Tag Archive: Gattaca


AlteredCarbon_S2_MainTrailer

Review by C.J. Bunce

The first season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon was a fantastic sci-fi series with a stellar cast and a story and production values that rivaled the original Blade Runner and its 2017 sequel.  Based on Richard K. Morgan’s novels, the series is centered around Takeshi Kovacs, a future soldier in a world where science has developed a hard drive called a “stack” that is implanted in humans’ necks, allowing our memories to be uploaded to storage and replanted over and over so they seemingly can live forever, even in new bodies.  That conceit allows Kovacs and other characters to be played by any number of actors, which, as demonstrated in Season 2, can allow the series to continue indefinitely much as Doctor Who’s regeneration mechanism allows replacement Doctors.  So how does a series fair when it replaces the lead after the first season?  Can it keep up the intrigue and interest for viewers?

The first season asked: What does it mean to be human, and how much can you shed away and replace with technology and still retain the “self”?  Unfortunately, the second season falls a bit short.  Although it wisely was paired down from ten to eight episodes for its second season (season one couldn’t keep up the action and would have benefited from some good editing), the series just doesn’t capture the same magic.  Anthony Mackie′s assumption of the role of Kovacs in the year 2385, years after the events of the first season, is more of a re-hash of what we saw Joel Kinnaman do with the character last season.  Mackie is usually one of the best parts of any project he tackles (The Adjustment Bureau, Captain America: Winter Soldier), but the story and dialogue here are not as sophisticated as in the inaugural effort, and Mackie is always intense, his acting dialed up to eleven, much different than his character in the first season.  Simone Missick, who we loved in Marvel’s Luke Cage, provides an interesting new cyborg character for the Altered Carbon universe as Trepp, but it didn’t quite catch up to the passion of Martha Higareda’s driven cop Kristin Ortega last season.  But where the series shines is in its supporting cast of characters, many returning from last season.  The result is like comparing the first season of the Battlestar Galactica reboot with the last–good television–even if it’s not as gritty and exciting as the first season, it still may be the best sci-fi series on television this year.

Poe Dig 301

Foremost is Chris Conner back as the artificial intelligence who has taken inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe, a bodyguard of sorts looking out for Kovacs (Mackie) in his new body (called a sleeve).  Conner brings to the series the same kind of compelling look at the trouble of incorporating humanity into robots or cyber-creations, the same type of battle of sentience in the non-living as conveyed by Robert Picardo as the emergency medical hologram in Star Trek Voyager.  In this season Poe is in trouble–his matrix is broken and he needs to reboot, which he does not want to do because that would mean he would forget Lizzie (Hayley Law), a key character of last season, and a memory stored in his digital mind.  Not rebooting means he makes mistakes that could hinder Kovacs’s ability to stay hidden from his pursuers.  But there is hope for Poe, and that comes in the form of another creation, another artificial intelligence, an ancient storage “archaeologue” unit called Dig 301, played by Dina Shihabi, who nicely substitutes as a futuristic love interest for Poe.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a fantastic sci-fi series with a stellar cast and a story and production values that rival the original Blade Runner and its 2017 sequel: Altered Carbon is based on Richard K. Morgan’s novel of the same name, a story about Takeshi Kovacs, a future soldier in a world where science has developed a hard drive called a “stack” that is implanted in humans’ necks, allowing our memories to be uploaded to storage and replanted over and over so they seemingly can live forever, even in new bodies.  That conceit allows Kovacs and other characters to be played by any number of actors, which could allow the series to run forever much as Doctor Who’s regeneration mechanism allows replacement Doctors.  Originally launched on Netflix in 2018, Altered Carbon has been extended for a second season, with filming underway last year, and viewers should expected a second season trailer and 2020 air date any day.  Which means fans of the Syd Mead, Ridley Scott, and Philip K. Dick brand of futurism, and all things borg, should catch up on the first season now.  What does it mean to be human, and how much can you shed away and replace with technology and still retain the “self”?  Altered Carbon tackles the philosophical questions The Matrix film series tried to answer.

Kovacs, played by several actors (more on that below), is a 300-year-old soldier.  As a seasoned fighter 250 years ago he was the last of a mercenary group called the Envoys, leading a rebellion against the new world order.  Kovacs’s stack is shelved for the intervening 250 years until one of the wealthiest men alive, Laurens Bancroft, played by James Purefoy (an actor who has been runner up for the James Bond film roles and appeared in A Knight’s Tale and The Following), buys his stack and puts it in a new body or “sleeve,” giving Kovacs the opportunity to live anew if he agrees to find Bancroft’s killer.  This is a bleak world, filled with virtual reality and virtual sex, body swapping and trafficking, and the kind of tech noir, bleak, dystopian realm seen in Strange Days, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Ready Player One, The Running Man, Brazil, Total Recall, with the violence of A Clockwork Orange, but maybe not so hopeless as in Elysium, Mad Max, Gattaca, Terminator, and Dredd.  

The series, which has a slow start and doesn’t kick into high gear until the second episode, also has the John Carpenter Escape from New York vibe but with Blade Runner visuals and effects, plus the creative elements of Total Recall that made for some unexpected surprises.  Altered Carbon is a close match to RoboCop as future science and technology goes, so it’s easy to see why the casting agents brought along RoboCop remake star Joel Kinnaman as Kovacs’ primary sleeve in the first season.  This sleeve was last owned by a cop killed in duty named Ryker.  Ryker’s partner, Kristin Ortega, played by Mexican actress Martha Higareda (McFarland USA, Royal Pains), takes on the role of the season’s co-lead, struggling as she sees her old partner’s body and acting to protect his sleeve, trying to solve the murder of Bancroft, and uncovering the bad cops in the bureau.  Ortega is a badass character in a small package who gets in and out of several fights that would take down anyone else in any other story, and she is the high point of the series–at one point an incident results in a loss of an arm, soon replaced by a powerful cybernetic arm.  An interesting twist is that her family are Catholics, and in this future Catholics don’t believe in the stacks, which means once they die they are dead forever.  This sets up one of the more interesting plot threads.  If it seems like the series has a lot going on, that’s because it does. But it all comes together in a satisfying way in the final episodes.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Everyone likes Paul Rudd, right?  Rudd is the center of a new comedy-drama on Netflix that began this weekend, Living with Yourself And his fans won’t be disappointed.  The same struggling character reaching for success–but just missing it–in shows like Ant-Man, Anchorman, and Clueless is back, but this time his character is actually characters, plural, and, like Ant-Man, this show has a sci-fi twist.

In fact you could spend the 3.5 hours of the eight episode, half-hour series spotting all the sci-fi tropes picked up in the script by Timothy Greenberg (The Daily Show).  It all begins with a twist on Orson Scott Card’s short story Fat Farm (found in Isaac Asimov, George R.R. Martin, and Martin Greenberg’s collection, The Science Fiction Weight Loss Book).  In that story, a person goes to a secret clinic to lose weight, not realizing he is actually being cloned, and the “real” him shuffled off to a work farm for the rest of his life, while “new him” returns to his life slim and trim not knowing the difference.  In Living with Yourself, it’s Rudd’s character Miles who is unhappy not with his weight but his underachievement and overall dissatisfaction with himself.  A co-worker puts him onto a pricey spa that can solve his problems, which turns out to be a third-rate, pop-up cloning shop, where, unknown to clients, they get replaced with like-new clones of themselves and their old selves get suffocated and buried in the woods.  The cloning tech isn’t quite so refined so Miles experiences something like Total Recall’s schizoid embolism–instead of killing Miles’ older self, he wakes up in a shallow grave and must confront his new, cloned self.

This all plays out like another Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Twins, with old Miles left to forge ahead with his stale, unrefined DNA and new Miles “cleaned” and ready to conquer the world.  But this is just in the first half hour.  If you stay around for all eight episodes (and Rudd is fun playing two characters, so why not?), expect to catch scenes straight out of Multiplicity, Gattaca, Rachel Rising, The Last Jedi, Harry Potter, even Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and more.  Rudd’s performance in dual roles is done so much in the actor’s laid back style that the double duty goes unnoticed, seamlessly, until the two halves confront each other in the season finale.  It’s not that kind of complex, award-winning visual effects work we saw from Tatiana Maslany as a dozen-plus characters in Orphan Black, but it doesn’t need to be.  The series hits on the classic internal struggle of man versus self, but this is first and foremost a comedy.

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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

Let’s cut to the chase:  Daniel Godfrey’s new novel The Synapse Sequence is not just the leading contender for the best science fiction novel of 2018, it’s the most absorbing, riveting, and thrilling science fiction novel I’ve read since I was first blown away by Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in 1990.  Hyperbole?  Maybe just a little, but when you are reading a new book and you’re taken aback by the twists, turns, and surprises as this book provides, it’s a bit like walking out of a big rock concert, wanting everyone else to witness what you just experienced.  Godfrey is relatively new to the genre, with two solid sci-fi books behind him, New Pompeii (reviewed here) and Empire of Time (reviewed here).  But this story is a completely different take on science fiction, and so deftly written, smartly paced, and completely believable in its speculative reach, Godfrey is worth comparison to some of the greats in the genre for it.

Anna Glover is an investigator with an unfortunately troubled and public past for her conclusions in investigating an airplane crash.  She lives in the somewhat distant future–bots serve man, taking on so many functions that personal freedom is limited.  As told from the alternating viewpoint of Glover in the present and looking back on her life, future London is very familiar and steeped in the world that technology is building right now with so much of life absorbed into the digital world.  When we meet our protagonist she is attempting to lie low conducting trials for a company with an emerging technology, a “synapse sequencer,” which allows a person to be tapped into the mind of another, like a witness to a crime, to experience vivid, shared memories as an observer.  She meets with her boss inside this world, where he lives out most of his life, a life better than he would experience in the real world.  The process requires the help of a monitor, and hers sees that she gets in and out of submersion safely.  But we learn there are risks for anyone who participates in this intermingling of brain activity.  If you’ve seen the 1980s sci-fi classic Dreamscape, the modern classic Source Code, the television series Stitchers, or the shared visions of iZombie, you’ll find no suspension of disbelief issue with the wild ride that awaits you.  The method for the journey isn’t as elaborate (or glitch-filled) as Connie Willis’s elaborate time travel tech, but Godfrey provides enough to submerge us into the stress and angst of Glover as she takes journey after journey to learn the who and why of a case involving a boy in a coma and a missing girl.

You can’t predict where Godfrey will take Glover from chapter to chapter in The Synapse Sequence Godfrey has been likened to an emerging Crichton, but Crichton rarely could craft as satisfying an ending as found here.  The story embraces that speculative futurism like many a Philip K. Dick story (Paycheck, Total Recall/We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, and Minority Report for starters), while weaving in a plausible future from the seeds of new tech today.  He combines the audacious duplicity of Vincent and Jerome in Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca with the foreboding and despair of The Man’s story in Chris Marker’s Le Jetée and Cole’s in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. 

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The next effort at creating a complex and challenging role for a lead actress Orphan Black-style is coming in August from Netflix.  It’s the dystopian sci-fi thriller What Happened to Monday, formerly titled Seven Sisters, written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson, and directed by Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters).  What Happened to Monday is sci-fi’s next new look at a bleak future world in the vein of Children of Men (hope in the face of global infertility), Logan’s Run (to battle population explosion a shortened life clock of 30 years is enforced for all), Never Let Me Go (clones are created for parts for the ruling class), The Handmaid’s Tale (remaining fertile women are forced to reproduce for those in power), Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Harrison Bergeron (a twisted equality is enforced on the world), and Gattaca (only the genetically superior are allowed to succeed).  It stars Noomi Rapace (Prometheus, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) in seven roles as the seven sisters–seven identical septuplets to be exact–in a society where only one child is allowed per family.  Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Clear and Present Danger, Spider-man) stars as their grandfather who raised them, Robert Wagner (The Pink Panther, Hart to Hart, Stars and Stripes Forever, The Towering Inferno) in an undisclosed role, and Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction, Reversal of Fortune, Guardians of the Galaxy) is a leader in the repressive future world.

The first trailer was released this week for What Happened to Monday, and it looks compelling, providing a peek at the plot.  The septuplets’ father hides the sisters’ existence from everyone, allowing only one girl outside one day per week, corresponding with their names, each a day of the week.  When Monday does not come home one day, the sisters must go about discovering what happened to her without revealing their secret.  It’s a role that will certainly be compared, for good or bad, to Tatiana Maslany’s role as multiple clones on Orphan Black.

What Happened to Monday is the latest in Netflix purchasing first run otherwise theatrical releases exclusively for Netflix subscribers.

Check out this first trailer for What Happened to Monday:

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Corridor from Gattaca

In honor of Ethan Hawke’s nomination for a best supporting actor Academy Award today for his film Boyhood, we have previews for two coming films from Hawke, a Shakespeare retelling called Anarchy, and a cyber-war thriller, Good Kill.  And why we’re at it we have three trailers for some of his best past films–in case you haven’t seen these yet: the stunning sci-fi masterpiece Gattaca, the true-life adventure story Alive, and the action-packed remake of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13.

Hawke is one of those under-rated actors who seems to put plenty of intensity and passion into his roles, whether for big movies like Dead Poet’s Society or Training Day (which earned him his first Academy Award nomination), for remakes of classic works like Hamlet and Great Expectations, or the lesser known films that follow.

Assault on Precinct 13 Ethan Hawke

First up, a trailer for the strangest choice of a Shakespeare play we’ve yet seen, Anarchy:

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predestination-poster01-predestination-poster-2

Finally the Australian film Predestination will be making it to the States.  The Aussie Spierig Brothers direct this loose adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies.”  Bringing some genre street cred to this independent film is Gattaca’s Ethan Hawke as the lead.  Hawke is a time travel agent in the business of preventing crimes before they happen, and in good film noir fashion he is on his final case to hunt down that one criminal who got away.

If the plot sounds familiar, it should.  Predestination is just the latest entry in the sci-fi time travel trope, in the vein of the Philip K. Dick inspired films The Adjustment Bureau, Paycheck, and Minority Report, and the Bruce Willis/Emily Blunt rollercoaster ride Looper.

predestination

Predestination was filmed in Melbourne, and comes from that same stylized sci-fi tradition that brought us the cool post-apocalypse film The Quiet Earth.  Released in Australia back on August 28, 2014, it finally has a U.S. release date.

After the break, check out the trailer for Predestination:

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Limitless poster

It’s probably telling that the 2011 movie Limitless was directed by Neil Burger, director of the brilliant fantasy film The Illusionist, starring Paul Giamatti.  Strangely marketed as a movie about a dead-end would-be writer that finds a way to gain intelligence by using more of his brain than the ordinary guy, Limitless is a film the studio just didn’t understand.  It is listed in various places, in reviews, in marketing lists and DVD sales notations as each of the following: fantasy, drama, science fiction, thriller, mystery, urban fantasy.  It is neither and yet it is all that.  Above all it is a superhero film.  Yesterday we reviewed the new comic book series Uncanny, and we previously reviewed the new series Dream Thief.  These are only recent examples of an ordinary guy gaining strange powers.  Bradley Cooper’s Eddie Morra gains similar extraordinary abilities in Limitless.  In the process of honing these powers, he’d fit right in with another tale of the X-Men.

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Ethan Hawke in Getaway

This year is turning out to be a busy one for Ethan Hawke.  This past weekend his new sci-fi horror thriller Purge opened in theaters at the #1 spot at the box office.  Not bad considering the blockbuster films like Star Trek and Iron Man 3 still in the theaters that it is facing off against.  Co-starring Lena Headey (300, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Game of Thrones), Purge follows a family in a future society where for 12-hours all hell breaks loose as crimes are legalized to “get it all out of society’s system”.  Next weekend he co-stars with An American Werewolf in Paris’s Julie Delpy in the romance drama Before Midnight.  Late this summer, Hawke stars in the crime-action flick Getaway, about a man trying to save his kidnapped wife in a film that shares a lot with Colin Farrell’s Phone Booth and Chris Evans’ Cellular.

Ethan hawke in White Fang

Ethan Hawke is an actor, who, especially in his genre films, seems to show great improvement in each subsequent film.  He first got noticed by the masses in Explorers (1985), a pure kid flick in which he co-starred with River Phoenix as a boy encountering a spacecraft that he takes to find an alien being on another world.  He stepped up his game in his major break, Dead Poets Society (1989), playing a fumbling young man in prep school, where he co-starred with Robin Williams and Robert Sean Leonard (House, Much Ado About Nothing).  Hawke became a protagonist that you might not have liked, but his lack of confidence made his characters accessible.  Hawke took on two adventure roles, saving a part dog/part wolf in White Fang (1991), and surviving a plane crash in Alive (1993).

Ethan Hawke in Gattaca

Hawke’s best film was Gattaca (1997), playing opposite Jude Law and Uma Thurman in a sci-fi film that revealed the problems of eugenics in a futuristic society.  It’s a great film that holds up to this day.  Arguably his other big film was 2001’s critically acclaimed drama Training Day.

Ethan Hawke in Assault on Precinct 13

In 2005 Hawke played against type playing a cop in an L.A. police precinct in John Carpenter’s remake of Assault on Precinct 13.  It’s another great Hawke role in a solid action film.

Here is the trailer for Purge:

Purge is now in theaters.

Here is the trailer for Before Midnight:

Before Midnight opens in theaters this weekend.

Here is the trailer for Getaway:

Does Getaway, which features Hawke and a much younger girl driving around in a tough car, look like it could be a spinoff, such as the further adventures of Paul Le Mat and MacKenzie Phillips from American Graffiti?  Does that make Jon Voight Bob Falfa?  Getaway is scheduled for release in theaters August 30, 2013.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
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