All posts by Alexander V Woods

The Influence of Philip K. Dick on Film

The Grandfather of Cyberpunk

If William Gibson is the father of Cyberpunk, then Philip K Dick is undoubtedly its Grandfather. Although Gibson might not want it characterized as such.

PKD

Philip K Dick was a prolific science fiction writer who was born during the great depression in 1928 and died in March 1982 from a stroke. He wrote 44 novels in his lifetime and 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines like Science Fiction Quarterly. He constantly struggled with finances, had five wives, and at the end of his life attempted suicide multiple times. He struggled with drug addiction, an overwhelming sense of paranoia that became worse later on in life, and paranormal religious experiences that both shaped and confirmed his science fiction writing. If you had to identify a central theme to Dick’s writing, it was the uncertainty of reality.

His influence on Cyberpunk, Dystopian, and Alternate-Reality Movies

I keep on having my mind blown by how influential Philip K Dick was, and still is, on film. I thought he was simply the writer behind the novel that inspired Blade Runner, and maybe a couple other things like Total Recall, but that was it.

Nope. I was wrong.

Philip K Dick has in fact had a huge influence on the movies that have been released. You’ve probably seen many a PKD-inspired movie and didn’t even know it!

Don’t believe me? Allow me to give you a primer on everything he has done with the following list of eight novels or short stories that inspired major film productions.

Nine PKD-Inspired Films

The beginning of my tumble down the proverbial rabbit hole was with What the Dead Men Say, a short story that PKD used as inspiration for his novel Ubik. This is the only short story to inspire a novel in our list.

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PKD’s work has led to a whopping thirteen films inspired by his work (s). The first one on our list is undoubtedly one you are already familiar with.

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Blade Runner

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep CoverBlade Runner poster

We start off our list with nothing less than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which of course led to one of the leading works that founded the Cyberpunk genre, Blade Runner. In the book, the world has experienced a global crisis where animal life has died to such an extent that people own pets as symbols of wealth, since they are incredibly expensive. Those who can’t afford bona-fide animals (which are listed in catalogs with current prices much like stocks nowadays) have to settle for electric animals that mimic real animals. Of course the movie blade runner has none of this, but there is also a significant plot of androids being hunted and questioning their place in the world.

2. We Can Remember it For You Wholesale and Total Recall

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The second adaptation on our list is We can remember it for you wholesale, which was a short story adapted into a more famous movie called Total Recall played by Arnold Schwarzenegger that came out in 1990, and then later remade in 2012 with Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy, and John Cho. While the original Total Recall takes place partially on Mars, and has surprising things like mutants, the remake settles on basic action and a world with an elevator that goes through the core to connect a poor and rich world. All three stories play with the meaning of memory and how it can shape what you think is your identity and reality, but in different ways.

3. The Minority Report and Minority Report

Third on our list is the short story The Minority Report, which inspired Stephen Spielberg’s Minority Report with Tom Cruise, a tale about free will and controlling the future. While PKD’s short story is obviously more straightforward, it focuses less on action and more on political intrigue and pitting free will versus determinism. While Spielberg’s Minority Report is similar, the theme of political plotting is almost non-existent, replaced instead by a fast-paced game of cat and mouse as main character John Anderton (Cruise) tries to escape his old division of pre-crime to solve the mystery of the murder he is supposed to commit but hasn’t yet. There is a strong focus here on broken families again, which is a theme that seems somewhat common in Spielberg’s work.

4. A Scanner Darkly (same name)

The novel A Scanner Darkly resulted in the brilliantly-imagined, drug-addled roteroscope film called A Scanner Darkly, with Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic), Robert Downey Jr., Woodly Harrelson, and Winona Ryder. I have not read the novel yet, but it is said to be semi-autobiographical, and is set in Orange County, California, in the then-future of 1994 (it was published in 1977). Apparently the director Richard Linklater worked closely with the PKD estate to adapt the movie faithfully from the novel, since it was one of PKD’s favorite and most personal ones.

5. Adjustment Team and The Adjustment Bureau

Next on our list is the short story Adjustment Team, later adapted into The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon (Elysium) and Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow). Originally an insurance salesman in the short story, the screenplay writer George Nolfi wanted a character that would have consequences to his life choices past himself, and thus settled on Damon playing an up-and-coming politician. The story revolves around the idea that fate is actually a certain group of everyday people that decide your fate for you, modifying your reality in subtle ways in order to fit their own party agenda.

6. The Golden Man and Next

Next we have, well, Next, which was adapted from PKD’s short story The Golden Man about someone who could predict the future. The short story was in a science fiction novelette set in a post-apocalyptic future where mutants exist as a smaller demographic of normal humans. As a result they are hunted, but when the government catches the main character Cris, it finds it difficult to kill him due to his powers of precognition. Meanwhile, Next starred Nicholas Cage, Julianne Moore, and Jessica Biel. Cris Johnson can see the immediate future in Las Vegas but as a result is the target of a terrorist group, and then becomes wanted by the FBI to fight that same terrorist group.  

7. Paycheck (same name)

and Paycheckwith Ben Affleck, Paul Giamatti, Uma Thurman, and Aaron Eckhart.

Paycheck was another science fiction novelette where the main character, Jennings, completes a secret 2-year contract and then has his memory wiped in return for being paid a lot of money. Upon waking up after his memory wipe, however, he finds that he had asked to be paid with a bag of trinkets instead of the money. He then gets arrested by the police, but the bag of trinkets helps him escape, because during his tenure he had been able to see the future so the bag of trinkets are a carefully-chose set to allow him to escape the police. The film adaptation is actually surprisingly similar to the novelette.

This last one was especially interesting because it was directed by John Woo, who was one of the Wachowski’s favorite directors. They liked his films so much that for the Matrix sequel video game, The Path of Neo, the player plays Neo in an exact replica of the Teahouse shootout scene from Woo’s HardboiledThe other interesting thing I noted about Paycheck is that the trailer for Paycheck features the same song that was written for a scene in Matrix Reloaded, called Zion by Fluke (the rave scene in Zion). Matrix Reloaded came out in May of 2003, but Paycheck came out in December of the same year

8. Second Variety and Screamers

Second Variety is next on our list, a short story about a future war in the trenches between American and Russian forces. Autonomous robots with rotary blades called Claws live in the sand and attack anyone designated as a target, before they start developing the second variety, which are androids that look like humans. The movie Screamers follows the same premise, except for the added aspect that the android can only be properly identified as such when it screams.

9. Impostor (same name)

There was also a film adaptation of the short story Impostor, with the film using the same name, starring Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, and Vincent D’Onofrio. Impostor was a story about a man who thinks he is human, until his colleagues intercept him and insist he is actually an android impostor, that his real human self was killed and replaced with his android counterpart in order to carry out a terrorist act sometime in the future without knowing it. The movie very much follows the same story and stays faithful to the short story.

An Excellent Source of Inspiration for Hollywood

So how many of these movies have you seen? How about the books and short stories? Have you read them all?

If you’ve seen all the movies and read all the works, then you can truly consider yourself a die-hard PKD fan, and you probably question your reality. So make sure to get a can of Ubik in a store near you!

 

 

Altered Carbon Season 2: Final Trailer and Release Date!

Altered Carbon is Back!

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Well, the wait has finally paid off, folks–Altered Carbon Season 2 is finally almost here! The release date has been announced for February 27th, and all eight episodes for season 2 will drop at the same time in true Netflix fashion. Make sure to keep your calendars open!

Teaser Trailer

Last week on February 4th we were blessed with a new teaser trailer for the new season, which you should check out below!

As you can see there’s a lot to unpack here. You can bet that the first time I saw this teaser trailer I paused the trailer ad nauseum to take in what each still in the trailer was telling us. We hear Anthony Mackie say the following:

“This is a ghost story. Technology has conquered death. But with endless future comes endless past. We are trailed by specters. They cling to us like shadows. But if you chase after your ghost, you just might become one.”–Takeshi Kovacs

What to Expect

In the teaser trailer we definitely see what appears to be preserved ruins of Martian bodies, which would definitely be from book 2 of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, Broken Angels (for a primer on what happened in that novel, check out my review). We see more little scenes of what looks like Kovacs’ childhood, as well as his connections to Quellcrist Falconer, which is examined considerably in book 3, Woken Furies (which you can also read my review for here). We also see a ship exploding, which could be the one used to go through the portal in book 2, as well as Kovacs fighting an unclear group, and Kovacs in a new sleeve where he can summon handguns to his hands.

Clues from Episode Titles

We also know the names for all eight episodes, which are below:

Ep 201 “Phantom Lady” – written by Laeta Kalogridis, directed by Ciaran Donnelly

Ep 202 “Payment Deferred” – written by Sarah Nicole James, directed by Ciaran Donnelly

Ep 203 “Nightmare Alley” – written by Michael R. Perry, directed by MJ Bassett

Ep 204 “Shadow of a Doubt” – written by Sang Kyu Kim, directed by MJ Bassett

Ep 205 “I Wake up Screaming” – written by Cortney Norris, directed by Jeremy Webb

Ep 206 “Bury Me Dead” – written by Adam Lash & Cori Uchida, directed by Jeremy Webb

Ep 207 “Experiment Perilous” – written by Nevin Densham, directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield

Ep 208 “Broken Angels” – written by Alison Schapker & Elizabeth Padden, directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield

Because of the strong emphasis Season 1 and the trailer has put on Falconer, and the fact that it would be prohibitively expensive to shoot the whole season on Mars or in space, I suspect Season 2 will be taking parts of book 2 (the Martian ruins, Carerra’s Wedge, and Col. Ivan Carerra) and adding them to the plot of book 3 (finding Falconer again). Oh, and it’s set on Harlan’s World, with one main character being Danica Harlan, and that’s definitely from book 3 as well.

The fact that the last episode is called the name of book 2 is very interesting, however. The angels in question referred to spirits of the dead or gone Martians, so I wonder if that will play any part in that final episode.

A New Instagram Grid for a New Season

At around the same time the official Altered Carbon Instagram was scrubbed and refitted with promotional pictures on their grid. Just look at this beauty.

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Altered Carbon Season 2: The Main Trailer

On February 12th, about two weeks before the release of Season Two, we FINALLY got a complete trailer that dropped on YouTube. Let’s check it out below.

So one of the first things I really enjoyed seeing right off the bat was the sky above Harlan’s World. You see, Harlan’s World is where Kovacs was born and raised, where he spent his misfit youth before he joined different military outfits. On this planet, Martians left behind an array of satellites that will automatically shoot lasers to vaporize anything that goes too high in orbit over the world. As a result, it’s very difficult to get anything onto the world from space. The only way to do so is to slip in through small cracks in the defensive satellite network. No one knows why the Martians left them behind or what they were for, all they know is that they’re there and they are still operational.

Harlan’s World and the Satellites of Death

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In one of the first shots of this trailer, we can finally see how Kalogridis envisioned this satellite network of death, here dealing shots of blue lasers.

Your Resleeving is Now Complete

Anthony Mackie as Takeshi Kovacs in Altered Carbon

Mackie’s resleeving this time also looks a lot smoother than Joel Kinnaman’s resleeving. Here we get to know all the cool new military features Mackie’s sleeve will have.

Kumalo Bioware

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In the trailer Poe asks Kovacs what compelled him to return to Harlan’s World, a place he swore he would never return. He seems to respond “I’m still looking for her, and I can’t walk away.” This suggests that he came to Harlan’s World by choice this time.

Another difference here is that it looks like Kovacs will find Falconer, in her original sleeve, here on Harlan’s World. This is very different than in the book, where she was found only in digital form. Unless if in fact what we are seeing is in virtual space?

Colonel Ivan Carrera and Carrera’s Wedge

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We then see Danica Harlan ordering Col. Carrera to find and kill what I’m guessing is Kovacs and Falconer together. This would make sense, since Quell was trying to lead a rebellion against the Harlan family, and perhaps still is here in Season 2. We also hear “the whole planet is going to be hunting you” because, well, it’s literally Harlan’s World.

We are Trailed by Specters. They Cling to Us Like Shadows

Then, at 1:58, we get a very exciting view of…Will Yun Lee as the original Takeshi Kovacs! This refers directly to what happens in book 3, which I won’t spoil if you haven’t read it, but it’s very important indeed.

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So after this trailer I think I have a good idea of what to expect from Season 2. The beginning premise might not be as exciting as season 1, but once you discover the twist, it might become a lot more interesting.

What were your impressions on the Season 2 trailer? Comment below!

 

Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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The Premise

Ghost in the shell is directed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and based On Masamune Shirow’s anime by the same name. It stars Scarlett Johansson as the main character of The Major (Motoko Kusanagi), along with Takeshi Kitano (Chief Aramaki), Michael Pitt (Kuze), Pilou Asbaek (Batou), Chin Han (Togusa), and Juliette Binoche (Doctor Ouelet). Set in the future in Japan, The Major is part of an anti-terrorist bureau called Section 9 that is tasked with investigating a Cyber-terrorist called Kuze, while discovering her own origins at the same time. The Major is also a Cyborg Super-soldier, more machine than human, and grapples with her own human-machine identity.

GitS Poster 2

Starting us off

The movie starts with a beautiful introduction, providing the credits as Major’s synthetic body, her shell, is being created. This is very similar to the introductory scene in the 1995 anime, but in my opinion, Clint Mansell’s soundtrack is a lot nicer. Although a lot of people love the music of the original anime introduction, to me, the chanting voices always were rather jarring. Mansell’s light semi-electronic notes wafting slowly throughout the sequence provides an almost mystical, alluring atmosphere.

The movie suffers again from needless exposition by explaining what Hanka Robotics is and what kind of world this is. Perhaps this was done to make the movie more palatable to a wider range of audiences, but they really would have made the movie better without it.

Visually Stunning–How a Cyberpunk City Should Be

The first real scene, after Major’s awakening, is the first sign of how gorgeous this film will be. This scene feels like a proper tribute to what a cyberpunk megapolis should be, made in a modern style without an excess of digital effects. To be honest, ever since I saw this movie in theaters, the image that comes to mind of a Cyberpunk city is always this city, this world.

GitS City

Yep. Cyberpunk.

Taking it all in

Upon re-watching this movie, there’s a certain beauty in simple scenes that aren’t immediately apparent. Like Batou feeding the stray dogs, including the basset hounds that are a trademark of the original Ghost in the Shell anime. Or the scene right before when he gets the bones for the dogs, where we see what street markets look like, with all the basic meat vendors casually sporting enhancements including entire android arms like it’s nothing.

The last time I saw so many casually augmented people in an urban city was in Alita: Battle Angel, and it’s incredible to see all the diversity. I literally have to pause the scenes to take in everything I’m seeing.

GitS Section 9

Part-Tactical Spec-Ops, Part Reflection on Humanity

Another excellent part of the movie is the tactical nature of the film, in addition to the self-reflecting nature of the film. We often see Section 9 moving as a unit, working and planning together. Aerial shots of them closing on locations make this that much more fun and palpable.

Motoko (Major) is trying to figure out what makes her human, or machine, or whatever she is in between. You can see this as she studies a human prostitute with wonder, and as she looks at geisha bots with scorn, wondering how she is any different. She seems to consider herself unworthy of human value in the same way that her fellow humans are–because she is just a machine, and perhaps also just a weapon, what she thinks and feels has no importance. At least, at first she seems to think this. She then begins to question it, the more she tries to find this Kuze character who seems somehow familiar, while trying to stop his terrorist actions of hacks and manipulation and killing.

Motoko and Kuze

There is a particularly potent scene that displays this as she comes face to face with Kuze. For the first time, we see what’s underneath her skin–her metal shell. It’s easy to see how she grapples with who she is, made even more so once she goes back to the person that had always been the closest to her mother–Doctor Ouelet. When she learns the truth of her past, the audience can feel and see how truly alone she feels. That her once-enemy, who granted is morally bankrupt, is the closest she has to what resembles a brother.

This then leads to another great scene–the harbor scene, where major looks for answers in the underwater depths, surrounded by darkness and perpetual blissful silence. We also get some more great shots of the city in the distance.

Batou

I’ve always loved Batou, but Pilou Asbaek’s performance here as the resigned, kind, understanding team partner really shines. I love his slow, almost drunkenly deliberate movements, as he’s trying to understand what his friend is going through. The audience once again is treated to a beautiful dark cityscape behind the two on the little fishing boat.

GitSHarbour

In general this is simply a beautiful film. There are scenes reminiscent of the Kowloon walled city in Hong Kong, like when she goes to visit a particular woman of interest. The giant superstructures are so iconic in Cyberpunk films, with beautiful circular shots looking up. Pausing in these scenes almost gave me the impression that I was watching  Inception. The Tron-like Motorcycles, the neon-lit highways, all are very iconically Cyberpunk.

In my opinion, the ending was very satisfying, although a little different from the Anime version. This is one of those movies where you really need a second viewing, or a third. But even after multiple viewings, it’s still a beautiful, enjoyable movie with a great soundtrack and solid plot.

Final Verdict: 9/10

Due to its beautiful cinematography, interesting characters, exciting action and tactical sequences, and excellent score, I give this movie a final score of 9/10. I would have liked to go a little deeper with the characters, to have them explore the human/cyborg element a little more than they did (and I know this is possible because it is done better in the anime). But other than this minor element, this film is excellent, and I highly recommend it.

 

Bloodshot: The upcoming 2020 Cyberpunk Film no one’s talking about

Less Cyberpunk Content than 2019

2020 has plenty of Cyberpunk content set to come out: Of course, the long-awaited Cyberpunk 2077 in April September, and then its smaller brother Ghostrunner in August. But those are both video games. What movies are there to look forward to?

Unfortunately, other than the widely-anticipated Season 2 of Altered Carbon, there aren’t a lot of cyberpunk films set to come out this year. One of them you may not have heard of is Bloodshot.

Bloodshot: the Cyberpunk film of March 2020

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Due out March 13th in the US and end of February/first week of March in Europe (for the complete list of release dates, since they’re surprisingly country-specific, click here), Bloodshot will hopefully get us our cyberpunk fix for that month, provided you haven’t finished watching Altered Carbon’s Season 2 already.

Comic Book Origins

This is actually a film adaptation of a comic book character of the same name coming from Valiant Comics, a smaller and lesser-known comics publisher similar to DC comics or Marvel. But while DC and Marvel have traditionally focused more on good superheros, Valiant tried to carve out a slice of the market for itself by focusing more on anti-heros, like Bloodshot.

Bloodshot comic

The result that we get is what looks like a slick action-focused flick starring Vin Diesel as Marine Raymond “Ray” Garrison who is reborn by a team of scientists with nanotechnology after his wife is suddenly assassinated. The nanites allow him to become somewhat of a superhuman, with enhanced strength, senses, and healing factor. Originally amnesiac after the operation, his memories start to come back to him as he trains with fellow super-soldiers, until he breaks out to find the man that killed his wife. However, not everything is at it seems.

Check out the first trailer below and see for yourself.

Expectations

Bloodshot is the latest movie set to come out in 2020 that I would deem Cyberpunk enough to warrant the label, although it’s definitely heavier on the action side. We’ll see how much low-life and high-tech elements it actually has. For now it appears rather similar to Terminator, but without the androids and with a dash of Total Recall and Wolverine. It at least has a character with android arms a la Doctor Octopus or reminiscent of Max from Elysium.

Cast

In addition to Vin Diesel in the titular role, it looks like what I imagine to be the main villain will be played by Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3). Jared Leto had been considered for the role, which would have been another Cyberpunk film for him to star in, but ultimately the role went to Diesel. Also cast have been Sam Heughan (Outlander) and Eida Gonzalez

The Role of Bloodshot in Valiant Comics

If you’re curious to learn more about the backstory of Bloodshot and his important role in the lesser-known publisher Valiant Comics, check out this excellent breakdown from Comics Explained below.

I for one am definitely excited for this to come out, especially since I’m a big Vin Diesel fan. But the fact that it just got a PG-13 rating is tempering my expectations a little.

Make sure to check out Bloodshot before it leaves the theaters, and make it something to look forward to.

 

Review: Babylon A.D.

Babylon AD cover

Babylon A.D. is Cyberpunk enough.

Babylon A.D. probably doesn’t pass the test of being “Cyberpunk” for some, due to its sparse high-tech elements, but its low-life quota more than makes up for it and along with its interesting dystopian world, it merits a mention here. So here goes.

This movie really isn’t that bad.

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That’s what I’m going to start with for this movie. I had seen it as an option to watch on Netflix, but a quick perusal of its reviews online scared me away. The cover photo was also B-movie bland and there were no scenes to get me excited about the film. Once I finally watched the trailer, I also felt lukewarm about trying out the movie.

But sometimes, there’s an itch to watch a new, high-quality cyberpunk movie that simply needs to be scratched.

I like Vin Diesel, but when I saw Michelle Yeoh was in it (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) I was convinced that I needed to see this movie.

Babylon AD Michelle Yeoh

Yeoh kicks plenty of ass with her fists in this film. But she’s still willing to pick up a trusty handgun from time to time.

With my expectations already set abysmally low, this movie was actually able to surprise me in a very good way. The movie jumps right in without needless exposition that plagues so many other movies (I’m looking at you, Ready Player One) and the viewer is able to see a dystopian world somewhere in eastern Europe where everything is run-down, food is extremely scarce, and guns are as commonplace as cigarette butts on the streets. There’s an early scene with a handgun that lights up, but other than that, we don’t see much high-tech until much later in the movie, and even then it’s still very sparse.

That doesn’t hurt the movie, though. Vin Diesel is great at being the emotionally-hardened killing machine that the likes of Bruce Willis and Jason Statham have similarly made successful in their straightforward action flicks.

Don't mess with Vin Diesel Babylon AD

Pictured above: Vin Diesel completely out of fucks to give.

Babylon A.D. feels like an action flick set in a dystopian future. If seen in that light, it’s a lot of fun. There are shootouts, explosions, hand-to-hand combat, and even random military elements like combat gear and even a giant military helicopter that is retrofitted for transportation purposes. The pacing is solid except for some moments that dragged, and I was frequently surprised by sudden events happening throughout the film.

The Story

Vin Diesel plays mercenary Toorop who is hired by a Russian mobster, played by Gerard Depardieu (The Man in the Iron Mask) to bring a young woman named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) from Europe to New York City. Once given a UN passport, he must bring Aurora and her guardian Sister Rebeka (Yeoh) from their convent in Kyrgyztan to New York by traveling through Russia to Vladivostok and across the Pacific to Alaska.

babylonAD Limo

The trio fights, bribes, and smuggles their way toward their destination, as the viewers slowly learn more about Aurora’s mysterious past. Through the difficult journey they become somewhat of a family, until the movie comes to a head about an hour in once they arrive in New York.

Then something happens, which makes little sense to me, and which honestly lost me for the end of the movie. Up until that point, I had been enjoying the movie immensely. I guess you just have to bear with them until their conclusion, which unfortunately lost the emotional gravitas it was probably striving for.

However, there was one small consolation prize: this guy.

Lambert Wilson Babylon A.D.

“You see, there is only one constant. One Universal. And that is…that I LOVE French wine.”–What I imagined him saying in this moment.

That’s right, folks! Lambert Wilson is in this movie too! Unfortunately he has only a small role, but seeing him play yet another smug man of power with his sublime French accent made me not only like this movie even more, but realize just how much I loved his performance as The Merovingian in the Matrix franchise.

Final Verdict: 7.5/10

You should definitely see this movie, especially if you have a Netflix account. It would have been an 8 if the movie hadn’t gotten in the way of itself during the last 30 minutes (it was so close to being great!) but it also would have been worse if not for the performances of Yeoh, Wilson, and Diesel. It certainly doesn’t warrant the 6% on Rotten Tomatoes (seriously??). Nonetheless, with good acting from most of the actors, fun action, decent pacing, and an interesting idea (for the most part), this movie is worth a viewing for any proper fan of Cyberpunk and Dystopia in particular.