appreciated for the great stories and the visuals that both offer.

We reviewed the film Atomic Blonde here at borg.com back in August.  The original Oni Press graphic novel is now available in a movie tie-in edition.  Atomic Blonde is no doubt a catchy and excellent title, and matches the violent and dynamic tone of the film.  But The Coldest City is also a great title, carrying its own clever double meaning.  In the book’s pages Sam Hart draws a black and white spy story that echoes the bleakness of the Cold War territory Antony Johnston’s tale revisits.  Top spy Broughton is serious about her job, she’s street savvy, and has years of experience when she’s brought in for a debriefing at the beginning of the story.  Hart’s art style is striking, and like Jean-Marc Rochette’s artistry in his graphic novel Snowpiercer (reviewed here), the panels aren’t cluttered with detail, and he instead relies on simple, dark lines with shadows to emphasize the mood.  From every angle The Coldest City is an engaging “end of the Cold War” story.

As different as Atomic Blonde appears to be from the graphic novel, the film is substantially faithful to its source.  You might find the differences in the book and movie analogous to a comparison of the film version of Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig to Ian Fleming’s original novel (we reviewed that one here).  The imagery is different but the author’s intent comes through, albeit in an updated package.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The ideas and situations in Steven Savile’s new novel Glass Town could hardly be more enticing:  In 1922 Alfred Hitchcock began, but did not finish, a film called Number 13. One of the sought-after lost films of Hitchcock, little is known but some film stills and production information, leaving an opening to take the film as a linchpin for a noir mystery.  Savile takes that film and several fascinating ideas and blends them into what becomes a horror story that incorporates compelling visuals from many possible sources: Dead Again, Laura, Vertigo, Portrait of Jennie, Hugo, The Illusionist, The Prestige, and even an element of Tron.  The story doesn’t quite live up to all its antecedents, but it provides some interesting concepts for genre readers willing to dabble in a story full of sex, violence, and grotesque horror along the way.

The grand ideas ultimately are in need of a more refined and pared down plot and possibly a more compelling lead character–Josh is a descendant of a line of men who spent their lives infatuated with a lost actress who appeared in the Number 13.  On Josh’s grandfather’s death he is reeled into a world of his own family connections and a history that he learns about and shares with us along the way as he, too, becomes infatuated with the missing actress and the interworkings of his family, tied into a well-known crime lord.  But we never learn much about Josh and why we should care about him.  Early London cinema and 1990s London don’t quite come through visibly, and the lack of more detailed world building results in a story that could be about a Boston or Chicago or Irish mob family as opposed to the familiar Victorian London of so many classic Gothic novels.  We encounter many bleak and unsavory characters and over-the-top situations–the kind of grotesque fantasy of a Clive Barker movie instead of what could have been a more accessible mainstream mystery interweaving the aura of magicians, the historical authority you might find in a Connie Willis novel, or the command of the details of early film technologies you might find in a Kim Newman story.

The only known image from the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s lost film titled Number 13.

Yet many great ideas come into play.  Josh uncovers and meets a lost and long-dead magician who was able to pull off the ultimate spectacle–hiding an entire town in a glass lens.  An evil ancestor of Josh used the magician to trap the actress he was so fascinated with in this world, a world where a day in this Glass Town can equal a week in the real world.  The story’s bad guy can even manipulate characters within the films of the silent era to do his bad deeds in our world, and we first meet the famed actress as a ghost as she attempts to find a secret talisman of glass in Josh’s home.  Much of the imagery is excellent–a walking and moving actress straight from the beginnings of filmmaking appearing in your living room, incorporating the flickering image of old film as she moves about.

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