Tag Archive: Ready Player One


Review by C.J. Bunce

Two episodes in, and you’ll probably get drawn into at least three of the characters in the story.  Four episodes in, you’re thinking about who is going to to make it to the second season and how quick they can get that filmed and released.  Directed by Shinsuke Sato, Haro Aso’s popular manga series comes alive in Alice in Borderland, the live-action dystopian, Japanese noir-meets-steampunk thrill ride streaming now on Netflix.  Doomsday, Tokyo-style, is surprisingly violent, surprisingly thought-provoking, as a city finds itself mostly vacated (as in The Quiet Earth and 28 Days Later) and the remaining citizens must fight for their lives The Running Man-style or they’ll get zapped and killed The War of the Worlds-style.  Clever casting of characters introduces looks of action heroes from all sorts of Japanese video games, manga, and anime, all living (many briefly) in a world loosely pulled from Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland.  A gamer-themed series on the heels of the popular Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, the result is a very different story allowing the audience to try to solve clues along with the players on the screen–what I was hoping for when I first heard about the book Ready Player One.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the spirit of The Prisoner, Clue, Sneakers, Ready Player One, Dispatches from Elsewhere, and Kingsman, Cutting Edge is a new series by fantasy author Francesco Dimitri and award-winning Italian artist Mario Alberti arriving in comic book stores this week.  March 2012.  Dozens of the greatest minds, the world’s elite, receive letters from a mega-finance corporation inviting them to an event in London, with no further information.  Among them, Joshua Malinot, a painter, Hiroshi Itou, a noted genius in physics, Stella Orsini Del Giglio, a post-scandal heiress, Jirakee Walker, a prize-winning National Geographic photographer working in Australia, a suave playboy who goes only by the name Delroy, and Mark Underwood, a social psychologist and expert in information.  What do they all have in common?  Someone believes they are the “Cutting Edge” of society.

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It’s already been adapted into a video animation in 2014, and now the popular serialized Japanese manga is making its way to a live-action series coming to Netflix next month.  Haro Aso’s manga Alice in Borderland is directed by Shinsuke Sato, and follows three friends who get sucked into a video game, Jumanji-style more than Tron or Ready Player One.  Spinning out of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland, look for new takes including “Hatter” and “Cheshire,” in a strange wasteland parallel universe Tokyo and a journey of survival.

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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

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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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.  It’s Netflix’s Altered Carbon, 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 called “sleeves.”  See our review of the first season here.  Allowing Kovacs and other characters to be played by any number of actors (allowing the series to run forever like Doctor Who), for the second season that means Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Adjustment Bureau) is replacing Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop, Suicide Squad) as series lead.  Netflix revealed its first teaser for the new season this week.  Check it out below!

So 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 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.  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.  

The new teaser trailer showcases Mackie, but also shows glimpses of returning characters, including Kovacs former platoon leader, played by Renee Goldsberry (Star Trek Enterprise, Life on Mars), the original Kovacs, played by Will Yun Lee (Hawaii Five-O, Bionic Woman, Witchblade), the artificial intelligence named Poe who is the runner of a seedy hotel, played by Chris Conner (Burn Notice, House, Bones).  Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the fantastic cop Kristin Ortega, played by Mexican actress Martha Higareda (McFarland USA, Royal Pains), will be back, but new additions include Simone Missick (Marvel’s Luke Cage, The Defenders), Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger, Walking Tall, The X-Files,), and Alessandro Juliani (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Battlestar Galactica).

Check out this quick look at season two of Altered Carbon:

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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

To understand the scope of celebrated Chinese author Cixin Liu′s 2005 novel Supernova Era, finally available to Western audiences in an English translated edition by Joel Martinsen, it helps to look back to its influences, and those works published since its original publication in China.  At its core, this is a classic science fiction novel of the Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury school.  It’s a work of speculative fiction, at once arguably both optimistic and dystopian that reads almost like an alternate history in the vein of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.  Disturbing and horrifying at points, philosophical, and filled with global, international, and political intrigue, it’s also squarely a young adult title, featuring almost exclusively middle grade aged kids tasked with surviving an interstellar holocaust–the actual “supernova” of the title–that quickly fries the DNA of anyone older than the age of thirteen.  The solution?  In the face of their imminent deaths, the world’s adult leaders begin to select youth leadership based on the classic “model United Nations” competitions.  It’s a jarring, but ultimately interesting and clever mash-up of some great tropes of science fiction.

Since the initial publication of Supernova Era in China, we’ve seen parts of the story replayed–possibly even inspiring–many other genre works:  Only last year in we saw Jeff Lemire’s Sentient–a comic book series where the adults on a ship are killed in a sabotage leaving kids to run a spaceship.  Here, we follow two small groups of children, the cabinet who must lead China and the cabinet who leads the United States, without the help, advice, education, and other benefits of adults or adulthood, on a global stage.   At first, the children default to letting an Internet-like artificial intelligence computer–the Digital Domain–help keep society in order, something like the robot in last year’s Netflix movie, I Am Mother, where a computer system’s robotic surrogate fulfills all parental duties to children.

When the daily toil of work grinds the kids in the Supernova Era into a state of boredom, they reach out to a massively multi-player online roleplaying game (MMPORG) and begin to build their real lives around it, as we saw in Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, Ready Player One, where a future society allows itself to give up life in the real world to become lost inside a virtual reality MMPORG.  And the world’s kid leadership ultimately decide they need to compete with other nations, creating a worldwide version of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel The Hunger Games (also inspired by Stephen King’s novel, The Running Man) with a society relying on a new world construct with quirky contrived, artificial new rules of survival, battling wars with gameboard rules to the death.  Were these authors aware of Liu’s internationally known and respected work?  Possibly, but it’s the earlier works that served at least in part as influences on Liu’s novel.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In brief, it’s the best adventure, fantasy, and comedy in theaters in 2019 and a great way to begin your new year.  Jumanji: The Next Level is still packing-in theaters a little more than two weeks into its run–an alternative to the other holiday releases and guaranteed to leave you smiling at the end.  The four stars didn’t miss a beat in their return, swapping roles and adding new laughs, and the new characters inside and outside the game are perfectly matched to tell a new tale.  Two films down and Jumanji: The Next Level is now the new major adventure fantasy franchise, up there with Tarzan, The Jungle Book, Conan the Barbarian, John Carter of Mars, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mummy, and Indiana Jones.  Put this sequel at the top of the best of those franchises.

The studio didn’t hold back on new action sequences–inside the movie again Jumanji is the same video game of curious origin.  The new levels introduced this time increase the stakes in bigger and better ways.   A bridge-crossing scene with swarming apes and a geometric, Mario Brothers/Donkey Kong-like element is now going to be the adventure film standard to try to beat.  Sure, there are throwbacks to jungle adventures of the past, but it’s not derivative, all presented in fresh ways.  As another tour inside a video game (like Tron and Ready Player One), you’ll have the added fun of spotting video game influences (like Pitfall and Q-Bert), including a new, more difficult gauntlet.

The movie does double duty as an epic quest and rollicking comedy.  Comedians turned comedic actors Jack Black as Dr. Shelly Oberon and Kevin Hart as Mouse Finbar again are comedy gold.  Even the small bits are a scream–Hart riding and getting off a camel is a lesson in physical comedy.  They make the movie loads of fun, but straight man roles performed by Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan as in-game characters Dr. Smolder Bravestone and Ruby Roundhouse share the credit for the laughs, too.  If you’ve seen Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, you’d expect big comedy from the sequel.  And that’s where the writing genius comes into play, thanks to a script by writer/director Jake Kasdan and writers Jeff Pinkner, and Scott Rosenberg.  How do you bring back the hour movie stars, the four young actors who played the original players (Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Alex Wolff, and Ser’Darius Blain), the rescued Alex played by Colin Hanks, and in-game characters played by Nick Jonas, and Rhys Darby without re-hashing the first movie?  You’ll have to see it to find out.  Just be prepared for some great twists and surprises.

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If you want to see how much the 1980s-inspired Stranger Things has worked itself into the 21st century zeitgeist, you need only turn to the last three big studio trailers revealed over the past three days.  Make no mistake, if Stranger Things isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread it’s pretty close, full of fun characters and great riffs on some of our favorite bits of nostalgia.  So why shouldn’t everything and everyone try to get on the bandwagon?

The most exciting trailer comes from a film Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray have been interviewed about since Ghostbusters II.  Taking a cue from Halloween, Predator, and Terminator, the franchise is doing some skipping of reboots and making Ghostbusters: Afterlife a direct sequel to Ghostbusters II.  The lead role will be played by young (perfectly cast) Mckenna Grace, who has appeared in lots of genre films and shows (Ready Player One, Independence Day: Resurgence, Captain Marvel, and horror franchises: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Annabelle, Amityville, and Hill House).  In a nice nod to the late Ghostbusters co-star and writer Harold Ramis, she and Stranger Things co-star Finn Wolfhard (who wore his own Ghostbusters suit in his series) will play the grandkids of Ramis’s character, Dr. Egon Spengler.  Shifting to a prairie setting from the city, the tone feels more like the creepy and cool Netflix series in the first trailer, but it hints that slime-bearing apparitions we last saw in Manhattan will be showing their faces soon.  And a bonus: Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) plays the grade school teacher, and the kids’ mom is played by Carrie Coon (Avengers: Infinity War).  Plus Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts–everyone but Rick Moranis–have been confirmed for at least a cameo.  And there’s an El Camino and the return of the Ecto-1.  What more could you want?

 

Along with Ghostbusters: Afterlife are new trailers for Wonder Woman 1984 and Free Guy.  As you’d guess from the title, Wonder Woman 1984 is also looking back to the 1980s, complete with a big shopping mall action scene like we saw this summer in Stranger Things.  It looks like it’s trying to be a Marvel movie, complete with a World War-era soldier named Steve (Chris Pine) making his return from the past to co-star and Gal Gadot back in her title role, making an Iron Man entrance.  The movie has a comedic actor starring as a kooky villain (Kristen Wiig), making it look like we’re going to get another Superman III–yet another 1980s thing.  The third movie in our Stranger Things vibe is Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds in a spin on the lead character of the LEGO movies–here he is a video game character as in the 1980s nostalgia-filled Ready Player One, a non-player character who decides he wants to be the hero.  The movie co-stars the guy who plays our favorite character in Stranger Things, Joe Keery.  It doesn’t look like Tron, but we’ll take it.

Check out these trailers with a Stranger Things vibe for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Wonder Woman 1984, and Free Guy:

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