Part of the same Landmark series where we caught For Sama – this one was much less bloody and despairing. Beekeeper has enough to deal with, uneven harvests and pricing and sales, an ailing mother, before a swarm of neighbors arrives one season and ruins everything. The movie only gets better the more you read about its making, though I can’t find the article that said the nomad family threw stones at the camera crew for the first few weeks. Nominated for two oscars tonight – I don’t know its chances, just hope Hatidze was flown in from Macedonia and given one of those $215k gift bags.
Black Mirror season 3 (2016)
Six more Charlie Brooker-written dystopian fictions, now streaming in our dystopian reality.
Not the best opening to the new series, too blunt and screamy for my tastes. A yelp/ebay/etc star-rating system gone out of control, with everyone rating everyone else over every interaction, and all social status and even home loans depending on personal ratings. Lacie (Bryce Howard of Lady in the Water) gets increasingly desperate as her plan to increase her ratings for a society wedding backfire, and she spirals down until she can’t even get picked up hitchhiking due to her short-term social media reputation. Trucker Cherry Jones gives her an inspirational speech about living outside society, then Lacie crashes the wedding. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), cowritten by Parks & Rec‘s Michael Schur and Rashida Jones, and featuring the best Black Mirror music ever, courtesy Max Richter, who incorporates the downvote sound effect into the music during Lacie’s death spiral.
Cooper (Wyatt Russell, the guy who pretends to still be in college in Everybody Wants Some!!), kind of a likeable idiot, gets stranded while traveling the world, signs up to earn some quick cash playtesting a VR game. I’m a sucker for movies with dream/game layers where you can’t tell what’s real, and this was a good one. The idea behind the game is a haunted-house horror experience that uses your mind’s own fears against you, and Coop’s biggest fear is losing his mind like his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father did, which is what happens when his attempts at trade-secret espionage interfere with the equipment and it fries his brain. Director Dan Trachtenberg made 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Coop playing an early, harmless demo:
Shut Up and Dance
I don’t think this one is based on any technology that doesn’t already exist. After trying to have affairs or look at child porn or other blackmailable offenses, strangers with prankster-infected laptops get dragged around the city making deliveries and being asked to do increasingly terrible things, including bank robbery (“I saw it in a documentary. It looked easy”) and fistfighting to the death. Then their secrets get leaked to friends and family anyway, a grinning trollface sent to each of the victims. Director James Watkins made The Woman in Black and Eden Lake, lead Alex Lawther played young Turing in The Imitation Game, and his older partner in crime was Jerome Flynn of Ripper Street, not Michael Smiley like I first hoped.
Just what I needed after the nihilism of the previous episode, a lovely story with complicated ideas about (virtual) life and (actual) death. Opens with a Lost Boys poster and Belinda Carlisle song on the radio and Max Headroom on TVs, pushing its 1987 setting hard, but then “one week later” we’re in 1980, and “one week later” it’s 1996. Shy Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis of Always Shine) met exhuberant Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) one night in a time-hopping Matrix fantasy world but didn’t have the nerve to follow through on their relationship, and now searches for her every week during their time-limited trials, as their actual, aged bodies live in separate nursing homes. The most human-feeling Black Mirror, and also the one that ends in the most inhuman manner, a robot arm attending to its databank of disembodied consciousnesses. The director did last season’s Be Right Back, also about personal/virtual relationships.
Men Against Fire
Not my favorite episode, by director Jakob Verbruggen (Whishaw/Broadbent miniseries London Spy) who makes a hash of the action scenes, but it’s one of my favorite evil technologies – military implants that help soldiers kill the enemy without hesitation by making the enemy “roaches” look and sound inhuman. Lead soldier Stripe, whose equipment glitches so he can see the truth, is Malachi Kirby of the new Roots remake. He’s briefly allied with Ariane Labed (Alps, The Lobster) before his partner catches up with him, kills Ariane and his equipment is recalibrated to brainwash him back into blissful ignorance and conformity.
Hated in the Nation
A combination of previous ideas – rogue hacker messes with people over social media leading to their deaths, and intrusive government technology leads to dystopian horror. In this case the gov-tech is bee-drones which replace the country’s dying honeybees and happen to double as ubiquitous surveillance devices. After our hacker uses a sort of twitter poll to let the people decide whose brains the bees will burrow into through their ears, cop Kelly Macdonald (voice star of Brave) tries to protect future victims. She finally gets lead beemaker Benedict Wong (Prometheus and The Martian) to try deactivating all bugs, but instead they go after everyone who participated in the online death polls, killing hundreds of thousands. A nicely apocalyptic way to leave off. Director James Hawes made a TV remake of The 39 Steps a few years back.
The Wonders (2014, Alice Rohrwacher)
Coming-of-age movie with good reviews. I preferred The Spirit of the Beehive. Older and younger girl work on the family honey farm, compete on an awful traveling reality show hosted by Monica Bellucci (last seen in Shoot ’em Up), but don’t do very well. Also the family gets a mute foreign criminal kid to work for them, part of some rehab program, and he and the oldest girl (terrific Maria Alexandrea Lungu) have a weird kinda-friendship. Lungu has a trick where she puts a bee in her mouth and lets it crawl out, which only reminded me of the superior Limmy version. Spoiler: boy escapes, family loses the farm.
T. Charity in Cinema Scope:
Rohrwacher deftly sketches the stress points within the family, but the film’s real focus is the bond between eldest daughter and father. At the beginning of the summer Gelso is appreciative of her role as Wolfgang’s most trusted helper (as well as default child-minder), even if she’s also dimly apprehensive of her dad’s short fuse, his coercive methods, and obsessive personality. He’s the patriarch, but also an outsider in a house overflowing with women and girls (literally: he sleeps on a mattress out under the stars). Over the course of a couple of months, the film traces how the balance shifts from admiration towards a more nuanced understanding of Wolfgang’s shortcomings, a trajectory from daddy’s girl towards the first stirrings of Gelsomina’s emancipation and womanhood.
M. Sicinski’s letterboxd review is my favorite, but harder to break into quotable pieces.