Category: Sci-Fi Café


Super7, the toy company known for its wide variety of action figure licenses and its retro Kenner style carded, 3.75-inch action figures, greatly surpassed its delivery at last year’s Toy Fair (shown here and here) by bring hundreds of prototype figures, card back mock-ups, and final versions to New York Toy Fair 2020 this past weekend.  More than the typical sneak peek, Super7 previewed a huge variety of action figure cards for its ReAction line, with pre-ordering forecasted for later this year and some items available now here at Amazon.

New action figure licenses at the show include Army of Darkness, An American Werewolf in London, Aliens, Andre the Giant, Back to the Future II, Knight Rider, The Munsters, Archie, Red Dawn, Beavis and Butt-Head, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Son of Frankenstein, Spongebob Squarepants, Halloween II, and a new line of NBA All Stars.  Bands with new figures seen for the first time in the Super7 line include RUN DMC, Notorious B.I.G., and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

Plus past figure lines will see more additions this year.  Those include Universal Studios Monsters, Peanuts, several Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Nightmare Before Christmas, lots of Transformers, Toxic Crusader, Thundercats, Ghost, Misfits, Mars Attacks, Alien, Chucky, and Robocop, and Super7 displayed several final figures this weekend that were previewed last year here at borg, including They Live, Teen Wolf, Major League Baseball All Stars, MLB Mascots, and characters from the Rocky movie series.

Take a look at close-up views of just a sampling of the action figures on display at this year’s event:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Only mere seconds into Farmageddonthe next big production from frequent Oscar-winner and stop-motion pioneer Aardman Animations–and viewers will feel the pangs of their favorite classic Steven Spielberg movies, complete with a magical score that has all the beats of a John Williams-esque adventure, thanks to composer Tom Howe.  This is a return to the lovable Aardman underdog Shaun the Sheep, star of several series and films who we last saw on the big screen in 2015’s Shaun the Sheep movie.  But this time our lovable wooly hero encounters an alien visitor and the resulting effort by directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan with writers Jon Brown, Mark Burton, and Nick Park may be Aardman’s most effective, most lovable, and most far-reaching crowd-pleaser to date.  A direct-to-Netflix presentation, it also stands a chance at being a contender for best full-length animated film at next year’s Oscars.

Shaun the Sheep steps in for Spielberg’s Elliott in this modern close encounter with a lovable extra-terrestrial named Lu-la, so adorable that she may even make Baby Yoda go “awww.”  The impeccable stop-motion animation viewers expect from Aardman is here, as well as the cast of endearing anthropomorphic farm animals, but the heartfelt story, unthinkably successful chemistry between clay characters, exquisite visual effects, lighting, and cinematography, and an emotional score make for a triumph of sci-fi and family storytelling, proving a common language is not necessary to understand relationships between someone that might be a bit different.  Here that’s a sheep and an alien, but the story is effective enough that kids (and attentive adults) will apply the message to everyone.  In fact, Aardman proves language isn’t necessary at all–the story is told entirely without spoken English dialogue, relying on expressive visuals, animal voices, and sound effects, making it truly internationally (or intergalactically) enjoyable.

This fun new sci-fi/fantasy adventure begins with a dog guarding his sheep–a motley but crafty band who live at the farm including Shaun–followed by a great homage to Looney Toons classic barnyard antics as the show establishes the farmyard bond between sheep and dog and dog and man.  The man and dog– The Farmer and Bitzer–show Aardman going back to its roots, what first made the filmmaker internationally known through its award-winning shorts.  Wallace and Gromit could be cousins to this man and dog duo, and anchoring the film with the ensemble here again (as with past Shaun stories) instead of going off in a different direction was a wise choice.  It takes a special combination to merge classic animation with expert laugh-out-loud comedy situations, and the creators at Aardman are the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the spirit and creativity of Jim Henson.  The story is sweet and can appeal to a variety of audiences.  The older crowd can try to spot all the influences, and the young at heart can marvel at Farmageddon′s sheer joyous presentation.

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Joseon has become a living hell.
No one will get out alive.
“We must stop it at all costs.”

Director Kim Seong-hun hid the secret to the cause of the zombie plague in the Netflix series Kingdom in plain sight, taking the first season to reveal its secret.  In season two the Crown Prince at last will return to confront his father and the clan of thugs that have kept him under guard, but not before the dead evolve into something worse.  The first South Korean series released by Netflix, Kingdom will see its second season arrive on the streaming provider next month, and Netflix has released its trailer (watch it below).  Sprouting from a well-documented, mysterious plague that killed tens of thousands of people in Hanyang (present-day Seoul) during the 19th century Joseon dynasty, the series transports the viewer to a fully realized Korea of the past, complete with opulent sets, costumes, and production values said to have cost nearly $2 million per episode.  The result matches a stunning script (based on a web series by Kim Eun-hee, who counts herself a zombie aficionado and proves it with this series), top acting from a slate of South Korea’s most award-winning actors, and cinematography showing locations most Westerners have never seen, with an exciting Braveheart of the Far East meets The Walking Dead genre action feast.

In the first season the king came down with smallpox, and on his death bed his latest wife, a young pregnant queen (played by Kim Hye-jun) schemed with her father and the king’s supposed confidante, Lord Cho (Masquerade’s Ryu Seung-ryong), to seize control of the throne, conspiring with Cho’s embedded clan of thugs to shun the true heir, the Crown Prince, played by Ju Ji-hoon (The Spy Gone North) as an earnest, Henry V-inspired leader.  The Crown Prince’s tough (and humorous) lieutenant  is back, assisting him on his journey, played by Sang-ho Kim (Octopus), with the doctor who joined them, played by Doona Bae (Jupiter Ascending), and the mysterious rifle-trained warrior, played by Kim Sung-kyu.  His past was the biggest secret that was left up in the air at the end of season one.

Deception.  Murder.  Conspiracy. 

We named Kingdom the best horror series and best import in our end of year wrap-up here at borg last year (read our full review here).  A prince who above all else looks to protect his people and lead them.  Swords and bow and arrow, and early rifles, as the only means of defense.  Gorgeous, truly cinematic imagery.  Western viewers got an incredible look at a beautiful island, forests, waterfalls, bubbling brooks, palatial estates, lakes and mountain views probably never captured for a wide modern audience, thanks to some stunning cinematography.  Fog, night, and fire eerily presented among cinematic storyboarded action sequences.  The music a blending of traditional, medieval, Eastern themes, and sweeping programmatic action movie cues.  The production sets and artistry are probably matched only by History’s Vikings of the current historical and fantasy TV series available.  And the expected horror of the zombie genre–sword beheadings were never filmed so believably.

Here is the trailer for season two of the big budget, cinematic television series, Kingdom:

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The major toy companies have big plans for New York Toy Fair 2020 this weekend, and already have released marketing information for one of the biggest toy licenses, despite the Skywalker saga ending with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker this past December.  But the Disney+ series has had no problem taking up any slack, thanks to The Mandalorian, universally seen as the most acclaimed and fan-reviewed sci-fi/fantasy series yet–a major rarity in a modern era of snark, trolls, and haters.  Finally, last year’s bizarrely planned drought of available toys featuring The Child, more popularly known by fans as Baby Yoda, will at last be met with a saturation of varieties of the character.  The character will only get more popular and the toys available featuring it are sure to be the major win this year for Disney and Lucasfilm, if not the entire toy industry.  Look for the return of Star Wars: The Clone Wars with a final season on Disney+ to be met with a return of figures and playsets from the animated series.

Getting a jumpstart on the weekend toy show, several of the new toy lines are already available for pre-order focused on The Mandalorian.  We selected what we see as the best of the bunch from the Star Wars previews.  The entirety of the Star Wars licensed products revealed at the show will be even bigger.  Check out images below and links to pre-order at Amazon where available.  As with every annual Toy Fair, just because the toys are announced doesn’t mean you won’t have to wait until next Christmas season to see them in stores.  Ugh!  But some you’ll find are available right now.

So let’s start with The Child.  The big toy will be Hasbro’s The Child Animatronic Edition (shown above), a battery-powered toy with 25+ sounds and movements, including “Force nap,” giggles, sleeping sounds, coos, “Force activation,” and a removable necklace, and fabric robe.  It’s available for pre-order now here for $59.99.  Projected release date is December 15, 2020.  The gamble is getting your order in now versus the possibility of short supplies in December.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You still have a month before visual effects artist-turned director Dave Wilson’s Bloodshot movie arrives as the next cyborg superhero from Marvel Comics to hit the big screen.  But if you want to get a jump on your friends, there’s Bloodshot: The Official Movie Novelization, just released from Titan Books, a  great read for fans of all things borg.  Readers will be pulled inside the story of Ray Garrison, a slain special ops Marine, who is resurrected thanks to Dr. Emil Harting, a (mad?) scientist who is perfecting his use of nanotechnology and cybernetics to create an unstoppable squad of super-soldiers.  Written by Gavin Smith and based on the Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer screenplay, Bloodshot creates the next step in the evolution of cybernetic technology stories that began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, mixing the rage of The Punisher with the impact on the human psyche and dehumanization of turning from man to cyborg, as we’ve seen in stories like RoboCop (who was inspired by Judge Dredd and Marvel’s Rom).

As for the Marvel universe in film, Bloodshot is poised to stack up neatly beside the lab-created Hulk, the merger of body and “something else” of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, the mission and science of Captain America, Wolverine, and Deadpool, the determination of Cable, and it’s a fitting follow-up to the half-man/half-monster movie, Venom.  That’s a lot of Marvel characters with similar struggles, and there are certainly more, Marvel characters with the same vintage of origin story–an unlikely or involuntary super-soldier–so how do you spin this key Marvel trope in a fresh, new way?  As Smith, Wadlow, and Heisserer have done it, you go back to the human condition, and look to what has come before.

Bloodshot reads much like Martin Caidin’s original story of the first modern cyborg in his novel Cyborg, about Steve Austin, the Bionic Man–the Six Million Dollar Man–a military hero brought to death’s door and back via science.  In many ways Bloodshot–the program that pulls in the story’s hero and becomes the name of his new persona–is an update to Cyborg–what you could imagine the Bionic Man reboot with Mark Wahlberg to be like.  And it pulls in good mind-twisting sci-fi elements evoking Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse and Duncan Jones’ Source Code.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Plumes are cool.  I wear a plume now.

This week the Doctor and friends turn up at the very event that was the real-life origin point of Doctor Who, the series, and in fact all of science fiction: Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s summer at the retreat at Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva in Switzerland in 1816.  It was the historic “year without a summer,” believed the result of volcanic ash in the atmosphere.  More importantly for the future of science and technology and science fiction, it was the convergence of celebrity that resulted in Mary Shelley’s spark to write her novel Frankenstein, the first science fiction novel and–notable for fans of all things borg–the first borg novel.

Only this is Doctor Who, and so something is different, as one of the famed guests of the villa is missing.  In its 56 years some of Doctor Who’s greatest episodes have featured a re-look at historical places and events, and the fantastic new episode, “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” may top them all.  The events of 1816 are well documented and writer Maxine Alderton (The Worst Witch, Emmerdale) used them to create the perfect blending of Doctor Who and history.  Directed by Emma Sullivan, Alderton’s story is expertly designed to weave together even the obscure historical facts and figures with the fantastical, while foreshadowing the focus of the season’s remaining episodes (find a peek at that below).  Just as the story of the creation of the first science fiction story takes center stage (also one of the early Gothic horror tales), so does the world inside Shelley’s novel peer into the world of the Doctor.

Save the poet, save the universe.

In a word, “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” is perfection, as the seed of all science fiction meets its latest incarnation both from within the universe of Doctor Who and viewing Doctor Who from the outside as a work of science fiction itself–delivering a perfect threat to a single point in time that, if altered, changes everything thereafter and could obliterate the world as the Doctor–and the viewer–knows it.  Plus… a haunted house, ghosts, and a decision that could throw the future into chaos?

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This week two brief videos will leave most people scratching their heads and asking, “Why bother?”  The first, for The Batman, released by writer-director Matt Reeves (who we hold out hope for because he wrote and directed the great vampire love story Let Me In), is a “camera test,” which appears more like an early lighting and costume test where you can glimpse new bat actor Robert Pattinson in his batsuit.  The second is from Netflix, and it’s an overly long scene of a Russian prison work detail resulting in the appearance of David Harbour as a thinner, gaunt, exhausted Jim Hopper, spoiling any surprise that the character was really killed in the final episode of the last season of Stranger Things (C’mon, you knew he wasn’t going to be dead for long).  Some will applaud one or both.  Others will sneer.  Where will you land?  (Psst.  There’s no wrong answer).

What are these things anyway?  Barely teasers, the purported “camera test” for The Batman is more “trial balloon,” an intentional vehicle for starting buzz, good or bad, so potential audiences get accustomed to yet another revamp of the batsuit and actor.  Literally thousands of podcasters have already manipulated the image of Pattinson in many ways to try to glean something worth discussing (not surprisingly with little to say).  We already knew it takes some effort to find an artist that has drawn Bruce Wayne that in any way resembles the co-star of The Lighthouse, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the Twilight vampire movies.  And–big surprise–David Crossman and Glyn Dillon′s new costume design looks like another batsuit of the sharp-angled, action figure toy variety (toys = sales = more $) instead of something out of the comics pages.  And current movie go-to composer Michael Giacchino offers another repeated bass line with drum set in the background to back it all up.  Our wish?  We just want Warner Bros. to finally get the voice of Batman right and skip that goofy, dry, smoker voice and coughed-out dialogue.  Let’s hear him say, “I’m Batman.”

The Stranger Things video is out there to whet appetites of fans who won’t see the series return for another year.  But did the fans need to know Hopper wasn’t dead before the fourth season was ready to go?  Here’s an idea:  If you’re going to cast against type, as they’ve done for The Batman, why not really have some fun and give us David Harbour as Batman?  Sure, Harbour is playing a Russian superhero in the summer Black Widow movie from Marvel Comics, but audiences won’t care.  Let’s really have some fun.  Or give Pattinson the role of a superhero he really looks like: Wolverine.  They need a new younger actor for the role in the new Marvel Cinematic Universe, right?

Oh, well.  Watch–or don’t–you’re not missing much!  Here are the two brief, too-brief videos for The Batman and Stranger Things:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Having escaped an Assassins brotherhood training camp in his youth where his mother is killed by the villainous Maxime Torm, 17 years later–in 2017–readers meet the escapee in the new graphic novel Assassin’s Creed: Bloodstone His name is Tomo, now a young man working in a video arcade in Tokyo.  With Hajime, the man that helped him escape, Tomo is now seeking to destroy the man that ruined their lives and murdered their brethren.  The Templars are now using DNA databases to track down the remaining Assassins.  Tomo and Hajime find a lead in far off France, a doctor named Nathalie Chapman, who Tomo believes will take them to Torm and the Templars.  But Tomo hasn’t finished his training.  He is not an Assassin yet.  He poses as a doctor and is hired to work for Chapman, when he gets closer to one of her patients, a young woman with amnesia named Elisa Adler.

The Animus, Abstergo, the Helix, and Pieces of Eden, the same trippy quests back through the generations, and an expanded tale of the Adler and Gorm families spinning out of Dorison’s 2018 graphic novel Assassin’s Creed: Conspiracies mixes historical fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy.  In a similar vein as Ready Player One, Bloodshot, and Dollhouse, you’ll join Tomo on a virtual reality ride back into the past of the Gorms that takes Tomo to the beginnings of the Vietnam War.  But what will Chapman and Hajime do when Tomo tries to help Elisa?

Rich, detailed worldbuilding by Guillaume Dorison (translated by Marc Bourbon-Crook) continues the Assassin’s Creed universe beyond the video games and nine prior graphic novel stories from Titan Comics.  Assassin’s Creed: Bloodstone (the first book of a two-book series) has all the elements of the Jason Bourne saga: good action, intrigue, smart dialogue, and likeable characters.  Ennio Bufi′s artwork is gorgeous, a mix of the contrasts and shadows of Jock and the vivid, sweeping imagery of Bill Sienkiewicz.  Bufi is an artist readers can only hope to see more of.

Check out this preview of both volumes of Assassin’s Creed: Bloodstone courtesy of Titan Comics:

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Last week we previewed a teaser for the coming second season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon, and we now have a full trailer from the streaming provider showing us even more.  The new trailer confirms the near wipe-out of the main cast from the first season, with only the artificial intelligence named Poe remaining, played by Chris Conner (Burn Notice, House, Bones) and a new kind of robot.  Two supporting characters clearly get a bigger role this season: Renee Goldsberry (Star Trek Enterprise, Life on Mars) as Falconer, a platoon leader from the past, and the original form of the series lead, played by Will Yun Lee (Hawaii Five-O, Bionic Woman, Witchblade).  It’s too bad for those who thought cop Kristin Ortega, played by Mexican actress Martha Higareda (McFarland USA, Royal Pains), was the highlight of the series–she and first season lead Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop, Suicide Squad) seem to be out this time.

In fact other than Poe the new trailer appears like Season Two could easily be an entirely new sci-fi series.  Alison Schapker is the new series executive producer and showrunner.  Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Adjustment Bureau) is in the driver’s seat as the new “sleeve” or body inhabited by Takeshi Kovacs, hero of the Richard K. Morgan novel the show is based on.  Kovacs is a future soldier in a world where science has developed a hard drive called a “stack” that is implanted in humans’ necks, enabling our memories to be uploaded to storage and replanted over and over so we seemingly can live forever, even in new bodies (see our review of the first season here).  Allowing Kovacs and other characters to be played by any number of actors (so the series could potentially run forever like Doctor Who) for the second season will be something new for many Netflix viewers.

Season Two begins thirty years after the last episode, with Kovacs continuing his search for Falconer (explaining why so many first season characters are no longer around).  New to the series, and highlighted in this trailer, are Simone Missick (Marvel’s Luke Cage, The Defenders) as Trepp, Lela Loren (Chuck, Lost) as Governor Danica Harlan, and Torben Liebrecht (Homeland, Luther) as Colonel Carrera, with James Saito (Prodigal Son, Law & Order) as Tanaseda Hidecki.

Check it out the new poster (above) and this new trailer:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For every new movie you watch, you need to go back and see a classic, right?  If The Hunt for Red October is Star Trek in the ocean, then Outland is The Sand Pebbles in outer space.  A predecessor to science fiction staples like Total Recall, Blade Runner, and Firefly, Outland is still one of the best depictions of what life actually may be like working aboard a space vessel, once modern technology figures out how to get past that zero gravity issue.  Isolation rarely has been portrayed as believably as directed here by Peter Hyams (Timecop, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, The Star Chamber, Amazing Stories).  The 1981 Academy Award-nominated classic, Outland is now streaming on Starz, Hulu, Amazon, and Vudu.

Audiences never saw Sean Connery so average as he was playing Marshal William T. O’Niel.  In a very low-key role more frequently seen played by someone like Steve McQueen, Connery is a federal cop in space, assigned to the titanium ore mining outpost Con-Am 27.  He was selected because he was likely to phone in his job, and not ruffle feathers.  But he finds himself when he learns the outpost is a haven for drug smuggling and worse, using drugs to work crews to their deaths, all part of a cover-up.  The film’s own predecessors were any number of cop shows, and it has themes from Westerns, too, especially High Noon, another lone lawman trying to take out a local band of ruffians–and another man with marital problems.  Critics accused the film of being thin, but it’s exactly why the film works so well and holds up well still today.  In many ways the film is better, and even scarier, than Alien and Total Recall, proving you don’t need monsters to be truly alone and unprotected from life-threatening elements in space.

O’Niel’s only help is from Frances Sternhagen (Doc Hollywood, Cheers, The Closer) as Dr. Marian Lazarus, a no-nonsense crewman who is sympathetic to O’Niel as the newbie having to dodge the unfamiliar “way things are done.”  Dr. Lazarus is one of sci-fi’s least known but toughest sci-fi heroines, and her chemistry with Connery as comrade-at-arms is superb.  Another crew member is played by sci-fi and Western veteran James Sikking (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Hill Street Blues, Doogie Howser, MD), who would continue for decades to play similar roles.  And the baddie of the bunch is played by your favorite film Frankenstein, Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein, Johnny Dangerously, The X-Files, Everybody Loves Raymond).

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