Black Mirror: White Christmas

Somehow, I managed to miss an episode of Black Mirror Season 2. Last night while I was writing my post on Hated In The Nation from Season 3, I went to IMDB so I could catalog the differences between the first two seasons and the current one and there was this fourth episode called White Christmas I’d never seen.

One explanation may be that I missed it because the previous episode of season 2, The Waldo Moment, aired in February of 2013 while White Christmas aired in December of 2014.

What is that? 22 months between episodes? Who does that? Charlie Brooker, I guess.

Anyway, spoilers for Black Mirror Season 2 episode White Christmas follow.

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Black Mirror: Man Against Fire

Spoilers for Black Mirror Season 3 Episode 5 follow

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Black Mirror: San Junipero

This post contains spoilers for Black Mirror Season 3 Episode 4

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Black Mirror: Shut Up And Dance

Spoilers for Black Mirror Season 3 Episode 3 Follow

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Black Mirror: Playtest

Spoilers for Black Mirror Season 3 Episode 2 Follow

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Black Mirror: Nosedive

Seasons 1 and 2 of Black Mirror contained the seven most disturbing hours of television I’ve ever experienced. This is an anthology show that is not a dismal peek into our likely future but rather an alarmingly accurate portrayal of our present.

SPOILERS for Black Mirror seasons 1 and 2 and episode 1 of season 3 follow.

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Once More Unto The Buffy

Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in. I spent a fair amount of time as a Buffy The Vampire Slayer obsessive. I watched it religiously when it was originally broadcast and it was the first boxed DVD set I bought and therefore the first commentary track I listed to.

But other things came along and pulled me in other directions, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones and now Westworld, but like a heroin addict watching others fix, it doesn’t take much get me hooked again.

This time it’s a podcast called Buffering The Vampire Slayer in which Jenny Owen Youngs and Kristin Russo watch an episode of the series starting with season one and then do a show to talk about what they’ve seen. It’s so enjoyable to eavesdrop on someone experiencing for the first time something you’ve loved forever.

Normally, this is a funny, insightful hour with a wink and a nod at low production values and the requisite TV plot holes, but the latest podcast about an episode of BtvS called The Pack dropped at an alarmingly appropriate time.

Considering gamergate, the ongoing war against rape culture, slut shaming, Cosby’s accusers and a presidential candidate’s “locker room” talk, an episode brimming with sexual assault and “boys will be boys” excuses opens up all manner of unsavory topics.

Until they brought it up, I had forgotten about the scene where Xander (possessed by a hyena, don’t ask) corners Buffy in an empty classroom and proceeds to exorcise his sexual frustration by attempting to force himself on her.

It also includes this really unfortunate line: “The more I scare you, the better you smell.”

That scene, absent the hyena possession, plays out every day in high schools all across the country, all around the world, and it very often ends the same way as this episode. The entire incident is dismissed (along with the girl’s feelings) with a clumsy joke about hormones and Xander’s artless approach to romance.

And the thing is, I didn’t even think about this at the time. That idea of boys behaving badly, of women being put in the position of having to just let it go, is so ingrained into our society that it’s unremarkable even when you see it on broadcast TV.

Things are changing a little bit at a time as old patriarchal notions give up ground by inches. You probably wouldn’t see TV treat sexual assault like this today. And just to be clear, I think Joss’s point in making this episode was to call out this kind of behavior. He’s a vocal and ardent feminist and he used many episodes of BtvS as metaphors for this kind of institutionalized problem.

All in all, this is one of the worst, dumbest episodes of an otherwise great series. I’m glad that I got hooked on season 2 and went back to watch season 1 later, otherwise I might never have gotten addicted in the first place.

 

I’m so tired of starting statements about Gotham with, “I’m still a fan of the show, but…” The Mad Hatter is the worst villain ever and using Penguin as an ersatz Trump is just insulting to real monsters.

Uh…

When I know I want to see a movie, I put myself on a media blackout diet. I don’t read any reviews, I ignore social media posts and I don’t talk to friends about their opinion until I’ve seen it fresh for myself. On the other hand, when my feelings are ambiguous or if I’m simply not predisposed to see it, then I readily allow the trailers, reviews and tweets to shape my decision.

I was not predisposed to see Batman Vs. Superman, because I’ve always thought the very idea of pitting the two against each other was a stupid one. Also, I really didn’t care for Man of Steel and the news about Suicide Squad was getting worse by the day.

It didn’t help that I’ve felt for a long time that Zack Snyder was a style-over-substance director and that his feeling for character was a little stunted. So it didn’t take too many mediocre reviews to keep me from going to see BvS in theaters.

Well, I just watched it on Blu-Ray last night and I have to say that it’s a much better movie than people give it credit for being. It has a resoundingly awful 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes from critics and an anemic 64 percent from the audience. Maybe it was a case of low expectations, but I found Dawn of Justice to be moving and powerful and beautiful.

Despite reservations, I found Affleck’s Batman-in-middle-age charismatic and driven. I believed his motivation for wanting to rein in the all-powerful, illegal alien Superman. And I really liked that this incarnation of the bat didn’t drool over his gadgetry. The car, the metal suit, his harpoon lines are just things that exist in his universe like tables, chairs and doors. Batman movies can sometimes verge on Inspector Gadget levels of toy nerd rage.

Also, this appears to be a Batman who kills, something that I find far more believable than Christopher Nolan’s rubber bullets. In a battle scene, with armed men firing all around, I don’t want my hero to be so concerned with not taking human life that he gets me and himself killed.

And that brings me to the “Bruce Wayne’s Nightmare” scene that had so many people so upset. I quite liked it. It was exciting, had the best Batman fight scene since Big Daddy worked his way through that warehouse in Kick-Ass, and perfectly elucidated the potential problem with having an all-powerful super being take up residence on your planet.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman only seems to have been brought on as a teaser for her stand-alone movie but I welcomed her presence. When she wasn’t kicking ass, she was being charming, beautiful and mysterious.

Jessie Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor on the other hand was the one sour note in an otherwise solid group of performances. I get the need to update Luthor to a Tech age bad boy billionaire who’s nearly completely unhinged but his choices seemed a little too Larry, Moe and Curly for my taste.

I think in total that it was a better movie than most people realized and that a lot of the negativity was related to baggage the audience brought with it into the theater.

Thriller

More than three decades before Michael Jackson changed MTV forever with his Thriller video, Boris Karloff hosted a series that now seems like a bold, dangerous prototype for The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone that would come a few years later.

I had heard about some of these episodes for years before there was any way to actually see them. In the days before home video, the only way to see an old show like this was for your local station to show it late at night as filler. But unlike those later series, Thriller didn’t make it to the magical 100 episode mark so it occupied space in very few local TV catalogs.

Now, however, Thriller is out on Netflix (DVD) and I immediately set out to avail myself of the chance to finally see the episodes that had been whispered about by horror fans since I was just a kid.

The first one I watched was “Pigeons from Hell,” based on a short story by Robert E. Howard. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to see old media like this in the context of its time period and the bar for shock value has been set so high in the intervening years that it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for viewers in 1960 watching a character come stumbling down the stairs of an old, decrepit mansion with an axe buried in his head, but I”ll bet their dentures popped right out of their heads.

Thriller is kind of like a pre-Hays Code movie of television shows. It’s bloody and violent and characters don’t necessarily get what’s coming to them. It’s not as sentimental as Twilight Zone nor as kooky as The Outer Limits. It tells its stories with a kind of gruesome glee, reveling in what must have been quite shocking back in the day.

One thing that always gets me when I watch old TV shows is the languid pacing. They had a full 50 minutes to tell their stories (though some of the shows are actually listed as being an impossible 60 minutes long in IMDB) and they take full advantage of it. Today’s 42 minute running time has necessitated more efficient storytelling via the use of jump cuts and lots of implied action.

I have to say I prefer the modern pace. I find myself wishing they would just get on with it when they’re showing me a guy get out of a car and go into a house and then cut to the living room so we can see him come through the door and then follow him to the kitchen. I mean, come on. In “The Hungry Glass” we watch William Shatner go through the entire process of developing a photograph.

That’s all technical stuff and once you get used to it, it sort of fades away and you’re left with just the stories. And, oh, what stories they are. Writers like Robert E. Howard and Robert Bloch provided the stories and the screenwriters adapted them with the no-holds-barred enthusiasm common to young media before the grownups move in and take over.

I also watched some episodes of The Outer Limits that I had heard about but had never seen. Some, like Demon with a Glass Hand, are excellent and hold up perfectly well. Others, such as The Zanti Misfits are bizarre misfires that make little, if any, sense.

But at least I’ve finally scratched that itch and gotten closure on the long rumored shocking episodes of a legendary series.

 

Note: Just watched the episode “Grim Reaper” that includes a terrific scene with William Shatner waiting for the approach of the title monster. We don’t see the Reaper, but we hear his scythe whipping back and forth in the air as he approaches.