Black Mirror – Season 3
Like every other fan of Black Mirror, I was tremendously excited to see that the show was continuing on with a partnership with Netflix. A lot of the past episodes have been or miss, but the look into our dark technological future has always been fascinating, as well as terrifying. But I have to be honest and say that on the whole, I was pretty disappointed with season three of the show. There were still a few great episodes and I liked the focus on things like trolling and the social media lynch mob, but I wasn’t as into the particular stories.
I’ll quickly break down each episode, since there were only six and none of them had any relation to the others. “Nosedive” stars Bryce Dallas Howard horribly miscast as a woman trying to get popular in a world where everyone rates everyone else for everything that happens. The higher your rating, the higher you rate in society. It’s a strong concept, but doesn’t follow through because it becomes all about this central character who is uninteresting and basically a sociopath. “Playtest” is about the future of video games, where a wandering American man is recruited by a virtual reality company to test out their new horror game. I enjoyed this one, but got really tired of the overly quippy lead by the end. It didn’t end the way I expected, but I wasn’t a fan of the direction they chose. “Shut Up and Dance” is about internet trolling, and hacking into our darkest internet secrets. It’s absolutely terrible. The twist at the end had no impact because not only did I not care about the character, but he didn’t even look old enough for the problem to be a problem. It was just a case of bad casting/acting.
“San Junipero” is the highlight of the season. If you’re like me, you’ll figure out what’s going on pretty quickly, but this one is most interesting because of the relationship between the two leads. Again, I didn’t feel like the ending was justified based on what we knew about the character, but that’s a recurring problem with Black Mirror as a show. “Man Against Fire” also has a relatively big twist that I saw coming from a mile away, but it’s still interesting to see our lead character come to terms with it. This one is also directly involving the military, and I’m always interested in seeing how war could change as technology does. The final episode, “Hated in the Nation,” is one of the stronger offerings. It’s structured like a detective story, and the literal technological aspect takes a backseat to an analysis of how we use social media nowadays. Not only how it tends to run our lives, but how the anonymity and instant gratification brings out the absolute worst in us as human beings.
I’ve come to expect high highs and low lows with Black Mirror, but it remains one of those shows that I recommend to everyone because of the subject matter. Maybe if we keep looking at this dark future of technology that we find ourselves racing towards, we can do something about it before it’s too late.
Final Fantasy XV: Kingsglaive
Let me get a little rant out of the way. I’m playing FF XV right now, and while I’m having a good time with it, I had absolutely no idea what was going on in the story. I didn’t know who any of the characters were, why things were happening the way they were happening, or why I should care. There is absolutely zero story set up in the game, and that sucks. Kingsglaive and the anime short series Brotherhood answer a lot of those questions, which brings me to my point: If a two hour movie and anime series are required viewing to enjoy the story of your game, you done messed up. But, IF that’s the route you choose to take, then at least put those things on the disc. It’s absolutely unacceptable, and seriously hampers my enjoyment of what is otherwise a great game. But, that isn’t the movie’s fault, so let’s talk about it.
The first thing I noticed while watching Kingsglaive was how amazing it looked. The world design in Final Fantasy games has always been top notch, and the farther technology progresses, the easier it is for that team to realize their vision. The art direction is seriously amazing in this. From the fluidity of the movement to the (at times over the top) designs of the characters and wardrobe, Insomnia definitely feels like a well-established place. However, I do have two complaints.
First, I’m not a fan of the dichotomy between dudes wearing armor but also using cell phones and driving Audis. It’s weird and I don’t like it. Final Fantasy has always had a significant element of fantasy (thus the name), and majorly features things like magic and political intrigue. But some of the more recent games have made things feel more grounded and “realistic,” and Kingsglaive takes it a step too far. Obviously that’s all down to personal preference, so you’re mileage may vary. Second, and this is more of a technical thing, the uncanny valley is very real in this movie. So many things look so real, and in fact my wife walked by while I was watching and for a second didn’t even realize that it was CG. But when the characters speak, the movie loses me. There’s nothing behind the eyes of the characters because they aren’t real, and so there’s a little bit of overacting done by the voice actors to compensate. The mouths also tend to move in ways that don’t match the speech patterns.
On the whole, though, Kingsglaive was a fun ride. It was not only good to get some backstory on the game I’m playing, but I enjoyed the movie as a standalone thing. Sure, some of it is melodramatic nonsense, the kind of thing you’d expect to come from a Japanese video game studio, but it’s still fun. The art and action are absolutely top notch, and the characters are actually fairly interesting. The story doesn’t really mean anything unless it’s tied to the game, but that’s ok. Kingsglaive was never meant to exist in a vacuum.
The Hateful Eight
I had very high expectations going into Hateful Eight, not only because it was the new Tarantino movie and that dude is one of the best filmmakers alive, but because plenty of people were saying it was his strongest film since Pulp Fiction. I must be missing something, because I didn’t really enjoy this one at all. It’s a long movie and it feels like a long movie. There were some amateurish directorial decisions made in this that I just don’t understand.
True to his shtick, Tarantino crafts an opening sequence with a lot of initial intrigue. We don’t know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and we slowly piece together the details of what is happening. Unfortunately, that only holds up for the first few minutes. Once a fourth major character is introduced, they all sit in the back of a wagon and talk for what feels like twenty minutes about things that happened in the past. Those things have very little relevance to what is going on other than to build the backstories of the characters, and we’re literally just sitting there watching them sit there talking. Tarantino movies are known for their sharp and witty writing, but this first scene has none of that.
Once the characters get to what will be their final destination, things don’t get much better. There is a ton of suspense involved, and that is awesome. You’re just waiting for things to hit the fan, and Tarantino is an expert at drawing those moments out for as long as possible. It’s a bit like the movie Clue, you’re trying to put together who is responsible and how, and my wife and I had a great time pausing the movie to discuss our theories. This isn’t an actual story spoiler, but it may spoil the nature of the movie, so know that before reading on. The actual “who, how, why” of the movie ends up being a complete blindside, and I never find that stuff fun. There is literally no way to figure out the twist because it involves a character we had never seen. That kind of stuff feels like lazy writing, and it bums me out to see Tarantino rely on that.
I did enjoy most of the performances, particularly Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the small amount of action that exists is as over the top and gory as you’d expect. But, while the suspense of the film is top notch, the payoff most definitely isn’t worth it.
Man, Disney just knows how to make great movies. Zootopia successfully toes that line of being for kids, while also having jokes and a message that speaks to adults. I recently watched The Life of Pets, and was disappointed with how heavily they leaned on the obvious animal jokes. The writing felt lazy. That is most definitely not true of Zootopia. Sure, there are still animal specific jokes like how bunnies love carrots and how sloths are slow, but they’re mostly done in smart, no-so-obvious ways.
The visuals are also outstanding. Every character is freaking adorable, and the world design feels cool, too, with different zones of the city for each geological habitat. Clearly a lot of time was put into the development phase of this movie, because all of the details are there. But the biggest thing I want to talk about is the story. Zootopia tackles racism in such a smart way, it took me awhile to even realize that it was the major theme. It also does the smart thing and flips the conversation on its head, having the predators be the ones that are unfairly being judged.
And it probably goes without saying, but the movie is super funny and the vocal performances are great. It makes me sad that a movie like Frozen is the one to get all of the attention, because Zootopia actually tells a unique, meaningful story without having to rely on a princess or cheesy, shallow songs.