The Netflix Chronicles: Black Mirror (Season 3)

blackmirrortitlecard

Writer’s note:  For those of you that have not read our previous piece on the series ‘Black Mirror’ you can do so by clicking here.  This piece talks more about the show as a whole and gives an entry point into watching the series.

To pick up where we left off last, the first episode of the new season of ‘Black Mirror’ entitled ‘Nosedive’ immediately re-establishes the tone set by the previous two seasons and Christmas special.  Using a bit of a despondent score and a sanitized color aesthetic immediately you are reminded that we are being showed a view of our possible future.  One of the differences of this episode from previous episodes is how bright and cheery it is, as well as its use of sanitized language.  However as the show continues it becomes obvious that the cheeriness is a possible wink to dedicated viewers who know things will only continue to fall apart.  While the first episode of season three boasts the only real “happy” ending seen on this series as the season continues the show continues to shine.

A few words about ‘Black Mirror’ (Season 3):

  1. Satirized technology – In many episodes of this season the way technology is used is greatly advanced.  This show very much plays with the “what if” factor with regards to where technology is going.  Questions like “What if the entire windshield of a car were used as a screen?”  to “What if NFC technology were standard in all business transactions?”.  This is done effectively because most times no attention is drawn to the advance in technology itself, but rather these portions are spinkled into the show like seasoning for the viewer to enjoy.
  2. Continues to cover the trajectory of technology -The majority of the episodes of this season cover where technology is going.  This is done through using “satirized technology” as well as playing with ideas of our interactions with each other changing based on technology.  This is enjoyable because at first glance you can view an episode and think to yourself “This would never happen”, but after continuing to watch will change to the thought of “Isn’t this already happening?”.  Black Mirror does an excellent job of asking the question “How far is too far?”
  3. Covers current theories about technology and human interaction – As stated before, the question of “Isn’t this happening already” is understated in some episodes however in a few episodes it is the main question.  These could be considered to be the allegorical or metaphorical episodes.  These episodes do a good job of providing commentary to our current state by telling us a cautionary tale.  A good example of this being effectively done are in the episodes of “Shut up and Dance” and “Hated by the nation”
  4. Stays consistent with the tone of the rest of the series – With the exception of “Nosedive” (and as far as the spirit of the show even “Nosedive” meets this mark) the tone of the show is still dark and unsettling.  Everything from the aesthetics to scoring to ideas, while this show is easily binged watched, the ideas of the show will leave a lasting impression on you.  A combination of thinking through these ideas while processing what is on the screen will definitely leave you feeling a certain way.  For dedicated viewers this will be something easily done and in most cases enjoyable.  However getting used to the dark tone of this show for new viewers may take some adjusting.  Unsettled, is the best description of feelings after watching even the brightest episode of this season.
  5. Experiments with multiple genres – Season 3 does a better job of experimenting with different genres of television and film.  This is done while masterfully remaining the same show.  You will travel through multiple genres including horror, romance, and even police procedural (esque) episodes all while still hitting the points stated above.  Above all the tone remains the same, which is remarkable when considering that it legitimately is crossing genres.
  6. Diverse casting – Race and gender in casting are not an issue in this season (nor was it ever in this show)  People are placed in the roles that are best for them and the viewer has no need to be concerned with their race or gender.  This is also the case for leads in each episode.  To be clear, 2 of the 6 episodes have white men lead characters.  3 of the 6 episodes have women lead characters.  2 of the 6 episodes have black lead characters.  This is done without a shoehorn and gives the show a very relate able feel across the board.
  7. Immersive world building – Each episode is a world unto itself.  Each world is built so effectively that a whole season could be built around each premise.  This is not unique to season three, however it is on great display in this season.  The ideas are bigger than the vehicles themselves and because of this, the stakes of each episode feel real and weighty.  This allows for you to be completely immersed in one episode, then end the episode and completely immerse yourself in another episode.  There is no inherent need to watch the episodes in order, however I believe they were set up in the order they are in an extremely effective manner, and I would recommend watching them in the order presented on Netflix.
  8. Boiler plate boxes checked (great acting, great direction, great writing) – Without saying, direction, writing, and acting are impeccable on this show.  It would be difficult to go through each episode to pinpoint some favorite moments.  However for each episode to only have about one hour to establish characters, plot, and story it is done without feeling rushed or like an afterthought.

Black Mirror season three continues to be Netflix at its best.  It is an underrated show that not everyone will enjoy because it is about way more than what you are being shown on the surface.  I strongly encourage all of you to begin with season 1 as a means of getting the tone and direction the show intends to take.  This is not a show for your kids, at all, not even a little, do not let them watch.  4.75 of 5 stars.  (note this is an increase from 4.5 from the original Black Mirror post)

The Netflix Chronicles: Time Lapse

timelapse1.png

Typically Netflix is the perfect place to binge watch a television show.  However it is also a fine place to stumble across hidden gems.  Movie distribution has changed in this era of film making and while cream rises to the top in terms of the best movies being distributed by the traditional methods, streaming services like Hulu and Netflix are making room for all types of movies to be consumed by the masses.  Enter this independent film, which falls into the nontraditional distribution method category.  ‘Time Lapse’ is a film about three roommates who discover a method to view a snapshot of their lives 24 hours in the future.  As the film begins, the most obvious of “what would you do if knew the future?” questions are immediately answered.  However as the film continues it becomes all about decisions these characters are making because of their knowledge.  It is a slow burn thriller.

A few words about ‘Time Lapse’:

  1.  Understated acting – There are no real familiar faces in this film, which lends to its authenticity.  Here are three young people in a pretty baffling situation and their reactions seem to be pretty believable.  Watching the film a second time lends itself to really take note of the acting choices, which are important to the film’s conclusion.  It was the second viewing that really allowed the subtly of these choices to shine.
  2. Really solid premise – This is film based on time travel.  That being said, there is no actual travel in the movie.  It rather explores decisions people make when they have a peek into their future.  This allows for some pretty intense questions that the movie attempts to answer.
  3. Excellent deliberate pacing – This movie unfolds at a pace commiserate with the decisions the characters are making.  While at times the pace is slow and steady, even when the pace quickens it’s only enough to drive home the larger point or to further highlight the decisions the characters are making.  The movie at its “slowest” never feels slow because the viewer is waiting for the next decision to be made.
  4. Satisfying conclusion – Movies based in time travel, or time viewing have a tendency to fizzle out toward the end, unraveling and/or imploding on themselves.  This movie does not do that.  This writer in particular finished the movie than walked around his apartment wit his hands on his head saying “ahhhhhhhhahahahahahahaha”.  While this is not the typical descriptive language used to convey an ending, the point gleaned here should be that this movie follows its own time travel rules and concludes its story as it should.  This was enough to make the journey that much more enjoyable.

This is solid movie, especially for it not to be on anyone’s radar.  Before stumbling across it on Netflix, the writer cannot be certain that he would have even viewed this movie.  This is why it pays to rate everything you watch on Netflix.  This is a good, stay in and try to ride out hurricane matthew film.  Put the kids to bed first, as this isn’t particularly a gory or graphic movie however is some spurts of strong language and very adult themes.  4 of 5 stars.

 

The Netflix Chronicles: Stranger Things

Stranger Things

Yet another foray into original programming, and yet another intriguing story told via Netflix.  ‘Stranger Things’ uses a familiar framing device of the 80s kid friendly adventure story a la “E.T.” and “The Goonies” to tell a complex and at times terrifying tale of mystery with elements from such sci fi television hits as “The X-Files” and “Fringe”.

A few thoughts about ‘Stranger Things’:

  1. Deliberate Pacing – Using the font from fantasy board games, fantasy novels, and sci fi novels of its day, each episode is named as a chapter.  This is appropriate since the pacing of the show unfolds like it is being read rather than watched.  It may seem surprising that the show is able to be told in only 8 “chapters”, however in an age of binge watching this is satisfying for viewers who will watch the entire season in less than three sittings.  While slow at times, it never seemed like it was slow without purpose.  Each action taken by the main characters, as well as in some cases the side characters all connect for a greater purpose of skillful story telling.
  2. Good use of character placement – The pacing of the story puts the characters in the right place to set the tone of each scene.  Whether it be comic relief, tension, or adventure, the right characters are put in front of you when the pace needs to be managed.  This show has a lot of characters but is able to show all of them without feeling crowded.
  3. Excellent character development – Character placement lends nicely to well done character development.  As the story unfolds, the characters blossom and their motivations make sense and are seamless.  The viewer roots for the protagonists and against the antagonists, with reason.  Even the complexity of the characters is done sensibly.  The characters themselves show a combination of excellent writing and acting.
  4. Great acting -From youngest to oldest every actor in this film is carrying their fair share of the weight.  Including a surprisingly heartfelt performance from Winona Ryder, who becomes a concerned mother and seamlessly goes from restrained to unhinged in a way that made her character both relate able and believable.  She is only eclipsed by the 12-year-old fairly newcomer Millie Bobby Brown who is the key to much of the mystery.  Much of her acting is done through facial expressions rather than spoken lines.   This makes for a difficult job for a pre-teen however Brown does it with the ease of a seasoned veteran.  Matthew Modine had probably the least complex role, and was also the least satisfying performance however it was interesting to watch him play the villain.
  5. At times terrifying – For those expecting this to be exactly as the 80s kid friendly adventure stories were, this movie definitely pushes the boundaries of sinister, creepy, and at times straight up horrifying.  While children are at the center, or off center of this film, this is no children’s tale.  At times even the viewer who penned this post found himself hiding behind the blanket waiting for the tension to ease to the terrors to dissipate.

This is a good show.  While enough has been written about the “80s homage” this show does not alienate those who may not be fans of the period piece.  With solid writing, acting, and plot, Stranger Things is definitely another hit for netflix.  You can watch it with your older children, at least 13 years of age, younger than that are probably going to be a little frightened.  4 of 5 stars.

Netflix Chronicles (Black Mirror)

Black Mirror

4.5 of 5 stars

Black Mirror

In the last few years I have become a bit of an NPR junkie, which led me from the local radio station to the podcasts. One in particular i listen to weekly is Pop Culture Happy Hour. This is led by NPR’s pop culture writer Linda Holmes with weekly contributions from Glen Weldon and Stephen Thompson. A weekly segment on the show is called What’s Making us Happy, and on it Glen Weldon mentioned a new show on Netflix called Black Mirror. I have just completed the first season and must say Mr. Weldon was spot on. Consider this post both a plug for Pop Culture Happy Hour, weekly wherever you consume your podcasts, and for Black Mirror.

Black Mirror is a british anthology (self contained episodes) series that covers the dark side of our reliance on technology. Like Sherlock, it has very short seasons so while you can be engrossed in the episode you are watching, it does not take a very deep commitment to binge watch the two seasons available on Netflix. After each episode I found myself a) pondering the greater question of how our reliance on technology is to our detriment and b) wanting to delve deeper into the universe of the particular episode i was watching.

Much like the Twilight Zone, which this show is likened to regularly these appear to be cautionary tales which leave the viewer to consider the greater question that is being asked. During each episode I wondered what allegorical references the writer and director were making when they put the piece together. Now that being said, it is very entertaining. If you take away the larger looming issues that make this show quite the think piece for technology and just watch for entertainment’s sake you will find yourself blazing through at the very least the first season quite quickly. All of the standard marks of solid television are there, great writing, great direction, compelling story lines. This is for both the thinkers and the watchers out there.

For those of you looking to have a quiet couple of nights in, this show will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat and validate your monthly investment in netflix. WARNING: This is not for kids. While it is pretty tame considering what is on television these days and for the most part everything that could be considered offensive is off screen, there is some harsh language that sensitive viewers should be aware of. However if you have watched any show on HBO, it’s way tamer than anything you have viewed on there. Think more along the lines of Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and the Walking Dead, plus the F-word.

Enjoy new content in the new year before they release the third season of House of Cards. It’s on Netflix and it’s called “Black Mirror”.