Black Mirror (Seasons 1-3)

Greetings loved ones. Liu is the name, and views are my game.

What if you could build a man, based on his social media posts? What if you could watch memories, like movies, on a screen? What if a signal was sent out that turned half the world into passive spectators, and the other half into murderous hunters ? These questions, and more, are what get asked and explored in Black Mirror, a British anthology series that’s streaming on Netflix. Each episode features a different cast, a different story, and a different reality. But all feature the recurrent motif of technology, and a dry, nihilistic sense of humor. The series might best be described as half science fiction, half satire.

In many respects, Black Mirror is the spiritual successor to The Twilight Zone, the classic sci-fi anthology series that ran for five seasons back in the 50s. Both feature episodes with different casts and story-lines. Both ask moral and philosophical questions, usually through a scientific or magical plot device. Both feature macabre twist endings, and both gave actors who would eventually become super famous their first big break. Seriously. Black Mirror has got way more famous British actors in it than I would have thought. You’ve got Domhnall Gleason, from The Force Awakens, The Revenant and Ex Machina. You’ve got Hayley Atwell, or as you may know her, agent Peggy carter from the MCU. You’ve got Tuppence Middleton from Sense8. You’ve got Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out. You’ve got Toby Kebbell, who’s starred in every major big budget flop that’s come out in the last four years. You’ve got Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from Belle, Beauty and the Beast, and Beyond the Lights. And, of course, you’ve got Benedict Wong, from Marco Polo, Doctor Strange, and The Martian. So much talent. And it was all before they were famous. But I’m getting sidetracked.

Black Mirror is a very smart, very well-written series. Even in its weaker episodes, the show is consistently entertaining. The acting is always top notch, as is the production design. And I really want to emphasize this, its original. Every single episode features a unique; thought provoking concept. And none of them are remakes of older stories, adaptations of preexisting material, or spin offs of other stuff. Do you realize how rare that is? Do you realize how virtually nothing that gets made these days is not a sequel, remake, adaptation or spin off? For that reason, I have to recommend you all watch this. Even if you don’t like sci-fi, you’ll appreciate the show for it’s emotional depth and it’s originality. Especially the latter.

But before you get the wrong idea, the series isn’t perfect. Where the show falters the most is its cynicism. Virtually all the episodes end in an extremely bleak manner, and, very often, those endings fly in the face of the world and the characters that have been established. I understand tragedy is seen as the highest, most respectable form of dramatic art, but forced tragedy is awkward and unrealistic. And it doesn’t hit you as hard when you know that the story shouldn’t have ended that way, not because you didn’t want it to, but because the ending was easily avoidable. And example of this “false tragedy” I’m talking about is the episode “Fifteen Million Merits.” In it, we see Daniel Kaluuya raging against the numb, media obsessed dystopia that he’s living in. He spends the entire episode telling us how much he hates it and how much he hates the people who have turned the world into thoughtless zombies. And yet, by the end of the episode, he joins the big media company and becomes part of the system he despises. And it comes out of nowhere. It’s not like the show builds up to this by throwing us little hints that maybe he actually likes the system. He hates it, and then, out of nowhere, when he’s given the chance to join it, he does. Why? It doesn’t make sense. And because of that, I don’t feel devastated. I just feel confused. And even in episodes that don’t include sci-fi elements, like the first episode of the series, “the national anthem,” the show’s harsh, mean-spirited tone is off-putting. In that episode, a royal princess gets kidnapped, and the only way to save her is if the prime minister fucks a pig. And we have to watch him do it. Why? What possible good can come from forcing us to watch an old man get pressured into committing bestiality. What does that say, other than that you hate politicians? I hate Donald trump, but I would never want to have to watch him fuck a gorilla. That’s just cruel and mean. And it doesn’t teach us anything. The only episode that has a happy ending is San Junipero, a sweet little love story about two women finally being able to be with each other in an artificial construct. And there, it comes as an all too welcome relief.

All I can say is that Black Mirror is a brilliantly-written, highly original, but deeply mean spirited and nihilistic show. I want to recommend it, but I feel I can’t do so without warning you of its content. Make of this what you will.

Advertisements

The Martian

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

And I’m really not sure if it’s worth me going through the trouble of writing this review. I mean…this is for The Martian. THE MARTIAN! Everyone loves this film–critics, audiences, even me. I just feel like, whatever I end up saying, it’ll already have been said before. Whatever thoughts, or opinions I might have on the picture, they’ll probably just sound redundant.

But, then again, when have I ever been one to not share my thoughts or opinions on a subject? Never. That’s when. And I’m not going to make an exception here. So, with all that out of the way, here are my thoughts, both good and bad, on The Martian.

Let’s start off with the good. First of all, this movie has a lot of great humor in it. Yeah, the story of an astronaut getting stranded on Mars might not sound like a particularly laugh out loud situation, but there are actually several extremely hilarious moments in this film. This is due, in no small part, to Matt Damon’s portrayal of Mark Watney, the astronaut trapped on Mars. He brings an energy and a wit to the role that are just brilliant. The second thing that’s great about this movie is the acting, period. Everyone in this film–from the people back on Earth, to Matt Damon’s old crew–deliver terrific performances. And, in case you didn’t know already, this movie has a completely star-studded cast. Sean Bean, Chiwatel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastane, Kristen Wig, Michael Pena, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover–these are just a few of the familiar faces that pop up in this movie, and that do terrific jobs. The third thing that’s great about this film is the effects. There were points in this movie where I legitimately thought that the crew had gone to Mars to shoot. In reality, they shot everything on a sound stage in Hungary, and a desert in Jordan, but that’s not the point. The point is that the filmmakers were able to successfully craft, and sustain, an illusion, and for that, I think they deserve praise.

Now let’s go for the bad. What? There are actually things that I don’t like a bout this movie? Yes, believe it or not, there are. For starters, other than the decision to set this film on Mars, there’s nothing particularly original about it. It’s a generic “stranded man in shark infested waters” story that’s been told a million times before, in Films like Cast Away, Life Of Pi, and Gravity. In addition, as much as I liked seeing all these stars in one movie, it did get a little overwhelming at points. I lost track of who was supposed to be who, and it honestly felt like the filmmakers were trying to squeeze in as many celebrities as possible, and without giving any real thought as to what these people should be doing. But perhaps the greatest problem I have with this picture is something that most people–or at least, people who aren’t as sensitive to issues of race as me–would be able to pick up on. That is the fact that the story revolves around an entire planet, Earth, working to save the life of a White man, Damon. I hate to say this, but, had Damon’s character been any other race–had he been Black, Latino, or especially Asian–the studio would never have green lit this project. And that infuriates me. Why is it that, in media, the lives of Whites are seen as more important than others? Why is it that Hollywood deems Mark Watney more worthy of saving than Mark Wong, Mark Sanchez, or Mark Patel? Why is it that, in a movie with so many talented non-White actors–Chiwatel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, Naomi Scott–all the focus is placed on a White star? Have Hollywood executives never read online comments? Have they never seen the countless posts, blogs, and videos lampooning them for their racism?

(Pauses and takes a breath.)

But, all that aside, I did still enjoy The Martian, and I would still recommend you go see it. I’ve come to learn that most people just don’t care as much about originality or racial sensitivity as me, so, odds are, if you watch the Martian, you won’t be put off by those things. And, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really that put off by them either when I was watching the film. It’s still very enjoyable. It’s an 8 out of 10. Give it a look.