Tag Archive: Best of 2017


I don’t think I’ve ever seen the word “unfair” repeated more on the Internet.  At San Diego Comic-Con this week Radio Flyer–the classic wagon company–revealed its latest kids’ toy, Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder.  You can hear adults everywhere gasping–trying to decide whether they are willing to be jealous of their kids–and buying them one.

It’s pricey, listing at $499.  But–WOW–does it look like fun, even if it’s not really a hovercraft.  Here is the marketing description from Radio Flyer:

Luke Skywalker’s Landspeeder by Radio Flyer is modeled after the sand-pocked and sun-faded X-34 craft from Star Wars: A New Hope. With seats for 2 riders, an interactive dashboard with lights and real movie sounds, and a 5 mph driving speed, this speeder provides a truly galactic driving experience. 

Here is a promotional video of the Landspeeder in action:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This weekend sci-fi and fantasy fans finally get to see French director Luc Besson’s singular vision decades in the planning as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets arrives in theaters.  An adaptation of the fifty-year-old, popular, French comic book series Valerian and Laureline, the film delivers in a magnificent, grandiose way only Besson could deliver.  As with his sci-fi classic The Fifth Element, Besson–who also directed Lucy, The Professional, and La Femme Nikita–has added another genre-defining film to the list of must-see sci-fi movies.  If there’s any criticism due, it may be that the film in places is too much like The Fifth Element, but where Valerian falls short, it makes up for it with wall to wall action and alien creations that look nothing like anything Hollywood has ever produced.  It’s rounded out with spectacular production design by Hugues Tissandier (Lucy, Taken, The Transporter) and a riveting score by composer Alexandre Desplat (The Golden Compass, Argo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

  • Best use of 3D cinematography in a movie to date?  Check.
  • Best visual depiction of strange new worlds and new alien life in a film to date?  Check.
  • Best hold-onto-your-seats spaceship rides through these strange new places?  Check.

Credit Besson, WETA Digital, Industrial Light and Magic, and hundreds of other visual effects, special effects, make-up, costume and prop creators–Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looks like nothing you’ve seen.  Combine 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and The Fifth Element, and you’ll have an idea of Besson’s big screen epic filled with all sorts of wonderful images.

Valerian is a snapshot of a day in progress in the life of two cocky space pilots.  The leads are two attractive, snarky and sassy, young and very modern, would-be lovers in a typical “will they or won’t they” set up–Valerian, played by Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-man 2, True Blood), and Laureline, played by model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad, Anna Karenina).  Besson peppers the landscape of the big action sequences with the bare threads of their relationship, showing us if their relationship has room to be anything else beyond mere partners.  Beyond their through-line is a race to uncover the mystery behind an Avatar-inspired race of willowy peacelovers ravaged by war.  How are they related to a vision seen by Valerian, and are these peaceful people really the good guys or the bad guys?  But most of the time Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets is a non-stop rollercoaster ride as the leads assemble clues and rescue each other a time or two, as they try also to rescue a missing commander and uncover the mystery behind two unusual items in their possession: a rare magical pearl and a wide-eyed, pint-sized creature with extraordinary abilities.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Amazing?  Definitely.  Spectacular?  Absolutely.  Tom Holland, who stole the show in the key battle of last year’s Captain America: Civil War, has provided the definitive, and yes, the ultimate Spider-man performance in this weekend’s latest Marvel masterwork, Spider-man: Homecoming.  And Holland is equally good, if not better, without the suit as angst-ridden, overburdened teenager and Spider-man alter ego, Peter Parker.  Kids of all ages who ever envisioned the ultimate battle between Spider-man and Batman get their satisfaction here, too: Michael Keaton, in one of his best performances in decades, creates out of an obscure character one of the best supervillain performances to hit the big screen, complete with high-tech bat wings and the classic Keaton we all love to watch.

Moviegoers have seen good efforts from Marvel creating the comic book empire’s flagship, web-slinging superhero before, with Tobey Maguire in three Spider-man solo films and Andrew Garfield in two follow-up Amazing Spider-man films, but this latest story supplies what was missing from the other five: an authentic, likeable, smart, voice-breaking do-gooder and a classic coming of age story with heart.  But it doesn’t skimp on the action, and thanks to some well-filmed 3D and magical IMAX cinematography, one key scene that takes place high atop the Washington Monument made this viewer practically step backward out of his seat into the back row.  Just breathtaking filmmaking.

If you keep a list of superhero movie requirements in the back of your mind, you’ll find that Spider-man: Homecoming fulfills or surpasses them all.  A story with a solid character arc for its lead and antagonist.  A big relief for filmgoers who go to every new superhero movie: writer/director Jon Watts and five other writers (a fact that alone would normally spell certain doom for a film, but not here) knew enough to steer clear of another superhero origin story and instead delved right in.  They flesh out Parker’s relationship with his like-minded, knowledge bowl peers at school and provide more than one jawdropper along the way.  In Keaton’s villain they provide an exceptional, compelling villain, something lacking in the past several years of superhero movies.  Holland sports an update to the Spidey supersuit, and Louise Frogley’s latest costume design is superb, complete with believable, readily available tech supplied in-story by mentor Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark aka Iron Man in his latest perfect adaptation of the role from the comics.  And Michael Giacchino’s powerful and emotional score is among his best, complete with plenty of clever and unexpected themes that amplify the story at the right time.  If you think Peter Parker is a throwaway character, prepare for some emotional work by Holland, especially at his character’s lowest point in the story.

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This week the Saturn Awards crowned the best of genre film and television, selecting the best works on the screen for the 43rd year.  As with last year’s selections, although the start and end dates vary from our own calendar year list, this year’s winners aligned in the major categories with our own borg.com picks of the Best of 2016 from film and television.  If the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Emmys, and all those other award recognitions leave you wanting, you can always depend on the Saturn Awards to come through for genre fans.

So we’re happy to see the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films name Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction in a Film (Gareth Edwards) and Best Film Visual/Special Effects (John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel, Neil Corbould), Doctor Strange as Best Comic-to-Film Motion Picture and Tilda Swinton for Best Supporting Actress in a Film, and Star Trek Beyond for Best Film Make-up (Monica Huppert and Joel Harlow) Star of our favorite superhero sequence of 2016, Spider-man Tom Holland was awarded Best Performance by a Younger Actor for Captain America: Civil War.  In the television categories, Riverdale was named Best Action/Thriller TV Series and star KJ Apa won The Breakthrough Performance Award for his work as the iconic comic book character Archie Andrews.*  The Best New Media TV Series was a tie, shared between Stranger Things and Marvel’s Luke Cageand Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown was named Best Younger Actor on Television.  Even a borg.com Hall of Famer won major kudos this year, Six Million Dollar Man actor Lee Majors was awarded The Life Career Award.  We couldn’t agree more with all these selections.

Other works we liked last year that won honors included 10 Cloverfield Lane for Best Thriller Film, Best Actress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Best Supporting Actor (John Goodman), Deadpool for Best Actor (Ryan Reynolds), Arrival for Best Film Screenplay (Eric Heisserer), and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for Best Film Costume (Colleen Atwood).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Twenty years ago this weekend, the sovereignty of Hong Kong was handed back to China by the United Kingdom as the last act of the old British Empire, without incident.

The anniversary of this transfer of power coincides with the release by Hard Case Crime of one of crime fiction readers’ most eagerly awaited events: the final novel of Donald E. Westlake.  The result surpasses all expectations from one of America’s most celebrated authors:  the adventure of Ian Fleming, the complexity of Michael Crichton, the surprises of Stephen King, the thrills of Peter Benchley, the pulse of John Grisham.  A taut thriller, gripping, heart-pounding, and jaw-dropping, Forever and a Death is Donald E. Westlake saving his best for last.  Forever and a Death is his never-before-published new novel–a James Bond story of sorts–with an intriguing backstory.  Tapped to write the second James Bond film to feature Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Westlake created a compelling story of international intrigue revolving around the return of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997.  Because of the success of GoldenEye, the uncertainty of a smooth transfer of power of Hong Kong, and a distaste by the Chinese market for Bond,  the Broccoli family and the Bond franchise machine amicably parted ways with Westlake.  But he then reworked his story in secret, leaving behind at his death in 2008 a stunning action adventure, only snipping the world famous spy from the story.

The result is one of the most intelligent, loathsome, and shrewd Bond villains you’ll ever meet, Richard Curtis, an enormously wealthy business mogul who has amassed a network of corporations across the globe that will allow him to carry out his every wish.  When he is booted from Hong Kong at the transfer of power, he becomes fixated on a power play to destroy Hong Kong as payback.  As with many wealthy CEOs, Curtis is charismatic and influential.  He has encircled himself with individuals who are beholden to him for their own wealth and they would do anything to maintain his and their own lifestyle.  And that includes murder.  Not as preposterous as many Ian Fleming constructions, the method Westlake creates for Curtis is completely believable: using a series of carefully calculated explosions, a soliton wave will be created that will shake the very foundation of Hong Kong and reduce the entirety of the city–skyscrapers, homes, and millions of lives–to sediment.  Westlake introduces his male protagonist to show us the way, a trusted engineer named George Manville (a partner in action with Bond in the original treatment).  Kept in the dark about the ultimate goal, Manville completes the first test on a small abandoned island near Australia that he believes to be part of a plan to make the island into a lavish resort.  But when an environmental group tries to stimy Curtis’s test, a headstrong activist and diver emerges, a woman named Kim Baldur (who would become, to a small extent, Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies) dives into the ocean and swims for shore to stop the operation.  Unfortunately for her, Manville neglected to incorporate a kill switch to the project, and she is swallowed by the wave and what would have been a superb Honey Ryder-esque Bond girl is left for dead.  And this is only the introduction of the novel.

Artist Paul Mann completing the original artwork for the cover of Forever and a Death (from Illustrated 007).

Westlake peppers his story with completely unique characters, and readers will find they empathize with even the most minor of them as they are subjected to Curtis’s gruesome tactics.  You may need to remind yourself to breathe as well-meaning whistleblowers find themselves in Hong Kong’s underbelly just as Curtis begins to carry out a plan to walk away from his destruction with a haul of gold bars that rest in the bank vaults beneath the city.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A great imagination is a rare thing.  Science fiction has always been, at its core, an avenue for writers to express the endless breadth of their imaginations.  In Bradley W. Schenck’s new novel from Tor Books, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, Schenck creates a story within a world we’ve never seen before, a world only hinted at in early 20th century pop culture, early pulp novels, and film.  For fans of classic sci-fi and all things retro, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom deftly handles science fiction futurism like rarely seen before.  With the same awe and amazement that readers flocked to the future worlds created by Philip K. Dick in his myriad short stories, readers will be glued to the visuals Schenck introduces here.  Painted with shiny blue enamel and chrome, his details are filled with answers to questions from yesteryear.  Answers to questions about the handling of the day-to-day, the mundane, and the ordinary, in an uncertain world of tomorrow where nothing could possibly be mundane or ordinary.  After all they have ray guns and rockets and use slide rules like we use smart phones.

We’re introduced to Retropolis, its immense size and cities inspired by an Art Deco-era mindset and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, yet a world not at all dark or dreary.  This world is new, big, and bright, as detailed, and as big as the original world audiences discovered in Tron in 1982, but far more developed than the future world we met earlier in Logan’s Run.  Closer to anything else, this is Walt Disney’s vision of Tomorrowland.  The hero is everyman, like Korben Dallas, a Plumber-Adventurer, with all the dash and dazzle of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, whose nemesis is a Bondian villain pulled right out of Moonraker, with an equally vile plan to destroy the world as we know it–or at least as our grandparents might have dreamed it.

Like Metropolis, Schenck delves into the trials of human nature at the personal level in an industrialized world, as he follows a crew of switchboard operators whose jobs appear to have been displaced by robots.  But even the robots of Retropolis are like nothing you’ve seen before.  They are several steps before Replicants, but they are People in an early climb up the ladder toward autonomy.  It’s a 1930s vision, with a 1950s shine, bogged down with 21st century problems.  But don’t think this is a political book–the plight of the humans and the robots merely give credibility and gravity to this exciting and fun reality as a small band of average Retropolitans attempt to save the world from certain doom.  And there’s more–Schenck is not only the author of the novel, but the artist supplying futuristic illustrations of his world, complete with end pages featuring a useful guide to each of the story’s main characters.  With so many books written to drive you to the happening at the end, it’s the whirlwind fun of the ride that will prompt you to slow down and enjoy every word–and not want to finish the book so quickly.  It’s great fun.  Even each chapter has a classic, grand, Saturday morning serial title.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The American mid-century modern design movement began in the 1930s and grew into the 1960s as a unique style of art, architecture, and graphic design.  Mid-century advertising is its own nostalgic niche, and a new book released this week provides a refreshing reboot to the artistic stylings as represented in pop culture, toys, and toy promotions.  Toybox Time Machine: A Catalog of the Coolest Toys Never Made could be a catalog of the actual toys of the past.  But it’s not.  It could be a chronicle of box art and packaging of your favorite action figures and trading cards.  But it isn’t.

Instead, commercial illustrator Marty Baumann, a creator behind the visuals in Toy Story 3, Zootopia, Big Hero 6, and Disney/Pixar’s Cars and Planes franchises took inspiration from the Christmas catalogs, store displays, television ads, and comic books of his youth to create ideas for new toys and new toy companies–toys that might have been.  And he’s put them together into an encyclopedia full of fun that will tug at your memory.  We’ve no doubt you could show this book to someone who will tell you specifically that they remember one or more of the toys in this catalog.  That’s the power of nostalgia and Baumann’s sense of mid-century design.

  

You’ll see ads that might have been created for View Master or Ben Cooper Halloween costumes, designs for toys that could have been Marx Toys action figures, G.I. Joes, Barbie dolls, Guillows balsa model kits, and those cheap plastic toys you could only order from the tiny ads in comic books.  The commonality is the bright, loud, color palette of the era, plus trading cards, battery-operated gadgets, and anything you can display in 3D.  And much of the reflection in design is not secretive but obvious, like an ad for a codebook for The Man Called… C.O.U.S.I.N.  You remember that classic series, right?  Of course you do.

Check out this preview of Toybox Time Machine: A Catalog of the Coolest Toys Never Made, courtesy of IDW Publishing:

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Try as you might to come up with the most off-the-hook crossover and you still won’t be able to predict any of the crossovers coming your way this month.  Beginning next week DC Comics and corporate brother Warner Brothers are uniting the two improbable worlds of DC Comics and Looney Tunes.  Based on idea from Francesco Francavilla in 2010, Elmer Fudd will meet Batman in a dark noir story.  But Wonder Woman taking on the Tasmanian DevilYosemite Sam teaming up with Jonah Hex and Foghorn LeghornMarvin the Martian meets the Martian ManhunterWile E. Coyote teams up with Lobo to take on the Road Runner?  And a team-up of Bugs Bunny and the Legion of Superheroes?

Yes, April 1 is long past.  Don’t adjust your screen.  You don’t need to pinch yourself.  This is really happening.  And we have previews of two of these crossover issues for you below.  Plus we have standard cover and variant cover images for each wacky pairing.

    

DC Comics is also re-releasing the DC/Looney Tunes 100-Page Super Spectacular from the year 2000.  Steve Rude supplies an all-new cover featuring Superman and Bugs Bunny, each the icon of the respective franchises.

    

Each issue is a single-issue special–unfortunately these aren’t being released as monthly titles.  It all starts on June 14 with Legion of Super-heroes/Bugs Bunny Special #1, written by Sam Humphries with artwork by Tom Grummett and Scott Hanna and a variant cover by Ty Templeton.  The Legion of Super Heroes always thought they had taken their inspiration from the 21st Century’s Superboy.  But when they try to bring that hero into their future time, the team discovers to their surprise the caped champion isn’t who—or even what—they expected!  Also on June 14, Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian Special #1, written by Steve Orlando and Frank Barberi, interior and cover art by Aaron Lopreski, and variant cover by Stephen DeStefano.  Martian Manhunter tries to halt Marvin the Martian’s determination for world domination. J’onn is conflicted with his own Martian identity as he attempts to stop the hapless, determined Marvin from blowing Earth to bits in order to gain a clear view of Venus.

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We got a taste of the rampaging Darth Vader we always wanted to see in the finale of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  In all of the movies Darth Vader seemed to be more shadow and talk than the wrath and ferocity his enemies feared in the films and stories.  So when do we get to see Darth Vader at his peak?  Marvel Comics writer Charles Soule (Poe Dameron, Astonishing X-Men) and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli (Amazing Spider-man) will give us the first look at that side of Darth Vader this month in the newest series titled Darth Vader.

Darth Vader takes place immediately after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  So this is the Vader new to his cybernetic form, new to the armor, the breathing apparatus, and he’s alone–his wife and to his knowledge an unborn child is dead.  His only “friend” is the Emperor himself.  Vader’s first steps in the Dark Side as a Sith Lord, the acquisition of his red light saber, and his rise to power into the Imperial command structure are all ahead for readers of the series.  Check out a preview of Issue #1 below, after the break.

   

The first issue will feature several covers.  The main cover is by Jim Cheung.  Other covers will be provided by artists Adi Granov, Skottie Young, Phil Noto, an action figure variant by John Tyler Christopher, a blank sketch cover, a movie film cover, and an incredible homage to Dave Cockrum’s cover to Uncanny X-Men, Issue #145, by Mark Brooks–one of this year’s candidates for best comic book cover art.

Here’s Cockrum’s original cover and the pre-color, and pre-weathered version of the image by Brooks:

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Surprisingly CW’s Riverdale not only teased the answer to the show’s big mystery in last night’s penultimate episode–instead of dragging viewers into a season finale cliffhanger–it delivered the goods.  The result is a tightly written, highly watchable and addictive first season that will stand alone as an example of how to get your characters and plot right from the very beginning, and a easy watch for new viewers wanting to jump on for Season Two.

Satisfaction.  Above all else, it’s what matters to the viewing audience.  Writers can throw twists and plenty of shock and awe onto the screen, but if they cannot tie up all the loose ends without a deus ex machina event or similar trickery, viewers won’t come back for the second season.  How many opening seasons of series give the audience enough interest to keep watching, yet they are full of ups and downs, episodes that don’t quite work, too many red herrings, and tangled plot threads that seemed to be stuffed into the show for filler?  Heroes, Lost, and Twin Peaks garnered immediate cult followings, yet they dragged the big secrets out until we just didn’t care anymore.

How few television series have been as tightly written as Riverdale?  CW’s other comic book adaptations weren’t this good in their freshman year–Arrow, The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, CBS’s Supergirl–none created a finely stitched together bookend set of episodes that will be fun to watch again and again once they arrive at Netflix or other streaming services.  Riverdale took an idea: adapting a classic, 75-year-old, well-known set of characters from a beloved comic book, added in that comic book’s own modern updates from the recent past, and then gave it a dark twist.  Both Twin Peaks and the look and feel of Archie Comics’ own dark title Afterlife With Archie are owed plenty of credit, along with a great story writing team and a top-notch cast.

You’ll need to watch the series for yourself to discover who killed the Laura Palmer of Riverdale, Jason Blossom.  In fact you’ll think you have it all figured out until the big reveal at the end of last night’s episode, “Anatomy of a Murder.”  But you’ll probably be wrong.

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