Back in 2013, if you liked your crime to be character-driven, if you were keen on small towns whose idyllic surface belies the darkness below, if you were looking for something altogether less surreal and more British than Twin Peaks, then Broadchurch was a good option. The series wasn’t novel in its plot or themes, but it delivered its tale of a small community being brought to the breaking point by a horrible crime with honesty, sensitivity and the kind of cast that would make grown men weep.
So how do you ruin a series that was rightly lauded as excellent and, more importantly, that told a complete story? You make a second series that is badly plotted and that signals its pointlessness at every twist and turn. And yes, it did make grown men weep.
The Leftovers was already an odd beast in its first season. Here’s a series about a world where, on October 14 three years ago, 2% of the world’s population just vanished. Poof. You may have been sitting at breakfast with your family, you may have been getting in the car where you’ve just put your infant after shopping for groceries, you may have been in the middle of having a tryst with someone not your wife – and from one moment to the next, they’re gone. Your highschool sweetheart that you occasionally see at the store? Gone. The old man who touched you when you were a kid? Gone. What’s this? The Rapture?
I’ll be honest: while I’d say that I enjoyed the majority of Marvel movies to date, the thing I’m least interested in is the fights. There are some fun, well-shot and -choreographed kerfuffles in the films, but on the whole I like them heroes less when they speak with their fists, repulsor beams and mythical hammers. What’s worse than a Marvel movie fight scene, though? A Marvel TV series fight scene.
I was a big fan of the first two series of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi/horror satire of how modern technology and media act to reflect our darkest impulses right back at us. I didn’t love every single episode, though while I found series 2’s “The Waldo Moment” possibly the weakest instalment, 2016 has proven it depressingly prescient. When Netflix announced that they were financing a third, longer series, I was definitely interested – though then it came out to, let’s say, uneven reviews. Many still loved it, and some thought the new series was simply uneven but still largely good – but eminent internet essayist Film Crit Hulk (if you don’t already know him, be warned: while he is usually insightful and well-reasoned, he does have his quirks and affectations) published a pretty damning post. Its title didn’t exactly promise a differentiated look at the series: “Why BLACK MIRROR Is Kinda Bullshit”. Ironically, FCH’s post increased my optimism about the new series; while usually get a lot out of his essays, even when I disagree, what he wrote about some of my favourite episodes of Black Mirror, such as series 2’s “White Bear”, made me think that he’d misunderstood several fundamental things, mainly this: in its first two series, Black Mirror wasn’t about how technology was evil, it was about how technology acts as an amplifier and accelerant for some of our worst impulses. The metaphor’s not subtle, but it’s effective: new technology and media acts as a dark, distorted reflection of ourselves, they’re (all together now!) a black mirror to mankind.
So, having dismissed FCH’s argument, I got started on the third series of Black Mirror – and found that, yeah, it was kinda bullshit. Continue reading
In a lot of ways, 2016 was the year to get suspicious about a lot of things, most of all about the future, and maybe some of us even got superstitious a little bit. As far as my movies are concerned, I think I detect a pattern: the two movies I liked best in 2015, Whiplash and Birdman, ran here in January, and 2016 began with Carol and The Big Short, another couple of great movies. Superstition? Coincidence? Perhaps. I can’t quite shake the feeling that this year, you had to dig slightly deeper to find a really good movie. I wrote about The Assassin and American Honey, which are far from light entertainment, but are immensely rewarding and beautiful to look at. I also highly recommend Sing Street for its youthful irreverence and its music; Arrival, for its use of the sci-fi genre to learn a lot more about us humans than about the extraterrestrials (if you haven’t read thirithch’s excellent review, you should do so). And Rogue One, which tried hard not to be a blockbuster and was all the more successful because of it. Continue reading
I was hypnotized by The Night Of for five or six episodes, which isn’t bad at all considering that it’s an eight-part HBO miniseries. To me, it seemed to scratch the itch that season 2 of True Detective left me with. It’s on the dark side of things: it mostly takes place at night and/or indoors, but even the exterior daylight scenes look sort of gloomy. It’s about crime and punishment, and about the law, about justice and injustice, and about courts and prison. It’s set in New York, but is based on the British TV series Criminal Justice from 2008-09, starring Ben Whishaw. The Night Of, however, has no problem standing on its own. Continue reading
Last week we went to see the latest of the new Star Trek films, the one whose title is certain to trigger a Pavlovian response in any fan of the English ska band Madness. I’d greatly enjoyed the first of the reboot movies back in 2009, though Star Trek Into Darkness hadn’t done much for me, but I hadn’t given up on the franchise yet. Star Trek Beyond, though… It’s a competent enough film in some ways, the main cast is still the best reason to watch the reboot – but I simply didn’t feel it. Most of the time it wasn’t the plot that kept me engaged; instead I found myself distracted, not least by remembering the recent death of Anton Yelchin and thinking, wistfully, that he should have had his final appearance as Pavel Chekov in a better film.