Blog Archives

Looking Through ‘Black Mirror’

Ever since its arrival on Netflix, I have been completely enthralled with Black Mirror. If you are under a rock and unfamiliar with the series, I think it’s fair to call it Twilight Zone meets futurology/media commentary; All but the first episode are based in a gritty sci-fi future – not gritty in the Mad Max sense, more that the series not only displays fantastic concepts, but also dour consequences.

Black Mirror is an anthological series, consisting of six episodes original episodes, six “Netflix original” episodes, and a Christmas special. For the heck of it, I decided to rank them from my least to most favorite – because lists are fun! There will be spoilers as we go, but hey, if you haven’t seen any of it, this may (or may not) persuade you. But here’s a hint: I definitely dug the original British run over the American involvement – for the most part, anyway.

13. S3E6: Hated in the Nation
Kinda coincidental, I suppose. Once you follow through the harrowing fantasies of this series, the finale is disappointing, to say the least.

black-mirror-hated-in-the-nation-faye-marsay

Bees?

One of the biggest critiques regarding the Netflix expansion is that these episodes stray from the formulaic pacing of the originals – also the narrative tends to lean more on characters than world-building. Hated in the Nation offers neither. Personally, I felt this to be a drawn-out sci-fi Law & Order episode rather than an introspective commentary on society.

Okay, sure there was the whole twist where the public put their money where their mouth was, but it all felt very shallow, if not boring, compared to the girth of previous episodes. Also just a waste of Kelly Macdonald. Moving on.

12. S3E2: Playtest
As much as I appreciated the Twilight Zone-esque zinger at the end, I feel like that wasn’t enough to warrant sitting through 30 minutes of travel montage. The AR was cool and all, but ultimately mediocre when set against heavier subjects. As mentioned, since this season had more character focus, I think it’s worth mentioning that this protagonist didn’t really garner much empathy from me either.

11. S2E3: The Waldo Moment
waldo-600x399Picture Triumph the Comic Insult Dog on acid, and then place him in this year’s election. That’s pretty much this episode. Being a more character-focused episode, this one lost me a little bit, because I found myself more interested in how the government was to be run rather than the comedian’s spiral into dissociative madness. Maybe I’m a little heartless, or maybe I just wasn’t that into it.

10. Black Mirror: White Christmas
There are many things to appreciate about this Christmas special: the accumulative use of technology, multiple emotional gut-punches, Jon Hamm… But really, this is an episode that sends you reeling. My only issue is wondering how Hamm’s character is supposed to survive if he’s completely blocked out (maybe he can just order groceries online), but at the same time, this is an incredibly interesting take on solitary confinement – more about “blocking” later.

The story itself is enjoyable (in that edge-of-your-seat sense), and was ultimately a great one-off. Definitely finish the series before watching this, if you haven’t yet.

 

9. S3E3: Shut Up and Dance
Much like a later entry on this list, Shut Up and Dance is a more realistic parable rather than morose fantasy. Extreme realism sure, but still frightening. I feel like this is what my parents thought would happen if I had a Myspace.

8. S2E2: White Bear
One of the grimmest episodes (arguably), that makes one wonder what kind of punishment is truly justifiable. The tension is pretty fantastic throughout, with a twist that sends you reeling. I really did enjoy this episode, alas there were others I liked more.

7. S1E2: Fifteen Million Merits
This was an episode where things started getting cool. We have a distopia, set with multiple commentaries of daily life: reality tv, fat-hate, living through social media, etc. Take all of this and crank it up to 11 and you have Fifteen Million Merits – sort of. This is an episode that truly needs to be seen and experienced. It’s surreal enough but still has heart.

6. S3E1: Nosedive

nosedive-hero-970x550

Welcome back, Bryce Dallace Howard.

This episode was a great start for a new season (especially aiming for an American audience); despite the social downfall of our protagonist, she rediscovers the power of self-expression…albeit behind bars. So yes, a cringey high-note, but a high-note nonetheless. If Charlie Brooker decides to do another holiday special, I’d love to see a cameo of Lacie doing some sort of menial job with a smile on her face.

5. S1E1: The National Anthem
The National Anthem is less about futurism and more a satire of modern media, and frankly, it’s a weird start for the series. It’s the perfect “what would you do?” scenario where truly no one wins, but it’s such an amazing stinger: the world would rather watch a man screw a pig rather than ensuring a woman’s safety. It’s so devastatingly dark, not to mention played to my Dogme 95 fandom. Why I prefer The National Anthem over Shut Up and Dance: That twist was more satisfying than bad wolf internet trolls.

4. S3E5: Men Against Fire
As Agent Teddy Daniels once pondered, “Which would be worse – to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?” Take this question and mix in some warfare, a massive dash of augmented reality, and you have Men Against Fire. This episode was an incredibly heavy experience, especially considering that the AR didn’t end in the warzone.

tumblr_ofg1gntwrm1qzoziho8_1280

3. S3E4: San Junipero
This episode has led to some rifts between cohorts, but I’m standing my ground on this. Yes, it is comparatively “too happy,” but I love the amount of depth in these characters. The end of this episode sparks all sorts of discussion of theology and second-chances. Despite the heavy-handed nature of these topics, it was so nice for this episode to breathe some levity and hope – even if a massive hack or crash could destroy everything, but we’re not thinking about that. Let’s keep riding that nostalgia wave, just for a little bit longer.

2. S1E3: The Entire History of You
I personally see this episode as the flagship for the series. It’s got a crazy concept with tons of societal implications, and we get to see everything go wrong for someone because entire-history-of-you2of their own paranoia. You know how right as you fall asleep, the most embarrassing memory pops into your head? Imagine having access to that and being able to zoom and enhance.

This concept also allows people to be “blocked” and forgotten, taking selective sharing to a whole new level. It’s interesting to think about forcing someone out of your head so literally, especially when they are trying so hard to be there. It’s these ideas, as well as the imagery, that makes this episode so haunting.

1. S2E1: Be Right Back
In an age where facebook profiles become literal, living shrines, people are finding new ways of coping with loss. Be Right Back essentially personifies the struggle of letting go in a time where reminders of lost loved ones are just a click away. This is an episode that brought me to ugly tears, and thusly I tell everyone to watch.

tumblr_nhgt32vrbd1rqvn73o1_500

 

Advertisements

The Counselor

If you were to google the synopsis for The Counselor, you’re probably just going to get “A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking,” (via IMDB). How sad is it that’s really the best I could ever come up with? I mean, for such an ensemble, you’d think you’d get something far more gripping. Unfortunately, we’re kind of left with a mess. Minor spoilers ahead.

Featuring a cartoon Javier Bardem. His shirt has butterflies on it.

Featuring a cartoon Javier Bardem. His shirt has butterflies on it.

To be honest, The Counselor is a fairly obtuse film – it is so far removed we have to grasp at mere implications in order to understand if we are indeed witnessing some sort of significance. Similarly, most of the time the dialogue comes off just as detached, if not absurd. Then, in some brief, wonderful moments, we get a tiny taste of the bigger picture.

This leads to the assessment that this is a movie that is truly based on the abstract notions of power and manipulation. This being said, I think the most frequent topic of conversation throughout this film was women and sex, interchangeably.

"It was like...catfish."

“It was like…catfish.”

In a time of over-sexualization and slut-shaming, the use of sex in this film is about as intriguing as it is baffling (a car, really?). Sure it can be argued that it reflects upon respective partners (Counselor and Laura being more intimate, and Malkina and Reiner are extravagant and insane), but within the context of the story it’s really all about control. Doesn’t make it any less sexist. Or forced, for that matter.

In the case of Malkina (Diaz), it’s things go from excessive to ridiculous. I get that this is a woman who thrives on extravagance and greed, but I’m not exactly sure why we should care – to prove there’s always a bigger fish? The shift in masculinity from hunter to hunted? Both are a possible.

I’m sorry, but why was there even a scene in which she tries to confess to a priest? This scene is pure redundancy – yes, she is hypersexual and understands that women have more motives than men realize. Yes, we get that she has very little moral obligation. We get this from our first conversation with her. Maybe I just need to watch it again – I might have missed something.

Oh Michael, you deserve so much better than this movie.

Oh Michael, you deserve so much better than this movie.

Speaking of characterizations, at least our nameless protagonist serves as a realistic expectation of your greed-ridden everyman (so pretty much anybody, but with money). In Cormac McCarthy’s other tales, the characters’ notions of right and wrong become increasingly blurred, and there is always a shadow of doubt and fear, not to mention the inevitable clash between the agonist – thus greed prevails.

In Counselor’s (Fassbender) case, he is an acquisitive man and is warned against playing with the big boys. With much arrogance he ignores this warning, and due to guilt by association, he becomes a target, unknowingly dragging sweet and naive Laura (Cruz) down with him. Ultimately, he is a man of many mistakes and regrets – not to mention a lack of resolution. Though it would be great to see him fight the powers at be, he accepts that this is the unchanging reality. It is neither satisfying nor happy. Yeah, that’s a good way to describe the whole shebang.

The Counselor is a work of muddled dialogue and overabundance. We are subjected to a world of avarice and extravagance with very little payoff. Bad people are bad. Tell me something I don’t know. Even Anton Chigurh showed an inkling of obligation. Though the cast does their best to try to make something out of… something else, their effort gets lost in the noise.

Final Grade: C-

 

The Fascinating Metamorphosis of Walter White

I know I haven’t been going to the theatre less often lately, but honestly I’ve been too preoccupied catching up on Netflix. As we all know, Breaking Bad has been rocking the small screen ever since its emergence in 2008. Apart from the gripping, well-written story, I believe that the performances on this show are probably the most impressive displays of acting prowess I have seen in a long, long time. In order to discuss the metamorphosis from dead man to death dealer, I will do my best not to spoil key events of the show that are not already known by means of advertisement or whatnot. Granted, I’m still catching up myself (only getting what I can from Netflix) so I may be a little more in the dark than some. Regardless, I will do my best to dissect the psyche that is Walter Hartwell White.

Much like Bruce Willis, Walter White gets cooler with less hair.

Much like Bruce Willis, Walter White gets cooler with less hair.

The Birth of Heisenberg

In the beginning, Walter White is a pathetic little weenie of a man with a bad mustache. Walt is a high school chemistry teacher who also works at a car wash in order to make ends meet for himself, his pregnant wife, Skyler, and their disabled son, Walt, Jr. Just to paint a little picture of his family life, there seems to be a small power struggle between Skyler and the influence of his in-laws, while his own son prefers to be called “Flynn” as opposed to “Junior” – so the discontent with his home-life has been well-established.

Season-1

A true image of desperation.

After months of being afflicted with a pestering cough, Walt visits a doctor and discovers he has inoperable Stage 3A lung cancer. For some reason, Walt doesn’t tell his family about this discovery – not right away at least. I’m not sure if it is mentioned as to why, but I think it’s because he wants to regain a sense of control over his own life as well as the future of his family. Obviously, control is a constant issue with Walt.

Not wanting to leave his family in financial ruin, Walt takes it upon himself to find alternative means of income. Considering he’s a chemistry genius, cooking meth seems like a desperate but ideal outlet – he figures he can cook the stuff and have someone else handle the business end. No big deal right? Get in, get out – an easy business transaction with a huge payoff. Though he’s aware that his brother-in-law, Hank, is a DEA agent, this does not deter him from his easy-money scheme. After contacting former student/drug dealer Jesse Pinkman, their business is soon established, and Walter White is cooking meth so pure, it comes out looking like blue rock candy.

Once Walt’s blue meth hits the market, this causes all sorts of trouble with rival distributors, as well as earning attention from cartel. As these tensions rise, Walt builds a new identity to face these local mobs: Heisenberg. Behind this guise, Walt finds within himself the ability to be intimidating and thus earn respect. Now we’ve created the anti-hero.

The Transformation

Come season two, Walt is caught between being hunted by the cartel while struggling to keep his work a secret from Skyler. Jesse has become less inclined to help Walt due to the jeopardization of his friends/dealers. On top of this drama, his medical bills have become increasingly daunting. He needs to stay in this business, but will need more help in order to protect himself and his family. Walt’s choices not only determine the future of Walt and Jesse’s partnership, but we also witness the cogs in Walt’s brain turn as he determines what is really the “greater good.”

breaking-bad-gus-fring-walter-white

Business is business.

What we learn from season three is that fear is not only a great motivator, but also an excellent catalyst. In this season Walt becomes under the employ of Gustavo Fring, a fried chicken tycoon with strong ties to the cartel. Giancarlo Esposito plays this character exquisitely: this is a man with two faces, the exceptional and the terrifying. There is very little we know about Gus’ past, but from what we can tell, Gus understands the sacrifice needed to build an empire. It is only when Gus intimidates Walt and Jesse in order to keep them focused, that’s when things go downhill; Walt understands this man’s potential, truly fearing him while simultaneously envying his control. Ultimately, Gus acts as the catalyst for Walt’s full transformation.

It is in season four when the villain emerges from Walt. He believes Gus has driven him to take drastic measures to protect his family. Though it is true that Gus threatened his family, Walt never tries to call his bluff. It is this season that Walt performs actions that are desperate, cruel, and powerful. I’d give examples, but again, I don’t want to spoil things. I will say we also see the dynamic between Walt and Jesse shift even further – Jesse is teased with the idea of partner-hood, but Walt manipulates him to the point of near-insanity. One could discuss the growth and potential for our young accomplice, alas this article is all about Walter White.

"I won."

“I won.”

As we enter season five, everything has been set into overdrive. We know that Walt is building an empire, but in the process has become a total monster. There is no longer the man who simply wants to provide for his family. For all Skyler can tell, he doesn’t care about his family, he wants control. The same message can be read by the audience, though some take this badassery to heart without realizing that the Walter White that we grew to empathize with is dead and gone.

Or is he? I don’t know – like I said, I haven’t seen the newest episodes yet.

Walter White began as an underdog, became an anti-hero, then morphs into a full-on villain. While his actions have been impressive, his intentions have often had bafflingly terrifying implications. It’s great to see the little guy win, but to quote JoBlo “even Tony Montana had his limits.” Additionally, Skyler’s behavior, though having received much flack, is completely justifiable. By all means, I am not saying that I am not a fan of the character – I just find this transformation to be incredible. I can’t wait to see what happens to him and Jesse. I want to know what becomes of Walt’s empire, and the aftermath that will surely reign upon his family.  All I can tell is this is going to be good.

In memory of Gale Boetticher.

Trance

Oh Danny Boyle, I love you so.  But what were you thinking?

Cassel doing his best Tard impersonation.

Cassel doing his best Tard impersonation.

I’ll admit the idea seemed like a good idea at a time: an amnesiac art thief gets tossed through his own subconscious web of secrets, lies and memories.  That sounds like a movie.  You have an acclaimed visionary director behind the wheel – that’s a plus.  But something somewhere went kind of wrong.

I think it might be the characters.  More so, the contrived romance between grumpy baddie Franck (Vincent Cassel) and hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson).  I can’t say I really saw that one coming – but then again, I’m not much for romance, especially when it’s perplexedly forced.  Come to think of it, Elizabeth is really the only developed character in this whole film.  I suppose part of the intrigue of this film is that the characters aren’t entirely made to be likeable, given the primal context human nature and materialism associated with perception.

Oh man, why couldn't this be another Trainspotting?

Oh man, why couldn’t this be another Trainspotting?

On the topic of human anatomy, I just want to note that there were numerous opportunities for male nudity – none of which were taken.  I realize that nekkid Rosario played more into the plot (specifically referencing Goya’s nudes), but honestly I found it all grossly unfair.  But I digress.

Oddly enough I think I enjoyed this film more in retrospect.  Similar to Momento, once everything’s gathered together, character motivations make much more sense.  Like I said, similar.  Trance does a great job at skewing many dynamics of the human psyche, but makes a mess of putting its priorities together while shoving a sad excuse for gender politics in your face.  It’s a fun ride but a tad anticlimactic, screaming for more development.  Truly a film for the ADD generation.

Final Grade: B+

WYSHW Double-Feature: In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths

Like I said last time, I want to give Martin McDonagh some lovin’, so here it is, my (very) brief analysis/review of two very underrated dark action comedies, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

"In fucking Bruges."

“In fucking Bruges.”

 

In Bruges

In Bruges is an assassin story unlike any other.  After a rookie (Colin Farrel) accidentally murders a child in his path, the big man sends him off to recuperate in kitschy Bruges, Belgium – only to have him killed off.  We are presented a classic game of cat and mouse but with some weird twists, involving film making, tourists, suicide, and dwarfs.

It’s easy to see how a film like this can be seen as a cult hit: it had a limited theatrical release in combination with a layered bait-and-switch plot which doesn’t fail to satisfy.  Admittedly, the ending is wide open, but never-the-less enjoyable.  Simply put, there isn’t another film out there like this one, at least, not that I can think of.

Featuring a bunny-loving Tom Waits.

Featuring a bunny-loving Tom Waits.

 

Seven Psychopaths

… That is, until Seven Psychopaths came along.  Granted, SP does have a bigger budget and greater star power, but it’s still inexplicably weird.  Most of you may recall the trailer focusing more on the dog-napping plot, but like In Bruges the actual story is much more layered.

The focus is actually on a struggling screen-writer (again, Colin Farrel) trying to put together a story that will blow people away, basing it on lives of those he considers to be “psychopaths.”  The result is an action-comedy-meta-explosion (metasplosion?).  The film itself was fairly successful, though it received mixed reviews.  Perhaps some people just thought it was too strange – I say it gives the movie flavor. Seven Psychopaths is a good time all around, but there is still heart – you just have to find it.

Both of these films are wonderful and gritty in their own right, and ultimately incredibly surprising.  If you were looking for a typical shoot em’ up, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.  Now if you were after entertaining crime thrillers sprinkled with existentialist themes, you’ve come to the right place – and you’re among friends.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, Bill Murray.

WYSHW: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I told you I wasn't doing Brick.

I told you I wasn’t doing Brick.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (okay, let’s just go with KKBB) is such an odd little film that really not enough people have seen.  I don’t know why – it’s funny, there’s some action and deadgirl nudey bits… maybe it’s just too weird.

Alright…where to begin… It’s the story of Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr.), a criminal-turned-actor-on-the-fly who shadows real life private investigator “Gay” Perry van Shrike (pre-whale Val Kilmer) for a supposed role, eventually running into a real-life murder case with plenty of twists and turns – and I can’t emphasize “twists” enough.  Stuff gets pretty messed up, but I’m sure you’ve seen weirder.

As you can tell, this story is crazy-layered, just like the film noirs of old.  What’s great about this film is that they took the film noir motif and modernized it just enough to make this film fun and unique.

Oddly enough, Downey’s not the guy who steals the scenes – Kilmer takes his character and runs with it, producing some great one-liners on the way.

A Boondock Saints joke would be too easy.

A Boondock Saints joke would be too easy.

I know it’s lame of me not to disclose more detail, but KKBB is really a movie that you need to experience.  Watch for the dark and cheeky film noir lens, stay for the Downey/Kilmer bromance.

For my next What You Should Have Watched… hmm… I’m feeling saucy.  Let’s show Martin McDonagh some love.

Killer Joe, Revisited

You may not know of this fellow, but you should. He’s Brad Jones, the Cinema Snob, and I tend to value his opinion, even if I don’t always agree.  He recently released his list of his favorite films of last year, one of which was Killer Joe.

I honestly didn’t know much about this film, but once Brad brought it up I was curious (even if it was #8), especially after we received a ton of copies of this movie at work – a movie supposedly rated NC-17 – that’s a rarity for Blockbuster. I just finished this film, and I gotta say, it’s something.

Finger-lickin' good.

Finger-lickin’ good.

Matthew McConaughey plays a hired killer contacted by Chris (Emile Hirsch), who teams up with his family to kill his mother to collect her insurance money. There’s a snag and all hell breaks loose – you get the picture.  And Emile Hirsch gets his face smashed in with a can of pumpkin pie filling.

Killer Joe is probably one of the more demented American films I’ve seen in a while – something that breeds southern charm with raw grit, giving us a story of murder and family ties most unusual.  And I’ll agree with Brad here, Joe deserves the NC-17.

What makes this film so remarkable, other than its brutal content, is the performances.  I never thought I’d say this, but Matthew McConaughey gives a terrifyingly intense performance. And then there’s Thomas Hayden Church – his performance was so oddly real –  he served as a great comic relief that wasn’t too distracting. He was just a dumb kind of guy – a real good ol’ boy.

Overall, I think Killer Joe, or as I like to call it, Redneck Fargo, deserves a higher spot on the list – or is at least worth checking out.

Sorry I haven’t updated in a while, things have been crazy-busy at my end, which means very little time for Oscars, let alone hitting up the theatres for that matter. On the upside, I have been a busy little bee plowing away at my thesis, which is a video essay sure to appear later. In the meantime, I thank you for your patience, and I hope to have more stuff up soon.