Tagged Sci-Fi

Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 1: “Nosedive”

Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 1: “Nosedive”
Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Rashida Jones & Michael Schur

* For a review of Episode 2, “Playtest” – click here
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“Nosedive” opens on an idyllic neighbourhood. Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) goes for a run, though she can’t stop looking at her phone at all. Neither can anybody else. Lacie runs, stretches, all while peering into the screen, taking selfies, mindlessly flipping through social media. At home in the mirror, she practices faces and various laughs. In the living room, Ryan (James Norton), her brother, plays a reality game and doesn’t do much other than that.
Everybody’s rated, every interaction has a value. You meet somebody and you give them a rating. Not far off from where we are in social media, but the way this episode brings that to life is terribly sad. From how Lacie doesn’t even really enjoy her cookie or her drink, though she makes sure to post a picture. Her only real happiness is being rated approvingly by others. People only know things about each other through the social media site they’re linked to constantly. Lacie has an awkward conversation with a woman in the elevator which illustrates that so awkwardly, yet perfect.


Then Lacie starts to see a woman named Naomi Blestow (Alice Eve), whose life looks so beautiful. Her rating is high. She entrances Lacie. A strange and awful thing happens when a guy named Chester comes around her office with smoothies. He’s only rated 3.1. Everybody’s shunning him because of a recent breakup. Nobody’s on his side. Regular people have become how fandoms hang off the relationships of their celebrities; regular, everyday citizens at work are treated like celebrities, how people seem to take those sides against one or the other person during a divorce (kind of like right now with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie + many more examples). It’s an eerie though, which already happens on a tiny level already in social dynamics. Social media takes all these types of things and amplifies them horrifically. At least in Black Mirror it does.
So there are other nasty things, like when Lacie wants to move into a nice place. Her hopes and dreams are literally broadcast in front of her there via hologram. But they need her to be “around a 4.5” to get a good discount on the place. Off Lacie goes, home to eat and fawn of Naomi Blestow and her seemingly perfect existence.
I’ve only started to review this series now on the premiere of its 3rd season, but I’ve been following the creation of Charlie Brooker since its horrifying first episode. Needless to say, I feel like the writing in this episode – courtesy of Rashida Jones and Michael Schur – is following suit nicely with the rest of the body of work.
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Lacie needs a “boost” from “quality people” giving her likes, and so on. This begins her quest to try getting the right people to rate her. The whole episode is so pristine-looking, hyperreal, and underneath the sadness is crushing, to the point of being uncomfortable. That’s a strength. Black Mirror‘s always been uncomfortable, to varying degrees from one episode to another. This one is high up there. Because the closer these episodes get to the truth, the harder it is to bear. Watching Lacie desperately try and connect with others simply to get that boost is strikingly tragic. Brings me back to the ICQ days when everybody would try to post their witty status, myself included, to make people feel interested. When Naomi finally likes a picture Lacie posts, it’s the happiest moment she’s experienced in awhile.
And all of a sudden Naomi calls her. They knew each other long ago, they were very close. She remembered Mr. Rags from back in the day. Naomi’s engaged now to Paul M (Alan Ritchson) and they’re having an outlandish wedding; Laci gets an invite. Better yet, she’s the maid of honour. A huge wedding, lots of high “4.7s” and above.
Or is it all too good to be true? The way Ryan remembers things, Naomi tormented Lacie, did terrible things to her. Oh, it all seems like teetering over the edge of something deliciously precarious.
Things are on the up and up, I guess. For now. Lacie takes that new place she wanted, she gets started on her maid of honour speech and trying to practice reciting it for Ryan. “You fucking sociopath,” he scolds over the pathetically forced speech (and the rest of her sad nonsense): “Theres sugary, and then theres diabetes.” She ends up walking out after calling him “Mr. Three point Fuck” and having a rating war. Afterwards she bangs into a 4.8 woman on the street, knocking coffee on her, which gets Lacie another bad rating. Even the cab driver knocks her down a notch. A hilarious though shitty moment for her. And once she gets to the airport things only get worse. A cancelled flight, no more available. One’s available, but only to 4.2s and higher, and with the recent ratings she’s been put down under slightly. Everybody in the line rates her down. Security gets called. For 24 hours, she’s a 3.1 and any ratings are “double damage.” Good christ, she can’t catch a break. When you ranking is that low things get damn tough. Now, without all the privilege of a good ranking, Lacie’s life isn’t as squeaky clean and pretty like before. She’s also walking on eggshells, so as not to get any nasty ratings. After Naomi calls, even though she isn’t happy, Lacie gets a 5 star rating. Things are okay for the time being.

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On the drive in her rental car Lacie has to stop and charge. At the station she gets a bad rating from the douche attendant. Worse is the fact the station doesn’t have a fixture that fits her car, nobody there has an adaptor. Being in the 3s ain’t easy, girl.
She starts walking her way now. One Anonymous user even rates her down simply driving by, not even meeting her. When a 1.4 lady driving an eighteen-wheeler stops, Lacie gets a ride at least. She finds the other half are nicer than the higher numbers. Right now she’s sitting at 2.8, shockingly low. What she gains from knowing this sweet truck driver is that it’s all an addiction to a lifestyle, shackles to something idiotic and fake, and when you start living real life again it’s freedom: “Sheddinthose fuckers, it was like takinoff tight shoes.”
The inevitable happens as Lacie ends up hitching another ride with a group of sci-fi lovers – Naomi calls and doesn’t want her there anymore. She’s down in the 2s now. Despite it only being temporary Naomi doesn’t care. Still, in a sad last ditch effort Lacie says she’s going anyway.
She gets there, after being thrown from the sci-fi bus. In an absolute mess. And she gets up to make that speech, to the terror of everyone in attendance. Lacie starts dropping f-bombs galore, 1 ratings all over the place, as she tells everybody about Naomi helping her overcome and eating disorder and gets crazy real on the crowd.

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Until her arrest. They take her in, process her. A little chip is implanted in her eye, and she’s put in a cell. But funny that, how she’s imprisoned, literally boxed in, yet still she is free. In her mind. She gestures to a man in the cell opposite to her with a motion of rating. Just with no phone. Then they really engage, for the first time. No ratings. They use speech. They talk and interact and the only thing they hide behind is their force confinement. More than that, they only say negative things. They pour out all the anger from the fake positive manners screaming at one another: “Fuck you!”

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Loved this episode. A great return with some spectacular writing and an amazing Bryce Dallas Howard performance. How did you feel about it? Too close to home?

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Westworld – Season 1, Episode 1: “The Original”

HBO’s Westworld
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Original”
Directed by Jonathan Nolan
Written by Jonathan & Lisa Joy Nolan

* For a review of the next episode, “Chestnut” – click here
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First of all, dig the opening sequence and title song. Very eerie in a sci-fi sense, yet also beautiful, too. Excellent tune.
Someone talks to Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood). She’s in “a dream.” He’s testing the equipment so to speak. He asks general questions about whether she’s ever questioned the truth of reality. More specifically, her reality. She lives in a gorgeous vision of the old West in America. We meet the “newcomers” such as Teddy Flood (James Marsden). He comes in on a train to where Abby lives in her town. Everybody’s there to enjoy a bit of the old life.
The place: Westworld. Outwardly, it appears as a real slice out of time. Everyone talks the talk. Teddy goes for a drink and checks out the local landscape. He meets a young lady named Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan) and Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) – ladies of the night. He’s more interested in Abby after he catches a glimpse of her through the saloon window. They’ve clearly had some kind of relationship already. They continue it together, gallop through the picturesque America West. Later in the night, Flood comes across a dirty bastard named Rebus (Steven Ogg) and his partner, who he guns down; they’ve killed the Abernathy family. The Man in Black (Ed Harris) turns up cryptically taunting Dolores about not knowing him. He stands toe to toe with Flood, who shoots away and does nothing to the Man in Black.
That’s because Teddy isn’t real.

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See, Westworld isn’t real. It’s a futuristic getaway where people can experience life as it was during the frontier days when America was still gaining its proper legs. People like Dolores and Teddy, they’re park products. They’ve been engineered to provide services for those willing to pay a ton of money. And some of those people, like the Man in Black, are absolutely horrifying. Dolores, she goes on thinking about “how beautiful this world can be.” It starts all over again each damn day. She and Teddy wake up, then go on about their predetermined routes. Sad, right? They’re merely little pawns on a massive scale of operations. Outside Westworld is the real world, where a company makes and designs robots to serve as people, horses, whatever they need. What a gorgeously eerie sequence, as director Jonathan Nolan takes us through the toyshop of Westworld’s company.
Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) is checking some of the robotics, such as gestures on Clementine the prostitute. He talks about Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and the “tiny things” that Ford does to make the robots feel real for the customers. A genius, it seems. Called up to the operating floor, there’s talk of “critical failure.” So Lowe heads out to do some maintenance. Down in the lower levels, he goes with a team of armed men into a storage facility filled with naked “hosts.” They come across Dr. Ford with a cowboy, drinking and having a chat. The cowboy’s Bill, one of the first hosts ever built. Looks to me as if Ford is starting to get sick of what he’s done. Who knows.
But still, things go on as they always did inside Westworld. Dolores and her family wake up, they go about their business like usual. The Man in Black, he’s living it up in his sick dream every day, over and over.

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The visitors get to experience all aspects of life in the old West, from prostitutes and saloons and riding on horseback through treacherous territories. When one couple is out riding the Sheriff goes into a hard malfunction, scaring them a bit. In the real world, Lowe inspects the malfunctioning host. Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), obviously in charge of the narratives in Westworld, is livid that Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) might want to haul out a ton of hosts. What Lowe does is reassure there’s no threat of violence towards the guests. “If theres so much as an unscripted sneeze, I wanna know about it,” Cullen advises.
What I love is the focus on people going to Westworld, how they’re affected by being able to do what they want to these hosts. Some are there for the mere experience of a time in history they’ll obviously never get to experience otherwise. Some are sick fucks, like the Man in Black and others, who go there to rape, murder, do all kinds of awful things to the hosts. Things they can’t do in the real world. Then there are innocent little things, such as a visiting boy who asks Dolores to her face if she’s real. Will this cause a glitch? Or are they programmed to simply walk away, deflect if that happens?
Stranger still is when Dolores’ father finds a picture buried in his field. A photo from the future. It’s likely Times Square by the looks of things. This perplexes the man, although Dolores passes it off. Very curious how the real world might intersect with Westworld in different ways.
Theresa and the others stay, in shifts, on a huge sort of skyscraper set atop a mountain in Westworld. She and Lee debate a bit about Dr. Ford and his “demons.” Lee starts dropping suggestion that he knows the further reach of Westworld for those who manage it – the “bigger picture,” as Theresa puts it. But she is one bad ass woman. No mincing words with her.

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The player piano plays a version of “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, as Westworld goes on and on into oblivion. Love, love, love that.
Things are getting quite serious in Westworld. The Man in Black isn’t only there to do in hosts. He kills one of the hosts he meets across a table playing cards, though there’s something more behind it.
In the meantime, there’s bad stuff happening elsewhere. One of the bandit hosts is going buckwild. So production is shut down, a couple terrified guests are assuaged, and Lowe tries to fix the situation. He determines it’s the latest update. Just needs some touching up. The “minor improvisation” here has turned into something more, and Theresa isn’t having that shit. They only need a good swerve for the narrative, to make things feel natural for any of the guests curious as to what’s happening.
Ford’s let in on the whole thing by Lowe. He doesn’t feel bothered by being alerted of his mistake. They talk about evolution, natural selection, all that fun stuff. Furthermore, Ford ruminates on how far they’ve come. “This is as good as were gonna get,” he laments. Something more is going on behind that man’s eyes. You can tell just through the way Hopkins plays him.
Out on the open plain, the Man in Black is bleeding his host friend dry. He’s got questions that need answering. I guess the perfect place to do some dirty work would be a place like Westworld. Like, say, if you wanted to scalp somebody the way the Man in Black does. But why?

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The next day, Dolores finds her father still captivated by that picture. He’s been broken. He rambles to Dolores before going into a troubled state: “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.” This sets Dolores’ world on fire. She rides to find a doctor, only to find Teddy. He goes with her to try and help. At that moment, cloaked strangers on horses head into town. Out in the real world, Lee talks about a man named Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) arriving. In the background, a rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” plays while Hector begins his assault on the Westworld town. Oh, he’s a bad dude. Nasty. A massacre begins, as he and his crew lay siege to everybody in sight. In the crossfire Teddy is shot and dies in the arms of Dolores. Then one of the guests steps out to blow Hector away bloodily. Scary is how the guests rejoice at how real the murder feels, enjoying the sensation. Sick stuff.
Outside, the host recall is starting. They check everything thoroughly now to assess the damage. Lowe brings Theresa’s attention to Dolores. She’s malfunctioning a bit. We’re back at the beginning with her being questioned by maintenance man Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), as the picture is pulled out from her father and he’s brought to be checked by Ford and Lowe. The father host rambles more, as Ford commands him to look into his configuration. He goes back to normal briefly, though continues stuttering into his rambling. He talks about “warning” her. He knows too much. And he wants to meet his maker. That’s some eerie stuff. He goes on about wanting to get revenge on them all – “terrors of the earth” and that type stuff. But eventually Ford determines it was the host being previously used in a horror gimmick, quoting Shakespeare. Case closed.

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These violent delights have violent ends,” is the whisper between Dolores and her father last she saw him (a Shakespeare quote!). She’s been put through all the questions from Stubbs, as her father gets a few readjustments and she’s cleared to go back home. We discover that Dolores is the oldest host in the park.
And she goes back to waking up every day, to the same old place, the same people, the same situations. Except now she’s got a new dad. Though she doesn’t notice. Her old one is herded into storage, along with the malfunctioning bandit. A sad end for the equipment of Westworld. Speaking of equipment, when Dolores begins her day all over again she does something the hosts aren’t meant to do: she kills a fly lingering on her face. She’s changing, even in the slightest.
Oh, and the Man in Black, he’s uncovering more secrets for himself. What’s his endgame? He has a scalp now. One with a labyrinth printed on the inside. Intriguing.

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An amazing premiere episode! Wow. Never expected such awesomeness right off the bat. Nolan is doing good stuff already. Excited for the next episode titled “Chestnut” and it’s directed by Richard J. Lewis.

Minority Report’s Speculative Fiction is All Kinds of Awesome

Minority Report. 2002. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Jon Cohen & Scott Frank; based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick.
Starring Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Steve Harris, Neal McDonough, Patrick Kilpatrick, Jessica Capshaw, Anna Maria Horsford, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Tim Blake Nelson, Lois Smith, Mike Binder, Jessica Harper, & Peter Stormare. Amblin Entertainment-Cruise/Wagner Productions-Blue Tulip Productions.
Rated PG-13. 145 minutes.
Action/Mystery/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2
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Steven Spileberg is one of those directors whose work usually calls me back to a specific time in life. The memorable cinematic experiences of my early days were informed by Jaws which is the reason for my fear of deep water, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and its long lasting effect on my strange interests (aliens, paranormal, so on; even though I’m a major sceptic), as well as the adventure and thrill I found in Raiders of the Lost Ark and of course the emotional ride that is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. So many times, Spielberg wowed my young mind, as he did to so many, many others long before me. And yet even while I grew up the classics kept on coming. Jurassic Park changed my life in terms of how I saw movies, that they could be action-oriented and full of science fiction, that the adult and childhood interests in dinosaurs could find a way to fuse in one exciting bit of fiction. On top of everything, Spielberg has dipped his talent into producing a vast number of projects, many of which are classics in their own right without him having taken the reins as director. So usually if his name is attached, I’ll watch a movie simply for that sake, no matter how it turns out.
Minority Report didn’t get ravaged by critics, in fact it generally received a positive turn out. Furthermore, the movie did well domestically and overseas; the profit was more than triple its budget of just over $100-million. At the same time, I feel it’s not as well remembered as it ought to be when considering how great a movie it is, from acting to the direction to the overall look and atmosphere. Reason being that 2002 was a massive year in film, including releases such as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Spider-Man, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Men in Black II, Die Another Day, Signs, The Count of Monte Cristo, and those are just the big ones. Getting lost in the cracks, Minority Report is one of Spielberg’s best post-2000, and one of the last legitimate dives into sci-fi that he took (until taking on duties for Ready Player One). There’s enough excitement and intrigue in this movie to fill a few of them. Cruise gives a solid performance, and Spielberg keeps us on the edge of our seats while we roam the futuristic landscapes of an America that feels not too far off. Ultimately, Spielberg and the writers explore Dick’s story while asking if the technological advancements our society is capable of can manage to outwit the corruption and moral weakness at the hands of the people tasked with using that very technology. The bottom line of Minority Report concerns morality, humanity among the advancements of science, and the will of man to do evil, despite all odds.
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The entire process of the Precrime system is a ton of fun. Spielberg really went to town on coming up with the whole thing. I’d like to know more about how the design was decided. Just that room where Cruise’s character does his thing with the screens, those tailor-made wooden, varnished balls, every last detail is incredibly fun. Of course part of this most likely comes from the original short story by Philip K. Dick, though as I understand it the story’s been changed a good deal. I don’t doubt Dick’s story definitely has plenty of the detail Spielberg then used to come up with the look of his Washington, D.C. law enforcement facility of the future. However, part of it is definitely the master filmmaker himself putting his mark upon the adapted material.
One thing I’ve always loved is the design of the roadways, even the cars themselves. The chase scenes are incredible. Funny how certain reviews out there, by professional critics, have claimed these scenes are silly. Really? Are we watching the same movie? Because these chase scenes are perfectly science fiction and every bit the epitome of action. Totally exciting. That first sequence where Cruise is jumping down across the various vehicles is heart pounding. As far as the visual effects go, there are only one or two slight missteps. When you’re not dealing in practical effects, CGI and the like can sometimes let you down. Luckily, these moments are seldom, only one or twice throughout the over two hour runtime. The large majority of the effects look great, keep the pulse thumping, and add another nice element to the dark, gritty nature of the story and its feel.
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A huge part of what interests me is the idea of the surveillance state. We’ve almost got this amplified version of the CCTV-laced streets in the U.K. in this future vision of Washington, D.C. and other areas. For instance, as Anderton first tries to get away he moves through the malls and the subway stations, and every screen nearby is flashing his name, speaking to him through personalised advertisements, the newspapers in other passengers’ hands read pop-up headlines about John and his Wanted status. Overall there’s a really great riff on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in that Dick, as well as the screenwriters here, further explore the concept of the ‘thoughtcrime’, the idea that basically forms the foundation of the Precrime Division and their precognitive awareness/action on crime.
This entire angle makes for incredibly interesting plot developments. The fact Anderton is tagged in every way to be recognised by all the various computer systems makes for a tough predicament. There’s an optical recognition system around the entire city, which heightens the police search, as it’s not as simple to just hide away when every street corner, every sidewalk is seemingly rigged to scan your eyeballs and go straight to the source for your identity. Eventually, John finds a doctor whose talents lie in the black market – eye surgeries, to be exact. That’s actually one of my favourite sequences, including a cameo for one of the best character actors Peter Stormare; the whole thing is dark, gritty, weird, it’s an awesome bit that adds to the atmosphere, and turns into a nice addition to the chase elements of the screenplay. What I love most about this whole part of the film is that it speaks to the loss of privacy, the great lengths to which some will go in the future to avoid all the intrusion on their personal lives by way of technology, and so on. Before the film released, Spielberg talked about the technology he envisioned for the movie, and it’s also interesting to note he usually consults a lot of technical experts when making science fiction in order to try and bring some degree of realism to the subject matter. So go check out the TED talk with John Underkoffler, a scientific adviser who worked with Spielberg on the film. Then try and tell me we won’t see more of that in the future. In turn, we’ll watch our privacy disappear, more and more. Online ads are already tailoring themselves to our Facebook and Twitter accounts, our personalised information that’s floating around inside the internet. Soon enough, we’ll walk down the street, just like Anderton, and find the screens looking out at us, scanning, tailoring their ads to who we are as people. Most of all, Minority Report isn’t merely thrilling action: it’s a scary vision of a future world towards which we are headed, if we’re not too careful.
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The performances are good, from Cruise in the lead to Farrell and Max von Sydow in their respective supporting roles. Above anything, the atmosphere is what makes this one for me. I love Spielberg’s movies and every one of them feels different, though each of them also has that same magic. Despite moving from genre to genre, as well as through many types of characters and stories, Spielberg always retains that classic style. No matter if the subject material and themes are dark, friendly and youthful, or if they explore a world completely foreign to our own, his films are all capable of transporting us into a sacred space, one beloved by many cinephiles around the globe. Minority Report is one of his best in recent years. There’s a constant excitement, even in the more low key moments. The pacing is exceptional and keeps the whole thing going, allowing Spielberg to stop between his big chase scenes to flesh out a deeply personal, emotional story involving a father and the loss of his son, the crumbling of the relationship with his wife, all of which is folded up in a wonderfully compelling sci-fi tale. Don’t sleep on this one. If you’ve yet to see it, get out and do yourself a favour. Especially if Spielberg gives you the nostalgia feeling in your stomach the way he does for me.