Category: Movies


Kingdom J

We’ve seen Netflix take this approach successfully with series like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Take a Netflix successful series and splice in a standalone episode to surprise and please the fanbase.  This time it’s for a series we pegged as one of the Top 40 of the past decade, the South Korean brilliant horror mash-up, KingdomTwo seasons of the series (the first reviewed here, the second reviewed here) have everything: a great historical drama, royal family betrayals, medieval action, pandemic politics, and zombie horror, all supported across a giant, beautiful Korean landscape.  Kingdom isn’t what you’d think of as K-drama, at least not your typical romance heavy fantasy.  This month Netflix is surprising its viewers with what it calls a “sidequel,” a feature-length movie about a fringe character that arrived in the second season.  Check out a preview and images from Kingdom: Ashin of the North, below:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

So often big budget dramas dressed in sci-fi dress rise up the box office rankings, you might miss the best films, the ones that don’t need the big budgets or major stars, the refreshing sleepers that surprise you.  One of those great surprises was Midnight Special, which I reviewed here at borg back in 2016.  The next spectacular science fiction work is even better–The Vast of Night–the brainchild of writer-director-producer-editor Andrew Patterson (who is billed under multiple names), now streaming on Amazon Prime.  Could this freshman filmmaker be the next J.J. Abrams, John Carpenter, or Steven Spielberg?  Think Super 8, The Fog, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in a setting like American Graffiti and The Outsiders, with stunning cinematography, superb dialogue in a tightly written script, and a fresh and eerie use of sound.  If you missed this Amazon Studios arrival earlier this summer, you’re in for a treat of 1950s teenage sleuths, a radio station, and strange goings about town: An ambitious film that comes pretty close to perfect science fiction in the classic tradition of The Twilight Zone, The War of the Worlds, and the short stories of Philip K. Dick.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

So many books that go behind the scenes of films take a similar approach, skimming the surface with interviews of only top production heads, providing diehard fans of the property who have read all the fanzines little that is new.  So when you get an immersive treatise like The Making of Alien, you must take a few weeks to digest every story, quote and anecdote found inside.  Maybe it’s because so much of the inception of the other classics J.W. Rinzler has written about is the stuff of sci-fi movie legend, but Rinzler’s research this time around is completely enthralling.  Writer Dan O’Bannon, writer and initial director Walter Hill, concept artist H.R. Giger, director and storyboard artist Ridley Scott, actors Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright, and Ian Holm–Rinzler’s chronology is framed by the entry of these people into the project and their key roles.  The account of their intersected careers and efforts resulting in the 1979 sci-fi/horror classic provide a detailed understanding of studio productions in the 1970s.  For fans of the film and the franchise, you couldn’t ask for more for this year’s 40th anniversary of Alien.

Rinzler, who has also created similar deep dives behind the scenes of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, the Indiana Jones films, and last year’s The Making of Planet of the Apes, has established the best format for giving sci-fi fans the ultimate immersive experience.  In many ways The Making of Alien is an account of the necessary vetting process behind any major creative endeavor.  The first draft of any story is never the best, and sometimes neither is the 100th draft.  But the best books and the best movies get reviewed by other people, usually producers, editors, studios, departments, some with prestige and money backing them, sometimes over and over, with changes made to every chapter, with creators and ideas that are tried on for size, dismissed, re-introduced, and sometimes brought back again.  By the end of many a film, the contributors are exhausted and disenchanted, some even devastated.  Only sometimes this is alleviated by a resulting success.  It was even more difficult working on a project like Alien–a mash-up of science fiction and horror pulled together in the 1970s, when drama was in, and science fiction meant either the cold drama of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the roller coaster spectacle of Star Wars.  Behind the scenes there would be overlaps in creative types, like famed set “graffiti artist” Roger Christian and sound expert Ben Burtt.  But ultimately Alien had to be something different to get noticed.

The stories of O’Bannon and Giger’s contributions and conflicts are the most intriguing of the bunch, and if you’ve read everything available on the film you’ll be surprised there is far more to their stories you haven’t read.  The influence of John Carpenter was paramount to getting the idea of the film past the first step, particularly his films Dark Star and The Thing.  Along the journey other creators would intersect with the project–people like Steven Spielberg, Alan Ladd, Jr., John Dykstra, Brian Johnson, Nick Allder, Ron Cobb, Jerry Goldsmith, and even Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You’ll find a lot familiar about the journey in the new sci-fi thriller Underwater, but it’s certain to keep you on the edge of your seat, trigger your claustrophobia, and get most of the beats of the survival thriller genre right.  Most of that is thanks to Kristen Stewart, who stars as an engineer named Norah, working in an oil drilling facility seven miles down at the bottom of the ocean.  Stewart makes our own recent tour of isolation seem pretty tame, as her world literally explodes due to some deep-sea fracking that causes an earthquake, breaking up the facility and severely minimizing the opportunities to leave for the surface.  If that weren’t enough, the earthquake releases some kaiju-inspired beasties.  It all allows Stewart to create a character as tough and heroic as Alien’s Ellen Ripley with a modern homage to the original sci-fi survivor.

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Snowpiercer book cover a

Review by C.J. Bunce

Three things should get you to take a second look at both the 2013 movie Snowpiercer and the new behind the scenes book Snowpiercer: The Art and Making of the Film, just released from Titan Books.  First, it’s been a really hot summer almost everywhere and the movie is all about freezing cold temps.  Second, everyone loves Chris Evans, and it’s time to revisit his work outside of the supersuit and shield.  Third, after winning three Oscars in 2020, for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture, everyone should also go back and revisit the works of Korean director Bong Joon-ho.  After the film suffered a long and clunky path to theaters thanks to the Weinstein scandal, the end result–even if it was far removed from its source material–was an interesting action movie, notable for actor Song Kang-ho, too.  It’s been seven years since Snowpiercer, the highly, almost ludicrously improbable story of a train carrying the last humans on Earth akin to Noah’s Ark, finally arrived in wide release (see my review here), but now it gets a thorough investigation in Snowpiercer: The Art and Making of the Film, which was also delayed, this time for the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the intervening years a prequel tie-in TV series took off.  For all the above reasons, it’s a good time to hunker down and take a look at this book and its one-of-a-kind vision.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re probably far from seeing a story featuring the bounty hunter Valance as good as in the pages of the original Marvel Comics series in 1978, but the first issue of the latest Star Wars comic book series is promising.  Valance, borg Hall of Famer and the first character in science fiction specifically referred to as a “borg,” shares the spotlight with a few other familiar faces in Star Wars: Bounty Hunters, now available in comic book stores.  When Star Wars writers and artists pull from the original trilogy and do it right, it can be quite fun for fans of the franchise.  And much seems to involve deconstructing every detail of George Lucas’s original visions.  For this series, that means asking the question: Why would you have so many bounty hunters on the bridge of Darth Vader’s star destroyer?  The answer became clear in last year’s Disney+ series The Mandalorian: it’s because sometimes that’s how the jobs work–if you can afford it.  And that’s the starting point of Star Wars: Bounty Hunters.

In the not too distant past we meet Valance working with Boba Fett the Mandalorian and the lizard-like Trandoshan called Bossk, two of the fellows we first met on Vader’s ship, working a job with a few other hunters.  Only the job goes sideways due to the actions of one of the hunters, Nakano Lash.  So the story begins when Lash becomes the bounty, setting the other hunters after her.  Taking place after the events of The Empire Strikes Back, that means Han Solo remains in carbonite in the cargo hold.  And it also means Lady Proxima is still around, the character that held Han’s life in her hands, introduced in Solo: A  Star Wars Story.  And it also makes room for Doctor Aphra, a character from the more recent comics universe.

 

In fact, writer Ethan Sacks and artist Paolo Villanelli appear to have the ability to play with the entire Star Wars universe in a single series.  No longer are they held back, tethered to the lead characters Luke, Leia, Han, and Darth Vader, so readers can finally dig into the other corners of the already established Star Wars galaxy.  The first issue probably has more characters and action sequences than necessary, but it’s a promising beginning.  Check out covers from the first four issues and a preview of the first issue below.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The latest Aliens novel will come as a surprise to fans of the Alien franchise and tie-in novels.  More of a video game tie-in than an outer space/sci-fi/horror tale, Aliens: Phalanx finds its confrontation with the gloss black, spike-tailed Xenomorphs on a planet much like audiences saw in the sister series, Predators, where individuals are plucked from across the universe and dropped on an undeveloped planet to survive being hunted by that franchise’s title creatures.  Like something out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, or the tie-in novels for Warcraft, Tomb Raider, or Gears of War, readers meet up with members of a pre-industrial culture fighting for survival.  Aliens: Phalanx arrives in stores everywhere today and is available to order here at Amazon.

Literally a society on the run, locals must strategize their movements to get from place to place, actually living among the Xenomorphs that they not surprisingly refer to as “demons.”  Writer Scott Sigler details in more than 500 pages–the longest Alien tie-in yet–his characters’ journey, all toward the ends of touching back into more of the familiarity of the Alien universe.  The conceit of the films is that humans could stand any chance against the Xenomorphs.  Readers’ suspension of disbelief will be pressed even further here, when those being asked to survive in the tale do not benefit from the full arsenal of Weyland/Yutani’s corporate-backed armament as found in the Aliens movie and prior stories.

Billed as a “medieval” tale, Aliens: Phalanx is probably more about “going medieval,” survival in the modern sense, more than anything that touches on the actual Middle Ages (as a historian I wouldn’t have guessed the Middle Ages presence here over, say, an early North or Latin America construct).  In fact, without the title and cover art, for most of the novel readers wouldn’t know they were reading an Aliens universe story.  The environment, the worldbuilding, the culture, the lack of naming convention all lend the book to have been readily adapted to an alien world of any sci-fi franchise, or even something like Cowboys and Aliens, as the vibe is more something out of S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk–primitive culture but not so primitive antagonists in a horrifying, primal bid for survival.

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As we first previewed here at borg last July, Titan Publishing and Alcon Media Group, the producer behind more than 30 films over the past 20 years, announced a partnership that will mean the beginning of an expanded universe of stories for Rick Deckard, Replicants, and the world of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049.  Today Titan Comics released its first look at the new comic book series, and revealed its title, Blade Runner 2019The original film and this year have been the subject of millions of shared memes commenting on the fact that the real 2019 looks little like Ridley Scott’s 1982 vision of 2019.

The new series will be “in canon” comics and graphic novels that dive deeper into the Blade Runner world.  According to an Alcon representative, “The Blade Runner universe has barely been explored; there is so much more there.  It’s an honour to be bringing this world to life in new ways for a new audience – and to reveal tales from that universe that you’ve never seen before.”  Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was adapted from the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a novel by science fiction legend Philip K. Dick, who endorsed the original film project in 1982, but died before its release.

New character concept drawings for Blade Runner 2019.

Launching this summer, Titan Comics’ new series will be set during the exact timeframe of the original 1982 Blade Runner film, and feature a mostly new set of characters and situations.   Artist Andres Guinaldo (Justice League Dark, Captain America) created the above first looks at characters featured in the new story.  He joins Oscar-nominated Blade Runner 2049 screenwriter Michael Green (Logan) and Mike Johnson (Star Trek, Super­man/Batman) on the series.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Everything’s connected.  Everything’s vulnerable.

The visionary behind the groundbreaking 1997 science fiction film Gattaca has at last delivered his next worthy sci-fi follow-up.  The direct-to-Netflix movie Anon is equal parts future crime and noir detective thriller.  It stars Clive Owen (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Children of Men, Sin City) and Colm Feore (Thor, The Chronicles of Riddick, Paycheck) as police detectives in a near-future Earth where smart phone and computer technology has merged with the mind.  Technology and science have evolved to allow humans to instantly identify and search their minds and a database shared with everyone as they move through their day–as if Google Glass tech was inside a contact lens wired to the brain.  Written, produced, and directed by Andrew Niccol, writer/director of Gattaca and writer of The Truman Show, Anon features a police detective nicely synthesizing Rick Deckard, Frank Bullitt, and Dirty Harry Callahan.  Only an actor as unique as Clive Owen could pull that off.

With a world similar to Gattaca–but a colder, stark, and concrete-filled version of a rigid, totalitarian future close to that of the Prime side in the world of the Starz series Counterpart–telling lies has become a thing of the past.  The detectives must track down an unidentifiable woman, the anonymous hacker of the title played by Amanda Seyfried (Veronica Mars, Ted 2, Mamma Mia!), sought as the criminal behind a string of murders.  This hacker can erase memories and replace real thoughts with replaced images, and we see the best example of this as Owen’s detective pursues the hacker in a busy subway.  Oddly, this dystopia doesn’t feel as horrible as that of Mad Max: Fury Road, or Blade Runner, or Terminator.  It’s just not that far removed from the wired life of today.  Which should be enough of a cautionary warning.

Stark but slick and cool like The Adjustment Bureau, not only the visuals of Anon but the music is haunting and cold, thanks to an inspired score from Christophe Beck (Ant-Man, Edge of Tomorrow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  Surreal camera angles and the use of shadow firmly plant the audience in this future thanks to cinematographer Amir Mokri, and you can credit production designer Philip Ivey (District 9, Elysium) and art director Aleksandra Marinkovich (Crimson Peak, Kick-Ass 2, Total Recall) for a stunning, new vision that leaves behind tech noir for something fresh and different.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A behind the scenes book for a 2019 movie, which consists of a third or more of its images from 2005?  As fascinating as the special effects developed for the film, the history of the movie merits its own book, and it gets it in Abbie Bernstein‘s Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie, now out from Titan Books.  It turns out executive producer James Cameron and artists were working on the pre-production of Alita: Battle Angel during the development of his film Avatar.  According to interviews with Cameron and Alita director Robert Rodriguez, in the early 2000s the technology was not yet advanced to deliver what they wanted for their adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga novel.  But now that it’s arrived, fans of the film can trace its development over the past 15 years.

Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie is filled with concept art, split between 2005 digital ideas in advance of knowing what actors might be cast and final characters developed, and a renewed look at the project as it began to get fully underway only a few years ago.  Key interviews with Rodriguez, Cameron, producer Jon Landau, production designers Caylah Eddleblute and Steve Joyner, art director Todd Holland, visual effects supervisors Richard Hollander and Eric Saindon, costume designer Nina Proctor, Weta Digital’s Joe Letteri, and others tell the story–a marriage of practical effects and CGI.  In fact the commenters almost seem to have a battle between those responsible between the practical effects and CGI–all with an eye toward realism.  The most interesting aspects of the discussion are the incorporation of Alita star Rosa Salazar’s motion capture (or per Rodriguez, “performance capture” since motion doesn’t include the “emotion” element required to make a story come together) with Proctor’s real-world costumes, and the CGI layering that ends up as the final image that made it to the screen.

No doubt a highlight of the film and of the book are detailed images of Alita’s cyborg body shell, as created by the character of Dr. Ido in the film.  In real life it looks incredibly porcelain, but the artists discuss how the body and all the components of the film were actually fabricated.  The commenters don’t reference their inspirations for the look of the Iron City in the film or its cyborg inhabitants, but fans of the genre will no doubt see the influences–from the borg designs to story elements–from films including Chappie, Elysium, District 9, Ex Machina, Ghost in the Shell, Mad Max: Fury Road, Cameron’s The Terminator, and even the light cycles of Tron.  Readers will learn more about the science behind the cyborgs in the film–how Cameron and others estimated weights of body parts, including Alita’s removable metal heart, as an example–all needed for 3D and CGI work and viewer believability.

Take a look inside Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie courtesy of the publisher:

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