Six more Charlie Brooker-written dystopian fictions, now streaming in our dystopian reality.


Nosedive

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.


Playtest

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.


San Junipero

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.

Finally got around to watching the rest of these episodes (though not the Jon Hamm Christmas special) in prep for the upcoming American launch.

Be Right Back

After her cellphone-addict boyfriend Ash dies in a car crash, pregnant Hayley Atwell (Agent Peggy Carter in the Marvel movies/shows) signs up for a service that analyzes his voice recordings and social media posts and creates a Siri-like program she can speak with. Then she beta tests the next version, where a folded-up pseudo-flesh Ash (Domhnall Gleeson of About Time, who plays the human in the similar Ex Machina) is shipped to her house. But it turns out the way you behave at home with your spouse can’t be easily predicted by your social media posts, and even though Ash is able to learn, Hayley finds him creepy and finally banishes him to the attic. Director Owen Harris also made Holy Flying Circus.


White Bear

My favorite of the bunch, either because it’s the most horrific or because it costars Michael Smiley as a dystopian game show host. Victoria (TV’s Lenora Crichlow) wakes up confused and amnesiac, is told that most of the world has been consumed by a mysterious screen transmission, and those who haven’t are insanely murdering random citizens – so The Signal meets The Purge. Vic and a couple refugees come across Smiley in the woods, who first appears to be on their side, then is revealed to be one of the killers. After her thrilling escape, all this is revealed to be a complicated piece of theater. Nobody is dead, except the child Vic kidnapped and murdered, for which her punishment is to live in this nightmare, being constantly pursued and terrified, humiliated in front of a live audience, then her mind zapped with the MIB forgetfulness-ray for the next show. Director Carl Tibbetts has worked on Hemlock Grove, did a little-known plague thriller called Retreat with a promising-looking cast.


The Waldo Moment

Comedian Jamie (Daniel Rigby of the show Jericho) who talks through a cartoon bear called Waldo finds his attack on politicians going viral. Jamie’s more of an insult comic than a politician, but his producers smell a hit and strong-arm him into continuing, even entering Waldo into the campaign, at the expense of his sanity and his relationship with a woman in the race. This isn’t quite dark enough for Black Mirror, so at the end a guy from an unnamed U.S. agency meets them wanting to use Waldo to destabilize global elections. Based on a Nathan Barley sketch, I think. Director Bryn Higgins has a series of historical hospital dramas.

Unstable puppetmaster:

Dignified debate:

Happy to come across this again – haven’t seen it since the VHS days. Awesome, hour-long stop-motion with live actors interacting with the miniature creations, which must’ve been difficult. Dark sci-fi fairy-tale following tiny Tom, born to normal-sized parents, then abducted away to a torture-lab, adopted by a tiny-people society, and brought on a guerrilla mission with a well-armed little guy. Death and horror is around every corner, and pretty much everyone is doomed. The grimy, insect-filled design is marvelous, would be cool to see this in HD someday.

Stills cannot convey the majesty:

Oh no, writer/director Dave Borthwick died a few years ago, after codirecting a kids’ animated feature. Dave’s “Bolex Brothers” partner Dave Alex Riddett is a stop-motion cinematographer (Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, way back to the Sledgehammer video), and the Bolexes also produced the great short The Saint Inspector.

Much more interesting visually than it looked from trailers and posters, which were all Joaquin looking into the distance while talking to Siri, sometimes smiling. More interesting emotionally too. Phoenix’s beloved operating system grows and learns at an accelerated rate, like if Short Circuit’s Johnny Five had internet access, finally admits to having simultaneous romantic relationships with hundreds of humans, and soon afterward leaves all the lonely humans alone with each other to further explore her own consciousness. It’s kinda beautiful and terrifying in a Terminator Skynet sense.

The somewhat-happy ending leaves Phoenix with Amy Adams, a longtime friend who bonded with her own OS while divorcing her husband. Also featured: Rooney Mara (Zuckerberg’s ex in Social Network) as the wife divorcing Phoenix, Olivia Wilde as a blind date whom Phoenix is too damaged to pursue, Portia Doubleday as a Siri sex surrogate, Chris Pratt as a coworker, and the very human voice of Scarlett Johansson. Won a million awards, including a screenplay oscar.

Dollhouse season 2 (2010)

We watched this sporadically over the last year with months-long gaps between episodes (moving across country and all that) so I lost some details of the always-complex plot, like where we left off with Alpha before the final flash-forward episode. Still one of my favorite shows. Many allegiance shifts, and Summer Glau is introduced as Topher’s headquarters counterpart/love interest.

Costars of the two “epitaph” episodes: Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), Zack Ward (of TV’s Titus) and young Adair Tishler loaded with Dushku-Caroline’s personality.

Since Dollhouse ended, Dushku is voicing an animated She-Hulk, Harry Lennix did a Superman movie or two, we’ve seen Topher in two Whedon movies, Paul Ballard appears in different sci-fi series, Victor did TV shows with Halle Berry, Dennis Quaid and Madchen Amick, Sierra’s on two different nuclear war dramas, Olivia Williams is on a third nuclear war drama, sci-fi hero Summer Glau joined Arrow, The Cape and The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Alpha is on Suburgatory, also voicing characters in the last three Disney movies.

Veep season 2 (2013)

I admit I didn’t care about plot or politics, just sped through this season for the relentless jokes. Looks like we’ll have a big campaign next season, since after the endless scandals the president has announced he’s not running again.

Added to the cast: Veep’s daughter Sarah “daughter of Keifer” Sutherland, Gary Cole (voice of Harvey Birdman), Randall Park of Larry Crowne and every comedy this year, Dan Bakkedahl of highly-rated comedy Legit, Kevin Dunn of True Detective (also Shia’s embarrassing dad in the Transformers movies), and great guest spots by Allison Janney and Dave Foley.

Futurama season 6 (2010-11)

More great episodes.

With owls!

And the best season finale ever.

So, in the straightforward ending, pre-crime dept. head Max Von Sydow murdered precog Samantha Morton’s inconvenient mother and good cop Colin Farrell, while Cruise’s ex-wife springs him from The Attic to bring justice and a happy ending. But an article Katy found says the ending is too idyllic and perhaps Cruise never awoke from The Attic, but actually dreams the last half hour Brazil-style. I love that the movie works either way.

Highlights: creepy doctor Peter Stormare and the following scene with retina-scanning spiders invading his apartment complex, Cruise escaping via auto assembly line, Morton’s freaked-out performance, the still-exciting technology and how most of it is becoming real. Katy is hung up on the mismatched architecture/design styles of all the interiors.

“I know what people taste like. I know that babies taste best.”

My hopes were too high for Bong’s English-language debut – I found it talky and clunky and obvious. Good ending, though. Revolution within class-stratified humanity-protecting perpetual-motion train is led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers. He’s backed by wise old train architect John Hurt, loyal-to-the-death Jamie Bell, pissed-off mom Octavia Spencer and tech whiz Kang-ho Song. After dealing with company mouthpiece Tilda Swinton through various levels, final confrontation with engineer Ed Harris, who claims to have planned the revolution and wants the Captain to replace him at head of the train. Meanwhile it’s rumored that the frozen Earth has been warming, and might sustain human life again, which will be tested after Song’s daughter Ah-sung Ko (the monster-abducted girl of The Host) is the only one of these people who survives a train crash.

Things: the workers in back are fed “protein blocks” which turn out to be gelatinized cockroach. The two Koreans are addicted to a drug called chrono which doubles as an explosive. Harris claims John Hurt was secretly working with him (for the good of the train/humanity, of course). A cool bit near the end looks like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

M. Sicinski:

Snowpiercer’s mental motor, its driving intelligence, is its obviousness, which allows the film to be misperceived as something silly. .. Bong, however, seems to understand something many others don’t, both about broad entertainment and the state of successful political action. Big action demands broad strokes; nuances emerge later. In fact, this is to a large degree the political subtext of Snowpiercer itself. .. it doesn’t matter who’s running the train. Bong is not telling us anything we don’t already know, but Snowpiercer’s power is precisely in its capacity to boldly visualize this shared awareness: the futility of liberal revolt, the buffoonery of our betters, the hidden human kindling that is always the tiger in our tank. .. Bong shows us that there’s only one track, and so you can’t flip the switch. You can only light the fuse, and embrace the inevitable destruction as the last picture show.

Great to see this again, although maybe I should’ve sprung for the high-def version to see if it looks much better than my old letterboxed DVD. Katy agreed that the movie seems long, and opted not to teach it in her dystopian fiction course.

I’ve seen people call Brazil the centerpiece of Gilliam’s dream trilogy – Time Bandits being the dreams of youth, Brazil of adulthood, and Baron Munchhausen an old man telling dream-stories to children. It’s a lovely thought, but then what is the rest of Gilliam’s career full of dreams and visions?

Don’t think I knew who Jim Broadbent was the last time I watched this. He plays Sam’s mom’s plastic surgeon: “Snip snip, slice slice, can you believe it?” Jack Purvis of Time Bandits is rival doctor “the acid man”. Sam’s mom’s friend getting acid treatments (“my complication had a little complication”) is Barbara Hicks of Britannia Hospital, and her daughter is Kathryn Pogson, recently of The Arbor. Mrs. Buttle (I’d forgotten how good she is) was Sheila Reid (Felicia’s Journey, Lady Rawlinson in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End). I haven’t recognized Kim Griest in anything else but I see she was in Manhunter and CHUD. Mr. Helpmann (‘ere I am, JH) was in some Ken Russell films and Mountains of the Moon. Sam’s useless first boss was Ian Holm and his decisive, always-walking boss in Information Retrieval was Ian Richardson (later Mr. Book in Dark City).

A real stinker of a bland-looking generic 1980’s movie, starring Natasha Richardson (Mary Shelley in Gothic) as a “handmaid” in the future whose job is to get pregnant for rich barren women (Faye Dunaway, two years before Arizona Dream) by their husbands (Robert Duvall, between Colors and Newsies). But of course she falls for house servant Aidan Quinn (who’d play evil twins the following year in an Isabella Rossellini movie) and gets involved with a troublemaking friend (Elizabeth McGovern, the mom of Downton Abbey). So it’s surprising that with all this star power around, the only good scene was with a doctor played by Rawhead Rex star David Dukes.