Review: Don’t call it a comeback—The Boys returns better than ever in S2

Superheroes abuse their powers rather than using them for good in The Boys, which just concluded its second season.

In my review of The Boys S1 last year, I called the Amazon Prime series “a wickedly funny, darkly irreverent adaptation” and “ideal late-summer therapy for anyone who has grown a bit weary of the constant onslaught of superhero movies.” I wasn’t alone in my love for the show: The Boys was a massive hit, and that success has continued with S2, which was the most-watched global launch of any Amazon series to date, pretty much doubling the show’s worldwide audience. S2 is even better than its predecessor, deftly tackling timely themes and hot-button issues, while never sacrificing all the biting satire and good, gory fun that we loved about S1. And can we just give Antony Starr an Emmy already for his stunning performance as Homelander?

(Spoilers for S1 below; some spoilers for S2, but no major reveals.)

The Boys is set in a fictional universe where superheroes are real but corrupted by corporate interests and a toxic celebrity-obsessed culture. The most elite superhero group is called the Seven, headed up by Homelander (Starr), a truly violent and unstable psychopath disguised as the All-American hero, who mostly bullies his supe team into compliance. The other members include A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), who boasts super-speed but has also become addicted to the experimental performance-enhancing substance called Compound-V. The Deep (Chace Crawford) can breathe underwater, thanks to having gills—voiced in S2 by Patton Oswalt during a hallucination sequence—and converse with marine creatures.

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Review: Utopia is a very good series released at exactly the wrong time

It’s a rare TV series that gives me pause about even writing a review, but Amazon’s new sci-fi thriller Utopia turned out to be just that. Not because it isn’t good—on the contrary, I found it both entertaining and thought provoking. But there are several key elements of the central plot that proved disquieting enough (even for someone like me who is not generally squeamish) that I had to ponder the pros and cons of giving space to a show whose release perhaps should have been postponed by a few months, given current world events. (I mean, read the room, Amazon! Geez!) In the end, the pro arguments won out.

(All major spoilers are below the second gallery. We’ll give you a heads-up when we get there.)

As we reported previously, the series is a reboot of the 2013 British version, about online fans of a graphic novel called Dystopia that seems to have the power to predict the real-world future. The fans are obsessed with tracking down the sequel, Utopia, and this makes them targets of a secret organization. Amazon has kept the same basic premise (with a few tweaks) and swapped in an American cast. Per the official premise: “When the conspiracy in the elusive comic Utopia is real, a group of young fans come together to embark on a high-stakes twisted adventure to use what they uncover to save themselves, each other and ultimately humanity.”

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Amazon Prime Day 2020: All the best tech deals we can find

Amazon Prime Day 2020: All the best tech deals we can find

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

It’s later than usual, but Amazon Prime Day has arrived. The Dealmaster is here to guide you away from the junk and toward 2020’s best Prime Day deals—particularly when it comes to discounts on gadgets and gear.

Much like last year, Prime Day 2020 is actually a 48-hour affair, live through October 13 and 14. The sales event remains a way for Amazon to bolster its hugely popular Prime membership program first and foremost, so you’ll still need to subscribe to Prime to take advantage of the myriad Prime Day sales. Those on a free trial can take part, but trials are only available to people who haven’t been a Prime member within the last 12 months.

For those who haven’t bothered with Prime Day in the past, know that most of the “deals” Amazon advertises aren’t, well, deals. Sometimes, a product’s advertised price isn’t much cheaper than its typical street price; other times, the product itself just isn’t worth buying in the first place. This hasn’t changed with Prime Day 2020.

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The future of the Belt has begun in first trailer for The Expanse S5

The fifth season of the sci-fi series The Expanse will begin streaming on Amazon Prime on December 16, 2020.

Amazon Prime debuted the first trailer (embedded above) for the upcoming fifth season of The Expanse during the series panel at the New York Comic Con’s Metaverse today. And the stakes are high. According to the official premise, “The future of The Belt has begun as Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) wages Armageddon against the Inners for a lifetime of oppression and injustice.”

(Some spoilers for prior seasons below.)

As we previously reported, The Expanse is based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), exploring interplanetary tensions that are breaking out all over a Solar System long since colonized by humans—mostly between Earthers, Martians, and “Belters.” Part mystery, part political thriller, part classic space opera, The Expanse has earned almost nothing but praise from critics and its devoted fans alike, not just for its gripping storytelling, but also its excellent use of accurate physics. The third and fourth seasons earned a rare 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes (seasons one and two earned 76 percent and 96 percent, respectively).

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Here’s the trailer, release date for Simon Pegg/Nick Frost sitcom Truth Seekers

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play ghost hunters in the new Amazon Prime horror comedy Truth Seekers.

Back in July, during the virtual San Diego Comic-Con@Home, Amazon Studios released a beguiling teaser for Truth Seekers, the forthcoming sci-fi/horror/comedy series starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It looked like a lot of fun—how could you go wrong with a reunion of Pegg and Frost? The full trailer just dropped, and it definitely reinforces that positive first impression. We also now have a release date: Amazon will screen the first two episodes at the Canneseries festival on October 10 and will release the full series on Prime Video on October 30, 2020.

As we reported previously, the series was created by Pegg, Frost, James Serafinowicz, and Nat Saunders. It’s envisioned as a cross between The X-Files and the British TV series Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. Each of the eight episodes will focus on a specific paranormal incident, a throwback to a classic monster-of-the-week format. Rather than going with pure spoof, Truth Seekers will apparently take its horror aspects seriously.

Per the official synopsis:

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Introducing Apple One, Apple’s subscription bundle answer to Amazon Prime

Apple One tiers.

Enlarge / Apple One tiers. (credit: Apple)

After months of rumors that it was right around the corner, Apple’s subscription bundle has finally been announced. Dubbed Apple One, the service combines multiple Apple services like Apple Arcade, Apple TV+, and Apple News+ into one subscription—a page from Amazon’s book, to be sure.

Apple One will offer three tiers. The lowest-priced one, at $14.95/mo, includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 50GB of iCloud storage for a single user. The next one up, “Family,” offers those same services to multiple family users for $19.95/mo. The highest-priced “Premier” tier, at $29.95/mo, includes bundled magazine subscription service Apple News+ and Fitness+ as well, along with a bump to 2TB of iCloud storage.

Apple says these plans will roll out “this fall,” with a 30-day free trial for all new users to determine which tier is best for them.

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A dark comic book conspiracy turns out to be all too real in Utopia trailer

John Cusack and Rainn Wilson star in Amazon Prime’s black comedy/conspiracy thriller, Utopia.

Last month, at the virtual San Diego Comic Con, Amazon dropped the first teaser for Utopia, a reboot (adapted by Gone Girl and Sharp Objects author Gillian Flynn) of the controversial 2013-2014 British black comedy/conspiracy thriller. Now the streaming platform has released the official full trailer, and the series looks like it’s going to be quite the wild ride.

As we reported previously, the series is about online fans of a dystopian graphic novel called Utopia that seems to have the power to predict the real-world future. The fans are obsessed with tracking down the sequel (which supposedly also predicts future world events). This makes them targets of a secret organization called The Network.

The British version received critical praise for its originality and visual style, offset by strong reservations about its extreme violence, which struck many as unnecessarily gratuitous. (The most famous scene involved a torturer using a spoon to gouge out a victim’s eye). It remains to be seen if Amazon’s Utopia will match the same scale of violence, although Flynn recently told Deadline Hollywood that it wouldn’t be as prominent.

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Review: Rosamund Pike is riveting as Marie Curie in uneven biopic Radioactive

Rosamund Pike stars as Marie Curie in the film Radioactive, now streaming on Amazon Prime.

A resolute young woman in Paris in the 1890s sets the scientific world ablaze with her revolutionary discoveries in Radioactive, a film about the life of Marie Curie, based on the 2010 graphic novel Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, by Lauren Redniss. Director Marjane Satrapi‘s film is part earnest biopic, part arthouse film, elevated by a luminous, intense, and riveting performance by Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) as Marie Curie.

(Some spoilers below for those unfamiliar with the life of Marie Curie.)

Satrapi is perhaps best known for her powerful autobiographical memoir, Persepolis, depicting her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in graphic novel form, which she later adapted into an animated film. So it’s not surprising that she would admire Redniss’ graphic novel about Marie Curie. Still, Satrapi admitted in an interview that she was initially reluctant to take on the project. “I was like, why the hell would you make another script about Marie Curie? There are already four of them,” she told WWD. In the end, she became “obsessed” with making the film, which she views as being as much about the aftermath of Marie Curie’s discoveries as her life and science.

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Simon Pegg, Nick Frost return to horror-comedy roots with Truth Seekers teaser

Amazon’s new supernatural comedy series Truth Seekers reunites Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

A group of part-time paranormal investigators team up to uncover a deadly conspiracy in the first teaser for Truth Seekers, a forthcoming sci-fi/horror comedy series from Amazon starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The first teaser was unveiled today at San Diego Comic-Con @Home, which has had to switch to an online-only, virtual format this year due to the continuing pandemic.

Created by Pegg, Frost, James Serafinowicz, and Nat Saunders, the eight-episode series is envisioned as a cross between The X-Files and the British TV series Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. Each episode will focus on a specific paranormal incident, a throwback to a classic monster-of-the-week format. Rather than going with pure spoof, Truth Seekers will apparently take its horror aspects seriously.

“You have to not make fun of the horror,” Pegg said during the Comic-Con panel. “It’s tempting with genre fare to parody that… but I think the key for horror-comedy is to take the horror seriously.”

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Hear how three startups are approaching quantum computing differently at TC Disrupt 2020

Quantum computing is at an interesting point. It’s at the cusp of being mature enough to solve real problems. But like in the early days of personal computers, there are lots of different companies trying different approaches to solving the fundamental physics problems that underly the technology, all while another set of startups is looking ahead and thinking about how to integrate these machines with classical computers — and how to write software for them.

At Disrupt 2020 on September 14-18, we will have a panel with D-Wave CEO Alan Baratz, Quantum Machines co-founder and CEO Itamar Sivan and IonQ president and CEO Peter Chapman. The leaders of these three companies are all approaching quantum computing from different angles, yet all with the same goal of making this novel technology mainstream.

D-Wave may just be the best-known quantum computing company thanks to an early start and smart marketing in its early days. Alan Baratz took over as CEO earlier this year after a few years as chief product officer and executive VP of R&D at the company. Under Baratz, D-Wave has continued to build out its technology — and especially its D-Wave quantum cloud service. Leap 2, the latest version of its efforts, launched earlier this year. D-Wave’s technology is also very different from that of many other efforts thanks to its focus on quantum annealing. That drew a lot of skepticism in its early days, but it’s now a proven technology and the company is now advancing both its hardware and software platform.

Like Baratz, IonQ’s Peter Chapman isn’t a founder either. Instead, he was the engineering director for Amazon Prime before joining IonQ in 2019. Under his leadership, the company raised a $55 million funding round in late 2019, which the company extended by another $7 million last month. He is also continuing IonQ’s bet on its trapped ion technology, which makes it relatively easy to create qubits and which, the company argues, allows it to focus its efforts on controlling them. This approach also has the advantage that IonQ’s machines are able to run at room temperature, while many of its competitors have to cool their machines to as close to zero Kelvin as possible, which is an engineering challenge in itself, especially as these companies aim to miniaturize their quantum processors.

Quantum Machines plays in a slightly different part of the ecosystem from D-Wave and IonQ. The company, which recently raised $17.5 million in a Series A round, is building a quantum orchestration platform that combines novel custom hardware for controlling quantum processors — because once quantum machines reach a bit more maturity, a standard PC won’t be fast enough to control them — with a matching software platform and its own QUA language for programming quantum algorithms. Quantum Machines is Itamar Sivan’s first startup, which he launched with his co-founders after getting his Ph.D. in condensed matter and material physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Come to Disrupt 2020 and hear from these companies and others on September 14-18. Get a front-row seat with your Digital Pro Pass for just $245 or with a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package for $445. Prices are increasing next week, so grab yours today to save up to $300.

#amazon, #amazon-prime, #computing, #d-wave, #emerging-technologies, #events, #ionq, #quantum-cryptography, #quantum-machines, #quantum-mechanics, #qubit, #startups, #tc

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First teaser for The Boys S2 promises another wild and bloody ride

Our vigilantes are on the run from Homelander (Antony Starr) and the rest of the Seven in the second season of Amazon Prime’s The Boys.

The war between corrupt, evil superheroes and a ragtag band of vigilantes out to expose their true nature and curb the power of “super” in society will escalate dramatically, judging by the first teaser for S2 of The Boys. The Amazon Prime series—one of the most-watched on the streaming platform when it debuted last year—is based on the comics of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson.

(S1 spoilers below.)

The Boys is set in a fictional universe where superheroes are real but corrupted by corporate interests and a toxic celebrity-obsessed culture. Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) is a self-appointed vigilante intent on checking the bad behavior of the so-called “supes”—especially The Seven, the most elite superhero squad and, hence, the most corrupt. Butcher especially hates Seven leader Homelander (Antony Starr), a psychopath who raped his now-dead wife. Butcher recruits an equally traumatized young man named Hugh “Hughie” Campbell (Jack Quaid, son of Dennis) to help in his revenge, after another Seven member, A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) used his super-speed to literally run through Hughie’s girlfriend, killing her instantly.

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Amazon Prime Video will finally offer one of Netflix’s most basic features

Amazon Prime Video on an iPad Pro.

Enlarge / Amazon Prime Video on an iPad Pro.

At long last, Amazon Prime Video is catching up to competitors like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ with a key feature: user profiles. The feature is rolling out in the mobile and set-top box versions of the Prime Video app starting today.

The feature allows multiple people sharing an Amazon Prime subscription to maintain separate watch histories and watch lists. Additionally, Amazon has made a distinction between user profiles for kids and profiles for adults, with different rules. Users can configure up to six profiles in any mix of children’s and adults’ profiles. All this is rolling out starting today, but it won’t reach all users right away.

According to TechCrunch, multiple user profiles were supported in India and Africa previously, and they are only now making their way to the rest of the world, including the United States. The rollout brings Amazon closer to feature parity with Netflix and other big streaming players. The majority of major apps in this space offered this feature, but there are some outliers—like CBS All Access.

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Amazon Prime Video to globally premiere 7 Indian movies as theaters remain closed

Amazon has secured rights to premiere seven Indian movies that were initially scheduled for a theatrical release directly on its Prime Video on-demand streaming service in a move that has prompted two major movie theater chains to express “extreme displeasure” and “disappointment.”

The e-commerce giant, which is reportedly in talks to buy AMC theater chain, said on Friday that it will release these movies, which include “Gulabo Sitabo” starring Indian legend Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, and “Shakuntala Devi” featuring Vidya Balan as lead, over the next three months starting with May.

Prime Video subscribers won’t have to pay an additional fee to access these movies, which span five Indian languages, the company said. Other “highly anticipated” titles are Tamil drama “Ponmagal Vandhal”, “Penguin” (Tamil and Telugu), “Law” (Kannada), “French Biryani” (Kannada), and “Sufiyum Sujatayum” (Malayalam).

The move comes as India maintains a nationwide lockdown that has left more than 9,500 theaters and other public places shut.

PVR and INOX, two large theater chains in India that together run about 1,500 screens in the country, said they were alarmed and concerned by the move.

“Such acts, though isolated, vitiate the atmosphere of mutual partnership and paint these content producers as fair-weather friends rather than all-weather life-long partners. Needless to say, INOX will be constrained to examine its options, and reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures, in dealing with such fair-weather friends,” said INOX in a statement.

Amazon, which began selling movie tickets in India last year, has been attempting to challenge, in INOX’s words, “age old, windowing-pattern.” In the last one and a half year, the shopping giant has struck deals with movie studios to narrow the window for a movie’s theatrical release to its debut on a streaming service to a few weeks, down from two to three months in India.

INOX and PVR are not alone. Last month, AMC Theaters said it will no longer screen films made by Universal Pictures, which released “Trolls World Tour” directly to streaming.

Amazon, which bundles Prime Video in its $13-a-year Prime subscription plan in India, said it is providing these movies a platform that reaches 4,000 towns and cities in more than 200 countries and territories. The company has not disclosed how many Prime Video subscribers it has amassed in India, or elsewhere. Amazon Prime Video competes with Disney’s Hotstar, Netflix, and more than three dozen other services in India.

Gaurav Gandhi, Director and Country General Manager of Amazon Prime Video India, said in a statement that “Indian audiences have been eagerly awaiting the release of these 7 highly anticipated films and we are delighted that Amazon Prime Video will now be premiering these movies for our customers – who can enjoy watching these from the safety and comfort of their homes and on a screen of their choice.”

It appears that Amazon hasn’t had to spend a ton to acquire rights for these titles. In an interview with Huffington Post India, Ronnie Lahiri, co-producer of “Gulabo Sitabo” said “it wasn’t like we got insane money from Amazon” though he called the deal a “win-win.”

“We’re facing a once-in-a-lifetime phenomena, not seen since World War 2. These are the times when things change. Initially, people have apprehensions but one has to adapt. That’s how human civilisations have prospered. The minute we stop adapting, we’re done. Instead of waiting for the situation to get better, you tackle it with other alternatives,” he said.

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It’s a wonderful afterlife: smart, funny Upload is a sheer delight

Screenshot from Upload trailer

Enlarge / Nathan (Robbie Amell) is impressed with the digital afterlife service so far on Upload, now streaming on Amazon Prime. (credit: YouTube/Amazon Studios)

A cocky tech-bro discovers that living forever in a digital afterlife isn’t quite the paradise he’d envisioned in Upload, a new comedy series from Amazon Prime Video. When the trailer first dropped in March, I pointed out the strong The Good Place vibes, which set a very high bar for any new comedy dealing with the afterlife. Fortunately, Upload is a sheer delight in its own right: smart, funny, warm-hearted, and perfectly paced, trading in The Good Place‘s witty takes on moral philosophy for more of an emphasis on class-based social hierarchies.

(Some spoilers below.)

Series creator Greg Daniels—best known for his work on The Office, Parks and Recreation, and King of the Hill—purportedly came up with the concept many years ago while working as a staff writer on Saturday Night Live, although Amazon didn’t green-light the pilot until 2017, ordering a full ten-episode series the following year. It’s definitely got something of that Parks and Recreation vibe. Per the official premise: “In the near future, people who are near death can be ‘uploaded’ into virtual reality environments. Cash-strapped Nora works customer service for the luxurious ‘Lakeview’ digital afterlife. When party-boy/coder Nathan’s car crashes, his girlfriend uploads him into Nora’s VR world.”

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Amnesiac Janelle Monáe tries to recover her past in Homecoming S2 trailer

Janelle Monáe stars in Homecoming season 2, coming soon to Amazon Prime.

Janelle Monáe plays an amnesiac woman with a mysterious past who suspects that everyone around her is covering up a dark secret in the second season of Homecoming, Amazon Prime’s critically acclaimed psychological thriller. The first season, starring Julia Roberts, was an adaptation of the popular podcast of the same name, developed for television by showrunner Sam Esmail.

(Some spoilers for S1 below.)

The first season alternated between early 2018 and 2022. In the earlier time period, Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) is a caseworker with a secret government facility known as the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, in charge of treating a young veteran named Walter Cruz (Stephan James), recovering from trauma experienced during his last deployment. In 2022, Heidi is living with her mother in Tampa and working as a waitress. She is approached by a Department of Defense investigator named Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham) about a past complaint that Cruz had been restrained at the facility against his will. But Heidi has no recollection of Cruz or anything pertaining to his case.

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Haunting Tales from the Loop brings ’80s alternative timeline to vivid life

Tales from the Loop trailer.

Residents of a rural town find themselves grappling with strange occurrences thanks to the presence of an underground particle accelerator in the new series Tales from the Loop, inspired by the stunningly surreal neofuturistic art of Swedish artist/designer Simon Stålenhag. The eight-episode series was originally slated for a limited premiere at SXSW last month; the coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans, along with our collective social lives. But now everyone can watch the series on Amazon Prime, and I highly recommend that you do so. It’s visually arresting, with powerful performances from a very talented cast, and brings out the underlying humanity and hope of all great science fiction.

(Mild spoilers below.)

Tales from the Loop has its roots in Stålenhag’s 2014 narrative art book of the same name. That book, and 2016’s Things from the Flood, centered on the construction of a fictional particle accelerator dubbed “the Loop” and its impact on the surrounding people and environment. (A third book, The Electric State, focused on a young girl and her robot companion traveling across the western US, which in that reality is known as Pacifica.) A child of the 1980s, Stålenhag grew up on the rural outskirts of Stockholm, a witness to the decline of the Swedish welfare state. That sense of decline infuses his Loop-based work, which sets rural settings and easily recognizable common objects like Volvo cars alongside mysterious structures and mechanical robots.

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