All posts by Alexander V Woods

A Beginner’s Guide to Cyberpunk (Part 3 of 4)

This post is a continuation of the series called “A Beginner’s Guide to Cyberpunk”. For today’s post, we will be talking about the C-2 Era of Cyberpunk, or the middle decade from 1999 to around 2009. More on why I divided Cyberpunk into these sections can be found in the first post here.

1 matrix code

Beginning C-2: The Matrix (1999 & 2003)

C-2 begins with my personal favorite cyberpunk movie of all time, and indeed the movie that started my love for the genre itself, The Matrix. Now, I won’t go into how incredibly influential The Matrix was (for that, you can read about it in detail here) but needless to say, when The Matrix was released in 1999, it marked the beginning of a new era: the C-2 era. Along with other movies such as the Star Wars Prequel trilogy, special effects took a leap forward in this era, and as a result, movies were much better for it (although one could argue some movies went to far with their special effects, as the movie industry had to learn how to use the new technology in moderation). Some Cyberpunk fans say only The original Matrix is worth watching, but I am of the mind that the Matrix Trilogy is excellent, and although most would say the first and second were much better than the third, all three should be watched in succession for the cathartic conclusion and to see the path of the One from beginning to end.

the animatrix stories

The Animatrix (2003)

After you watch the Matrix trilogy, you should also watch the Animatrix. This is a combination of short stories told in anime and CGI format, all tied together with the unifying theme of being about the Matrix. It’s great to be able to see different inspirations and artistic styles, and the content is excellent as well.

Snowcrash novel

Snowcrash (1992)

Once you do that, it’s time to move onto a literary piece. Technically coming out in 1992, Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson helped revive the Cyberpunk movement that had started with Blade Runner and Neuromancer, and would be highly influential not only to the genre but to Science Fiction in general. Some also would consider it a satire of Cyberpunk itself, which is one of the reasons why I put it in the C-2 era. After winning several Sci-Fi literary awards in 1993 and 1994, Snowcrash helped popularize the term “avatar” that later would be used to describe the playable characters in video games.

Philip K Dick Adaptations: Minority Report (2002) and A Scanner Darkly (2006)

After reading Snowcrash and watching the Matrix trilogy, you will want to continue to a couple other successful Phillip K Dick adaptations, such as Minority Report for some more hard-hitting existential questions alongside a good dose of action, and A Scanner Darkly for a real head-trip.

I, Robot: Amazon.fr: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk ...

I, Robot (2004)

Next, try out I, Robot, which was loosely adapted from the book of the same name from legendary science fiction writer Isaac Aasimov. Lighter on the existential questioning, this movie was an excellent mix of special effects, futuristic technology, action, and fun dialogue from a smart-mouth detective played by Will Smith.

Honorable Mentions

Equilibrium - Kurt Wimmer | eMaginarock

Equilibrium (2002)

I would also recommend the excellent Equilibrium. Despite being very light on high-tech and heavier on dystopian, this film featuring Christian Bale and Sean Bean has drug-abusing themes and a totalitarian government that checks most of the boxes on a cyberpunk list. It also has some great action sequences, such as its gun-kata fighting style, and is also visually very elegant.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Battlestar Galactica

Finally, if you’re dying for extra content, you could check out the anime series of Ghost in the Shell, called Stand Alone Complex, as well as the series Battlestar Galactica. The latter is definitely more like Star Trek than Cyberpunk, but it does have existential questions of identity and features robot vs. human themes.

This wraps up the C-2 era before the world would see another leap forward in special effects and general quality of its content, with C-3: The golden age.

Recap

So, to recap, this is the order I would suggest for C-2:

  1. The Matrix (1999)
  2. Matrix Reloaded (2003)
  3. Matrix Revolutions (2003)
  4. The Animatrix (2003)
  5. Snowcrash (1992)
  6. I, Robot (2004)
  7. Minority Report (2002) (and read the short story)
  8. A Scanner Darkly (2006) (and read the novel)

NSFW animated anthology Love, Death & Robots coming to Netflix

It’s being hailed as “the next best thing since the Animatrix”, and judging by the cut-up slices of what we can glimpse from the trailer, I believe it. The Animatrix was revolutionary and visionary, an amazing mix of different artists and different views connected by the unifying theme of The Matrix as subject content. Love, Death & Robots looks like it’s less thematically connected, but it’s taking the animated anthology concept to the next level, and finding the proper home it deserves on Netflix. Coming from Tim Miller (Deadpool, Terminator: Dark Fate) and David Fincher (Mindhunter), the anthology promises “sentient dairy products, werewolf soldiers, robots gone wild, garbage monsters, cyborg bounty hunters, alien spiders and blood-thirsty demons from hell – all converge in 18 NSFW animated stories”.

Check out the teaser trailer for yourself and get back to me, because it’s that good. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiUARnClx80

Take a look at the variety of different formats here! Just like in Animatrix, we have 2D and 3D formats in both anime and full CGI. Apparently the full list will include 5-15 minute segments broaching the topics of racism, government, war, free will, and human nature, and provided from filmmakers from Hungary, France, Canada, Korea, and more. The anthology will be made available on Netflix March 15th, so this is the next Cyberpunk media content to put on your calendars after seeing Battle Angel Alita this weekend!

http://collider.com/love-death-and-robots-trailer-netflix/

 

Alita: Battle Angel Review

Alita: Battle Angel is the latest blockbuster Cyberpunk movie to hit the theaters, and is based on a Manga of the same name, also called GUNNM, and was a project in the works from producer James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) for over 10 years! He had to put the project on the backburner as he worked on many different films during that time, eventually handing off the directing duties to Robert Rodriguez (Sin City). After a long and laborious production involving a lot of cgi work and concept design, Alita was finally ready and its trailers started rolling out last February for a July release. However, its release date was pushed back to December, and then finally to February 14th in the US, with a later release slated for February 22nd for most of the Asian market.

Alita: Battle Angel follows the story of Alita, a cyborg with a human brain, who is found dismembered in a pile of rubbish by cyborg scientist Dr. Ido. Ido decides to give Alita a new robot body, and since she has no memories of who she is or what happened to her, Ido takes her in and gives her the name Alita after his own deceased daughter. Alita soon realizes that she has military instincts and training, and this leads her onto a path of discovery for who she is, as well as fighting the many injustices that she sees along the way. The story takes place in Iron City, a futuristic dystopian city filled with lawlessness and crime, which is located underneath the wealthy city of Zalem that floats above. Only the rich can live in Zalem, and most of the people who live below in Iron City dream to try to live up in the clouds one day too.

Because of the incredible visuals that James Cameron is known for (Avatar), and the cyberpunk elements of martial arts fighting (guns are outlawed in Iron City) and a wide array of cyborgs and cyber-enhancements, I was really looking forward to watching this movie. To prepare me for the movie and get acquainted with the material, I also watched the 1993 anime movie that was based off of the original manga, which I found to be excellent as well.

So after over a year of waiting, I was finally able to go see Alita: Battle Angel opening night last Wednesday, and wow, it definitely did not disappoint.

Sure enough, Alita’s visuals are stunning. I remember trying to soak in all the details in the first few frames as the viewer is introduced to Iron City in all its busy, gritty glory. Much to my surprise, the entire movie is surprisingly bright, especially compared to other cyberpunk films like Ghost in the Shell or The Matrix. This is because, at least at first, most of the film happens during the day since Ido warns Alita that she must be home by curfew because “the city is too dangerous at night”. As a result, the viewer is able to really take in all that is Iron City, which features a variety of people of all races and levels of cyber-enhancements, as well as a plethora of bright contrasting colors of storefronts and ads cobbled together in a style somewhat reminiscent to Blade Runner if it weren’t raining all the time and had clear bright skies.

A lot of people have complained, both from the trailers and from the movie itself, that Alita’s eyes are too big and distracting, creepy even. I personally did not feel this was true, and felt her eyes never distracted or detracted, especially considering the original manga had her with big eyes and that never bothered me either. Rosa Salazar does an excellent job here personifying Alita and working with the CGI rig to truly bring the character to life, and I’m glad she had James Cameron as producer on the project to make sure she had a good script to work with. Christoph Waltz also does an excellent job of playing Dr. Ido, with a very nice added nuance to his character instead of being a boring flat father figure. I was personally very excited to see Mahershala Ali play Vector, the crime boss of Iron City, especially because I’ve seen him do great work in Luke Cage and the visuals of his outfit and mirrorshades looked epic. Although he did a great job, especially personifying two people at times as an implant that allows communication from someone in Zalem occasionally takes over, I wish he had been given more time to do more with his character. Due to him alternating between the two characters, I felt his original character could have been more fleshed out.

The action is excellent, and not only does Alita have some impressive moves using martial arts fighting with her fights against a variety of cyborgs, but also the action in the Rollerball games, which is something that appeared in the manga but not in the adapted animated film. Rollerball feels like a combination of Mad Max and Speed Racer but using roller skates, it was very original and a lot of fun. And although Alita does seem overpowered in some scenes, in others one can see that she’s not only a good fighter, but a clever one, and that was really great to see as well.

There isn’t much I can think of to fault this movie. There is a very powerful scene near the end that connects with the audience emotionally, that was also featured in the film so I was prepared but also glad that they kept it in. The movie’s ending also felt like it could be enough to wrap up the movie, or serve as a proper lead to future sequels, which is why I’m hoping the movie will be successful enough to allow the sequels to happen. Since this movie was one of the last, if not the last, film produced by 20th Century Fox before they complete the process of being acquired by Disney, it remains to be seen how Disney decides to work with their newly acquired material. Although some have been worried about Disney potentially quashing creative freedoms, I feel that Disney’s done a good enough job with Marvel and Star Wars to deserve my trust.

The soundtrack also worked very well with this movie, and although this movie doesn’t wax very philosophical, there are a lot of powerful themes this movie touches on (such as issues of weath inequality, identity, corruption and morality), it does a solid job presenting them along with its excellent world-building and character development, which is no easy feat.

As a result, I give this movie a 9.5/10. It is definitely worth seeing, and for hardcore cyberpunk fans, I suspect this may be the beginning of a new trilogy that along with Netflix’s Altered Carbon may continue setting the standard for modern-day cyberpunk to come.

 

 

The Dawn of delivery drone 6-wheelers?

Is 2019 the year delivery drones will finally take off? Or at least, roll out (pun intended)?

After we saw Amazon’s flying drones capable of delivering parcels in the air, we now have a glimpse of what that might look like on land: cute autonomous 6-wheeler robots delivering food and possibly other small parcels to specified location. The idea was first started by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis back in 2014, when they founded the robotics firm called Starship Technologies (I know, we love the name too). In the UK you can already find these fun autonomous bots wheeling around Milton Keynes, fulfilling grocery deliveries. Just this week, Starship just announced a partnership with George Mason University to allow their robots to deliver food anywhere on campus as well.

And it’s not hard to understand the appeal. Not only do the robots look cool and futuristic, but it’s also very practical for those who are stuck in the library or on campus without much time to spare, or simply for those students who have the munchies and don’t want to venture far from their dorm room. In the age of Uber, why not have an app for food delivery to your door as well? Not to mention it’s 100% eco-friendly.

Not to be outdone, Amazon has created its own 6-wheeler system as well, called “scout”. Able to accommodate small and medium-sized parcels, scout would only work with Amazon Prime accounts, of course, and is currently still being tested at Washington State University. However, sources indicate it looks considerably less cute, and is surprisingly quite late to the party, all things considered.

Revolution in Progress as National Assembly Leader Proclaims Himself President

venezuela protests

This is truly a revolution of the people happening in real time.

Due to the hyperinflation, rampant homicides and countless food and medical shortages wracking the country, the 35-year-old head of the national assembly declared himself de-facto president on Wednesday, claiming the current president illegitimate due to the questionable nature of his electoral win last year. Guaido is trying to create a transitional government to help reshape Venezuela’s government, in the process painting himself a target as he attempts to save Venezuela from itself and Maduro.

Surprisingly, Donald Trump was the first to recognize the new leader, along with Mike Pence. Many other countries then followed suit, such as Brazil, Chile, Peru, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, and Western Europe. As a response, Maduro decided to cut ties with the US, giving US diplomats 72 hours to get out of Venezuela. However, the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo refuted the statement, claiming Maduro doesn’t have the authority to break diplomatic relations. Mexico and Bolivia, however, still support Maduro, along with Russia, China, and Cuba. Some are denouncing the interference from the US and other countries in Venezuela’s affairs.

Many are worried about a potential disaster if the military support Maduro instead of Guaido, such as civil war. Internet watchdogs have also noticed that Maduro seems to be limiting social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, in order to try to contain the rampant protests against his government.

Why are thousands and millions of people taking to the streets to protest Maduro’s government, you ask? Simply because after Maduro took power, Venezuela has become a country with rampant hyperinflation. Shortages for everything from food and medical supplies to basic necessities like toilet paper and diapers have crippled the entire country, along with the highest homicide rate in Latin America due to all the corruption. The ‘Maduro diet’ has led to hundreds of thousands starving, with some resorting to killing animals in zoos in order to eat, and many avoiding hospitals because the facilities are more disease-prone than simply staying at home.

As a result, three million Venezuelans have left the country since 2014 in a mass exodus.

This story is developing and is surely a turning point for the country, as leaders around the world are deciding which side to support. We have yet to see how this will affect the world stage, with countries taking different sides in the economic and humanitarian crisis.