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Tag Archive: Titan Books


   

Review by C.J. Bunce

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, reviewed here at borg.com, is a summer marvel, director Luc Besson’s epic sci-fi, space fantasy we loved, but was overlooked by many because of its clunky title, its lackluster publicity efforts, and its spectacular visuals that overshadowed its simple love story in the eyes of many mainstream movie critics.  It deserves another look, and for those who missed the story for the special effects, its novelization by author Christie Golden is a great way to see what you may have missed.  Another movie that suffered similarly, but only for U.S. audiences, was director Yimou Zhang’s epic film The Great Wall, reviewed here at borg.com, a late winter release full of inspired, colorful, medieval martial arts battles, but a thinner narrative that was also arguably overshadowed by its own dazzling imagery.  Mark Morris’s novelization of the film fleshes out and clarifies the roles of all the characters that filled the enormous cinematic event.

Putting the movies aside, if you’re a fan of novelizations–if you just enjoy experiencing a film word by word, zipping along with a fun action adventure–each of these books should accompany you in your luggage on your next vacation.  I’ve read and enjoyed this segment of genre fiction for years, and remember spending cross-country trips in the backseat of the family car reading the novelizations of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, The Empire Strikes Back, and the 1989 movie Batman.  Years ago before videos, DVDs, Blu-rays, and digital HD, when the prospect of seeing the movie again in the near future was slight, fans really could only turn to novelizations and the rare films that received the comic book adaptation.  You might think the market may not be as great for novelizations today, yet movies continue to get re-written into novels.  And many are still reading–and loving–them.

Both Valerian and The Great Wall have similar narrative structures.  Both involve two protagonists that embark on a hero’s journey against a giant landscape of action and activity.  In Valerian, two spacepilot operatives are charged with the mission to re-capture a stolen artifact, and along the way they are pulled into a greater conflict involving the fate of millions.  In The Great Wall, two medieval warriors are on a quest to seek the rumored new creation called gunpowder, when their search is cut short by a rare, mythic encounter that could spell certain doom for the cities bordering China’s Great Wall.  The relationship of each of these pairs of characters is very modern, full of dialogue with modern quips, verbal sparring and ribbing each other despite their friendships, and the characters themselves are not necessarily relatable or even likeable at first glance.  If you don’t immediately buy the characters’ relationships, then the global conflict they take us through, despite the films’ epic visuals, may simply not work for you.  But if you give them a chance and jump aboard with the characters, then both stories can be great fun. The novelizations are a great way to give them that chance.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

So many books chronicle seasons of hit television series, but a new release for BBC’s Orphan Black takes viewers beyond the norm.  Like the incredible behind the scenes access we saw in Firefly–A Celebration, Abbie Bernstein’s new book The DNA of Orphan Black shows how the unique science fiction series creates its magic.  In 2013 we first saw Sarah Manning watch her doppelganger step out in front of a train.  Who knew how many clones we’d meet in the series, and how many roles Tatiana Maslany, last year’s Best Actress Emmy winner, could play in a single scene?  It’s not so difficult to wrap your head around the characters of the series because Maslany plays them all so well.  But when you try to list your favorite characters on the series, you momentarily forget “they” are a single actress portraying so many incredible people, and none like anyone you’ve seen before.

In The DNA of Orphan Black fans get unprecedented access to the development process, as told by the show’s creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson.  We learn how Maslany sees each character and created the nuances of each personality.  And we learn from the supporting cast, plus makeup designer Stephen Lynch, hair designer Sandy Sokolowski, costume designer Debra Hanson, art director Jody Clement, and production designer John Dondertman, and more.  Wrapping up its series finale in only four weeks, Orphan Black doesn’t have anything left to hide.  So we learn the tricks of the trade, and how the sleight of hand by the production team has created such complex scenes like Helena’s dream sequence and the clone dance party.  How do viewers know we’re not seeing Maslany’s Rachel, but her Krystal posing as Rachel?  Makeup designer Stephen Lynch explains how.  You’ll learn great tidbits about the show, like how the hair designer created only one “hero” wig for each of Maslany’s characters (each cost $5,000 to $8,000).

The DNA of Orphan Black is not just another TV show souvenir book.  It’s full of behind the scenes images, but it also includes surprisingly detailed interviews, thanks to author Abbie Bernstein (whose last book, The Great Wall–The Art of the Film, was one of the best film art books we’ve reviewed at borg.com).  You’ll see from the table of contents (below) that not only does Maslany provide a few pages of content as lead actor, as found in many TV books, each of her characters gets separate discussion as they would if they’d been played by different actors on any other series.  So as a fan you can get right to your favorite performance by Maslany.  Equal to Bernstein’s handling of the sestra clones is her attention to the key secondary characters: Felix (Jordan Gavaris), Art (Kevin Hanchard), Donnie (Kristian Bruun), Siobhan (Maria Doyle Kennedy), Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), the Castor clones (Ari Millen), and probably most significantly, Maslany’s acting double, Kathryn Alexandre.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Three years ago this month we last saw the wise ape leader Caesar and his army in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Next week Caesar brings the war to mankind in the theatrical release of War for the Planet of the Apes.  Titan Books has released the prequel to the film that bridges Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, Greg Keyes’ War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations.  And the title is quite appropriate as secrets are learned by both sides in the man vs. ape battle that has spanned the franchise’s 50-year history.

Author Greg Keyes, who provided us with the wonderfully detailed account of the apes and the virus that strikes in his prequel to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm, a borg.com Best of 2014 book reviewed here, returns with an equally compelling account of the characters as they have matured and begin to grow battle weary.  No longer is Caesar–the great ape leader played in the films by Andy Serkis–or his followers and an opposing faction of apes struggling with communication.  Now the key conflict is ape vs. ape as Caesar attempts to direct the apes toward a peaceful compromise with the humans.

We at last meet the character to be played in the new film by Woody Harrelson, Colonel McCullough, hell-bent on destroying the apes at any cost.  But Keyes pulls from history to develop both a Shakespearean tale and an ancient one.  In Ancient Roman history, when rule was passed upon death from father to son, frequently the empire would learn that sons of great leaders are rarely so great.  Keyes creates a parallel study of the Colonel and his unseasoned soldier of a son, John, and of Caesar and Caesar’s son, proven to have been weak on the battlefield, too.  Each of the son of the Colonel, and the son of Caesar, called Blue Eyes (played in the films by Nick Thurston), have impactful character arcs here.  And both the Colonel and Caesar must face opposition of their own–the Colonel from what fragment of the government is left, and Caesar from the remaining loyalists to the great tragic figure of Koba, who was dropped from a cliff by Caesar at the end of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

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James Bond returns as we salute Sir Roger Moore, who passed away last week–the first franchise film James Bond actor to leave us.  This time Bond is back in the 1960s adaptations of six of his adventures in Goldfinger, the latest volume of The Complete Ian Fleming’s James Bond: The Classic Comic Strip Collection.  In addition to Goldfinger, you’ll find adaptations of the short stories and novels Risico, From A View To A Kill, For Your Eyes Only, The Man With The Golden Gun, and The Living Daylights.  These are restored editions of the original comic strip title that pre-dated the film adaptations.  But it’s a challenge not to read them in your head in the voices of the actors that portrayed them.

You haven’t heard of Risico?  Risico is a drug trafficking story that hails from Ian Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only, a collection of Bond short stories that also featured From a View to a Kill and Quantum of Solace, all adaptations themselves of plots for a Bond television series that was never filmed.  It’s always a curiosity to wait and see what the next Bond film will be titled, with almost all pulled from a Fleming novel, short story, or, in the case of Goldeneye, a Bond concept.  Risico is not only an unused film title, but an interesting story, adaptable to the modern day–prime fodder for another Daniel Craig outing–and the classic comic strip here is a fun introduction to this Fleming story.

The standout creator in this new book is late artist John McLusky, who is superb in his ability to keep a dialogue-heavy series full of action and intrigue.  McLusky is responsible for all the Bond trope visuals–the look and feel of Bond that carried over into the movie versions.  The streamlined but completely fleshed-out adaptations were provided by writers Henry Gammidge and Jim Lawrence.

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When you think of the Alien franchise, what iconic images come to mind?  Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in a giant power loader suit or going face-to-face with a Xenomorph?  The first facehugger?  Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez realizing they were facing something hopeless?  Queen of sci-fi Veronica Cartwright’s scream at the first terrifying chest burst?  Ridley holding Jonesy finally sighing with relief that they survived the alien onslaught?  Dozens of these and other iconic images are packed into a new adult coloring book, Alien: The Coloring Book, coming this May from Titan Books.

The adult coloring book business is gaining steam with publishers taking extra efforts to see that the artwork inside meets the standard of the franchise.  Alien: The Coloring Book has pulled together artwork that resembles the actors and key scenes from the movie, but also does so in a visually interesting manner and conforms to the whole point of these books: to give fans a chance to color their favorite scenes (in or outside the lines).

Creating scenes from all of the Alien movies featuring heroine Ellen Ripley are artists Leandro Casco, Wellington Diaz, Vinz El Tabanas, Salvador Navarro, Guilherme Raffide, Rubine, Vincenzo Zerov Salvo, Adriano Vicente, and Daniel Wichinson.  Eighty pages provide Xenomorphs, chestbursters, Xenomorph eggs, your favorite characters, spacesuits, ships, Ridley Scott’s futuristic sets and H.R. Giger-inspired designs.  One of the fun illustrations features Lance Henriksen’s cyborg Bishop playing mumbletypeg with the hand of Private Hudson (played by the late Bill Paxton).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of the 1985 movie Fletch, you probably think of Chevy Chase’ s humorous, over-the-top take on undercover reporter I.M. Fletcher.  But Fletch the movie was only loosely based on the award-winning mystery novels by author Gregory Mcdonald.  Mcdonald wrote dozens of novels before his death in 2008.  One of those is Snatched, a kidnapping story reprinted this year for the first time in 30 years by Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint.

Originally published in 1978 as Who Took Toby Rinaldi? in the U.S. and Snatched in the UK, Mcdonald crafted a thriller about the botched kidnapping of the eight-year-old son of a Persian Gulf region ambassador to the United Nations as he readies a proposal with global impact before the U.N.  The proposal itself is a bit of a Pelican Brief MacGuffin, but the real action follows a thug named Spike as he hides the abducted boy, Toby Rinaldi.  Toby was on his way to meet his mother Christina for a visit to a Disneyland-esque theme park in California called Fantazyland.  Key to the action and tension are the efforts and setbacks faced by Christina as she attempts to catch the kidnapper, despite her husband’s foreign security squad in the U.S. trying to keep the kidnapping secret.

   

Snatched is a great read.  Its slow, simmering pace reflects nailbiters of the 1960s-1970s like The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Charley Varrick, Magnum Force, or Bullitt.  Many of the characters are intentionally frustrating.  The characters are frustrated, and that is channeled to the reader page after page.  Toby’s father is caught between the direct demands of his king and responsibility to family.  The political factions behind the kidnapping plot–a small group of tried and tested, denizen mercenaries whose failure to communicate and coordinate because of their own personal distractions cause them to trip over each other as they attempt what might otherwise be the simplest of crimes.  Despite Mcdonald’s Fletch character translated to the big screen, make no mistake:  Snatched is not a comedy.  It’s also low on violence, other than a little boy in jeopardy as the main plot point, which is handled deftly by Mcdonald.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The best thing about reading a book about the making of a film, without first watching the film, is that your view of the book is not skewed by your opinion of the film.  If you knew nothing about The Great Wall, the new behind-the-scenes look in The Great Wall: The Art of the Film will prompt you to want to see it.  Not only will you find incredible concept art, set design, costumes, and props, the book itself is unique.  In the past five years “making of” film and art books have vastly improved in quality.  Abbie Bernstein’s new book from Titan Books features the best quality images, the best layouts, and the best book design of any book yet reviewed at borg.com–the book itself has a traditional Chinese book binding and gilded edges.  It also features an element left out of many film books these days–it includes images of the entire film, and doesn’t remove spoiler elements, such as, in this case, detailed images of the film’s monsters and ending (the art book for Star Wars: The Force Awakens provided no final image of Luke Skywalker and several costumes and props, as an example).

An icon of China cinema, the man behind several “art house” films in China and the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics, director Zhang Yimou discusses in the book why The Great Wall is unique and how it became the biggest production in China film history.  If you have watched stunning Chinese film work over the years and aren’t a fan of dubbed or subtitled films, the barrier is language–how can you connect U.S. and Chinese film audiences?  Yimou intended just that by making a Hollywood-esque film as a Chinese production in English with a cast and crew from dozens of nations, including more than 100 on-set translators.  Beyond that goal, the powerful imagery of the film as displayed throughout The Great Wall: The Art of the Film, is the stuff of Academy Award-winning costume design and art design.

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Along with interviews with Zhang are chapters featuring producer Peter Loehr, actors Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, and Willem Dafoe.  The most visually stunning chapters detail The Nameless Order, with Zhang’s color coding of each fighting corps, including the royal blue Crane Corps–the fighting unit consisting entirely of women.  We see frosted plastic pages displaying each corps symbol, and poster quality designs highlight each leader, along with their shields and weaponry.  Detailed sections feature the creation and design of the film’s monsters–the mythical Tao Tei–and how WETA and Industrial Light and Magic created them.  And each key sequence of the film is revealed with photographs of special effects and the actors in action.

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It’s arrival brought us a new age in superhero television series–arguably the best comic book TV adaptation since the original 1980s series The Flash that starred John Wesley Shipp.  It’s Arrow, the CW Network’s groundbreaking story of Oliver Queen starring Stephen Amell.  Unlike the successful Marvel Comics movie series, Arrow looked outside the comic book’s core stories and expanded the source material to allow the inclusion of B, C, and D level villains plus many superheroes, ultimately including most of the second tier Justice League members.  Surpassing the DC’s movie efforts and Marvel’s attempts at small-screen serials, Arrow has continued to make comic books come alive for four years since we first reviewed the world premiere viewing of the pilot at San Diego Comic-Con here at borg.com back in July 2012.

The stories have been different but loyal to its origins.  Instead of Star City or Seattle the stories were based in Starling City.  Sidekicks nicknamed Speedy became split into his sister Thea and Roy Harper.  Two Black Canary characters were formed from two sisters instead of the mother and daughter split in the classic stories.  And Green Lantern is not in the picture at all.  Along the way the series split off Barry Allen’s Flash into his own fun series, a dozen other heroes and villains joined DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and this year CW’s DC on TV ties in Supergirl.  So many untapped stories can now be told as the DC universe is apparently unshackeled barring only interconnected stories with Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Aquaman, who will be featured on the big screen next year instead.

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Tomorrow night the fifth episode of Season 5 airs.  For those fans who want to delve into an “in-universe” look at Oliver Queen and his efforts to save his city, Titan Books has released Arrow: Oliver Queen’s Dossier, a detailed, 160-page scrapbook of notes, newspaper articles, documents, and records collected by Starling City’s emerald archer as he investigated crimes in the first three seasons of the TV series.

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Some of our favorite books we’ve reviewed at borg.com are the pulp noir novels from Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint.  We’ve read the obscure-but-excellent, previously unpublished or out-of-print works from the likes of Stephen King, Gore Vidal, Ed McBain, Michael Crichton, and more, all from one publishing house.  Next month Hard Case Crime is turning to the comic book medium to offer new, serialized stories that could have come straight from early 20th century magazines.  And we have previews below for borg.com readers.

First up is Triggerman, Issue #1, available in comic book stores this week.  It’s a Prohibition era story from producer/screenwriter/director giant Walter Hill (Deadwood, Red Heat, Aliens film series, Last Man Standing, Geronimo, Rustler’s Rhapsody, Crossroads, 48 Hrs, Brewster’s Millions, The Getaway, The Long Riders), French writer Matz, and the artist known as Jef, who supplies some evocative, classic pulp style imagery.  It’s billed as a Lawless meets Bonnie & Clyde story.  Fans of Road to Perdition will love this series.

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Peepland, Issue #1, begins a semi-autobiographical, neo-noir tale from novelists Christa Faust (Money Shot, Nightmare on Elm Street) & Gary Phillips (The Underbelly, The Rinse).  Peepland is billed as Taxi Driver meets Goodfellas, with gorgeous art from Andrea Camerini (Il Troio).  Fans of Howard Chaykin’s Satellite Sam should check out this new series.

Here are preview pages and cover art, courtesy of Hard Case Crime:
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Westlake Forever and a Death Hard Case Crime

Whether you knew him as Tucker Coe, Curt Clark, Samuel Holt, Timothy J. Culver, J. Morgan Cunningham, Judson Jack Carmichael–or Richard Stark–you’ve probably read something by hard-boiled crime novelist and mystery writer Donald E. Westlake.  His most famous of these were probably his Parker novels, written under the pen name Richard Stark.  Westlake passed away eight years ago, but after more than 100 novels have hit the bookstores over the decades yet another as-yet unpublished Westlake novel will be released next year.

True to form as the latest groundbreaking imprint for true crime fans, Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime will be releasing Westlake’s Forever and a Death next year.  Aficionados of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and all the movie adaptations should take note.  Forever and a Death was actually the title of a “what if” of sorts.  Westlake submitted a story with this title (as well as alternate titles Dragonsteeth, Never Look Back, Nobody Dies, and On Borrowed Time) as a possible script for the movie that would have been the sequel to Goldeneye.

It turns out Eon Productions rejected the story so Westlake rewrote the story, swapping out the name James Bond.  That novel is carrying a cover similar to all the other exceptional Hard Case Crime retro-style poster artwork covers we’ve seen so far (J.K. Rowling has even called the Hard Case Crime series design “stunning”).  The cover for Forever and a Death was painted by artist Paul Mann.  And it looks like it would fit in with the exquisite Richie Fahey and Roseanne Serra cover art that graced the line of 14 paperback Bond novels for Fleming’s centenary celebration back in 2008, like these:

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